Spiritual Warfare Day 2: Our Rivals
Now that we have established the fact that we are—at this very moment—engaged in a critical spiritual war, the most obvious question we must answer is Who are our rivals? What image comes to mind when you think of the devil? Perhaps you picture a horned jester clothed in red who sits on our shoulders to tempt us into bad choices. Or maybe you imagine some sort of dark monster with a disfigured face, a snarl, and instantly recognizable evil eyes. Our modern culture’s understanding has been shaped by caricatured portrayals of Satan that have desensitized us to the reality of his influence.
The Scriptures offer us a different and far more sinister description of him. Far from being foolish, we are told that the serpent “was more crafty than any other beast of the field” (Genesis 3:1). Far from appearing to humanity as dark and horrifying, the apostle Paul tells us that “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). Our Lord Jesus Himself teaches us that Satan is a master of deceit when He says, “[The devil] was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
Satan is the ultimate source of deception, and there is nothing he loves more than to tempt human beings into sin (Genesis 3:1-5; Luke 4:1-11) and then accuse them relentlessly once they have succumbed to it (Revelation 12:10). We should not be naive enough to assume that we will always be able to distinguish his lies or detect when he is approaching us on life’s battlefield. The primary reason Satan is such a powerful enemy is that he is a master at appearing good and true while being, to his very core, an evil liar.
Since the devil is not omnipresent like God (i.e., he cannot be in every place at the same time), he also enlists the fallen angels who followed him in his revolt against God to be his emissaries on earth. These fallen angels are called demons and their mission is to entice, deceive, and ensnare souls. Demons are mentioned many times in both the Old and New Testaments. We see who they are most clearly in the gospel accounts when Jesus frees men and women from demons who possess their bodies. Once they take over, the demons steal their victims’ voices and/or replace them with their own voices, cause them to harm themselves, and isolate them from society (Luke 11:14; 4:33-35; 8:26-30). Never once do we see either the devil or his demons bring satisfaction or peace into the lives of the people who listen to them. Every single strategic move of this rival army and its captain is meant to “steal and kill and destroy”—just like the thief whom Jesus refers to in John 10:10.
In short, yes, the devil and his demons are formidable. Yes, we must deliberately prepare for their inevitable attacks. But we must remember that the forces of evil are only able to do what God, in His sovereign will, allows them to do to accomplish His purposes. Our Lord does not leave us without an arsenal. When the Holy Spirit indwells us once we trust in Christ, He keeps us from demonic possession and gives us power to fight against demonic oppression. When we put on the armour of God from Ephesians 6, God equips us to stand strong against our rivals. The devil knows how to tempt us, but the Holy Spirit offers us the power to resist (1 Peter 2:11); the devil knows how to accuse us, but the Holy Spirit is our Comforter and the seal of our salvation (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13-14). While spiritual battles will follow us throughout our lives, the Lord equips us with truth to fight well and ensures a final victory. We can wage war against the enemy of our souls and we must.
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:8-10, ESV)