“My dear brothers, never forget, when you hear the progress of enlightenment vaunted, that the devil’s best trick is to persuade you that he doesn’t exist!”—Charles Baudelaire, “Le Joueur Généreux”
This is a long one, but it needs to be, as this is both an easily misunderstood and easily abused subject. So let’s ease our way in….
Were you ever picked on or harassed by a bully growing up? What things did you do to keep him or her from bothering you? How successful were you? What advice would (or do) you give your own children about dealing with a bully?
I pretty much faced that every day between grades 4 through 9. Fighting back didn’t work. Not fighting back didn’t work either. I will attribute a whole lot of verbal repartee, and a penchant for cursing I’ve never particularly broken, from that time. Honestly, that was the only thing that seemed to have any effect at all (although it inspired others to want to kick my butt even further).
This time last week we explored how we can let the Holy Spirit work through our lives. This week we’re going to look at other spiritual matters—but not the same spirit. We’re going to consider another, better-known bully: Satan. A lot of people have different ideas of who the devil is—or if he even is at all. But the Bible assures us that Satan is very real and that he’s determined to oppose us, whether we acknowledge it or not.
More important, we’re assured that even though we’re in a battle, Jesus wins. More than that, the Bible shows us how we can live in that victory more and more each day. Let’s break down the best-known passage on this topic, which appears in Ephesians 6:
“Finally, be strengthened in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Clothe yourselves with the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. For this reason, take up the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand your ground on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:10-13, NET).
So, what’s your reaction to Paul’s statement that we are fighting “against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens”? Does it make you frightened and insecure? challenged and really pumped? skeptical? something else?
Let’s go to another movie illustration, this time from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Two of our heroes, Gandalf and Aragorn, urge King Theoden of Rohan to ride out and meet the evil forces of Sauron. Theoden, who has just been released from what well could be called demonic possession and learned of the death of his son, refuses, giving what seems like sound reasoning, “I would not bring further death to my people. I will not risk open war.”
Aragorn, having already encountered the enemy and knowing his intent, informs Theoden, “Open war is upon you, whether you would risk it or not.”
So, let me ask: Do you really believe “open war is upon you”—that you’re already in a spiritual battle? I believe we’ve all experienced it in some form, whether we’ve acknowledged that fact or its source. Think about it:
• When have you felt a heaviness you knew wasn’t just about you—whether you’d’ve called it temptation, the pull of an addiction, depression? What have you learned from those struggles?
• Did (or do) you ever consider taking a “shortcut” or doing something that’s “less than God’s will” to lessen the pain of those experiences?
• What makes it so hard to fight through these kinds of battles, whether you consider them spiritual or not? What helps you stay focused on God and His desires for you during those times?
Let’s move from the reality of spiritual warfare to the tactics. How does Satan actually go about trying to mess us up? And how should we respond? Two of the best-known “Satan stories” in the Bible give us a clue.
“Now the serpent was more shrewd than any of the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Is it really true that God said, “You must not eat from any tree of the orchard”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit from the trees of the orchard; but concerning the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the orchard God said, “You must not eat from it, and you must not touch it, or else you will die.”‘ The serpent said to the woman, ‘Surely you will not die, for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will open and you will be like divine beings who know good and evil.’
“When the woman saw that the tree produced fruit that was good for food, was attractive to the eye, and was desirable for making one wise, she took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some of it to her husband who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:1-6, NET).
“Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he endured temptations from the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were completed, he was famished. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “Man does not live by bread alone.”
“Then the devil led him up to a high place and showed him in a flash all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘To you I will grant this whole realm—and the glory that goes along with it, for it has been relinquished to me, and I can give it to anyone I wish. So then, if you will worship me, all this will be yours.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “You are to worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”
“Then the devil brought him to Jerusalem, had him stand on the highest point of the temple, and said to him, ‘I you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,” and “with their hands they will lift you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “You are not to put the Lord your God to the test.” So when the devil had completed every temptation, he departed from him until a more opportune time” (Luke 4:1-13, NET)
Let’s break this down:
• What parallels do you see between these two accounts?
• Look at the strategies Satan uses in each of these passages. How do you see these same kinds of strategies used today? What do they look like to you?
• Why is it sometimes easier for us to believe the lies of Satan rather than Jesus’ promises? What can we do to counter that?
Let’s circle back to Ephesians, so we can better answer that last question:
“Stand firm therefore, by fastening the belt of truth around your waist by putting on the breastplate of righteousness, by fitting your feet with the preparation that comes from the good news of peace, and in all of this, by taking up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the swordof the Spirit, which is the word of God. With every prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and to this end be alert, with all perseverance and requests for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:14-18, NET).
Paul refers to several spiritual weapons here. Which of these weapons do you rely on the most? In what ways? Which of these spiritual weapons could you use an “upgrade” in?
And now that we’ve looked at where each of us is most susceptible to attack and where our defenses are weakest, what’s one thing you can do to more effectively fight your spiritual battles?
Here are some ideas to walk this out in your life. Pick one, or if God’s pointing somewhere else, go there….
Live It—Where have you been most susceptible to attack? Sexual temptation? Addiction? The need for “stuff”? Commit to avoiding situations where temptation is most likely, and to praying for that area of your life daily. Also find someone who’ll hold you accountable. Remember: You’re in this together.
Share It—Who do you know who seems to be under a great deal of spiritual pressure? Maybe he or she is facing some kind of harassment, encountering more than the usual amount of temptation, or simply going through a very difficult time. Be sensitive to ways you can support this person, whether it’s encouragement or personally intervening on his or her behalf—and whether that’s with God or with other people.
Go for It!—Follow Jesus’ example; serve a friend. If your friend compliments you for your good deed, simply thank that person for his or her kind words, and leave it at that. But don’t just dismiss the compliment—it can be an act of humility to accept praise from another person, too.
Do It Together—As discussed in our last entry just below, there are victims of sin everywhere, whether by choice or not. Address one of those needs as a group. Volunteer at a crisis-pregnancy center, to help mothers overcome the fear or rejection they might be facing. Or raise funds and supplies for a group like Justice for Children International (jfci.org), which works toward the elimination of child exploitation and human sex trafficking. Check your heart, then let God move you forward.
And may He bless you in whatever He puts upon your heart to do.