To Prevail Against the Enemy

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To Prevail Against the Enemy

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Have you ever read the book The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis? In this satire Lewis fictionalized an ongoing correspondence between a rather inexperienced demon named Wormwood and his mentor, Uncle Screwtape. On pages 32 and 33 Screwtape counsels Wormwood on an important strategy Wormwood was using to lead a Christian astray: “My Dear Wormwood, I am amazed that you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the Christian in ignorance of our existence. That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us by the Master Himself [Satan]. Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves… “I do not think you will have much difficulty in keeping the patient in the dark. The fact that ‘devils’ are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that, he therefore cannot believe in you.” We need to expose the devil for who he really is. This knowledge can give us the backbone to stand up to the devil and his schemes designed to rob us of our reward. No enemy can be resisted effectively unless we focus on what power he actually has and does not have. Three common errors concerning the devil are: (1) people do not believe he exists, and that is a mistake; (2) people do not take him seriously, and that is a mistake; or (3) they surrender to his control and that is the worst mistake. To get him in focus, let’s first look at what he isn’t, and then examine what he is. What the devil is not The devil is not a nobody. He exists and is engaged in an aggressive strategy of persuasion. He also is not a comic character. He is not an imp with horns and a pitchfork, dressed in red tights. Furthermore, he is not all-powerful. His power is formidable, but God limits his power. His influence is pervasive but not omnipresent. What he is Satan truly is alive and hard at work on planet earth. He is invisible, deceptive, very experienced and shrewder than any human. Serving under him is a power structure of demons ready to do his bidding. His work is wicked. His strategy is to lead into disaster those humans who can be persuaded to follow him. But although he is the god of this world, he is limited in his authority. And as Christians, we have no reason to feel afraid, victimized or intimidated as long as we remain close to our Protector—God (1 John 4:3-4). In Mark 5 we see one of the most vivid and gripping portraits of evil in the entire Bible. The first person we meet in the opening verses of this chapter is the devil’s prisoner (Mark 5:1-5). This graphic picture is hard to look at. The man was demon-possessed—hopelessly and helplessly under the domination of demonic powers. His body was so controlled by satanic influences that it was merely a base of operation for the demons. Even his vocal chords were under their control (Mark 5:6-13). It is interesting to note how much these demons knew. They knew that Jesus was the Son of the Most High God and that His power was greater than theirs. They knew their final destiny (the abyss, Luke 8:31 and Revelation 20:2-3) and when they were to be sentenced to that place (Matthew 8:29). That proves that understanding and belief do not make one righteous. “Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:19-20). Strategy for standing firm Ephesians 6:10-18 gives us an excellent strategy for standing firm against the schemes of Satan. “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). Even if only one piece of armor is missing, Satan will see where you are vulnerable and attack at that place. To overcome the enemy, we first need to put on the full armor of God. That armor includes truth to help us withstand Satan’s deceptions, which lead to sin, to misplaced priorities and to disbelieving God. Truth, found through studying the Holy Bible, refocuses us and motivates us. The belt of truth also reminds Christians to live lives of honesty and integrity. Next God’s armor includes the breastplate of righteousness. Doing the right things we learn from God’s Word protects our hearts and consciences from being seared by habitual sin, one of Satan’s strongest traps. The armor also includes the sturdy shoes of the gospel of peace. The good news of God’s plan provides a firm foundation and motivation to spread the gospel and share it with others—an important step in God’s plan to defeat Satan’s kingdom. The shield of faith protects against Satan’s fiery darts of doubt and confusion, and the helmet of salvation focuses our minds on the goal we are headed toward. This protects us from the detours and traps Satan sets up for us. The sword of the Spirit—the Word of God—is the only offensive weapon. It provides the ammunition we need in each situation, if we keep it sharp through constant use. After putting on all this armor, we need to resist the enemy through the power of God. Peter tells us to cast “all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith” (1 Peter 5:7-9). Thirdly, we need to walk in faith by the Spirit of God. Paul described this in Galatians 5:16-25. By avoiding the works of the flesh and growing the fruits of the Spirit, we can walk in Jesus’ steps. A winnable war I will close with a final word from Uncle Screwtape, which should encourage us to remember that we are fighting a winnable war. “Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human no longer desires but still intends to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys” (page 40). “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” And that is what Job said: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15). That may seem “irrational,” but that is the way we need to be because present physical circumstances are a poor indicator of what we should do in a severe temptation. We need to ask God to help us be more like Jesus, with the ability to quote Scripture when we are under temptations (Matthew 4:1-11). Then ask God to help us develop a good set of spiritual armor, without which we cannot stand against such an adversary as the devil. And pray for the day when Satan will be removed “so that he should deceive the nations no more” (Revelation 20:3). Recommended reading To learn more about our adversary and how to defend against him, request or download the booklet Is There Really a Devil?