How to Meet the Enemy
May 8, 2009
It is commonplace in our day to doubt the existence of the devil. Many who believe in God believe not at all in the devil. When people say, “The devil made me do it,” they mean the exact opposite. When someone says, “Oh, you devil,” it’s meant as a kind of compliment. And if someone means to seriously bring the devil into a polite discussion, the response is likely to be, “You’re not serious, are you?”
The reasons why this should be are not hard to discover. Living as we do in a scientific age where technology reigns supreme, medieval visions of the devil dressed in red with horns and carrying a pitchfork seem, well, very medieval. Sometimes the debate can get very passionate. A few weeks ago the ABC program Nightline sponsored a debate on the topic “Does Satan Exist?” in which New Age author Deepak Chopra asserted that “healthy people do not have any need for Satan.” That sentence more or less expresses the modern point of view. Science and psychology have relegated the devil to the pages of ancient mythology.
Satan’s greatest triumph may be in causing people not to take him seriously. If people don’t believe you exist, they won’t try to stop you. That may be one cause of the church’s weakness today. We fail to take the devil seriously. As a result, we rarely hear Satan talked about or preached about. And as a result, we are ignorant of his strategy, his power, his vast army, and his infernal plans. Most of our failure can be traced to a foolish self-confidence that overestimates our own abilities and underestimates the power of our spiritual enemies.
The Devil is Real
It is amazing how much the Bible says about the devil. He appears the first time in Genesis 3 and the last time in Revelation 20. Among his many titles, he is called Satan, the devil, the serpent, the deceiver, the evil one, and the accuser of the brethren. Every New Testament writer mentions him. Jesus encountered him at the beginning and end of his ministry and spoke often of him.
It is amazing how much the Bible says about the devil.
There is much we do not know but this much is certain. The devil is a real being. In the beginning he was an angel of God. Lifted up with pride, he attempted to overthrow the Lord himself. Being cast out of heaven, one-third of the angels followed him. Those fallen angels we call demons.
Where is the devil’s domain today? Not hell. He’s not in hell yet. According to 1 Peter 5:8, the devil prowls around the world looking for someone to devour. Ephesians 2:2 calls him the “ruler of the kingdom of the air.” The NLT calls him “the commander of the powers of the unseen world.”
We live on a rebel planet controlled by the devil himself. As followers of Jesus Christ, we have been thrown into a spiritual conflict that rages all around us. In that conflict, every believer is on the front lines. All have been called to active duty.
Satan Doesn’t Fight Fair
In thinking about spiritual warfare from this perspective, keep two things in mind:
1) Satan’s goal is to discourage you so that you feel like giving up.
2) Satan doesn’t fight fair.
He does not observe the traditional rules of warfare. He uses anything and everything that he can to bring us down. This is part of what Paul meant when he spoke about the “schemes of the devil” in Ephesians 6:11. The word “schemes” might also be translated as “traps” or “tricks” or “tactics.” I am reminded of a Texas politician who was asked why a certain candidate had lost an election. “It happened because he forgot the first rule of knife fighting. There are no rules.” Satan doesn’t fight fair. He’s not going to give you an even break. He is a liar, a deceiver, a diabolical “angel of light” who comes to you in a thousand guises, tempting you to disobey the Lord. And he’s a lot smarter than you are. He knows your weak points better than you do. And he can attack you any time of the day or night.
Satan doesn’t fight fair.
What is the mark of his diabolical work? We face opposition from the devil when there are . . .
Unusual or repeated temptations,
Attacks from an unexpected quarter,
Delays that hinder us from obeying God,
Inducements to doubt God’s Word,
Circumstances that produce unusual pressure upon us,
Temptations to sin in areas that never troubled us before,
Prolonged bouts of discouragement,
Worries that seem to consume us,
Seductive appeals to sinful compromise,
Bitterness toward others,
Desires to give up on the Christian life,
Enticements to turn away from the means of grace,
Excuses made for lack of spiritual growth,
Critical comments about other believers,
Attempts to hide your behavior from others.
When we face these temptations, we may be sure that the evil one has us in his cross-hairs. That’s exactly the moment when we need the message of Ephesians 6:14-17. This text tells us how we should fight back against the devil:
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Paul paints a picture of the Christian in complete armor, ready to go into battle with the devil. He describes six parts of the soldier’s uniform:
He lists them in the exact order a soldier would put them on. The belt comes first because it covered the most vulnerable organs and held other pieces of armor in place. The breastplate covers the chest and upper abdomen. The shoes (sandals with spikes driven through the soles) give the soldier a firm foundation. The shield covers most of the soldier’s body. When soldiers stood side by side with shields raised, it formed a solid wall against the flaming arrows of the enemy. The helmet protects his head and face. Made of heavy metal with a visor, nothing short of an axe or hammer could pierce it.
The sword is his only offensive weapon. It was a short, double-edged weapon, almost like a dagger, used in close combat to cut and thrust against the enemy. Razor sharp, the soldier’s sword was a deadly weapon.
Each piece of armor describes a particular quality of life that the believer needs to survive the attacks of the devil.
1. The Belt of Truth
The belt held the soldier’s uniform in place. Without the belt he could not move quickly, and if he could not move, he could not fight. The “belt of truth” refers to the truth God has revealed in his Word. When we are discouraged and under attack, we must go back to the things we know to be true. We must go back to what the theologians call the First Principles:
God is holy.
God is righteous.
God is perfect.
All his ways are right.
His mercy endures forever.
Jesus Christ is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
We are kept forever by his love.
The Holy Spirit has sealed us.
The Lord Jesus died and rose again.
He now intercedes for us in heaven.
All things are working together for our good.
When I said “we must go back,” I meant that literally. In those moments of temptation, we ought to recall and even speak out loud those things that we know to be true. As a practical matter, I find it helpful to sing out loud great hymns and gospel songs that build my faith. I may sing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” or “Thou Art Worthy” or “In Christ Alone” or “A Mighty Fortress.” Often I have withstood the attacks of the devil by singing “Crown Him With Many Crowns.” When I am feeling a bit overwhelmed, I’ll stop my work, take a bike ride, turn on my iPod and listen to Christian music. It may be something as simple as “Every Time I Feel the Spirit” or “Jesus Loves Me” or a grand hymn like “Immortal, Invisible” or “How Deep the Father’s Love.”
This is the practical meaning of putting on the belt of truth. God has already provided the truth. It’s my job to “put it on” by reminding myself of what I already know to be true.
God has already provided the truth. It’s my job to “put it on” by reminding myself of what I already know to be true.
2. The Breastplate of Righteousness
The breastplate covered the vital organs of the chest, especially the heart. It was like an ancient bulletproof vest. The righteousness Paul has in mind comes to us by virtue of our right standing with God. Having been declared righteous (justified) by God (Romans 5:1), we now pursue righteousness in the choices we make (1 Timothy 6:11). Nothing gives us more courage than knowing we are right with God and with others. Down in Texas they have an elite law enforcement group called the Texas Rangers. The Rangers have saying that goes like this: “You can’t stop a man in the right who just keeps on coming.” When we are conscious of wrongdoing, our guilt makes us cowards. But a man who knows he is right can face a multitude without fear. Proverbs 28:1 describes this man perfectly. “The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.”
When we compromise morally or spiritually, it’s like a soldier standing uncovered before the enemy. The life we live either fortifies us against Satan or makes us easy prey for him.
3. The Shoes of Gospel Peace
For 37 years David Guralnik served as editor of Webster’s New World Dictionary. When he retired in 1985, he was asked to name the most significant word in the English language. “Peace,” he replied. “It strikes my ear with greater force than any other.”
The life we live either fortifies us against Satan or makes us easy prey for him.
In battle the soldier must have good shoes so he can fight without slipping. The shoes give him a solid foundation. When Paul speaks of the “gospel of peace,” he means that the gospel itself is the only true source of peace. Because of Jesus Christ, we now have peace with God (Romans 5:1) and we have the peace of God (Philippians 4:7). And we have peace with our brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s why Paul speaks of keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). Everyone who belongs to Jesus belongs to me. There exists in the body of Christ a true and deep unity that transcends the normal barriers of age, class, language, skin color, ethnic group, culture, political ideology, and all the other things that keep us separate and divided into our different tribes.
I may be Irish and you may be Italian.
Or you may be young and I may be old.
Or you may be Bengali and I may be Chilean.
Or you may be Lutheran and I may be Baptist.
Or you may be rich and I may be poor.
We could make a long list of all the differences that separate us on the earth. We all naturally like to be around PLU-People Like Us. That’s natural and understandable, and it’s not necessarily wrong. But if you are a Christian and I am a Christian, then there exists a bond between us greater than language or culture and stronger than social class or age or race. We are brothers in Christ and therefore there should be peace between us.
In a world torn by strife, this may be our greatest evangelistic tool. Two thousand years ago as Christianity spread across the Mediterranean world, unbelievers said of those early disciples, “Behold, how they love one another.” They will still say that today when we wear the gospel shoes of peace with God and with each other.
4. The Shield of Faith
The shield of faith describes what we might call dependent living. It means calling on the Lord for help in the time of trouble. Dependent living is the opposite of doing it your own way.
What are the “fiery darts” that the devil launches against us? The phrase suggests a sudden attack that causes us to be seized with strong emotions. It’s something that may begin small but becomes almost overwhelming to us. These “darts” may come from anywhere at any time and in any situation. That’s what makes this so tricky-and it’s why we must take up the shield of faith proactively.
We all have experienced this sort of thing many times. When the day begins, we feel strong and confident and we’re just sailing along, checking things off our list, doing what needs to be done, handling the problems as they arise, and then Bam! out of nowhere something happens and suddenly your mind begins to slide in the wrong direction. The temptation may be to anger, lust, bitterness, greed, doubt, despair, or any of a hundred negative emotions. We may be sailing along when “something” happens–an unkind word, an unplanned interruption, a difficult person intrudes, a subtle seduction, a careless comment, a crass invitation. The devil’s inventions come in a thousand varieties. And we are caught off guard, hit unawares, and thrown off balance. One writer called it a “violent temptation in which the soul is set on fire of hell.”
The devil’s inventions come in a thousand varieties.
So husbands and wives may fight about the tiniest troubles. Parents may blow up at their children for the slightest provocation. There may be a strong desire toward immorality, or an appeal to festering anger, or a reminder of hidden unforgiveness. It could be envy that eats away like a canker or fear that saps your strength.
Remember what Jesus said . . .
Behind adultery lies lust.
Behind murder lies anger.
It’s the heart that is the problem-and it is in the heart that the battle must be waged. I think these sudden attacks cannot be accounted for by any other means except the “fiery darts” of the enemy of our souls. They stick like burning arrows on the inside.
What do we do in the moment of attack? We must then and there and in that very moment call on God for help. We must cry out, “Lord, I can’t handle this alone. Help me!” We must not be afraid to go to God again and again and again.
Living dependently means having unwavering confidence in God in the moment of temptation.
5. The Helmet of Salvation
Then there is the helmet of salvation. The helmet protects the soldier’s head. Woe to the soldier who goes into battle without his helmet. He won’t last long when the enemy begins firing from the other side. The helmet of salvation speaks of the assurance of salvation. It is the calm confidence that comes from knowing that because we have been purchased by the Lord Jesus Christ, we now belong to him past, present and future. It is what Paul meant when he said that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). When the soldier knows that the Captain of his salvation watches over him, he will not fear to enter the fiercest battle. We must not downplay the danger we face every day in our warfare against the devil. He can attack us from any direction at once. No one gets a free pass from that conflict. We can survive if we know that we are truly the children of God. The helmet of salvation is just another way of saying, “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).
It’s the heart that is the problem-and it is in the heart that the battle must be waged.
6. The Sword of the Spirit
Finally, the Bible tells us to take up the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. That’s the only weapon the soldier of Christ carries. All the other armor is meant to protect him. The Word of God cuts like a double-edged sword, laying everything bare so that nothing is hidden (Hebrews 4:12-13). That’s why, when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, he responded to the devil by quoting Scripture (Luke 4:1-13). Nothing defeats the devil like the Word of God. Our clever arguments mean nothing to him. He brushes aside our self-confidence because our reputation means nothing to him. But when we stand on the Word, we strike a decisive blow he cannot answer.
What does the church of Jesus Christ have to say to all the attacks made against it? One thing only. In answer to all error, all worldly philosophy, all the seductions of Hollywood, and all the suggestions of the devil, we have one sole, simple and sufficient answer.
The Word of God.
The believer who arms himself with it will never lack for a weapon in the battle. It answers all our doubts and all our discouragement. This is all we have and this is all we need. The church marches triumphantly when it relies upon God’s Word.
The Real Battlefield
Put it all together and you have a picture of the Christian soldier fully armed for combat. The various pieces of armor describe a quality of life and a commitment to a standard. Here is the whole armor of God. We are called to live . . .
The believer who arms himself with the Word of God will never lack for a weapon in the battle.
Our greatest problems are spiritual, not financial or personal or intellectual or emotional. Our real enemies are unseen because the real battlefield lies within the human heart. That’s why a change of scenery, a change of job, a change of circumstances, a change of lifestyle, a change of appearance, or a change of relationship so often accomplishes nothing. We’re the same people because we face the same enemies and fight the same battles even if things on the outside change. You can move from Miami to Beijing to Wichita to Lisbon and nothing will change unless you change on the inside. Our one hope-our only hope-is to put on the whole armor of God and so prove that what the Bible says is really true.
Now we can understand verse 13 in a clear light: “Put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm” (NLT). I love that last phrase: “You will still be standing firm.” That’s God’s intention for every believer.
No believer is safe who faces Satan in his own strength. No believer is more secure than he who goes into battle wearing the whole armor of God.
You can move from Miami to Beijing to Wichita to Lisbon and nothing will change unless you change on the inside.
My final word to you is this. Paul tells us to put on the whole armor of God. It is God’s armor, not ours. He does not say, “Put on your own armor” because that’s a good way to get clobbered in the head. Everything Christians need we already have in Jesus Christ. I just finished reading one expositor who said that as Paul wrote about the Roman soldier, he was also thinking about Jesus Christ, God’s Warrior, who clad in heavenly armor fights on our behalf. And I think that is a right connection.
We are to fight–but we do not fight alone.
We are to fight–but we do not fight in our own strength.
We are to fight–but we do not fight in our own wisdom.
Christ is our armor!
We are to fight in the name of Jesus.
We are to fight with the name of Jesus.
We are to fight for the name of Jesus.
Christ is our armor!
He fights with us and through us and for us so that we are not left alone on the battlefield. We must still go into battle but God provides the armor. He gives us whatever we need whenever we need it so that no believer ever need be defeated by the devil.
Martin Luther said it so well in his famous hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God:
Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He!
Lord Sabaoth is His Name,
From age to age the same;
And he must win the battle.
Stand and fight, child of God. The Lord is on your side. Amen.