This is the first installment of a series on spiritual warfare. It is not a deep dive – just the basics. In part one, I am establishing a foundation that will set the stage for the next several weeks.
It is amazing yet disturbing to me how differently people are experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic. Consider the invalid elderly in lock-down in a nursing facility with no visitors allowed, versus the family with school-age children having to continue school on a computer at home with their parents who are now trying to navigate work, also from home. Compare this to the COVID critical patient, in a hospital on a ventilator, who may be faced with saying good-bye to family over the phone. And finally, there is the person in an area or state with little or few positive COVID patients, whose life otherwise seems fine and the whole pandemic feels more like a huge annoyance than anything else. Obviously, there are so many other individual situations that are simply too numerous to mention. Throughout this time there have been heart-wrenching stories of loss as well as encouraging stories of victories that have stretched and tested our emotions to their extremes.
While scientists and researchers are familiar with what this virus actually looks like, to the rest of us this is an unseen enemy that is almost daily changing the landscape of not only our whole country but actually, of the entire world. Although most of us can’t see this new enemy, we can clearly see the effects of this virus which reminds us of how very real and lethal it is.
Our Unseen Enemy
There is another unseen pervasive enemy in our midst which you never hear about on the news, or do you? We see the results and effects of this unseen enemy all the time although it is rarely recognized nor given the credit for its destruction - it is certainly never named. This unseen pervasive enemy is known as Satan, or the devil, introduced to us as "the serpent"in the third chapter of Genesis, the very first book of the Bible. He is chief of legions of fallen angels who were thrown down from heaven when Satan was cast out from heaven for his prideful uprising against God. This invisible enemy is even more widespread than the COVID virus and yet, even though we can see the effects of his activities every day, many, even in the church will deny his existence. After all, this is 2020 and we believe in the natural and scientific, not so much in Biblical fairy tales, so I’ve been told.
In fact, questioning his existence is one of his main ploys. In his masterful work, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis postures an old devil advising his young apprentice Wormwood concerning their strategy:
“My dear Wormwood, I wonder you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us by the High Command. Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves.”
This strategy seems to be the mantra for many, even in the church – “Don’t focus on Satan, focus on Jesus, He has already defeated Satan and the Christian no longer has to worry about Satan’s attacks.” I have heard this preached and taught by many. It’s almost like we are to act like he doesn’t even exist – which has been his goal in the first place.
But this isn’t what Jesus taught us. He Himself was tested by Satan in the wilderness, defeating him with the Word of God. But Satan left Him, “. . . until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:13) Notice that while Jesus defeated Satan, he wasn’t destroyed or in any way taken out of the picture. Jesus, later in His ministry, went to some lengths to expose the devil and his strategies, “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy . . .” (John 10:10a) At one point, when the religious leaders of Israel challenged His authority, Jesus exposed the tactics of Satan calling him a murderer, a liar and the father of lies – pretty strong accusations against an enemy who doesn’t really exist, don’t you think? Further, Jesus left us with instructions in Mark 16:17 that His followers would continue to battle Satan, claiming that in Jesus name, we would “cast out demons.” If Satan is no longer a threat, what’s this all about?
The Struggle is Real
Here’s the point. Denial doesn’t make him cease to exist – it only makes you susceptible to his attacks and conspiracies. And like COVID, while he is unseen, the effects of his presence and the consequences of our ignorance are everywhere to be seen – human trafficking, abuse, addictions, rage, murder, divorce, family breakdown, and on and on. Obviously human beings make their own destructive choices but what is the root of all this? We have to follow the trajectory of behavior to ultimately find the source. If the behaviors aren’t God honoring then someone, or something else is driving all this. And unlike sensationalist TV and movies, exorcism isn’t what’s called for here. As a Christian Counselor, I don’t spend time “casting Satan” out of people. I help people find forgiveness and freedom at the foot of the cross, that will set them on Godly pathways and free them to make Godly choices.
But, you argue, “He may exist but he’s been disarmed – he is powerless because of Jesus death on the cross – after all, Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8) – right? Well, kind of.
Remember that ultimately, Satan is destroyed and banished to the lake of fire forever (Rev 20:10). But, in the meantime, 1 John 4:19 reminds us that, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” Not ultimate power, mind you, but he, “the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” I Peter 5:8
Fighting From, Not For.
A couple of years ago, Pat Goodman, speaking at the Priority One men’s conference at Lake Champion, gave an illustration that helped me think more clearly about this whole thing. On June 6th, we commemorate D-Day, that heroic and awful day in 1944 when the American and allied forces launched the largest seaborne invasion in history, orchestrated to liberate France from German occupation. It is generally understood that this massive attack on German-occupied territory was the straw that broke the back of the enemy. In other words, essentially the war was won at that point. However, VE Day wouldn’t happen until almost a year later. During that year the battles continued, many of them fierce. There were certainly ongoing casualties, many of them, during the year between the decisive battle and the final ending of WWII - the signing of the unconditional surrender by Nazi Germany on May 8th, 1945.
Likewise, the cross was our spiritual D-Day. That’s good news for us – we need to always remember that we are now fighting from a victory not for a victory. We will continue to be threatened, tempted, and enticed by our enemy but if we apply the warfare principles of Scripture, we will be victorious. We are never simply at the mercy of our enemy. The back of the enemy was broken and Jesus was victorious when He rose from the grave. But, the final demise of Satan won’t take place until the culmination of all things. In the meantime, he is roaming the earth, seeking whom he may devour – that’s me - and you.
In other words, there is an enemy who seeks to take you down. To discredit your testimony and convince you of your failures. He is relentless – he is not sheltering at home and you will either be a victim or a victor, but you don’t get to simply opt-out of this reality. You will either deny him and live a life that doesn’t quite make sense or you will rise up as a man of God, take hold of the weapons of warfare given to you by the Spirit of God, and find victory over the areas of your life that have plagued you and left you feeling confused, defeated, or empty.
Preparing for Battle
In the next two weeks, we will look at first, your place in God’s Story, and finally, the weapons of our warfare. John Eldredge points out that we were born into a world at war. That’s the backdrop of the world we live in. Denying it doesn’t help anything. In fact, the enemy would love to have you sidelined. Then you will never be a threat to his tactics. Let’s choose to live as fully equipped, Spirit-empowered, men of God.
King Theoden: “I will not risk open war.” Aragorn: “Open war is upon you, whether you would risk it or not.”
Lord of the Rings – “The Two Towers”
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