“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
Every Christian is called to be a good soldier of Jesus Christ, involved in a vital spiritual conflict; it’s a long, bitter, bloody battle. We have no choice whatsoever as to whether we’re going to be engaged in this fight or not; all of us from our regeneration have to be involved in it. There’s a little Christian girl and she’s on the front line, and she can’t escape from the holy war.
There are two things which we’ve got to have for this fight, the first is strength beyond our own capabilities – a divine energy, a power that comes wholly outside of ourselves which comes from the living God. The second essential is protection, and that is to be found in the whole armour of God. Both the strength and the armament are provided for us by the Lord. You will see Paul’s approach to our warfare, that he begins with an exhortation to be strong in the Lord. That is where we make our start. Hold your position! Be brave; be vigorous; be in control. The secret is not in our own abilities but it’s “in the Lord’s mighty power”. Faith lays hold of God. That means, we have seen, that we are to rely on the Lord more and more, desire him more and more, be grateful to him more and more, and have faith in the Lord more and more. Those are the means by which we are to be strengthened in the Lord. That is how Paul begins, and then, secondly, there is, in our text today in verses 11-13, the description of our enemy, and finally we are given an inventory of the weapons God provides and these we will examine in the Sabbaths ahead. So today we are going to look at the enemy. Who are our opponents?
Assessment of the enemy is a vital part of strategy in warfare. The opening verses of this famous passage are almost like a briefing session. We must assess the strength of our enemy’s position, his resources and skills, his reserves of ammunition, his fire-power, his experience, his leadership and organization, the strategies and methods he is likely to use, the psychological advantage he is going to try to gain. Paul speaks here of “the devil’s schemes” – Satan wants to gain an advantage over us. We’re not in the dark about that; he won’t surprise us; “We are not ignorant of his devices”, he says elsewhere. That sort of assessment would have been going on in the camp of Israel in the days when Goliath roared his challenge across the valley: and it is still going on in the hearts of believers and in the life of the church of Jesus Christ. We must resist Satan, but where is he, what is he doing, how is he trying to destroy us, how can we be most effective against him? We are like David facing Goliath, approaching him trusting in the power of the Lord, however superior he might seem to be – a boy taking on a superman – whatever threat he seems to pose.
In older methods of warfare this was something deliberate. Publicly the mighty men would put on their armour, and then slowly they would walk to their position – it was a public declaration of their intent to stand against the enemy. Sometimes this was done when it was obvious that the enemy armies vastly outnumbered the defence. They were showing their contempt for mere numbers. They were quite prepared to lay down their lives, but they let the enemy know what a battle was on his hands: “We might be defeated but we’re going down fighting”. It will help you enormously as a Christian if the people on your course, the men and women in your office, your family and neighbours have come to terms with the fact that you are a sincere disciple of Jesus Christ. You have made a public declaration of intent and so you are putting on the armour of God and making an open stand against the devil. Before we have struck the first blow, even before the bugle has sounded a note, our whole demeanour and preparedness announces, “My enemy, you’ve got a fight on your hands. Don’t even think of battling with me.” The whole aim is to plant fear in their hearts.
We learn from the Bible. You see how Paul describes them here, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (v.12). Where did such opponents come from?
The Bible does not try to prove the existence of Satan: but simply announces it. C. H. Spurgeon said characteristically: “Certain theologians nowadays don’t believe in the existence of Satan. It is singular when children don’t believe in the existence of their own father.” If you doubt the existence of Satan just try resisting him. If you simply read your daily papers and notice how people behave then you know well enough that there’s a devilish power loose in the world. Then we have to develop our intelligence of him along Biblical lines. It is quite clear from this passage that the apostle had these convictions about him, that he is a personal prince of evil. In verse 11 he calls him quite simply “the devil.” In other places he has such titles as Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub, the god of this world, the prince of the power of the air and so on. In verse 12 Paul begins to explain in more detail the holdings, forces, ranks and powers of the enemy. William Hendriksen, the Bible commentator, sums up what the Bible teaches about the devil in this way: “He is filled with fury and envy. His malevolence is directed against God and his people. His purpose is therefore to dethrone his great enemy the living God, and to cast all God’s people – in fact all people – into hell. He walks about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. He has a powerful, well organised army and has established an outpost within the very hearts of those whom he aims to destroy.”
So where did sin come from? It began in heaven, in the heart of Satan and he was an angel created by God, of superhuman moral and spiritual strength, and yet at the centre of that perfection the rebellion began. Some of the angels sinned and were cast out of heaven; 2 Peter 2.4, “… God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.” Similarly, Jude verse 6 speaks of “the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation.” There were a company of angels – maybe a third – who weren’t content with their created sphere of service, enormously privileged and exalted though it was. They were dissatisfied. These events took place soon after the creation, and before the events recorded in Genesis chapter 3. And every metaphysician, and every amateur theologian, and every thinking student is going to ask, “Why?” How could such an angel sin? How could sin begin in heaven? How could it begin among those great and glorious beings? How? It is utterly anomalous and irrational. It comes from nowhere and it makes no sense. All we can say is that God made the angels perfect but without an immunity to sin.
We soon learn that the devil wasted no time in seeking to bring about the ruin of the human race. Fighting against the judgment of God he sought to involve man in his own punishment. The apostle John tells us that the devil sinned from the beginning, that is, from the beginning of mankind, and so in order to bring men and women under the judgment of God, the devil first sought to draw man into his own sinful rebellion. Genesis 3 explains to us how he went about it. He used the serpent, described as the most crafty of all God’s creatures. Satan came to our first parents in the Garden of Eden, and they were perfectly upright, made in the image of God, in theory temptation-proof. Everyone seeing them on that fateful day when Satan came along would have said, “They will never sin.” The unfallen angels would have judged, “Adam and Eve will never sin.” They were so pure, and godly, biased in favour of holiness. They were deeply in love with God. “Surely they will never listen to the serpent.”
Satan came to Eve as a serpent. Why? Because Eve would be more likely to listen to a serpent than to anything else. That may seem strange; most of us don’t like snakes at all, but in the original creation, the serpent wasn’t like any snake we know. The serpent was more intelligent, and possibly more splendid, than any creature besides humans. After Adam and Eve sinned, God took away the serpent’s attractiveness, made it repulsive, and set snakes and people against each other (3:14-15), but before that, the serpent was impressive.
We are told that Satan approached the woman, who was made after the man, from the man, and for the man. It is the weaker vessel that the devil attacks, and he questioned her concerning the gracious word which God had spoken, inferring that there was something unfair or restrictive about God’s command. Soon he is flatly contradicting God’s word, and imputing base motives to God, and within five minutes Eve is taken in by the devil’s lies. She took the forbidden fruit, shared it with her husband and the probation in Eden ended with the fall of man. Sin in men and women began in the Garden of Eden in the hearts of spotless purity which God had planted in that holy context.
Just let me make one more observation about your sin and mine. We are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, partakers of the divine nature. Jesus Christ dwells in us and so when we sin it is equally astonishing. But we have become so conditioned to our sins that we think, “Oh, a Christian sinning is the most explicable fact of all.” Yet we have lost sight of this, that the whole thing is monstrous. A man filled with the Spirit, one with Christ – sinning? That is as amazing as an angel becoming a devil.
So man fell and then God intervened, and cursed the serpent; the battle-lines were drawn. “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed,” (Genesis 3.15). So we are beginning to see our enemy, where he comes from. We are told of these protagonists, the seed of the woman and the serpent and his seed. You remember when Jesus was locked in argument with the Pharisees, when they were boasting that they were the sons of Abraham, He said “You are of your father the devil.” They were the seed of the serpent. So it has always been from earliest history down to the present times those who are the seed of the serpent are locked in battle with the woman and her seed. Paul (in Galatians 3.16) informs us that the seed of the woman with Christ.
So you see, since our first parents were made there’s been a war on. Satan continues to seek to destroy man by sin, for example, Jesus said to Simon, “Simon, Satan has desired to have you”, and that’s still his desire today. He wants you, to have you suffer with him, to have you punished with him, to have you endure the torments of hell with him for evermore, and that is what would happen to all of us were it not for the fact that Jesus came into the world to save his people from their sin.
We are given four different aspects of the devil’s power and control in the titles Paul lists here (and Pastor Paul G. Watts of Coventry makes some helpful comments about them which I am pleased to use):-
We wrestle against rulers or kingdoms. Notice the plural: our fighting is against an innumerable host of super mundane evil spirits, organised into principalities. We read of the angels which kept not their first estate and of the devil and his angels. Let us never underestimate the devil and the agencies under his control. The devil is not omnipresent, but he is superbly organised, by means of principalities and hosts he exercises immense influence. Remember Legion. Remember how Christ referred to the devil as the ruler or prince or god of this world. The book of the Revelation refers to Pergamos as being Satan’s seat or throne. This rule of the world by the principalities of Satan is undoubtedly God’s righteous judgment of this world. We have wrought it on ourselves. We have rejected the sweet and righteous government of our Lord. Satan is the choice of king for corrupt human nature.
Thankfully this word “rulers” points us to another kingdom, a divine Power, and a blessed Person who is stronger than Satan. Jesus is far above all rulers and powers and might and dominion, and every name that is named: all things are put under his feet. Angles and men before him fall and devils fear and fly. He has spoiled rulers, principalities and powers and made an open show of them. He conquers by his grace and causes us to conquer in him.
It is not only that Satan governs evil agencies but also that they wield phenomenal power. When circumstances are threatening in the lives of believers, when people are hostile and persecuting, when temptations overthrow us and our lusts get the better of us, when the Church battles against error, division, persecution, more is involved than the intermediate causes of this opposition and temptation. More is involved than flesh and blood. The authorities and counsels of “the gates of hell” are at work. Satan is powerful in name: he is ‘the prince of the power of the air’, he is compared to a roaring lion. He is powerful in nature, powerful in cohesion. He has vast numerical strength. Is all this depressing and defeatist? No, for although Satan is mighty, God is almighty! The promise of God is that through Christ the Christian will trample Satan underfoot. Satan can’t do exactly what he wants.
Darkness in the Bible points to sin and especially ignorance – the spiritual blackout in which men live. Darkness restricts our movements, frightens us, spoils our appreciation and vision. The devil and his agents inhabit and control this spiritual darkness. They work under cover of darkness. They take advantage of the fact that we would have it so – “men have loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil.” This spiritual darkness depends on ignorance and falsehood. Satan is called the “father of lies.” All who are under Satan’s rule are in darkness; “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble” (Prov. 4:18,19). There is guilt and fear in this darkness. But this phrase does indicate, thankfully, the limitation of the powers of darkness: their sphere of operation is limited to the “darkness of this world”. Into this arena of darkness came the glorious Light of the world. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light. The word of the Psalmist is fulfilled: “Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains. Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men,” (Ps. 107:13-15). How much we need the exhortation: “You were sometimes darkness but now are you light in the Lord: walk as children of light”. To the devil and all his powers and all under this domain is “reserved the blackness of darkness for ever”.
It This phrase points us to the power-base of the devil. The Bible teaches clearly that Satan and his hosts dominate our globe and its atmosphere. He has power in high or heavenly places. The devil is the prince of the power of the air. His power-base is above the earth but below the highest heavens. The devil’s domain is spiritual, immaterial; not hindered by flesh and bones: yet each spirit is a real spiritual substance, separate and entire. Consider the advantages of these spiritual beings. They have intelligence, intellectual ability beyond our experience. They have the advantage of being invisible: what is not seen is little feared. They have the advantage of ease and speed of movement. Their activity is unwearied, they are not limited by hindrances. They need no sleep.
This phrase also points up the sheer wickedness of these spiritual intelligences. They are the inventors of sin and want to lead us into wickedness. Especially they tempt to spiritual wickedness. They are skilled in such things as idolatry, error, envy, spiritual pride, unbelief. Every sin of the flesh has a corresponding sin of the spirit. For example, drunkenness, that common sin of the flesh, has as its spiritual counterpart intoxication with deadly ideas and philosophies. Sexual uncleanness and unfaithfulness in the Scriptures is often an analogy for spiritual idolatry. Pride of wealth or family or education is carnal and spiritually damaging: but how much more damage in the Church is caused by spiritual pride – pride of gifts or experience or office.
Let’s look at three examples in the Bible, two briefly, and one in a little more detail;
Colin Dawson in the Gospel Tidings makes some helpful comments. The first two verses introduce us to some stupendous events in heaven. First of all, there is a special woman, (remember Genesis 3 – the seed of the woman) and she is travailing in birth, pained to be delivered. She represents the church of God from Adam’s day to the Lord’s day. Ever since man fell, and the promise was given of one who would come to bruise the serpent’s head, the whole church of God had been looking forward to that event, praying for it, agonising for it. Then there is her child, the seed of the woman, the babe of Bethlehem , the Lord Christ. Verses 3 and 4 introduce us to the great red dragon. He comes right up to this woman and he stands in front of her and his intention is to devour her child as soon as it is born. This is Satan. Verse 5 shows us that he was not able to do that. This verse summarises the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and heavenly enthronement of the Lord. This is the finished work of Christ. He came, he conquered. He did what His Father gave him to do. He fought with the devil, and defeated him.
Now we will move on to verses 7 and 8. There is war in heaven. Notice again, the protagonists, Michael and his angels, versus the dragon and his angels. The great dragon is that old serpent the devil. Verses 9 to 12: Michael and his angels prevail. The devil and his angels are cast out of heaven. They can no longer accuse the brethren. Satan can no more have access to God because Christ is there. Jesus is at the right hand of the Father. He has defeated the devil, and the accuser of our brethren is cast down. The presence of Christ, the Lamb of God, at the right hand of the Father, utterly confounds and silences the evil one. Now back to verse 6, and link it up with verses 14-16: we see the woman again. She is now in the wilderness. This provides us with a glimpse of the Church on earth. It is the Church militant; the Church at war. You will notice that the Lord appoints her a place and protects her and provides for her; she is to stay there for a set time. The devil attacks her by unleashing a great flood, but the earth comes to her aid and swallows up the water. Then finally, verse 17, where we are told that the war is still on. “Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring – those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus!” The battle lines are drawn again. The angry dragon with all the principalities and powers and fallen angels he has at his disposal, against “the rest of her offspring” – the church of God , true believers who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. There is this remnant, those who are heading for glory. Satan is locked in battle against them. There is none exempt, and none excepted. They walk the walk – they obey God’s commandments and they talk the talk – they hold to the testimony of Jesus, that is, they bear witness to Christ. There is this description of the true Church. This is where we are now. This is that final phase of the battle in which we are involved today if we truly belong to the people of God.
What is being fought over? The souls of men and women. The devil has lost the battle over Christ. He tried to tempt him to sin. He attempted to get him to worship him. He wanted to get him off the cross and stop the work of redemption. He sought to uproot Christ from his rightful position in glory and failed and so he turned all his focus on the Church. He is still fighting over his Bride.
There are times and Christians will know an open assault of the devil, his full frontal attack, as he is “going about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.” Sometimes one has to stop a car one is driving and get out, stretch and breathe and pray; there is such a gnawing, wearying onslaught of the evil one as one is driving along. Then there are the more secret attacks of the devil, Satan can come as an angel of light. Paul speaks here of the devil’s schemes (v. 11), his crafty methods and wiles. He has no rule book, code of conduct: there is no equivalent to the Geneva Convention. The devil abides by no laws. He is likely to use the spiritual equivalent of dirty bombs. His methods are unjust, unpredictable, frightening. Later we are told especially of his power or aggression, but here we are told that we must be ready for his mean tricks. We will need the whole armour of God to hold our ground against his crafty, subtle, artful attacks.
It is to the devil’s subtlety that our attention is first called in the Bible in the Garden of Eden. He can quote or misquote the word of God; he can masquerade as an angel, he is a master at the art of disguise. Paul writes of “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.” (2 Cor. 11:13,14). In another place he refers to the antichrist “whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders”. (2 Thess. 2:9) He has the ability to mix error with just enough truth to appear plausible. In this way he has given birth to scores of cults, and even this year new ones are being born. Hollywood film-stars are very susceptible to them! As Jonathan Edwards puts it: “The devil was educated in the best divinity school in the universe – the heaven of heavens”. The use of counterfeit is his most natural method of resisting God’s purposes. That is why we have to try the spirits to see whether they are of God. We have to exercise discernment because he infiltrates our ranks. Sometimes he appears in the most unlikely places and the most convincing disguises – Jesus spoke of “the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place.” Satan has these devices and we must not be ignorant of them.
What is his intent? Broadly, it is first to draw us into sin, promising that good can be attained through wrongdoing; and then to distress, accuse and torment us because of our sin. The devil’s timing is crafty – a new believer, or a Christian in trouble, a person embarking on some work in the name of the Lord will be a target. The devil will choose his moment after a time of spiritual blessing, or at a time of physical weakness or mental depression. His methods are crafty. Under the guise of Christian liberty he encourages careless living; or under the guise of scrupulosity he brings in legalism and a Pharisaic spirit. By emphasising experience he undermines scripture; by pointing out faults in a local church he draws people away into an isolationist position: under the guise of zeal he kindles anger. His targetting is crafty: he targets especially the people who have the most influence, or whose fall would cause the most damage. In the church he will go especially for the pastor. He will use a Christian to damage the reputation of the minister, or hurt other people in the congregation, and divide and destroy the church. Let us all be on our guard lest we become the devil’s unwitting tools.
Let’s all be on guard against religious people. Religion has been mankind’s greatest enemies. Jesus warned of false prophets, wolves in sheep’s clothing, Satan will transform his servants into ministers of righteousness. So the first thing we have to watch for in this battle is the disguise of the enemy. He appears to be what he is not. How do you think Satanic worship would be? You think it would be a heavy rock concert with mega-decibels and wild Satanists shouting about drugs and rock’n’roll and occasional sights of nudity. No. The music might be Mozart or sweet middle-of the-road. The leader has a shining face, and the harmonies are marvellous. Figures of gentleness and kindness are dotted all around, and people murmur, “Aren’t they wonderful?”
This really does have frightening implications for all who profess to be ministers of the gospel, because among them Satan will have ministers of unrighteousness who have the appearance of ministers of righteousness. Remember Paul’s warning to the Ephesian elders, “Of your own selves shall men arise speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them.” So each time a man climbed into the pulpit in Ephesus and told the people God had blessed him with a wonderful new truth the elders all glanced at one another and mouthed “Remember what Paul told us.”
So we are in a war of subterfuge, of deceit, of underhand dealings. We watch and listen carefully to religious men – we are not ignorant of his devices (2 Cor.2:11). So although we must be on guard for these underhand attacks made by our adversary, we are not ignorant of his approach, his thoughts, his plans, his scheme of things. We know how he operates. So we need not to be completely outflanked by his manoeuverings. We know his strategies, we know what he is up to. We know where to look for his attacks and for his agents – or we certainly ought to!
In conclusion, if this is our enemy, how well we need to understand him and his devices, how we need to be strong in the Lord, and how much we need to put on the whole armour of God! Children in the playground call one another names: but if Christians are to stand against Satan they must get beyond calling him names. We must be prepared to wrestle and fight and pray. We have every encouragement in the Word of God to do so. Satan is still on the losing side. We are more than conquerors through him that loved us. As Thomas Brooks put it: “If God were not my friend Satan would not be so much my enemy.”
We have a wonderful friend in Jesus Christ, and he is a warrior; he calls you to join him in the warfare against the spiritual forces of evil. Be brave and fierce in resisting evil. “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” Join Jesus in demolishing Satan’s crumbling regime. Christ calls us to combat; he will equip us, and if we join him, we are on the winning side. Psalm 144:1-2 says, “Praise be to the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle. He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me” (Psalm 144:1-2). Psalm 149:6 says, “May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands” (Psalm 149:6). The day of peace will come when Christ returns, but in this day of battle, we have the heroic calling to battle against sin, doubt, and despair, and to tell others the good news that Satan is losing and that they can be free from his tyranny and enjoy freedom under the loving leadership of Jesus Christ.
Do you know the enemy? Are you taking your stand, or just taking a nap? Have you put on the armour of God, or have you refused to join his forces? This is no time for indecision. It is no time for cowardice. It is no time for appeasement. It is time to accept Jesus as your leader and to become a daring, dangerous soldier in his army. You might think it’s ridiculous even to imagine yourself as daring and dangerous. But if you dare to live by faith, you are an extreme danger to Satan and his demons. You have a very strong Father—the Lord is a warrior—and you can be a strong warrior who stands firm in faith. So be bold. Strike fear into Satan. Keep capturing more territory for General Jesus. Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.