How do we think about the “Devil and all his angels”? People tend to be rather all or nothing about it. As C.S.Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or magician with the same delight.”
So how should I respond? A preacher once summed it up for me in the title phrase: “Just never forget that you’re in a war.” As a general principle, it’s helpful. It derives, more or less, from 1 Peter 5:8-9:
“Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does.” (1 Peter 5:8-9 MSG)
The context is important. According to Peter, our response to “spiritual warfare” starts with absolute humility. In 5: 1 to 5, Peter instructs the believers to saturate themselves with humility toward one another. Then Peter calls on every believer to humble themselves or be humbled under the mighty hand of God, and not to give into the pride of worry, but to cast all our anxieties on the God who cares for us. Only with the foundation of humility laid does Peter speak of a battle plan against the enemy.
The point is that it is not your power but God’s, not your formulas but God’s Word, not your strength but God’s strength, not your wisdom but God’s will that wins the battle.
For the Christian, all spiritual battle must begin with a humble heart. For the solid church, all spiritual warfare must begin with humble biblical dependence.
And three simple instructions:
1. Be sober
2. Be alert
Imagine walking down an alley in a tough neighbourhood. You stay on high alert. You know that there’s imminent danger just around the corner, and so you’re watchful, seeing things accurately and paying attention.
And right now -on planet earth-you’re on enemy turf, in a dangerous alley, with a wicked enemy who wants to kill you.
So you can’t relax into thinking: “I deserve to be comfortable, to be blessed and without pain. I don’t deserve trials, suffering, attacks or persecution. I am a nice guy, no one is against me. Life should be good.” No, Peter commands you to be sober, to be self-controlled in your thinking, to be biblical in your mindset, to not be drunk with materialism, comfort or constant pleasure.
Peter has already said, “Prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” So stay sharp! Be watchful, be wide awake, keep your eyes open, don’t fall asleep, don’t get drowsy, don’t get lulled into thinking there is no danger.
What does staying sharp look like? It looks like Ephesians 6:18, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.”
Smith Wigglesworth paraphrased: “Pray during every conversation, ask the Lord for wisdom with every new situation, ask the Lord for strength in daily duties and watch all that goes on around the world with a biblical lens, seeking to discern what God is doing.”
Stay on guard.
Because “Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
We sometimes forget how serious this war is. Satan is a malicious enemy who slanders and attacks in any way he can. Three times Jesus calls him the ruler of this world, which shows the formidable platform from which he launches his assaults. He uses this world and the people of this world as his primary instruments to attack believers. And we need to remember who is driving those attacks.
And the enemy has two overall strategies– sneaky or strong, subtle or direct. Peter says the devil prowls–that’s sneaky and subtle. Also the devil is a roaring lion–that’s strength, direct. Peter is making it clear there are times the enemy is very difficult to spot–he is prowling. And other times the enemy is very difficult to miss–he is a roaring lion!
Prowling means the enemy is looking for an opportunity. Typically, lions attack the sick, weak or young. They go after the stragglers, the independents and isolated. Your enemy prowls about in stealth, hoping you will forget he even exists, so you will stop being alert to his presence and stop being aware he is stalking your every step, waiting for a strategic moment to catch you off-guard.
This context would lead me to believe that the enemy is most sneaky and subtle when you are comfortable and have little need. And it would seem the enemy is most direct and obvious when there is open persecution of Christians, allowing the enemy to spread fear, threaten and paralyze–a roar. Understand, a lion roars for many reasons, mainly to communicate, but also to frighten its intended victim, even paralyze or momentarily immobilize its prey.
The roar of a lion can be heard more than five miles away, and zookeepers will tell you that close proximity to a lion’s roar can cause you to pass out.
But what is his game-plan? What’s he about? It’s one terrifying word: It’s to devour. Satan wants to kill you–he is not primarily interested in making your life hard, or causing you to struggle, or discourage you. “Devour” literally means “to gulp down”, emphasizing the final objective of the evil one is not to wound but to destroy. He does not want to harass you or injure you—his true desire is to kill you physically or destroy your faith spiritually. And he will use this world and his demons to ruin you or his human agents to intimidate and kill you. And if Satan is not allowed to take your life from you, then he will take everything else he can in order to destroy you, crush you, ruin you and mar your witness.
I am sure Peter never forgot the words of Christ prior to the cross, when Jesus said to Peter in Luke 22:31, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat.”
So how do you fight such an enemy?
“But resist him, firm in your faith.”
Don’t fear him or revere him, but respect his power and his hate. Respect the enemy like an electrician respects the power of electricity. You just can’t be careless about this.
The verb “resist” demands you act. It is a verb made up of two words put together–against and to stand. The same way Jesus did when he battled the devil in the wilderness. Three times Jesus was tempted by the devil, and three times Jesus answered with the exact verse dealing with the temptation. ‘It is written’.
In Ephesians 6, we are to be dependent upon the strength of God, we are to put on His divine resources/his armour, and we are to stand firm–and that includes using (verse 17) “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
That is to say: to resist the enemy, you must know the Word of God, not know about it, not swipe the air with your Bible like a sword, not go to a church that teaches it. You must know the Bible and the passages that speak to the specific attack in order to resist. That along with dependent prayer and the assistance of your fellow soldiers in the church, God’s army, can make victory possible against the enemy’s army.
“But resist him, firm in your faith.”
Firm means to be resolved or steadfast–be solid, like a rock. Against the enemy, I as a Christian and we as a church are to be unyielding like a massive boulder. Don’t bend, don’t give an inch, don’t falter, don’t compromise, don’t move–be firm. Be resolved. God says resist Satan by taking your stand on the truth of the Word of God. Know your Bible.
“No, I will not give into my feelings of fear because 1 Peter 5:7 says, ‘My God cares for me.’”
No, I will not be critical because God tells me to “honour all people” in 1 Peter 2:7.
No, I will not complain because God tells me to “do all things without grumbling and disputing” in Philippians 2:14.
No, I will not remain angry, because God commands me not to “let the sun go down on my anger,” because if I do I give the enemy an opening to do me harm, as Paul said in Ephesians 4:27, “do not give the devil an opportunity.”
When we rely on His power, we can resist and stand firm, like Ephesians 6:10 says, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” Together.
Never forget, that spiritual warfare is not a solo sport. It’s not a one-on-one tennis match, but a football contest between teams. All the verbs in Ephesians 6 on spiritual warfare are plural, and all the commands to us in 1 Peter 5:8 to 9 are plural. Spiritual warfare is a battle we fight together against a common enemy. Satan has an army of demons and people, and God has an army of angels and people.
So what does Peter tell you to do?
- Never forget you are in a battle against a hateful enemy. Don’t get comfortable, stay on duty and keep your eyes open.
- Remain alert for different types of attacks. Your enemy is both sneaky like an angel of light, and also direct, coming straight at you like a roaring lion.
- Learn the Word of God concerning the battles you face. To not learn the Word addressing the current battles you are in is the same as being a soldier who goes out to face his enemy but has no ammunition, no helmet and no vest–you’re a sitting duck.
- Tie into God’s army, His Church. You were not meant to live on this hostile planet, on enemy turf against an evil army set on destroying you, alone, or merely with your select friends or family. You were meant to be connected to, relationally tied into and serving in a healthy local church–get tied in.
- Finally: Depend on God’s resources and not your own. And on God’s timing:
“It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does.”
Yes, he does.