Do you have questions about the REACH 2016 Conference? Click on the link below
February is the first month of our 5 month focus on discipleship within our Small Groups. In preparation for our meeting we will all read an article that gets us thinking about the topic for the month. February’s topic is Spiritual Warfare Please read the article below before attending your group next week.
Our Struggle Is Not Against Flesh And Blood
How do we account for the heinous evil of ethnic cleansing carried out by the Serbians against the Muslims in Bosnia? How do we explain the number of pastors who have sacrificed their call to the temptation of sexual in- fidelity? How do we understand the disunity and dissension in many churches who are bringing shame on the name of the Christ they follow? How do we make sense of the rapid disintegration of marriages, where the divorce rate has escalated from 11 percent in the 1950s to over 50 percent today? How do we justify our own self-destructive behavior when we violate our own beliefs about what is right, decent and virtuous?
Scripture says we have an unseen enemy who will defeat us if he’s not taken seriously. “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” (Ephesians 6:12). If we seek human solutions to problems whose origin is supernatural evil, we will fail because we will not have correctly assessed the strength of the enemy. Education and support groups might help to a limited extent, but they are human solutions to spiritual problems.
In his autobiography, A General’s Life, General Omar Bradley writes of his first meeting with the young William Westmoreland, who would later become commander of the American forces in Vietnam. At the time, Westmoreland was a cadet first captain in the West Point class of 1936. During the summer war games Westmoreland commanded a battalion defending a hill. He performed so poorly in this mock battle that the hill was overrun. Bradley, a major at the time, observed the exercise. He pulled the young field officer aside with this advice, “Mr. Westmoreland, look back at that hill. Look at it from the standpoint of the enemy. It is fundamental to put yourself in the position of the enemy.”
We Have an Enemy
Paul asserts without embarrassment that standing behind the human face of sin, brokenness and evil are unseen spiritual forces. Paul says that there are powers in our dark world. Powers was a term used commonly in astrology for the alignment of the planets, which was thought to control human fate. Paul takes that familiar word and fills it with his own content. By describing these powers as evil Paul means that they are destructive, unscrupulous, ruthless and in pursuit of malicious designs. Peter wrote, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
Though Paul assumed the reality of a personified evil, we cannot. C. S. Lewis said that we make two opposite yet equally destructive errors regarding the devil. In his preface to Screwtape Letters Lewis writes, “One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”1
Regarding the first error, we disbelieve in the devil because in our scientific age the idea of a supernatural being who is the enemy of God is viewed as a product of primitive times. Now that we have come of age, we have a cause-effect explanation for everything. These notions seem foolish. Skeptical theologian Rudolf Bultmann expressed this attitude, “It is impossible to use electric lights and the wireless, and to avail ourselves of the modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time believe in the New Testament world of demons and spirits.”2
Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, took the opportunity to visit a tenured professor at a major university who had recently become a Christian. The conversation began in a strained, awkward fashion until this new believer admitted his nervousness about the conversation. “This may seem strange to you, but you are the first Christian academic I’ve ever talked with about my faith.” Concerned that his questions were too fundamental, he was afraid to ask them. One of the topics concerned the devil. “Before I became a Christian I thought a belief in Satan was a leftover from the Dark Ages—something you found today only on the lunatic fringe. But now as I look back on my own pre-Christian days, I sense that I was held in the grip of a power that tried to dominate my thoughts. Becoming a Christian meant being released from that stranglehold. In Christ I am now free to see things in a different way.”3
The second mistake that we make regarding Satan, Lewis says, is “to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest” in him.4 Some Christians are marked by excesses when they see demons as the cause of all problems. If one has an addiction to tobacco or sex, the reasoning goes, a demon of tobacco or sex has entered one’s body and must be removed. Excessive interest can be a reason for not accepting responsibility for one’s own sin. Comedian Flip Wilson’s old line applies: “The devil made me do it.”
In addition to disbelief and excessive interest, there is a third problem that may be more prevalent and damaging than the first two. We can say that we believe in the reality of a personified evil, but it has no practical effect in our lives. For example, when illness or depression occur, our means of handling them may be limited to medical or psychological services. Though we say there is an evil one, we operate out of the scientific worldview that asserts that all problems have a natural cause and therefore a natural solution. The truth is that transformation and change, the dislodging of sin and evil from our lives, is an act of the Holy Spirit displacing and confronting the powers of evil and sin. It is easy to be seduced into thinking that we can produce fruit in our efforts when in fact we are being called to enter into a realm of spiritual warfare that is not fought with human weapons.
We have an enemy, and the enemy engages us in battle. Paul writes, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood.” The word struggle literally means “wrestle” and is taken from the world of athletic competition or hand-to-hand combat. Paul is indicating that the battle is now “up close and personal.” Just as a wrestler needs to know the moves of the opponent in order to pin him, so we must know the moves of the one who wants to destroy us. We are to put on the whole armor of God that we may be able to stand against the devil’s schemes.
There are four basic strategies that the evil one uses against individuals, the church and the world. We must not think of the work of the evil one as purely personal. Christians have often failed to see that not only is Satan wanting to neutralize us individually, but his strategies relate to destroying the church of Christ and throwing a blanket of darkness over whole cultures. What are the common strategies of the devil?
When Jesus launched his public ministry, the first act of the Holy Spirit was to lead him into the wilderness to face “the tempter” (Matthew 4:1). A primary strategy of the evil one is to be a beguiling serpent whose method is to sow seeds of distrust and doubt about God, whether he has our best interest at heart. The primary tool in the devil’s box is the wedge. When we go back to the Garden of Eden, Satan appears to Eve in the form of a serpent. God had promised the original couple abundance of life, the only restriction being not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So what does the serpent do? He raises a question meant to create doubt about God’s goodness: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” (Genesis 3:1).
Temptation is to sow disbelief that God’s way is the most satisfying way for us to live. Though James tells us that temptation originates from within (James 1:13-15), Satan is there also fanning the flames of those desires, creating pictures in our minds and wooing us to do what is contrary to God’s intent. The tempter promises satisfaction, but it is hollow and harmful.
In Revelation 12:10 Satan is called the “accuser of our brothers.” Satan wants nothing more than to tear apart the church from within. Satan’s ultimate goal is to attack the glory of God and strike a blow against God’s Son. What better way to do that than to sow dissension within the people of God, who are to reflect the glory of God? If Satan can get God’s people fighting among themselves, the battle is over. We must beware of how we talk about our leaders or other members of the body, for we could unwittingly become a wedge, causing disunity.
Another way we experience accusation is the inner voice of self-condemnation and despair. Christians often fail to discern the difference between the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the accusations of the evil one. How can we know the difference? In the results. Satan has the capacity to create in our minds a frighteningly accurate picture of our sins and weaknesses. His intent is to lead us into despair. But the conviction of the Holy Spirit is sweet release. Under it we see with incisive clarity the guilt and horror of our sin, but we are lead to the refreshing waters of God’s mercy.
Satan masks himself as an angel of light. The Ephesian believers were acquainted with Satan’s attempts to transform himself into a benevolent power. Ephesus was a center for magic and occult practices. The temple of Artemis contained a cultic zodiac that could supposedly manipulate the cosmic forces. When there was a great turning to Christ in the city, “Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly” (Acts 19:18-19).
Johanna Michaelsen tells the story of how she was sucked into the world of occult power through what appeared to be the good of psychic healing. Her story is titled The Beautiful Side of Evil. Satan exercises the power of healing and even attempts to co-opt the name of Jesus, but it is his way of taking hold. People innocently dabble in things such as astrology, graphology and palm reading, thinking that these things are harmless, but they are the evil one’s point of entry. The lure of the occult is twofold. There is the desire for supernatural knowledge of the future and the desire for acquiring power to manipulate spiritual forces for our own benefit.
Satan doesn’t come primarily through the occult. He is much more effective in throwing a blanket of darkness over an entire culture. Satan deceives whole people groups to buy in to worldviews that become dominant thought patterns and assumptions. The acceptance of relativism, for instance, is an ingenious and insidious maneuver on the part of Satan. A recent poll reveals that 67 percent of Americans believed there is no such thing as absolute truth. People won’t even search for a truth outside themselves because they don’t think there is such a truth to be found.
When Satan gets bold he attacks directly. Our society is openly hostile toward Christians. Christian belief is characterized by the media as narrow and even lunatic. We are living in the rising tide of anti-Christianity. We must be aware that the one who is driving the passions and energizing the antagonism is none other than the enemy whose target is the Lord Jesus Christ. If he can’t get at Jesus directly, he will do it through Jesus’ people.
We face a formidable enemy, but don’t lose heart. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10). As powerful as the evil one appears to be, we have the right Man on our side. The head of our army is the One who hung on the cross, unmasking and pronouncing judgment on the evil one and his minions. When Satan thought he had dealt the death blow to Jesus, God raised him from the dead, triumphing over the power of darkness. The power that raised Jesus is available to us. That is why Paul prayed for the Ephesians, “That the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know . . . his incomparably great power for us who believe, . . . which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (Ephesians 1:18-20).
Tony Campolo dramatizes the power of the cross and resurrection through a Good Friday sermon. On this particular Good Friday Campolo was the sixth of seven preachers at a Good Friday service.
Campolo was hot. After preaching he sat down next to the seventh preacher of the day, leaned over and said, “Can you top that?” The man, his pastor, said, “Just you sit back and watch.” For the next forty-five minutes this preacher worked the congregation into a lather, and it was all built around one line: “It’s Friday. Sunday’s a coming!”
He started off slowly and built to a crescendo. “It’s Friday. Jesus is on the cross. He’s dead. Gone. He’s no more. But that’s Friday. Sunday’s a coming.” He began to take off. “It’s Friday. Mary’s crying her eyes out. The disciples are running in every direction. No hope in the world. That’s Friday. Sunday’s a coming.”
“Keep going,” someone said. “It’s Friday. Pilate’s washing his hands. The Pharisees are calling the shots. The Roman soldiers are strutting around. But that’s Friday. Sunday’s a coming!”
“Preach on, brother!” “It’s Friday. Satan’s doing his little jig. He thinks he rules the world. Institutions are at his command, governments do his bidding, and businesses do his work. But that’s because it’s Friday. Sunday’s a coming!”
He ended by yelling at the top of his lungs, “Friday!” And all 1500 people yelled back, “Sunday’s a coming!” Take heart. Sunday has come.5
1 C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: Macmillan, 1961), p. 3.
2 Rudolf Bultmann, Kerygma and Myth (London: SPCK, 1953), pp. 4-5.
3 Richard Mouw, Distorted Truth (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989), p. 30.
4 Lewis, Screwtape Letters, p. 3. 5 Tony Campolo, It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Comin’ (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1984)
1.The author identifies four strategies of the devil. Put each in your own words.
- Direct attack
2.How can we best arm ourselves against each of these strategies?