Our enemy & our armour
The Christian life is spiritual warfare. To engage in the fight effectively, believers must equip themselves with supernatural protection – what Paul calls ‘the whole armour of God’ (Ephesians 6:11).
We need divine armour because we face a formidable foe. Paul calls him ‘the devil’ which means, ‘slanderer’. He constantly misrepresents Christians to God and God to Christians. All by himself the devil stands as an imposing opponent, but the Bible teaches that he is not alone in his battle against the believer.
In addition to Satan, Christians must also fight against ‘the flesh’ (our remaining sin) and ‘the world’ (the godless values and philosophies which dominate our culture). This unholy trinity is set to undermine the work of God in every believer’s life. And Satan is the personal strategist of them all.
Derailing spiritual growth
He uses your sinful tendencies to tempt you, hoping that he might thereby derail your spiritual growth. Paul warns against this specifically when he admonishes those who are prone to anger to not give the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:27). Anger that is tolerated and not ‘put to death’ becomes an invitation for satanic activity in one’s life.
The devil also uses this fallen world’s attractions to entice Christians away from their first love. In Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyan demonstrates how this works in his description of Vanity Fair.
The devil and his companions, recognising that the path to the Celestial City runs right through the town of Vanity, set up a fair along the road. Various kinds of enticing merchandise are sold there for the sole purpose of tempting pilgrims to leave the path of life.
The devil tries to ensnare believers by making the world and its offerings seem more valuable than they are. Wealth, status, ease, honour and worldly benefits of every kind – along with sinful pleasures and immoral activities – are attractively displayed to travellers. Anything that might distract a person from loving Christ supremely becomes a potential snare laid by the devil. We need supernatural protection to stand against such an array of dangers and enemies.
In order to fight successfully you need more than your own resources. You need the armour that God supplies. Many believers make a grave mistake at just this point. Because they are nice, easy-going people they are tempted to think that they can live the Christian life in their own strength. But natural gifts and abilities are inadequate for spiritual warfare.
A supernatural enemy calls for supernatural power in order to withstand him successfully. In Ephesians 6:12 Paul describes our enemy in plural terms. ‘Powers’, ‘rulers of the darkness’, ‘spiritual wickedness in high places’ – these are the believer’s enemies. This is the description of Satan and his forces.
Some see in this description a strict hierarchy in the demonic realm but I am unconvinced that Paul is being so precise. What is beyond dispute, however, is that we are up against a comprehensive array of powerful and wicked spiritual forces under the rule of Satan.
Paul characterises our enemy in three ways:
Firstly, Satan and his forces are powerful – ‘principalities and powers’. Literally, he calls them ‘world rulers’. By God’s permission they wield power and authority over the earth. God often allows our spiritual enemies to exercise significant power, and believers do well not to forget this fact.
Secondly, Satan and his minions are wicked. They are rulers of ‘darkness’ and are called ‘spiritual hosts of wickedness’. The devil is pure evil, which is hard for us to conceive. He has no moral code, no principles of conduct. He is unscrupulous and malicious, determined to carry out his destructive work at any cost by any methods.
Finally, Paul describes the devil as cunning. Christians are instructed to stand against his ‘wiles’. It is the same word Paul uses in 4:14 where he warns against being taken captive by the ‘trickery’ of men who, with cunning craftiness, lie in wait to deceive naïve believers. The devil rarely attacks a believer with a frontal assault. Rather, he employs stealth and operates by seduction, subtlety and deceit. This is how he approached Eve.
He first raised questions in her mind about the Word of God (‘Has God indeed said…?’ Genesis 3:1). Then he used the wedge of doubt to plant unbelief in her heart – which in turn led to Adam’s temptation and fall.
No wonder Luther wrote of Satan: ‘His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal’. It is a fatal mistake to underestimate the devil. He loves it when we do not take him seriously, because it allows him to catch us off guard.
An opposite error
The opposite error, however, can be just as deadly. Overestimating Satan breeds fear and paralysis in our hearts. In 1 John 4:4 we are reminded that ‘He [the Holy Spirit] that is in you is greater than he that is in the world’. The devil is mighty, but he is not almighty. He is, as Calvin says, ‘God’s devil’.
What we must never forget is that the devil is our sworn enemy. You may forget about him, but he will never forget about you. If you are ignoring him or miscalculating his power, wickedness and trickery, then you play right into his hands.
It is time to wake up and recognise that we are in a war and that our only hope is the armour that God supplies to us in Jesus Christ.