Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Welcome to Spiritual Warfare - Feel Free to Fight Back at Any Time

"Open war is upon you, whether you would risk it or not."
Aragorn, "The Two Towers"

In two recent posts here and here I emphasized how the devil is actively trying to deceive us and trick us. I've noticed that some Christians don't seem to think about this very realistically. They either seem to think that they're on the sidelines watching a match between the devil and God, in which the outcome is important to us but which doesn't really affect our daily lives, or they think of the devil as an abstract concept of evil instead of a living being that could threaten any one of us personally. Perhaps you're the type of Christian who doesn't give the devil much thought on an average day. I want to change your mind.

What believers in Christ need to know about the devil is summed up very well in a recent sermon by Andrew Knight. Here is what Scripture tells us about the devil's active war on Christians:

First, we need to know that Satan is on the loose. He’s on a leash, but he is running free (Ephesians 2:1–3). I wish we could have an accurate view of reality here. We see it in Daniel 10:13, where the angel delayed in coming to Daniel because he was withstanding Satan for 21 days. We see it in Job, We see it in 1 Chronicles 19:1, when Satan incited David to make a very prideful and sinful decision. And this is just from the Old Testament.
Second, we need to know that believers have a target on their chest. Satan is not at war with God—Satan already lost that fight. Now he passively fights with unbelievers by just keeping them blinded (2 Corinthians 4:4). He also actively fights with believers.

The opposition is real and direct. Paul declares that he was prevented from coming to see a church in one city because “Satan hindered us.” (1 Thes. 2:18). He warns believers to put on the armor of God so they can withstand the "schemes of the devil." (Eph. 6:11). Paul also warns that the devil is trying to catch believers and unbelievers alike in a snare. (1 Tim. 3:7; 2 Tim. 2:26). Peter says the devil is prowling around "like a roaring lion" to devour people. (1 Peter 5:8). And James tells us to personally resist the devil. (James 4:7). Andrew's sermon has many more helpful examples and is well worth listening to or reading.

Like it or not, you are on a battlefield. There is no choice of whether or not to be engaged in a struggle. The struggle is all around you and is aimed at you whether you fight back or not. You are being shot at even now. The only choice is about whether you stand there helpless and let yourself be a target, or whether you fight back and protect yourself.

One of the lovely paradoxes of Christianity is that while we strive for the meekest, gentlest, and most peaceful relationships with other people, we are also called on to be fierce and vigilant and aggressive in spiritual warfare. We are commanded to resist the devil – to fight back against his efforts.  This is no mere admonition to ignore the devil’s enticements or to refuse to listen to him. James tells us to resist him until he flees from us, and Peter tells us that the one we're resisting is like a prowling lion. You don’t resist a marauding lion by simply refusing to listen to him. You have to resist with force. Similarly, Paul describes our daily life as wrestling against spiritual forces. He affirms that our warfare is not against flesh and blood; we don’t fight a battle against other human beings. Our struggle is a pitched battle against spiritual enemies, the forces of evil that plague even the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:10-13). In other words, if you aren't thinking of the devil as someone you have to resist and guard against every day, you're not thinking of being a Christian the way the apostles and Christ's disciples all did.

Knowing the devil is actively out to catch you in a trap and seize on any opportunity to make you fall changes how you look at the troubles of life. Although it's a shameful thing to give in to an outburst of anger, or to take your time exploring thoughts about temptation before finally pulling the plug on them, we tend to imagine there are little zones of neutrality where our sins don't do any real damage. Maybe that's in the privacy of our own homes, or in the privacy of our own minds. But when you realize there is an enemy crouching nearby, just waiting for you to slip up, you have to take life much more seriously. You have an enemy whom Paul says is trying to outwit you (2 Cor. 2:11), and actively looking for an opportunity (Eph. 4:27). This means that giving in to that temptation you're thinking about isn't just an indiscretion or an indulgence or a slip-up: it is the devil’s way of taking you out – of making you unfit and hypocritical and setting you up for humiliation so you'll be ashamed and full of doubt. When you know your enemy is just waiting for you to slip up, you would be a fool to go ahead and take the bait. See the trap for what it is, and stand and fight.

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