“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about 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 a magician with the same delight.” –C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters
Are you aware that you are in a spiritual battle every single day of your life? 1 Peter 5:8 makes this fact crystal clear, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Peter is telling us that the devil and his demons are active in our world today and they are constantly working against God and his adopted sons and daughters.
So there is a spiritual battle going on, how do we live in light of this biblical truth? First of all let me say that there are two extremes we should avoid.
ONE: Overlooking The Influence of Satan And Demons In Our World Today
I think that many Christians are going through everyday life completely unprepared to engage successfully in the spiritual battle that is all around them.
What happens to a Christian when they overlook the spiritual battle they are in? Christians will lose their sense of urgency when it comes to living for God in everyday life, they will get stuck in sinful habits, they lose their zeal for evangelism, they start going through the religious motions instead of really seeking hard after Christ. But If I had to pick one primary indicator that a person has lost sight of the spiritual battle it would be prayerlessness.
“Satan dreads nothing but prayer. His one concern is to keep the saints from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, he mocks our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray.” -Samuel Chadwick
But there is another extreme that we need to be aware of and avoid.
TWO: A Demon Behind Every Problem
Perhaps you recall Kenneth Copeland standing in front of a camera and declaring that in the name of Jesus he had the power to “execute judgment” over Covid. Copeland went on with a lengthy prayer and declared that Covid “was over” in the United States of America. HERE is the 2 minute video if you would like to watch it.
We know that Copeland’s declaration did not work because Covid continues making people sick to this day. One thing we should have learned by now is that Copeland is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I found THIS insightful article that goes into detail regarding many of the false beliefs that Copeland holds to and teaches to others.
We should dismiss Copeland as a false teacher, but what about this idea that behind Covid and many other problems we face there is a demon? Are there demons of addiction, tobacco, alcohol, prayerlessness, anger, greed, laziness, and lust? I will do my best to answer this question from Scripture.
Why Are These Two Extremes So Problematic?
I have already answered this question when it comes to overlooking the influence of demonic activity in life. But what is the danger of seeing a demon behind every bush? Let’s take anger for example. If you are battling anger and a Christian brother or sister tells you that the real problem is a demon it is going to have massive implications regarding how you go about dealing with your issues. If you believe there is a demon of anger that is at the root of your problem you might come to the conclusion that naming your demon and speaking to your demon in Jesus’ name is the key to spiritual victory. Why is this bad? First of all Scripture never teaches us that behind every sin there is a corresponding demon. What makes it even worse is that this way of thinking about spiritual warfare begins to alleviate the Christian from their own responsibility in the sanctification process. What the Christian needs to do is ask for forgiveness, pursue repentance, fill their minds with the truths of Scripture and believe the gospel truth that they are a beloved child of God.
One real life example of the danger of naming evil spirits is told by Eddie Ssemakula (in the brief quote below friends of Eddie were trying to explain to him why he was still not married):
“At some point someone told me that extended singleness results from a specific division of ‘spirits.’ These spirits, I was promised, can be ‘interrupted by the power of Jesus’ blood.’ Only then, it was claimed, will you be released from the ‘bachelor curse’ of your longtime unmarried uncle or auntie. But this is not all. If things turn out well before the altar and you get engaged, you must cleanse your prospective marriage of potential curses. In other words, part of the pre-marital journey involves necessary ‘deliverance,’ and the pursuit of a ‘cleansed spouse.’ And when things get messed up in marriage, the solution is – you guessed it – investigate the ‘spirit’ behind your difficulties. The whole project is absurd.”
Allow me to share with you a much better way to think about spiritual warfare.
A Biblical Way Of Dealing With Spiritual Warfare Is Found in Ephesians 6
We need to be careful about taking a text or two from Scripture and developing an approach to spiritual warfare. We need to consider the whole counsel of God’s Word. Brian Borgman and Rob Ventura write this in their book “Spiritual Warfare”:
“Doctrinal excesses like those just described often led to an imbalance in the Christian life that magnifies one aspect of biblical truth to the minimization of exclusion of the rest of Scripture. These imbalances often result in the eclipsing or ignoring of such biblical truths as the believer’s responsibility for his or her own actions, remaining sin in the Christian, the character-changing power of the Spirit, and the centrality of the gospel. The danger here is not that we might neglect spiritual warfare but that we develop a truncated view of the Christian life in which we wrongly blame Satan and his demons for every problem we face. If we are to live sound and stable lives and believers, then we desperately need a biblically balanced understanding of spiritual realities and the spiritual warfare to which God calls us. Anything else will be disastrous.”
In Ephesians 6:10-20 the apostle Paul gives us the clearest teaching in all of Scripture as to how you and I should proceed when it comes to the spiritual battle that we are all in.
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and shaving put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I gam an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
What is this armor that we are to put on and fight this spiritual battle?
1-Putting on the whole armor of God means to put on Jesus Christ. In Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10 we are told to put on a new man and that new man is Christ. Are you learning more about Jesus and drawing closer to him?
2-Stand and gird your waist with truth means the truths about God found in his Word. We can’t stand against the lies of the evil one if we don’t know the truth. Are you living y God’s truth or have you begun to believe the lies of the evil one? What is going on inside your mind these days?
3-The breastplate of righteousness is embracing the truth that we have been declared righteous by God through faith in Jesus Christ. When we stand on the righteousness that we have in Christ we do not fall into feelings of condemnation, shame and self-hatred. Are you reminding yourself who you are in Jesus Christ? Is your primary identity as a redeemed child of God?
4-The shoes for your feet and the readiness given by the gospel of grace means that we are to fight against the evil one and go into the world with the good news of Jesus Christ. We are to live in the truths of the gospel and proclaim the gospel to the lost and dying world. Are you delighting in the gospel? Are you sharing the gospel with others?
5-The shield of faith means that we fight against the evil one by believing in God and his Word. Are you giving your faith a chance to grow by reading and standing on God’s Word?
6-The helmet of salvation is the mental assurance that we are secure in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Are you finding joy in the fact that you are born again?
7-The sword of the Spirit is pretty clear because verse 17 also tells us that it is the Word of God. Are you reading and meditating upon the Word of God?
8-Praying at all times in verse 18 is all mentioned as a key when it comes to winning the spiritual battle. “The primary way to overcome Satan is on our knees.” -Derek Prime and Alistair Begg. Is your prayer life deepening and growing?
Please don’t miss this, in this passage Paul is telling us as believers how to overcome evil. So what does Paul tell us to do? Paul is telling us that the primary way we win the battle against evil and grow spiritually in through what we might call spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines mentioned specifically in this passage are knowing and using the Word of God, prayer, faith, embracing your identity in Jesus Christ.
Let’s Look At A Biblical Example Of The Apostle Paul Battling Satan
In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 we find the apostle Paul was being afflicted by a thorn in his flesh. We may not know all that we would like to know about this thorn, but we do know that it was from “a messenger of Satan.” What did Paul do? How did he respond to this spiritual battle?
7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
What did Paul do in response to this spiritual battle? He prayed to God and asked Him to remove his thorn. Paul also prayed three times and each time the answer from God was no. Was the issue a lack of faith on Paul’s part? I would submit to you that Paul’s faith was incredibly strong! Paul’s response was not aimed at the devil, it was aimed at God. Paul recognized the problem and called out to God in prayer.
Satan, Our Sin Nature, And This Fallen World
As we begin to see that the key to spiritual victory is not primarily about confronting demons we can wonder, if a demon is not directly behind the evil that we see where is it all coming from? There are three main causes of ongoing evil, sin, and suffering in our world. First, Satan and his demons are alive and well (James 4:7). Second, each one of us has a very active sin nature (Romans 7:18). Third, the world that we live in has been infected with sin and is the result of much of the suffering we see all around us (Romans 8:18-22).
Why is it helpful for us to keep in mind that evil and suffering takes place from Satan, our sin nature, and the fallen world that we live in? It keeps us from making the mistake that every problem, every sin, every instance of suffering is directly related to a demonic spirit. R.C. Sproul writes this:
“Satan may be our accomplice in our ongoing sin, but we cannot pass the blame and responsibility for our sin to a controlling demon. We do not have to be possessed by a demon to get drunk. There is enough abiding wickedness in us to do it all by ourselves.”
What About Casting Out Demons Today?
In the gospels we read on a number of occasions that Jesus casts demons out of people. For example, in Matthew 8:28-34 Jesus casts out demons from two different men and sent the demons into a herd of pigs. Now we know that that there are many things that Jesus did that we should not expect to do today. For example; controlling the weather, raising the dead, forgiving sins, walking on water, paying taxes by finding money in a fish (these examples taken from David Powlison in “Safe & Sound: Standing Firm in Spiritual Battles.”) What this means is that we can’t say that because Jesus did something in the bible that we should expect to be able to do it too. That is a huge oversimplification and is simply not true.
Here is where I am at biblically when it comes to the idea of casting out demons. Obviously Jesus cast out demons, his disciples did it, and I believe it still takes place today. I also strongly believe that in some Christian circles there is an overemphasis on Satan, demons, exorcism and seeking spiritual victory by naming the demon behind various sins and mental illnesses.
Here is Dr. Sinclair Ferguson talking about what the Word has to say about spiritual conflict:
“First of all, I think there is a notion around in the evangelical church that demon possession and casting out demons was a commonplace event in Scripture. If I can put it boldly, the truth of the matter is that demon possession and casting out demons is hardly ever referred to in Scripture. It’s very rarely referred to in the pages of the Old Testament and it’s hardly referred to in the New Testament either, outside of the Gospels. So if someone were to sit down, say with a concordance or some electronic method of looking through the number of times demon possession, exorcism of demons, evil spirits are mentioned, and for example, to print them out, I think they would be absolutely astonished by the result. I say that because we live in a subculture, or at least there is a subculture, or evangelical subculture, where demons are being cast out every day of the week and demons are being associated basically with almost everything that goes wrong. There are some amazing stories about how wrong things can be that are attributed to demon possession.”
You can read the whole interview HERE. Ferguson does not say that exorcism never takes place today, but his point is that it should not me our main go to weapon in our battle against the evil one.
There is no question that the devil is real, both the Word of God and the world in which we live in testify to this sobering truth. My hope is that we will reject the two extremes (Satan does not exist and a unhealthy preoccupation with Satan) and instead we will immerse our lives in the Word of God, pray in the Spirit, and remind ourselves daily of the righteousness we have based on the finished work of Jesus Christ. As we pursue these spiritual disciplines (it is the spiritual armor mentioned in Galatian 6:10-20) I believe we will have increasing victory over the evil one and we will look more and more like Jesus Christ.
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