This is the sermon manuscript from message #2 of the THIS IS WAR series.
When I served in the Army as an infantry platoon leader, I had the opportunity to train for three weeks at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, LA. During one of the training exercise, two of the platoons in my company built a system of fighting positions to protect an area. The task of my platoon was to serve as a forward observation post around the defensive position to alert of any enemy on the way to attack. One night, our company was getting decimated with artillery rounds (not real rounds… simulated ones). So my company commander calls me on the radio and tells me that I’ve got to find where the enemy was observing our position and calling in artillery fire. So I’ve got my 40 soldiers broken into smaller teams combing the area, and we can’t find the enemy. All night my company got destroyed. The next morning when the training exercise was over, we did an evaluation with both sides in the battle. And to my chagrin, I discovered that an enemy sniper had slowly low crawled the length of a couple of football fields to make his way in through our defensive perimeter. He was highly camouflaged, and when our guys would get close, he’d lie perfectly still and blend into the terrain. We never spotted him because we didn’t know what to look for. I promised myself I’d never let that happen again. Because now I knew what to look for.
In this spiritual war we’re in, we need to know “the Enemy.” We need to know who we’re up against and how he fights. Last Sunday we began a 4-week series called “This is War” about the reality of spiritual warfare. There is an invisible world just as real as the visible world. And the war is fought on the fronts of the flesh, the world, and Satan, the devil. This week, I want to focus in on our great enemy Satan.
And to do so, we’re going to talk about his story, his strategies, and his strongholds. And then we’ll talk about our Savior and the hope of victory.
#1 THE STORY
In the Bible, seven books in the OT specifically refer to Satan, and in the NT, every book refers to him and his demons. There’s no one passage in the Bible that tells the complete story of who Satan is, so we look at a mosaic of passages and we “synthesize” them. And when we do so, here’s what we discover: Satan is a powerful angelic being who challenges God & incites rebellion in heaven and on earth. So let’s look at some of the scriptures.
Genesis 3:1-4. The first mention of Satan is found in the 3rd chapter of the Bible. In Genesis 1-2, God has created a perfect world. Then Satan shows up to destroy what God has done by tempting Adam and Eve to rebel against God and doubt His goodness. But before Satan incites rebellion on earth, there’s a backstory to his rebellion in heaven.
Isaiah 14:12-14. This passage is specifically addressed to the king of ancient Babylon. But in the passage there are allusions to a much greater power… a much greater arrogance. In v. 12 the phrase “son of the morning, son of the dawn” means “light-bearer.” This is where we get the name “Lucifer” (derived from the Latin translation of this verse). Ultimately, I believe that this passage is directed to the “power behind the power” of the king of Babylon… to Satan himself, an angelic being in heaven who was given power and position. But in his pride, he attempted to usurp God’s role as the Lord of the universe.
Ezekiel 28:12-17. Much like Isaiah 14, this passage is specifically addressed to the king of Tyre. But once again, there is a power behind the power addressed as well. “You were in the Garden of Eden, the garden of God.” This takes us back not only to Satan’s original privileged position as a central angelic being, but also back to Genesis 3 when he tempted and deceived the first humans. And once again, because of his pride, he turned against God and incited rebellion in heaven and on earth.
Revelation 12:3-4, 7-9. John’s has a vision of who Satan is and what he’s done and what he continues to do. He’s the “great red dragon” (the serpent) who incited a third of the angels of heaven (“the stars of heaven”) to rebel against God. And the angels who joined Satan are cast from heaven and become his demonic horde that serve him to wreak havoc on earth.
This is a snapshot of some passages that tell the story on Satan. And they show us that Satan is a powerful angelic being who challenges God & incites rebellion in heaven and on earth.
#2 THE STRATEGIES
We have a very real enemy. And if we’re going to be effective in the battle against Satan, we need to know his strategies.
Deceiver. He’s first and foremost a deceiver. In Genesis 3, Satan deceives Adam and Eve by casting doubt on the goodness and provision of God. He tells them that there’s something good out there that God is not allowing them to have… that He’s holding out on them. Here’s another verse that talks about Satan’s deception: 2 Corinthians 4:4. “The god of this world (that’s Satan) has blinded the minds of the unbelieving.” He does this by creating other worldviews and world religions. He does this by twisting and distorting teaching about who Jesus really is and what He has really done for us. As the deceiver, Satan targets your mind. He wants you to believe false things about God, about the world, and about yourself. He is a deceiver.
Destroyer. Satan is also a destroyer. In 1 Peter 5:8-9, Peter is writing to Christians who are undergoing intense persecution under the Roman Emperor Nero in the mid-60s AD. Tacitus, a Roman senator and historian who lived during this time, wrote about the torture and execution of Christians during Nero’s reign: “In their deaths they were made the subjects of sport; for they were wrapped in the hides of wild beasts and torn to pieces by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set on fire. When day declined, they were burned to serve for nocturnal lights.” Don’t think that Satan wasn’t involved in the power behind Nero. As Satan seeks to destroy you, he targets your body. Throughout the four Gospels, we see physical, bodily afflictions that are a result of demonic attack. Satan seeks to destroy your body and ultimately seeks your death.
Ruler. See 1 John 5:19. Satan has power in this world. In Ephesians 2, he’s called the “prince of the power of the air.” In 2 Corinthians 4:4 (which we just looked at), he’s called “the god of this world.” As the “ruler,” Satan targets your will. The three fronts of war—the flesh, the world, and Satan—work in concert with each other. Satan influences the value system of our world. And our flesh, the indwelling power of sin within us, responds and bends our will towards selfishness… towards choosing the things of the world vs. choosing the things of God. Satan seeks to rule by controlling your will.
Accuser. One of Satan’s chief strategies against people, and especially believers is to accuse and bring condemnation against them (Revelation 12:10). Here’s what Satan does. He knows God’s word. He knows God’s expectations and standards. And when we don’t meet them, he reminds us of it… because his target is your heart. When God convicts you of sin, His goal is to bring you back into relationship and fellowship with Him because He loves you. When Satan accuses you, he uses your sins in a hateful way, and he wants you to feel helpless and hopeless. Because he is the accuser.
#3 THE STRONGHOLDS
When we talk about Satan’s strongholds, let’s talk about what influence he can and cannot have in a Christian’s life.
Christians cannot be owned by Satan. This is a fundamental principle. Because here’s the question everyone wants to know: “Can a Christian be possessed by a demon?” The problem with this question is the word “possessed.” It’s not a term we find in the Bible. The word that is used, especially in the NT, is “demonization” or “attacked by a demon.” Possession means ownership. And if you ask me whether a Christian can be owned by Satan, the answer is “no.” Because God owns you. See Colossians 1:13-14. When you gave your life to Jesus, you were transferred from Satan’s kingdom to God’s kingdom. Your allegiance is to another King now. God owns you, not Satan.
Christians can experience several things in spiritual warfare:
Opposition. Satan and his demonic forces are against God and against us. So he opposes us. He threatens us. He persecutes us. He seeks to destroy us. As followers of Jesus in a spiritual war, expect opposition from Satan, especially as you’re engaged in mission, locally and globally.
Temptation. Satan influences and even controls the world’s value system. And then, once again, our flesh (that internal predisposition towards rebelling against God) is enticed by the worldly values that are opposed to God. Even as followers of Jesus, we’re tempted to indulge our flesh, to satiate our desires, to think about and take care of ourselves first and foremost. That’s temptation.
Oppression. When we take the bait of temptation and willingly choose things contrary to God, His heart, and His values, the attack turns into oppression. I want to be careful going beyond what the Scriptures say. What we want to know is this: “If I’m a Christian, can demonic attack happen within inside of me?” Once again, you cannot be owned by Satan. But I think that Satan can powerfully entice your flesh. This is apparent when we obsess and long for something contrary to God’s word and heart for us. This happens when sin becomes addiction and we can’t control our cravings. The Scriptures are not clear about whether it’s the power of our flesh or demonic attack. But they are clear that Satan bombards you with so many enticing temptations that your flesh struggles with saying “no,” especially as you increasingly say “yes” to sin. And his attacks become an oppression.
Don’t allow strongholds. Listen to what Paul says about strongholds: “and do not give the devil an opportunity” (Ephesians 4:27). Here’s the reality. When you say, “yes” to sin, you’re saying “yes” to Satan. And then you lose ground in the spiritual battle. Take sin seriously. Here are some strongholds that open to door to greater opposition, temptation, and oppression: anger and bitterness, an unforgiving spirit, lying, gossip, and slander, and sexual sin. When we give the enemy an opportunity in these areas, he takes us further and faster that we’d ever thought we’d go. When we have a proud, religious spirit that looks down on other people who don’t seem to have it all together and we think we do… we give Satan an opportunity to exploit our pride and take us further from the heart of God. When we explore New Age or occult practices and beliefs, we open the door for demonic oppression. Take sin seriously. Don’t allow strongholds in your life.
#4 THE SAVIOR
Throughout the series, I’ll come back to this central theme every week: “You do not fight FOR victory but FROM victory!” As we talk about Satan’s story, strategies, and strongholds, we could easily get discouraged and disheartened. Remember, Jesus has already won the victory. And He gives us the power and resources to overcome Satan’s strategies by Resisting. “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Here are some practical ways to resist Satan:
1. Accept Christ as Lord & Savior. This is where it all begins. Your only hope of victory over the power of Satan is found in Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone. He died for you and your sin. He was raised from the dead and He conquered sin and death. He’s your only hope of victory. Surrender control of your life to Him.
2. Repent of known sin. Be honest and confess the ways that you’re willingly rebelling against God. Choose to repent and turn away from that sin.
3. Recognize the enemies. As we discussed last week, Satan is not the only enemy. Your flesh and the world combine forces with Satan to take you down. And when you realize the combination of the three, you won’t underestimate Satan’s power. But you won’t overestimate his power either and play the blame game when it’s quite possibly you who are actually buying into the world’s values or simply not saying “no” to sin because you want it.
4. Choose obedience & accountability. At the end of the day, Satan has no power if you say “no” to sin by choosing obedience. When you choose obedience, you take away his power. And accountability is crucial because you need other people to pray for you and challenge you to choose obedience. Sometimes this can take place within an accountability relationship and even a small group. But sometimes, when the attack goes to the level of oppression where obsessive thoughts and addiction are taking place, we need help from a recovery ministry (like Northshore’s LIGHT ministry) or from a trained counselor.
5. Celebrate growth & victory. When you do resist Satan… when you say “yes” to God more than you say “yes” to your flesh, the world, and Satan, take a moment and celebrate that. When you pray, thank God for giving you the power to resist and choose obedience. In your friendships and small group, share how Jesus is helping you overcome struggles. Celebrate those places of growth and victory. They’ll encourage you to resist all the more. We do not fight for victory but from victory!
Let me finish today by sharing a story with you (adapted from Carolyn Arends “Satan’s a Goner” in Christianity Today)
A missionary couple was stationed in a remote jungle area. And one day, an enormous snake—much longer than a man—slithered its way through their front door and into their kitchen. They ran outside terrified and frantically searched for a local who would know what to do. A neighbor came to the rescue with a machete, calmly marched into the kitchen, and decapitated the snake with one clean chop.
He came out of the house and told them that while the snake had been defeated, it was going to take a while for the snake to realize it was dead. And here’s why: a snake’s neurology and blood flow can take considerable time for it to stop moving even after it’s head has been chopped off. The couple was forced to wait outside while the headless snake thrashed about their home, smashing furniture, flailing against wall and window, and wreaking havoc until it’s body finally understood that it no longer had a head.
Sweating in the heat, they were frustrated and sickened. But they were also grateful that the snake’s rampage wouldn’t last forever. And then they had an epiphany. Satan is a lot like that snake. He’s already been defeated. He just doesn’t know it yet. In the meantime, he’s going to do some damage. But never forget that he’s a goner. We’re in that thrashing time, a season characterized by our pervasive capacity to do violence to each other and ourselves. And the temptation is to despair. But remember… it won’t last forever. Jesus has already crushed the serpent’s head. He’s a goner.
So we don’t fight for victory… we fight from victory!
For further exploration and study of spiritual warfare, here are some good resources: