Spiritual Warfare: THE WEAPONS

This is the sermon manuscript from message #4 of the THIS IS WAR series. Click HERE for the audio and questions for discussion & devotion.

In the 6th century BC, Sun Tzu, the famous Chinese military strategist, said this in The Art of War: “Every battle is won or lost before it is fought.” Before the battle, you have to know the terrain that you’re fighting on. You have to know your enemy. And you have to know the capabilities of your weapons.

It’s no different in the spiritual war. We have to know the terrain. We have to know where the battle is being fought. Is it being fought in our own hearts? Is it being fought in a relationship, in our marriage, or with our children? Is it being fought in our church? Is it being fought at work? Is it being fought in our community or the world at large? We also have to know the enemy. We’ve talked about our enemies—the flesh, the world, and Satan. We have to know when our flesh, that internal predisposition to rebel and sin, rears its ugly head. We have to understand when the world’s value system covertly creeps in or overtly bombards us. And we have to know when Satan is trying to deceive, destroy, or accuse us. But we also have to know our weapons… because if we don’t understand the weapons at our disposal, we won’t know how to fight. So here’s the key question:

In the spiritual war, what are our weapons and how do we use them?

Take a look at Ephesians 6:10-20. It’s the quintessential passage on the armor of God and the weapons we have available for spiritual warfare.

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, 15 and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; 16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, 19 and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.

#1 Before the battle, know your weapons (vv. 10-17)

In the Army we had a motto: “The more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war.” So we trained. We went to weapon ranges to increase our proficiency. We did training exercise so that our tactics and battle drills became second nature and automatic responses. Before the battle, we knew our weapons, their capabilities and how to use them. This is what Paul is saying in vv. 10-12. If you’re going to stand firm in the spiritual war, before the battle begins you need to know your weapons. Paul uses the metaphor of a Roman soldier’s armor and weapons to describe the protection and weapons we have at our disposal in the spiritual war.

1. Belt of Truth. This was a belt that gathered up the tunic (the undergarment). It insured that a soldier was unimpeded as he ran into battle. It gave him hidden strength and confidence. The belt of truth is the truth about who God is… about His character… His promises and most importantly about Jesus Christ, who He is and what He’s done for us. And remember, one of the primary ways Satan tries to deceive us is by distorting the truth. He propagates false doctrines about Jesus or he whispers that it’s just too good to be true. So the “belt of truth” girds us with confidence that everything God has said about who He is and what He’s done, is doing, and will do causes us to stand firm with confidence.

2. Breastplate of Righteousness. Satan will do anything and everything to take out your heart. He will do anything and everything to continually condemn you and accuse you. He will continually whisper lies and accusations that there is no way that God could love someone like you… no way that God would die on a cross to save someone like you. So the breastplate, the armor that covers the torso, reminds us of our righteousness… our “right standing” (the only way we can stand before a perfect God) because of what Jesus Christ has done for us. Because of His death and resurrection, the penalty for our sin has been removed. And Jesus won a cosmic victory where Satan is ultimately defeated, and therefore we don’t fight for victory but from victory. And the breastplate of righteousness protects our hearts from Satan’s accusations.

3. Shoes of the Gospel. Roman soldiers shoes had nails on their soles so that they’d be surefooted in battle. And as we’re confident and surefooted in understanding the fullness of our restored relationship and peace with God, then we are more fully prepared and empowered to go and take that message of the gospel of peace with God into our world. That’s the shoes of the gospel.

4. Shield of Faith. For the Roman infantry soldier, the shield was a critical piece of equipment. It was a long, oblong, door-like shield (4’ x 2.5’) made of wood, leather, and metal. It protected a soldier from flying projectiles, especially flaming arrows that were shot to weaken the battle lines. But here’s an interesting thing about the Roman shield. It was most effective when used side by side with other soldiers in formation.

It’s the power of living out our faith with each other… standing firm in the battle together… having each other’s backs as we fight together. Confidence comes in community when we’re living out our faith together in our friendships, in our homes, in our small groups… as people are doing battle alongside us and even for us at times.

5. Helmet of Salvation. The helmet of salvation reminds us that God and His grace is our only hope against the enemy. It protects our vision of God and His kingdom and reminds us why we’re fighting.

6. Sword of the Spirit. In this last image, Paul shifts from the armor to our primary “weapon” in the spiritual war. The sword in mind here is a short dagger-like sword that was used for close, hand-to-hand combat. And our sword for the spiritual war is God’s Word, the Bible. God has shared His heart with us. He’s revealed His story and master plan. He’s told us who ultimately wins the victory. And we fight the enemy’s deceptions, distortions, and accusations with God’s Word. As we study and memorize it, the Spirit takes the very strength of God and infuses it into us so that we’re strong and steadfast in the battle.

#2 During the battle, use your weapons (vv. 18-20)

The armor and weapons of God are primarily wielded in and through prayer. Paul wants us to know our weapons, but he tells us that we use our weapons in prayer. And he tells us to use our weapons by praying for three things:

1. Pray for alertness (v. 18a). When we pray for alertness, we pray, “God give me spiritual eyes to see where and how the battle is being fought.” Is the battle right now a personal sin struggle? Is the battle right now a relationship issue with a friend, with my spouse, or with my kids? Is the battle a justice or truth issue in our world? We have to pray for spiritual eyes to see our lives, our relationships, and our world the way God does. So we pray for alertness.

2. Pray for perseverance (v. 18b). When we pray for perseverance, we pray, “God, give me Your sustaining grace.” Spiritual battles often wear us out and wear us down. So we pray for God’s perseverance to stand strong. And as we talked about the shield of faith, this is where meaningful, authentic relationships come in (“petition for all the saints”). There are times when we are so tired and discouraged that we can’t seem to go on. And then a friend, a spouse, someone in your small group, or a pastor prays for you, and it’s like a shot of strength. If you’re simply worn out and tired, use the weapons of prayer and pray for God’s sustaining grace to persevere you in the midst of the battle.

3. Pray for boldness (vv. 19-20). When we pray for boldness, we pray, “God, give me the courage to share the good news.” Remember, the battle is not only for your personal survival, the battle is for the gospel to move further and further into this broken world. And God uses us… but we’ve got to remember that our boldness comes from Jesus’ victory. Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 16:18 – “…and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” The good news of Jesus and the kingdom of God is offensive in nature, not defensive. “The gates of Hell will not overpower it.” Satan is on defense as His kingdom is losing ground to Jesus’ kingdom as we storm the gates of Hell to set the captives free. And to do so, we pray for boldness and courage… boldness and courage to take the risk of sharing Jesus with the people in our lives who don’t yet know Him.

Throughout the month of October, I challenged you to participate in Northshore’s Prayer Walk. I challenged you to walk a ½ mile radius around your home, your small group host home, or your workplace and simply pray for God’s kingdom to come. Those of you who did it put a red dot on the map of our local community. I love seeing all the red dots… all the places you prayed… all the people you prayed for… for individuals, for families, for schools and hospitals, for local governments, for churches. God is up to something in our church. He’s giving us a greater compassion for people who don’t know Jesus yet. And it’s going to be a battle, so we have to continually pray for boldness.

#3 After the battle, evaluate your weapons

After you’ve come through a tough season of struggle… a season when the battle intensified, take some time to reflect upon it. After the battle, do an “after-action-review.” And here are some questions to ask after the battle:

1. What went well? In the battle, where did I experience God’s presence?  Where are the places where I stayed dependent upon God’s strength? Where did I experience victory? Take some time and celebrate God for His presence and grace.

2. What went wrong? What happened when life didn’t go as expected? Did I get frustrated? Why did I struggle with believing that God really was and is good in this season? Why did I struggle with faith so much in this season? Don’t ask these questions to beat yourself up or create guilt or shame. But look at what seemed to have gone wrong, and if possible begin to figure out what contributed to that.

3. What did I learn? You’ve heard me say this often. God rarely answers the “why” questions. I think God is much more concerned about what we learned about Him, about ourselves, and about our relationships during seasons of struggle. When you’ve come through a season of struggle and battle, take some time to write it down and share what you learned through it.

4. What must change? This is the follow-up question to “What did I learn?” What needs to change so this doesn’t happen again or what needs to change so that I’m better prepared for the battle next time it comes? All of this is going to take some time for introspection… time for prayer… and time with a trusted friend to help you process through all of this.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been going through this evaluation process myself. This past year I struggled with low-grade depression. I could get up out of bed in the morning. I could function. And because of my energy level, most people couldn’t tell that something was amiss. So this summer as I took some time off, the clouds began to clear a bit. And even though I have a difficult time slowing down and sitting still, I took the time to conduct my own after-action-review. What went well this last year? Even in some of the darkest moments, I knew that God was present and I knew that He was bringing about some kind of change in me. I knew transformation was happening, I just didn’t know what it was. When went wrong? Even though God was constant, there were times that I just didn’t or wouldn’t muster the strength to get in the Word on a personal, daily basis. As a pastor, I’m always in the Word prepping for a sermon, for a devotional or for a small group. But at times, I struggled with simply getting in the Word to feed my own soul. And as I looked back over the past year, I felt the vacuum of God’s Word truly feeding me. What did I learn? I learned a lot of things, but one thing I learned (or better yet, “re-learned”)… being in the Word regularly is absolutely critical for my spiritual and emotional health. My prayer life is linked with my time in the Word… that kind of prayer where you simply slow down and listen. What must change? I’ve got to be disciplined about prayer and time in the Word… I have to keep a consistent pattern even when my schedule gets hectic or on those mornings when I simply don’t feel like it. I’m not being a legalistic and “religious” about it, but if I’m going to stay in shape spiritually and prepared for whatever happens in life, I’ve got to be committed to a regular time of prayer and study in God’s Word. And I’ve got to have accountability around this with a friend.

Have you taken time after a tough season to go through these four questions? If not, take some time. Pray through it. Journal through it. Discuss what you find with a friend and ask for feedback. And as you spend time processing through all the questions, make sure that you answer question #4 “What must change?” After the battle, evaluate your weapons and how you used them.

Friends, we are in the midst of a spiritual battle. Even though you can’t see it, the battle is very real. There is a very real enemy who wants nothing more than to destroy you, every one you love, and everything you hold dear. But Jesus Christ has come and won the victory. As He gave His life to pay the penalty for all of sin and rebellion against God, Satan’s claim over us was erased. As Jesus walked out of that tomb and into the resurrection of a new life, sin and death were ultimately defeated. So let me remind you: We do not fight FOR victory, we fight FROM victory. And every moment of the day, in the midst of any battle you find yourself in, God has give you armor for protection in the spiritual war. He’s given you the weapon of His truth and His Word. Before the battle, know your weapons. In the battle, use your weapons… wield them in prayer and in community with one another. And in those brief respites after the battle, evaluate your weapons and learn how to use them even better. In your life, in your relationships, in your marriage, in your home, in your neighborhood, in your workplace, and in your world, stand strong. Stand firm. And Fight the good fight with great confidence by the great grace and because of the great victory of Jesus Christ our King!

 

 

Spiritual Warfare: THE VICTOR

This is the sermon manuscript from message #3 of the THIS IS WAR series. Click HERE for the audio. For additional resources scroll to the bottom.

During World War I, a British commander led his soldiers back to the front lines of the battlefield. They’d been on furlough, and it was a cold, rainy, muddy day. Their shoulders sagged because they knew what lay ahead of them: mud, blood, possible death. Nobody talked, nobody sang. A heaviness descended upon them.

As they marched along, the commander looked into a bombed-out church. In the back of the church, he saw the figure of Christ on the cross. In that moment, something changed. He remembered the One who suffered, died, and rose again. There was victory, and there was triumph. As the troops marched along, he shouted out, “Eyes right!” Every eye turned to the right. And as the soldiers marched by, they saw Christ and the cross. Suddenly they saw triumph after suffering, and they took courage. With shoulders straightened, they began to smile as they went.

Today I want to talk about our vision of Jesus “The Victor.” We’re in a spiritual war with very real enemies: our flesh, the world, and as we talked about last week, our great enemy Satan. But the most important, overarching theme of this series on spiritual warfare is the incredible, overwhelming victory of Jesus Christ. Every week, I’ve shared the same theme of victory. Today, I’ll share it again:

We do not fight FOR victory but FROM victory!

But what does this really mean? Isn’t this just some Pollyanna, pie-in-the-sky, pastoral motivational saying? I mean, come on (you’re thinking). Do you live in the same world that I live in? Do you watch the same news that I watch? Do you experience the same problems that I experience? Because most days, I see anything but victory. That’s what some of you are thinking right now. Well today, we’re going to talk about it. And by the end of our time together, by God’s great grace, my hope is that you’ll be like those British soldiers, dispirited and dejected, trudging in the rain, marching to war but who looked to Jesus and the cross and were filled with courage. So let’s talk about Jesus “The Victor.”

#1 JESUS’ ULTIMATE VICTORY

If we’re going to talk about any experience of victory in this spiritual war, we absolutely must understand what kind of victory Jesus actually won for us… why we can actually say that we’re not fighting for victory but from victory. So let me set it up this way. Often times, when we talk about Jesus and the cross, what He did and what was accomplished when He died, Christians talk about it in very individualistic terms. We say that when Jesus died, He died for my sins and now my sins are forgiven and I can experience salvation. And please hear me… that is absolutely true. On the cross, Jesus died the death that you should have died because of your sin and rebellion against God, and He paid the penalty that you should have paid. And by placing your faith and trust in Him and by surrendering control of your life to Him, you truly receive salvation… life abundant now and life eternal forever. It’s beautiful… it’s powerful. But at the cross, something much bigger happened… something much larger. I want to look at Colossians 2:8-15 and explore what really happened at the cross.

1. At the cross, Jesus won a cosmic victory. v. 9 clues us in that something much larger is happening when Jesus, God Himself, came down to this earth. As much as I love thinking about the humanity of Jesus… as much as I love thinking about His humility, His smile as He loved people, His pain as He witnessed so much brokenness in this world, we must be ever reminded that Jesus is fully God (“all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form”). And as much as we like to think about the cross as being an incredible example sacrifice, a compelling picture of the underdog, a beautiful picture of love… the cross was ultimately about God coming down here to win a cosmic victory… to defeat our ancient enemy Satan who has deceived and taken hold of billions upon billions of hearts and lives. And the cross and the resurrection let’s us know who the Boss really is. Lest Satan, the world, or we ever forget, “He [Jesus] is the head over all rule and authority.” At the cross, Jesus won a cosmic victory.

2. At the cross, our slavery to sin was abolished. We need to understand that because of sin, not simply the things that we’ve done against God, but that inward, indwelling power that causes our hearts to be gravitationally pulled away from God… we were enslaved to sin and the kingdom of Satan. Don’t underestimate that. Part of realizing that there’s an invisible world just as real as the visible world is this: there are two kingdoms at war—God’s kingdom and Satan’s kingdom. And if you’re not a part of God’s kingdom, what does that mean? You are a servant, a slave, to Satan’s kingdom, even if you don’t recognize it. So when Jesus dies on the cross and pays the penalty for the world’s sin (past, present, and future), we are brought into a new kingdom and the chains of slavery to sin are broken (Colossians 1:13-14). If you have given control of your life to Jesus, your slavery to sin has been abolished. Your allegiance to the kingdom of Satan and the world has been changed. You are a citizen of another kingdom now. You are free from the ultimate penalty and power of sin because Jesus abolished our slavery to sin.

3. At the cross, Satan brought about his own demise. In v. 14, this “certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us” is everything that we’ve done did that has sold us into slavery to the enemy and set us at war with God. It’s a record of all of our sin and rebellion against God. Satan uses this metaphorical document against us in his claim to God that we’re his… that we’re actually a part of His kingdom. So here’s what happens at the cross. “He [Jesus] has taken it away, having nailed it to the cross.” Jesus erases it. He wipes the slate clean by paying the penalty on the cross. Now here’s the irony. While the cross was always God’s plan, Satan in his insatiable lust for more is the one who actually empowered wicked earthly rulers to crucify Jesus. “The rulers of this age” empowered by “the god of this age.” It’s Satan who enters Judas to betray Jesus. It’s Satan who deceives and directs Jewish leaders to hand Jesus over to Roman forces. When Jesus is murdered on the cross, Satan thinks it’s a victory. But what he doesn’t realize is that in Jesus’ death, as the penalty for our sin is paid for by another, Satan’s claim and certificate of debt over us is destroyed. And now the slaves of Satan’s kingdom are liberated. Satan doesn’t he know that Jesus will be raised from the dead and that sin and death will ultimately be defeated. It’s genius! God uses Satan’s own evil to bring about Satan’s own demise.

#2 OUR DAILY VICTORY

Here’s the challenge when we talk about what happened “cosmically” at the cross. You might be thinking, “Nice theology lesson Jonathan, and I see that you’re pretty passionate about it. But I still don’t understand how all of this applies to my life each and every day.”

In my life.

I am free. If your slavery to sin has been abolished, then you are free. The problem is that we still see ourselves as slaves to sin. And therefore, we think like slaves. It’s like we’re still up on the slave-selling block. Jesus has made the payment. The chains have been removed, but we’re not quite sure what we’re supposed to do. We stand there for a minute rubbing the raw spots on our wrists and ankles where the shackles dug into our skin, and we wonder if we should step off into the unknown realm of faith and freedom. It seems too good to be true. And the victory of Jesus on the cross and in His resurrection means that you don’t have to be a slave to sin any longer. You don’t have to be an angry, bitter person. You don’t have to lie to create a false façade of yourself or cover your tracks. You don’t have to cheat to get ahead. You don’t have to go to sex or substances to try to ease the pain. You don’t have to be an addict any more. You’re free. Start living like it.

I have power. Here me on this. I’m not giving you some new age, pop psychology here. I’m telling you that the very power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to us in our daily lives. Listen to what Paul says in Ephesians 1:18-20.

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places”

He prays that we’d get it… that we’d no longer see ourselves as slaves to sin but free in Christ but realize that the very power that raised Jesus from the dead is operating in us to bring us power and new life. Because of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, you have power. When you’re struggling with sin and the old pattern of life, go to Jesus. Ask Him for the power to stand firm as you resist the enemies.

In our church. So what does the victory of Jesus means in our church? The Church is God’s trophy case. Ephesians 3:10 says this, “so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.” Those rulers and authorities in the heavenly places are the invisible supernatural powers that include Satan and his demonic horde. And through the church, through all of these lives that Jesus has rescued and liberated from Satan’s kingdom, God reminds Satan of His cosmic ultimate victory and Satan’s ultimate defeat. So here’s how we live out this victory as a church:

Pray it. In our prayer life, in our own lives but also when we pray together, we remind ourselves of Jesus’ victory. And we pray that His victory, freedom, and rescue would extend into our lives and into the darkness of our world. That’s why we pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Share it. We invite the people of our world into the life-transforming community of Jesus. Evangelism and mission always evokes more warfare. Because every time someone says “yes” to Jesus, they say “no” to Satan and he loses ground. So we share the victory of Jesus in our world.

Demonstrate it. Every time we stand up for truth, every time we fight against injustice, every time we serve the poor, every time we do a good deed for the cause of Christ, we demonstrate the transforming, healing power of Jesus and His kingdom. When we demonstrate it, the darkness is exposed and pushed back that much more. Paul encourages us with this in 1 Corinthians 15:57-58: “but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”

I want to close by reading you an excerpt about Jesus’ victory from John Ortberg’s If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat:

One of the most powerful 30 minutes of film I’ve ever seen is the opening sequence of the movie Saving Private Ryan. Veterans Groups say it’s maybe the most realistic picture ever given of the brutal suffering that those soldiers faced. It’s on D-Day, June 6, 1944. An unbelievable price was paid to gain just a toehold, just a few feet of Omaha Beach in Normandy. And that price was paid in blood.

At the end of D-Day, at the end of that one day, in one sense, nothing had really changed. The vast majority of Europe was still as it had been the day before, under the power of the swastika. Evil reigned through the whole continent. There was only this one little plot of ground, a few feet of sand on an obscure stretch of beach in one lonely country. But that one tiny stretch of land, that one tiny little beach, that was enough.

The truth is, at the end of that one day, everything was changed because now there was an opening, just a crack—a tiny little crack at first. But it would get a little larger the next day, and a little larger the day after that, and a little larger the week after that. And the forces would get stronger every day.

There still was a lot of fighting to do and a lot of suffering and a lot of dying. But from that day on it was just a matter of time. Then the day came when Paris was liberated. And then the day came when all of France was liberated. Then the days came when the concentration camps were overrun and prisoners were set free. Then the day came when Hitler destroyed himself in the bunker. And judgment came to that particular beast as it always does, as it always will. And then came V-E Day, victory. And then victory in the Pacific and the soldiers could come home. The war was over. The enemy was defeated. But really, the truth was that victory was all sealed on D-Day. It just took a while. The battle raged for a season. But after D-Day, victory on V-E Day was just a matter of time.

The Apostle John says this earth has fallen under a dark power. And then one day a woman gave birth to a son, a male child, who was destined to rule all the nations. He taught about and lived in a kingdom. He lived a kind of life that the rest of us had always dreamed of, but hardly dared hope for. Then one day, at a cost that none of us will ever fully understand, He took upon himself, on the cross, all the brokenness, all the suffering of D-Day, and all the suffering and all the sin and pain of every other day in the history of the human race since the Fall.

After the Sabbath day, before Jesus’ friends went to care for his body, the stone was moved. In one sense, nothing had changed. Pilate and the chief priests were still in charge. Caesar still reigned in Rome and didn’t even know the name of this obscure Messiah in some remote country. Nobody knew at first except a couple of women, but that was D-Day. Now there was an opening in this fallen world. Tiny at first—no bigger than the entrance of an empty tomb.

But now there was an opening, and the truth is, friends, every time you resist sin, every time you proclaim the Gospel, every time you give a portion of your resources for the spread of the kingdom, every time you offer a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name to the poor, that opening gets a little larger, and the darkness gets pushed back a little more, and the light gets a little stronger.

That’s why we exist as a church. That’s why we are called to struggle and pray and work and suffer and labor because one day liberation will come, make no mistake. There will be a lot of fighting and a lot of suffering and a lot of dying, but D-Day already happened when hardly anybody was looking. And at the end of that one day, everything had changed, and now it’s just a matter of time.

 

Here are some additional resources on the victory of Christ:

“Christus Victor” in Death by Love (Mark Driscoll)

Christus Victor view of the Atonement (Greg Boyd)

 

Spiritual Warfare: THE ENEMY

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:

The Invisible War by Chip Ingram
The Strategy of Satan by Warren Wiersbe

 

New Series: THIS IS WAR

There is a very real war going on in our world. There is a huge cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil, God and Satan, and the turf up for grabs is the human heart. The Apostle Paul tells us, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against… the spiritual forces in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

God wants to bless us unimaginably with His love and grace through Jesus and the gospel, but our great enemy Satan will do anything and everything possible to distract us and rob us of the joy of life with Jesus. All too often, we forget the war, where it’s fought, and how it’s fought. And when we forget the war, we unwittingly fall prey to the enemy’s tactics. The 4-week THIS IS WAR series will help us to see the reality of spiritual warfare, the enemies we’re up against, the ultimate victory of Jesus Christ, and the weapons we’re given to fight the good fight. Here’s the battle plan for the next 4 weeks:

October 9 – The War
October 16 – The Enemy
October 23 – The Victor
October 30 – The Weapons

Join us each Sunday in October. Your life, your relationships, our world, and God’s kingdom depend upon it!

To listen to the messages, go HERE.