Power for Living - Part 4: Spiritual Warfare of the Saints
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, October 5, 2003
Copyright © 2003, P. G. Mathew
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
Spiritual Warfare of the Saints
In this final sermon on power living, I want to speak about the warfare that we as God's people engage in every day. To ensure our victory in this spiritual battle, we must be strengthened in the Lord and in his mighty power, and put on the whole armor of God, as we discussed earlier. Now we want to speak about the necessity of knowing our enemy, Satan; of knowing our deliverer, Jesus Christ; and, of knowing ourselves.
Spiritual Opposition to God's Purpose
What is God's purpose in human history? Simply put, it is to liberate a specific number of sinners from their slavery to Satan and to build them into a church, for the glory of God. Thus, the greatest blessing in the world is to become a Christian and be included in this eternal purpose of God, and the greatest curse is to not trust in Jesus Christ and be excluded.
The church is described as the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the dwelling of God in which God lives by his Spirit. Jesus Christ declared, "On this rock I will build my church," and later commissioned Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles for this purpose: "to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the kingdom of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in me" (Acts 26:18).
This singular purpose of God is violently opposed by Satan and his kingdom. We need to understand that there is spiritual warfare going on. A believer encounters this warfare the moment he puts his trust in Jesus Christ and endures this terrible conflict until the day he dies. Anyone who evangelizes by saying, "Believe in Jesus Christ and all your troubles will be over," is not telling the truth and will produce converts who, once they encounter spiritual warfare, will become confused and fall away. We have a responsibility to preach the whole counsel of God.
1. Know Your Enemy
It is important to understand clearly the power of our enemy. Before World War II, many people in England were not aware that Germany was re-arming. After World War II, many people in this country underestimated the strength of the Soviet Union. God in his mercy raised up people like President Reagan to defeat the Soviet Union and dismantle it. Even today we hear people speak against the war on terrorism. Such people have no understanding of the militant Islam that is bent on the destruction of western civilization, and especially on the destruction of Christians and Jews. Western man is interested in peace and affluence, not in waging war. But God will raise up proper people to deal with these enemies, if it is his will.
Ignorance of one's enemy is a terrible thing. In Luke 14, Jesus Christ tells us it is important to know the strength of our enemy so we can prepare accordingly. Today most people do not believe in the existence of the devil and his kingdom of demons. These are highly educated people, materialists who do not believe in God, the devil, angels, demons, or any invisible, supernatural, spiritual beings. Most people today believe that man is good and making inevitable progress. This is based on the evolutionary hypothesis that what is needed is education, and when we are sufficiently educated, all our problems will go away.
The devil delights in promoting this idea that he does not exist. But what is reality? As we read the word of God, we see that God created everything, including angels and men, and it was very good. But God created angels and men with free agency. God's most powerful created being exercised this freedom in a wrong manner and became the devil. He, in turn, successfully corrupted a large number of other beings, who became demons, fallen angels. Then, as we read in Genesis 3, the devil tempted Eve, who exercised her free agency wrongly and sinned. Through Eve, Adam also fell from his state of innocence, and in the fall of Adam, the whole human race fell, becoming sinners and dupes of the devil.
So the Bible says there is a kingdom of evil, a kingdom of Satan, a kingdom of moral darkness. It is a kingdom based on ignorance-ignorance of God, of creation, of man, and of reality. Satan rules over the fallen angels and over all unbelievers who have not trusted in Jesus Christ.
The Fall of Satan
The Scripture teaches about the fall of angels and men in several places. For instance, Ezekiel 28:11 begins by speaking about the king of Tyre, but it soon transcends this historical king and moves on to speaking about Satan himself: "The word of the Lord came to me: Son of man, take up the lament concerning the king of Tyre and say to him: 'This is what the Sovereign Lord says: You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones.'"
Now look at verse 15: "'You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you.'" This wickedness came by the exercise of his free agency. Verse 17: "'Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth.'" Satan was originally created with great power, wisdom, intelligence, and beauty. He was perfect until he sinned. The reason for his downfall was pride.
In Isaiah 14 we discover another statement about Satan. In context it is speaking about Nebuchadnezzar, but it goes beyond the king of Babylon. Verses 12-14: "How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!" Notice, the problem is the pride exercised by this angel: "You said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.'" Verse 15: "But you are brought down to the grave."
Jesus Christ refers to Satan in John 8:44: "You belong to your father the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire," illustrating how the devil controls unbelieving people and through them carries out his purposes. "He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth." Notice, there was a time when Satan was perfect, but he did not hold to the truth.
In 1 Timothy 3:6 Paul tells us why a novice should not be ordained to a position of authority in the church: "He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil." Remember, it was through pride and arrogance that Satan was thrown down and became the devil.
In 2 Peter 2:4 the comment is made: "For if God did not spare angels when they sinned , . . ." This tells us there was a time when the angels had not sinned, just like there was a time when man walked in communion with God. Verse 6 of the book of Jude also mentions "angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home. . . ." In other words, God gave Satan, his most powerful angel, a position of authority and responsibility. But he refused to hold to that position; therefore, God judged him.
Revelation 12 describes how the angels fell: "Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth" (v. 3). "The great dragon was hurled down - that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him" (v. 9). When Satan fell, he brought down a third of the angels with him.
Finally, 1 John 3:8 tells us, "He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work."
The Power of Demons
It is important that we do not underestimate our enemy. The devil and his demons are wicked, corrupt, supernatural, spiritual, personal beings of great power and intelligence. As enemies of God, they make war with the saints - real war! They have only one purpose: to steal, kill and destroy - to frustrate, if possible, God's eternal plan of building a church. These invisible beings can be present in the church, influencing us as we hear the word preached. It is amazing. We can be in the church and think evil thoughts, be distracted, or even go to sleep! It is all the work of Satan. Satan does not mind us going to church, but he does not want our minds to be open to the word of God, because the entrance of the word gives life and light. So wherever the gospel is preached, Satan and his demons are there also.
But it is equally important that we do not overestimate our enemy. The devil and his demons are creatures; therefore, they are not omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent. They have power, but it is limited. One thing the devil cannot know is the future. Only God knows the future. The demons also cannot know what we think. Only God knows what is in the human heart.
Not only that, Satan and his demons continually make terrible mistakes. The worst mistake the devil made was the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. He thought it was the end of Jesus Christ, and that evil would prevail. But through his crucifixion, Christ destroyed Satan and his evil minions.
In a limited way, demons can exercise power over nature, such as lightning, thunder, wind, and storm. Once when Jesus was crossing the Sea of Galilee, the demons created a storm; when Jesus rebuked the wind and the waves, there was great calm.
Demons also have limited power over man's mind and body. They can blind people, preventing them from understanding the gospel. They can afflict our bodies with sickness and disease. They can promote doubts, fear, hatred, and false teachings. They can control men and women by possessing them. The Bible speaks about a man possessed by a legion of demons. He was naked and violent, and nobody could restrain him. Demons cause people to write books promoting errors and false philosophies of life. They cause scientists to draw false conclusions opposing the revealed truth of the Scripture, such as the theory of evolution. They exercise control over educational institutions, judicial systems, and the political, cultural and economic structures of the world, as well as their leaders. They control all religions except those who practice orthodox Christianity. They even control the vast majority of "Christian" churches that abandoned the gospel. Martin Luther once said, "If you are looking for demons, don't forget to look in the pulpit."
Controlled by the Evil One
In the Bible the devil is known by many names: Satan, adversary, evil one, Beelzebub, tempter, liar, murderer, dragon, ancient serpent, accuser of the brethren, god of this world, roaring lion, the prince of the kingdom of the air and the ruler of this world. First John 5:19 tells us the whole world lies in his power. All unbelievers of this world do the devil's will, and he is their master. Yet such people would say, "I am free." They do his will in the name of academic freedom, free thought, and free exercise of reason. They call themselves "children of the Enlightenment." To them, being "enlightened" means abandoning the biblical authority and basing everything on man's fallen reason. To them, fallen reason is the measure of all things.
Paul tells us in Ephesians 2 that we were all under the control of the evil one until God called us out, made us alive, liberated us, and made us members of his glorious church: "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world, and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts" (vv. 1-3). There it is clearly stated-the devil operates powerfully in every person who is an unbeliever in Jesus Christ.
All have sinned in Adam and come short of the glory of God. All, therefore, are captives of Satan while they call themselves "free people." The ultimate cause of all trouble in this world is this evil kingdom of Satan, which God permitted to exist in his sovereign wisdom.
Don't tell me about academic freedom and enlightenment! Before we became Christians, we had no freedom at all. We were manipulated and controlled by the evil forces. Ephesians 5:8 says, "You were once darkness," speaking about the kingdom of Satan. All of us were once in the moral darkness of academic freedom, enlightenment, and free thought.
Ephesians 6:11 tells us to "put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes." Notice that our adversary relies on crafty schemes. Seldom does he come directly, as a roaring lion. Instead, he comes indirectly, deceptively, a wolf in sheep's clothing, as an angel of light.
Verse 12 continues, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." Notice there are gradations and rankings among demons. We are against them as they are against us. It is a struggle that goes on from the moment that we trust in Jesus Christ until the moment that we die. If we do not understand this, we will not understand how to deal with the tactics of the enemies.
So the first thing we must do it to know the devil. He is right here. Wherever the gospel is spoken, he is there.
2. Know Your Deliverer
Our Deliverer is the Lord Jesus Christ. We have to know who he is, what he did, and why he came. We must ask the questions: Why the incarnation? Why his death? Why the resurrection and ascension? As I said, God has an eternal purpose. To accomplish it, he sent his Son into this world to liberate certain sinners from the control and captivity of Satan and to bring them into God's kingdom of light and life.
If there is no devil, then there is no sin; and if there is no sin, then there is no need for salvation or a heaven-sent Savior. If man is not a sinner, he needs no Savior because he is good, and, not only that, he is getting better all the time. But such thinking is based on lies; it does not comport with reality. It does not explain the evils of the world, such as the Second World War or the killing fields of Cambodia. It does not explain young men or women strapping explosives on themselves so they can kill people. It is a naive, fraudulent way of explaining reality. The truth is, there is a kingdom of evil; all have sinned; man needs salvation, and he needs a Savior. It was for this purpose Jesus Christ was sent.
The Purpose of the Incarnation
In Luke 11:18, Jesus says, "If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand?" Jesus himself declares there is a kingdom of evil. In verses 21 and 22, Jesus says, "When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe." The strong man is the devil and his goods are unbelievers. Satan is strongly armed, and all his goods were in safekeeping until Jesus Christ came. Jesus then speaks about himself: "But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils."
Jesus Christ came to attack, overpower, and defeat Satan by his life and by his death on the cross. The devil is strong, but the Lord Jesus Christ is stronger. PGM As Creator, he is stronger than any creature. We are told in John 8:36, "If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed." That is what happened to us. We were held and controlled by Satan; we always did his will. But Jesus Christ defeated him and rescued us. We need to know that!
In John 12:31-32, Jesus himself defined the purpose of his coming: "Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." Here Jesus was prophesying that once he was lifted up on the cross, the prince of this world would be defeated and his people would be liberated; they would come to believe in Jesus Christ and the church would be built.
The purpose of Christ's incarnation is again clearly defined in 1 John 3:8: "He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work." Christ came to defeat the devil and render him powerless.
In Colossians 2 Paul clearly tells us the purpose of Christ's death on the cross: "He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross" (vv. 13b-15). By his death on the cross Jesus Christ has totally defeated the kingdom of darkness-Satan, demons, authorities, rulers, and the spirits of evil in the heavenly places. He has driven them out!
The result of this defeat is described in Colossians 1:13: "For he has rescued us out of the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." As a result of the cross, Jesus has defeated the evil forces and has liberated us from Satan's clutches.
If you are not yet convinced, look at Hebrews 2:14: "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity. . ." This is speaking about the incarnation of Christ. Without being incarnate, Jesus could not die; therefore, he took on flesh "so that by his death, he might destroy him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil - and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death."
Proof of Deliverance
The gospel proclaims this liberation to us: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved." Jesus defeated the devil and his forces once for all by his death on the cross. What is the proof the devil's power is broken? We are! The church is the proof that Christ's atonement has set his people free.
Believers cannot be kept in shackles any longer; they are being liberated every day. Satan has no control over the body of Christ. Jesus rose from the dead, ascended into the heavens, and is seated on the right hand of God the Father. He is Lord of all and head of the church; no one can snatch us from the hand of Christ and from the hand of the Father. Colossians 3:3 assures us, "our life is hid with Christ in God." Satan and his demons are creatures, and no creature is able to separate us from God and his Christ.
How do we come to know these truths? Through the Holy Scriptures. Thus, a knowledge of the Scriptures is essential. We must understand and believe these truths in order to wrestle victoriously against the devil. We must know our enemy, Satan, and we must know our deliverer, the Lord Jesus Christ. Last of all, we must know ourselves. Armed with this knowledge, the gates of hell shall not prevail against us.
3. Know Yourself
What, then, should we know about ourselves? First, we are saints, the people of God. We have been delivered from the dominion of darkness. We used to be slaves of Satan; the only thing we could do was to sin. We spoke about freedom, but there was none; we could only do the will of the devil. But God in Jesus Christ saved us, and now we are the delivered ones. Not only do we have the freedom not to sin, but we also have the freedom to delightfully obey God.
In God's wisdom he has given some freedom now to the defeated enemy to tempt us and harass us. But that temptation of the devil will, through God's eternal purpose, ultimately benefit us by making us strong.
Not Against Flesh and Blood
In this war we are wrestling not primarily against human beings, but against spiritual beings. We may think that the enemy is our wife, or our husband, or our children, or other people. But they are not our primary enemies, for, Paul tells us, "our struggle is not against flesh and blood." When Mrs. Job said, "Curse God and die," we may think Mrs. Job was the problem, but, in reality, Satan was working through Mrs. Job to tempt her husband. When Peter told the Lord Jesus Christ not to die on the cross, we find out who was really speaking when the Lord told Peter, "Get thee behind me, Satan!" Satan was using Peter to oppose God's eternal plan of saving us through Christ's substitutionary death.
We also are going to experience such opposition. Satan will come to us through our husband, through our father, through our mother, through our wife, through our children. So be aware! It is good to know that human beings are not our primary enemy. We wrestle against the devil and demons who tempt us. We are in a war against invisible, mighty, spiritual forces of wickedness, a relentless war that lasts our entire life. In fact, when we are weak and dying, the devil may show up and say, "You are not a Christian. You are not saved. You think you are saved, but remember those terrible things you did when you were young? You are a phony. You only think you are going to heaven." God will help us and give us grace to deal with the devil, even at the hour of our death.
We are engaged in a terrible conflict. If we can understand this, it will save us much heartache and make us more focused, more vigilant and more prayerful. Then we can deal with situations in a different manner. It is a close, personal, hand-to-hand combat, like the conflict Jacob had with the man who wrestled with him all night. But the devil cannot defeat us; he cannot harm us; he cannot even touch us. What is the reason? We are no longer in his kingdom. We have been truly liberated and taken out of his kingdom by the triumphant Christ. We are no longer Satan's slaves; he has no dominion over us.
Our Eyes Are Open
We are seated with Christ. He is in us and we are in him. These are not just words; they are the very words of God. Though we can see the devil and hear him shouting against us, he cannot harm us because we are in Christ. The illustration is one of a bully. He may terrorize you when you are alone, but when your father and big brother are with you, the bully can do nothing to you. You may still shake and shiver, but there is no reason for it, because those with you are competent to deal with the bully. Similarly, when Satan shouts at us, we may begin to shiver and shake. But no need: God our Father and Christ our elder Brother are with us.
We have been given freedom to obey God gladly and to disobey Satan violently, to hate wickedness and love righteousness. That is what happens when Jesus Christ liberates us. We are not like Rudolf Bultmann, who denied the existence of spirits or angels or demons or devils, considering them a primitive notion. But it was the devil himself who inspired Rudolf Bultmann to deny his existence.
Our eyes are opened by God to realize that God Triune reigns. He is omnipotent, all-wise and all-holy. His eternal purpose is to save us, and he is with us and in us. Satan is powerful, crafty and wicked, and the whole world lies under his control. But the Bible says, "He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world."
Our eyes are also opened to realize that the holy angels are ministering spirits to us. Not only are the demons and devils here, but God himself and his holy angels are in the midst of us.
Finally, our eyes are opened to realize the final doom and destruction of the kingdom of evil. The book of Revelation speaks about this great future conflict: "And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever" (20:10). "Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire" (v. 14). That will be the final disposition of evil by God.
How to Wage War
Nevertheless, now we must wrestle, and it is an ongoing struggle. As we wage war against the defeated kingdom of Satan, against the world and the flesh and the devil, we will do well to follow these principles:
Be strong in the Lord. To be strong in the Lord means to understand what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for us. It is to believe that Christ died on the cross, was buried and raised from the dead, ascended into the heavens, is seated on the right hand of God the Father, and that he is Lord of all and the head of the church.
The Bible says the Lord always leads us in triumph. We will be strong as we know the truth from the Scriptures. If we are ignorant of the gospel, we will be scared, bruised, and brought down. I plead with you to be strong in the Lord by reading, understanding and believing the word of God.
Be filled with the Holy Spirit. It is the ongoing responsibility of a Christian to be filled with the Holy Spirit. We must ask God to fill. When we are weak, then we will be strong through this mighty energy that so powerfully works within us. We must refuse to operate in our own strength or lean onto our own understanding, but say with Paul, "I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengtheneth me." It is a present tense, ongoing, continuous strengthening.
Be clothed with God-given armor. We must put on the whole armor God has provided: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the boots of the preparation of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword that the Spirit wields, which is the very word of God. Notice, every part of the armor has something to do with the word of God. That is why we say that when we are ignorant of the word of God, we are unclothed, unfit, and unready to wage war.
Live a holy life. We cannot practice sin and, at the same time, stand opposed to the devil. It can never happen. Scripture says the righteous are as bold as a lion. Therefore, we must live a life of repentance and faith.
Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:26, "In your anger, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold." When we sin, we have already given the devil a calling card. We have given him an access to our mind, will and heart. That is why we must live holy, righteous lives.
Jesus illustrates this principle in John 14:30: "I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. But he has no hold on me." Why did Satan have no hold on Jesus? Because Jesus was without sin. When we are sinning, Satan has a hold on us, and we cannot wage war against the devil when we are in his grasp.
Resist the devil and submit to God. In James 4:7 we read, "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." To submit to God means to obey him, to do his will, to come under his rule and government. When we submit to God, then we are fit to resist this superhuman, supernatural, personal, evil being. And we are assured in this verse that he will flee from us! That should tell us that if we are experiencing defeat, we are not submitting to God.
First John 5:18 tells us this: "We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin." If we are people of God, we will not continue in sin, and when we do sin, we should confess, for God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Confess quickly, before the sun goes down, because the enemy is coming.
Glory in the cross of Jesus Christ. Why should we glory in the cross? Because it was on the cross that Jesus Christ defeated Satan and triumphed over all our enemies. Revelation 12:11 says, "They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony." Speak about the cross: "Christ died for me. I rely on Christ's atoning sacrifice. I glory in it. I proclaim it. By the blood of Jesus Christ, all my sins have been forgiven, and you, Satan, have no claim on my life! Christ has saved me."
Pray. We wage war by praying. First, verse 18 tells us we are to pray in every situation. When God blesses us, we must pray. When we are in prison, we must pray. When we are sick, we must pray. When people slander us, we must pray. We must pray in all situations.
Second, it tells us to pray all kinds of prayers. We begin with adoration, with praising God: "Our Father, who art in heaven. . . ." That is praising him. "Hallowed be thy name. . . ." That is praising him. Another prayer is confession. We confess our sins: "O God, I have sinned. Have mercy upon me." Another prayer is thanksgiving: "Thank you, O God, for giving me all these blessings." The last type of prayer is supplication: "O God, I have these needs. . . ."
Third, we are to pray always - morning, noon, and night. And, finally, we are told to pray for all the saints - for the pastor, for the elders, for the sick, for all the people of the church. If we keep praying, we will see God do wonderful things.
All believers can be assured of this: We will stand, finally, in triumph. The devil will come as a roaring lion, to swallow us up, if possible. But it is not possible! He can only shout at us from over there. He cannot come over here, because we are in God and God is with us. We are saved, being saved, and will be saved. We have a great Savior, and we are securely gripped by him and by the Father. And no creature, no devil or demon, is able to separate us from God and his Christ. Amen.
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Copyright © 2003, P. G. Mathew
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