When the topic of spiritual warfare comes up, there seem to be two extremes often present. Either there is a denial that such warfare is taking place or an over-emphasis in the devil and his workings. Both are detrimental to the believer or anyone else, for that matter. C. S. Lewis writes in his creative work, Screwtape Letters, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” One of the challenges of the Christian life is to live in the center of biblical tension. A believer needs to be aware that a spiritual battle is waging, but not live in fear or obsessed with the devil’s workings.
As we explore the Scriptures, we discover that a life of victory is the normal experience God intends for every believer. The term “victory” implies a context of challenge, struggle, and danger. This is why, over and over again, the Bible uses the metaphor of “warfare” when referring to the Christian life. When the Christian seeks to know God and make Him known, being a disciple, following Jesus, being changed by Jesus, and committed to the mission of Jesus, spiritual warfare will most definitely be encountered.
In each of the synoptic gospels, Satan appears as the tempter of Jesus (Mark 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). From beginning to end, Satan is presented as an enemy of God throughout the Bible and, subsequently, an enemy of God’s people. Although Satan and his demons are finite in power and knowledge, their capacities far exceed those of humans. In the battle, Satan takes advantage of our selfish, sinful nature (“the flesh”) and of the force of each of our sin-filled cultures (“the world”). There is little doubt Satan often successfully draws men and women into sin and away from Christ by glamorizing the desires of the flesh and the allure of the world.
Spiritual warfare is not a yin and yang thing. It is not a battle between equals. Satan is in no way equal to God. God created him to glorify and serve Him. Satan allowed pride to rage within himself, and he desired to be worshiped and exalted like God. As a result, he declared war on God, and one-third of the angels joined his army to oppose the Lord. Judged by God for his sin, Satan was cast down to earth (Isa 14:11-23); Ezek 28:1-19). Upon the earth, Satan appeared as a serpent to tempt Adam and Eve by lying and taking God’s word out of context (Gen 3:1-24). After successfully tempting Adam and Eve to sin, he was judged and cursed by God for his sin and told that Jesus would ultimately come to completely defeat him, though Jesus would suffer physical harm in their conflict (Gen 3:14-15).
The gospel proclaims that Jesus, in His death and resurrection, not only purchased forgiveness for our sins and reconciled us to the Father, He also decisively triumphed over Satan and his forces. Having won the ultimate victory, Christ provides the grace we need to live our daily lives in consistent victory. The indispensable means by which God extends His grace to us are His Word (the Bible), prayer, and fellowship of believers (the Church). As we live in obedience to the Word and walk in the power of the Spirit, following His promptings, we need not fear the challenges and temptations of the enemy because Christ leads us to victory.
How do we fight the spiritual battle and walk in Christ’s victory? We need to acknowledge the adversary. We need to realize that Satan is real. I recently saw a study that showed that just over 40% of Christians in America do not believe Satan is real. This is a tragic mistake since Peter tells us, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9). The enemy is real, and the battle is real. We need to accept Christ’s authority. We walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, and we remain focused on Christ, clothed in the armor of God. Paul writes of this spiritual armor in Ephesians 6:11-17. The armor pieces are truth, righteousness, Gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God. We put on this armor by coming to faith in Christ, walking and growing in Christ, sharing His love and message with others.
Often the battle occurs in our mind. Our thoughts can propel us to victory or serve to halt our progress. When we get thoughts from God, we call it inspiration. When we get thoughts from Satan, we call it temptation. This is why it is crucial to fill our minds with the Word of God (the Bible). The Spirit uses the Word of God we know, not the Word of God we don’t know, to lead us into the victorious Christian life, a life of trusting God no matter what the circumstances.
When all is said and done, we are called to focus on Christ. We need to avoid distractions. We need to keep the main thing the main thing. Indeed, we are not to deny that the enemy exists, and spiritual warfare is real. However, our focus is not to be on the enemy but on Christ. The battle is real, but Christ provides the victory. We are called to focus on Him and walk in the power of His Spirit while resisting the enemy. After all, as John writes, “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). The indwelling Holy Spirit is the secret of the believer’s victory over the devil who controls the world of sinful people. There is a battle, and believers find victory in Christ. Soli Deo Gloria (glory to God alone)!