“Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” – James 4
“Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power” – 2 Cor. 10
Last week I began writing about the devil and this is round number two. As I consider what I’ve written thus far and would like to say, I’ll confine my thoughts to resistance – responding to the reality of an evil super-natural intelligence as described in my previous post. One quick note, all that I’m about to say applies not only to the devil but to those beings (demons) who are like him and aligned with his purposes.
1. 2 Cor 2:11 “…so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.”
There is a reason that teams will study film from their opponents previous games. Even in tic-tac-toe you anticipate your opponent’s next move and act accordingly. So if there is a devil, wholly opposed to God and contriving to ruin his creatures we must have some sense of his ends and the means by which he pursues them. Thinking back on last week’s brief description of the devil as some one who lies, accuses, and seeks to destroy we should consider his ends in our varying circumstances.
For example, I look back on a conversation with a friend who’s life had recently fallen apart. The center of his world had been taken away, largely through his own doing, and he was completely distraught. What sort of designs might a malevolent, deceitful, destructive being have in such a situation? I did not consider this question until I was rocked by the news of my friend’s suicide later that week. As I said last week, we cannot blame complex and tragic choices on one single factor but to never consider the devil as part of the puzzle is foolish. I was ignorant of his schemes.
While neither the devil, nor his followers, know all things they are intelligent, observant, and have been at this for a while. I believe that they have insight to our pressure points, times of weakness, and areas of temptation. In particular I have been alerted by others, and seen myself, how the devil will assault new Christians, believers moving forward in service to God, and those in strategic roles. If we are aware of our opponents designs we are much more able to counter these. Even if we cannot alter the situation we need not be as surprised. I could have proactively prayed that my friend whose life was falling apart would not do anything rash. I could have asked him some of the regular questions to asses the likelihood of suicide. This may not have changed anything but it was still the right course.
This example with my friend is an extreme case but the principles are applicable. I think about a friend’s church which is taking strides forward in better serving Christ but is also poised for significant conflict. God is present but the devil is right there looking for the opportunity as well. A stray word here, a slight twist of the turth there, and anger that is groomed that day by a serries of frustrating events so that the edge is sharp – these are all it takes. We do not want to be outwitted and are not ignorant of his schemes. There need not be something supernatural or spectacular, as that might alarm and alert God’s people, rather through the mundane he attacks God’s people and chips away at the church.
Practically, prayerful reflection on our sitation – both God’s purposes and the potential for sin – is the beginning point in responding to the reality of the devil. Do you do this? In your own life or in the context of your church, are you in any ways aware of the devil’s desires?
2. Jesus: “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Luke 11:20
What sorts of things can you accomplish just with your fingers? Jesus speaks of his conquest of the demons, and implicitly their master, by the finger of God. In the concluding words of the Apostle Paul to the church in rome he writes. “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” In both of these statements there is an undeniable confidence in the victory of God on behalf of his people. In the scriptures the devil is a terrible foe – a roaring lion seeking those to devour, an enraged dragon whose tail sweeps a third of the stars from the sky – and apart from God’s power we would have no hope. Now, for those who belong to Jesus Christ by faith, there is certainty that evil will be overcome and we somehow participate in this victory. The primary way that the Christian does so is by resisting the devil (see Jas __, Eph 6). A wise Christian leader who had served in Papua New Guinnea for many years in the midst of much conflict with the devil summarized the scriptures teaching saying, “we are to flee temptation and resist the devil, while we usually want to do the opposite.” We are glad to try and resist temptation and flee the devil but neither of these are the primary strategy god gives. Like facing a bully, the solution is not to run to but to stand up. So how does one do this?
First, it must be through faith in Christ. Apart from his victory over the evil one by dying and rising again we do not have the strength (Acts 19:13-17).
Second, resisting the devil is tied to basic Christian obedience. The promise that the devil will flee from you (James 4:7) is tied to simply following God’s ways:
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. Jam 4:6-10
Third, appropriate God’s truth, especially through prayer:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,
There is so much in this paragraph but it essentially summarizes all we have said thus far of faith, resistance, and obedience. This is all wed to the rich truths of all that is given to us in Christ then set in the context of praying at all times in the Spirit.
Practically, here are a few examples:
1. One pastor whom I know and greatly respect rebukes the devil and prays against his influence every Sunday morning before he preaches. He says something like, “Devil, leave us alone in the name of Jesus Christ. These are God’s people and do not belong to you, so stay away. O God, keep the distracting and deceiving power of the evil one at bay as we gather to worship you and hear your word.” I will pray along these lines before ministry events or even before certain conversations. In a similar vein I will pray for God to protect me, my family, and our church from the ravages of the devil, specifically appropriating the victory that is ours in Jesus Christ and the devil’s certain defeat.
2. We sing. Sometimes when I am scared or overwhelmed I will sing “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” There have been nights before ministry events when our children have been inexplicably troubled and frightened. The only recourse we have found is to sing hymns lifting up God’s truth and the victory that is ours in Jesus.
3. Bring in help. I believe that there are God appointed leaders in the church and that in times of assault by the evil one it is right to ask the elders to pray with and for you. I vividly recall two situations in which I was praying with and for leaders in the church, standing against the devil, and the conflict was of such intensity that the resistance was palpable.
4. Go forward. When I was in Uganda a few years ago and sharing the gospel with a couple I found out they used to be Christians but went to a witch doctor for healing from a debilitating illness. I did not need to fear or dismiss their engagement with the demonic as superstition, but could go forward believing that God is greater. In various situations the best way to resist the devil is to keep going on the path God has set regardless of fear, uncertainty, and weakness. While the devil may attack and assault a Christian he is not able to possess or snatch a believer from God’s hand.
There is so much more to say, but this is a start.