Our struggle is not with flesh and blood. It is with rulers and powers and spiritual forces of darkness, and they are out to get you.
That almost sounds paranoid, doesn’t it? But we know it’s true, and forgetting that it is true will end up with us getting blind sided and derailed in our walk and growth. Satan is limited in what he can do to us, as God’s children. However, he is very cunning, and he will cause you all of the trouble that he can. When we ignore that, we set ourselves up for a frustrated walk.
Satan and his minions want to keep you from growing in your relationship with God. They want to discourage you, get you to skip opportunities to learn about God, prevent you from praying, and keep you from meaningful interaction with fellow believers who might build you up. He will do that with all of the tools at his disposal, which mostly means throwing temptations and distractions at you at just the right moment. Satan is subtle. He’s prowling and watching and he’s waiting for just the right opportunities to slip a barb in where it will be effective.
Of course, when I say “Satan” I don’t really mean Satan. The devil is an individual, a created being like us. He’s not like God, who is everywhere and all knowing and all powerful. Satan can only be in one place at a time, and he’s limited in his capabilities even there. So when I talk about Satan, I don’t really think the devil himself came to my house. However, there are a large number of Satan’s minions, the powers and spiritual forces of darkness that Ephesians 6 and other Bible passages talk about. These forces are active, and are present in our daily lives.
In talking about this, it is important that we do not start just blaming things on Satan and his followers. When I choose to give in to temptation it is my fault. I am prodded and tempted to react wrongly, but I have free will. Satan himself (even if he came to my house in person) couldn’t force me to respond badly to imagined slights, or to yield to temptation. My sin is my fault. The woman doesn’t make me do it, and neither does the serpent. I choose.
On the other hand, the warning in Ephesians 6 is there on purpose. We are to be on our guard against the attacker. We are to prepare ourselves with the armor and weapons God provides, and be prepared. A part of the defense is being aware of the attacker.
The attacks lose a lot of their power if we are aware of them. When I recognize that I am under attack, I am prompted to turn to God for help. Many of the subtle jabs lose their influence, like a magician’s tricks become less impressive when you know how they work.
Watch for it. When you sit down to read your bible or pray the chances are you will be distracted. There will suddenly be reasons not to do it, or to cut it short. When you are tempted and you give in, Satan’s not content to just gloat in his win. He wants to turn up the heat and get you to the next level. He is looking ways to make you stumble. When I sit down to watch TV, its easy. When I seek to spend time with God its like wading against a current. I immediately start to think of all of the little tasks I need to do first.
Satan and his followers are liars. The lies he whispers to you are the lies he knows from practice you’re likely to listen to. His favorite lies are the ones that undermine our relationships with each other, and with God. He wants us to believe that we have no value, that we aren’t loved, that we aren’t worthy of love. He wants us to believe that God can’t possibly love us like God says he does. And he wants us to believe that the things that are harmful to us (like sin) aren’t really so bad.
When you see his attacks, what should you do? One of the things you should not do is focus on the attacker. You should be aware of him, but you should not obsess about him. Satan is not like God. God is all knowing, eternal, all powerful, and holy. Satan is just a creature. A powerful creature, but just a creature. There is no comparison between the infinite power of God and the finite power of Satan.
Defeat lies with truth, the truth of God through his Word. Remember that you are righteous, not by your own righteousness but the righteousness of Christ, who has removed your sin and replaced it with his righteousness. Remember who you are, in Christ, as a child of the living God. Remember that you are dead to sin, and that God is faithful and will complete the work in you that he has started.
The best way to prepare is to prepare in advance. In our ongoing walk we do this by reading and studying and meditating on God’s word, and discussing it with him. It is much easier to turn to God when you know him well. In order to gird yourself with truth, you have to know the truth. This can’t be an academic knowledge. Like learning a second language, you have to learn it in an applied manner to the point that it is second nature, that you think in the new language.
In the moment of the attack we respond by calling on God for protection, and turning to him for help. When I recognize that I am being attacked, I ask my Father for protection, and he gives it. Actively resist the devil, but don’t try doing it on your own. We must recognize that it is the power of God against which the devil cannot stand, not our power. When James says, “resist the devil and he will flee from you,” the words that come immediately before are “So submit to God,” and the words that come immediately after are “Draw near to God.” It is God who defeats the devil.
When we find that we have given in to the attacker, we should immediately turn to God and repair our relationships. First and foremost we must repair our relationship with our Father. That is needed not because God has moved, but because we cloud our thinking and turn our backs on him when we are reminded of the stains we once owned. Turn back to your Father, and he will remind you that you are his child and that you are clean.
Remember also to repair your relationships with others. Give grace and forgiveness away liberally, by the power of the Spirit and with the measure God used to give grace and forgiveness to you. Of course, you can’t do that on your own. God will help you if you surrender your hurts to him and ask him to help.
The attacker is real, and he intends to ruin every part of your walk with God that he can. We cannot and need not stand on our own against him. We are children of the one and true God, who is good, who is infinitely powerful, and who holds us in his unassailable hand. It is in that context that we can stand firm. So stand!