Defeating the Devil
“Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”
As we conclude today our brief look at what Scripture says about our growth in holiness and the obstacles to our sanctification, we will be looking at the third of the Christian’s three major enemies—the devil himself. Our battle to grow in holiness is an explicitly supernatural one, and it involves defeating the devil as well as the world and the flesh.
In the modern West, Satan is largely relegated to the category of myth. Many people deny the existence of a personal being known as the devil, even many people who profess the name of Christ. It has not always been this way. Our forefathers in the faith were acutely aware of the power and presence of Satan. Martin Luther, for example, spoke regularly of his encounters with the Prince of Lies. Luther struggled with bouts of Anfechtungen—extreme depression—and he even spoke of being able to see the devil and throw his inkpot at him. Today, people think the devil is little more than a historical curiosity, a being invented to explain certain phenomena and not a supernatural creature in his own right.
Luther was at the forefront of the greatest revival of truth since the Apostolic age, so it is unsurprising that Satan might focus his attention on the great German Reformer. In the case of most of the rest of us, the devil likely has bigger fish to fry. We should not take that, however, to mean that we will not be called upon to defeat demonic forces as they wage war on our own lives. There is a legion of demons who exist to influence the world for ill and lead God’s people astray (Mark 5:1–20). Jesus Himself frequently dealt with evil spirits. To ignore them is to be unprepared for the spiritual battles that we must fight.
We need not go looking for a demon under every rock, for the world and our flesh can entice us to enough law-breaking without demonic assistance. Still, we must know how evil spirits present themselves if we are to resist them. As today’s passage indicates, we should not necessarily expect our spiritual enemies to look overtly evil. Satan is the master trickster who often disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). In many cases, evil does not look all that disgusting to us. The devil draws us in by offering things to us that look good, not by broadcasting it loud and clear that we are being tempted to do what is wrong. Wise Christians train their powers of discernment by the Word of God, seeking to know God’s thoughts that they might recognize evil when it comes in the guise of an angel of light.
Because the Son of God came to destroy the devil, we need not fear the devil. We also need not wonder too much if there is a demon behind specific temptations that confront us. What we should do is become fully grounded in God’s Word. As we grow in our knowledge of Scripture, our discernment improves, and we find it easier to identify as sinister things that might at first glance appear to be good. Let us train our minds by the Word of God.
The Believer’s Struggle
“The law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”
Romans 7:1–13 is concerned largely with explaining that while the law of God—particularly as inscripturated in the Mosaic law—is good in itself, it cannot solve the problem of sin. In fact, the law and sin are so closely connected that one must come out from under the law if transgression is ever to be dealt with (vv. 1–6). This is not the fault of the law, which is holy. Neither is God to blame, for the Lord never intended His law to answer the problem of sin (see Gal. 3). In fact, unless our Creator changes our hearts, His law is a tool that sin uses to urge us to greater wickedness. Paul’s own life before Christ testifies to this reality, as does the collective experience of Israel, the nation that when presented with God’s commandments in written form, broke them without looking back (Rom. 7:1–13).
The Apostle is so caught up in clarifying his perspective on God’s law that he does not call direct attention to his shift in Romans 7:14 from describing his experience as an unregenerate person with the Lord’s commandments to his life as a believer. Until the end of the chapter, Paul describes the Christian’s struggle against sin. Though we see this in his change from the past tense to the present tense in verse 14, the best evidence that Paul now speaks of the regenerate person is that the conflict he describes “does not exist in man before he is renewed by the Spirit of God” (John Calvin). Paul is a consistent thinker, and he could not be portraying an unregenerate person in verses 14–25 unless he were ignoring almost everything else he says about the affections and abilities of unregenerate men and women (for example, Rom. 1:18–3:20; Eph. 2:1–10). Those to whom the Holy Spirit has not given new hearts cannot have the true longing to do God’s will that Paul describes.
Many scholars argue that the Apostle refers to the unregenerate person in Romans 7:14–25, and their case rests largely on Paul describing himself as being “sold under sin” (v. 14). How, these scholars ask, could 7:14–25 describe a regenerate individual, for 6:18 says Christians are “slaves of righteousness”? Here we note the testimony of the greatest thinkers in church history to what happens when we grow in our sanctification—the more we are conformed to Christ, the more we see how unlike Him we remain. Christians feel sin more acutely because of the change wrought in us by the Spirit. A conflict exists between our regenerate hearts and the remaining presence of sin in our lives that was not there before conversion, and we see our sin more and more for what it truly is.
Warring Against the World
“The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.”
– John 7:7
Commitment to Christ cannot be halfway; it requires a single-minded intent to press on and obey Him even when the going gets tough (Luke 16:16). We do not work up this intent ourselves, but it is a gift of God’s grace, and it is something that we should ask the Lord to grant us continually. Moreover, as we understand our primary enemies to Christian growth, we will see all the more the reasons why we need such a drive to serve Jesus.
Martin Luther said that Christians face three enemies—the world, the flesh, and the devil. Obviously, these foes are interrelated. Our flesh—the remaining tendency toward sin in our lives—is co-opted by the devil to love the world and not the Savior. Yet, we can distinguish among these enemies, and today we are considering the opposition of the world.
When we are talking about the world as an enemy, we are talking about the fallen world system that sets itself in opposition to Christ. In itself, the world was originally very good (Gen. 1), but in the fall of Adam, it was set against its Creator. It hates Jesus because of His testimony about its fallen system of pride and ungodliness, and thus it gains the capacity to hate all who are united to Christ (John 7:7).
The world is that sphere, or that group of people, that has no affection for the things of God. It exists in antithesis and opposition to and tension over against the Lord’s kingdom. Yet our Creator loves the world even in its fallenness, and having sent His Son to save the world, commissions us as ambassadors of grace to the world (John 3:16; 20:21). As those who have been sent into the world, we are tempted to adopt the world’s ways, so Jesus has prayed for us that we would not be of the world and under the sway of Satan even as we remain in the world (John 17:14–16). This call to be in but not of the world is critical, emphasizing the biblical point that God does not save us in order to snatch us out of the world or that we might live in isolation in our own Christian ghettos. Instead, like Jesus, we are to minister in the world wherever we are to people no matter where they are from.
As we are seeking to share the gospel with others, there will be pressure to conform to the world, to water down the gospel so that we become more acceptable in its eyes. The danger of vain philosophy lurks around every corner. But the solution is not to ignore such things or to change our message to make it more acceptable. The answer is to remain in the world and confront the world—graciously, of course—with the truth of the gospel.
The Sword of the Spirit
By: Charles Spurgeon
“Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”—Ephesians 6:17.
O BE A CHRISTIAN is to be a warrior. The good soldier of Jesus Christ must not expect to find ease in this world: it is a battle-field. Neither must he reckon upon the friendship of the world; for that would be enmity against God. His occupation is war. As he puts on piece by piece of the panoply provided for him, he may wisely say to himself, “This warns me of danger; this prepares me for warfare; this prophesies opposition.”
Difficulties meet us even in standing our ground; for the apostle, two or three times, bids us—”Stand.” In the rush of the fight, men are apt to be carried off their legs. If they can keep their footing, they will be victorious; but if they are borne down by the rush of their adversaries, everything is lost. You are to put on the heavenly armor in order that you may stand; and you will need it to maintain the position in which your Captain has placed you. If even to stand requires all this care, judge ye what the warfare must be! The apostle also speaks of withstanding as well as standing. We are not merely to defend, but also to assail. It is not enough that you are not conquered; you have to conquer: and hence we find, that we are to take, not only a helmet to protect the head, but also a sword, with which to annoy the foe. Ours, therefore, is a stern conflict, standing and withstanding; and we shall want all the armor from the divine magazine, all the strength from the mighty God of Jacob.
It is clear from our text that our defense and our conquest must be obtained by sheer fighting. Many try compromise; but if you are a true Christian, you can never do this business well. The language of deceit fits not a holy tongue. The adversary is the father of lies, and those that are with him understand the art of equivocation; but saints abhor it. If we discuss terms of peace, and attempt to gain something by policy, we have entered upon a course from which we shall return in disgrace. We have no order from our Captain to patch up a truce, and get as good terms as we can. We are not sent out to offer concessions. It is said that if we yield a little, perhaps the world will yield a little also, and good may come of it. If we are not too strict and narrow, perhaps sin will kindly consent to be more decent. Our association with it will prevent its being so barefaced and atrocious. If we are not narrow-minded, our broad doctrine will go down with the world, and those on the other side will not be so greedy of error as they now are. No such thing. Assuredly this is not the order which our Captain has issued. When peace is to be made, he will make it himself, or he will tell us how to behave to that end; but at present our orders are very different.
Neither may we hope to gain by being neutral, or granting an occasional truce. We are not to cease from conflict, and try to be as agreeable as we can with our Lord’s foes, frequenting their assemblies, and tasting their dainties. No such orders are written here. You are to grasp your weapon, and go forth to fight.
Neither may you so much as dream of winning the battle by accident. No man was ever holy by a happy chance. Infinite damage may be done by carelessness; but no man ever won life’s battle by it. To let things go on as they please, is to let them bear us down to hell. We have no orders to be quiet, and take matters easily. No; we are to pray always, and watch constantly. The one note that rings out from the text is this:—TAKE THE SWORD! TAKE THE SWORD! No longer is it, talk and debate! No longer is it, parley and compromise! The word of thunder is—Take the sword. The Captain’s voice is clear as a trumpet—Take the sword! No Christian man here will have been obedient to our text unless with clear, sharp, and decisive firmness, courage, and resolve, he takes the sword. We must go to heaven sword in hand, all the way. “TAKE THE SWORD.” On this command I would enlarge. May the Holy Spirit help me!
It is noteworthy that there is only one weapon of offense provided, although there are several pieces of armor. The Roman soldier usually carried a spear as well as a sword. We have seen frequent representations of the legionary standing upon guard as sentry, and he almost always stands with a spear in his right hand, while his sword hangs at his side. But Paul, for excellent reasons, concentrates our offensive weapon in one, because it answers for all. We are to use the sword, and that only. Therefore, if you are going to this fight, see well to your only weapon. If you are to have no other, take care that you have this always in your hand. Let the Captain’s voice ring in your ear, “Take the sword! Take the sword!”, and so go forth to the field.
Notice, first, the sword you are to take is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. That is our first head; and the second is equally upon the surface of the text: This sword is to be ours. We are ordered to take the sword of the Spirit, and so make it our own sword.