The Christian’s war against Satan
In January 2002, when I returned to my flat in an eastern European country after lecturing on the doctrine of salvation, I was assaulted by two men who knocked me down, tied and gagged me, then ran a knife up and down my back while shouting, ‘Mafia, mafia!’ God graciously comforted me with His word throughout this forty-five minute ordeal, but you can understand that I considered myself a dead man.
The Mafia is not always so blatantly or aggressively open. More often than not, they, like Satan, operate covertly. We know that the Mafia controls money-laundering businesses, houses of prostitution, drug operations, and all kinds of crime, but it is difficult to pin these criminals down. I read in the paper that one Mafia leader was so slippery that though there were more than a dozen charges against him, a jury acquitted him.
Satan’s spiritual Mafia likewise controls people and nations – sometimes openly and blatantly – but more often undercover. We need much wisdom and strength, not only to defend ourselves against Satan’s attacks, but also to search him out and offensively attack him in the strength of our God.
Satan’s demons also aim to destroy us, for they are led by one who was a ‘murderer from the beginning’ (John 8:44). Sometimes the devil comes as a ‘roaring lion,’ seeking to inspire fear through threats and suffering (1 Pet. 5:8-9). Sometimes he comes like an ‘angel of light,’ trying to seduce us with sweet lies (2 Cor. 11:13-14). Sometimes he even speaks through the voice of dear, but mistaken friends (Matt. 16:23).
However the devil comes, we cannot avoid his attacks. In Ephesians 6:11-12 Paul thus advises us:
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
We are at war
Whether we like it or not, being a Christian means we are at war with the devil. That is no game; it is a battle to the death. William Gurnall wrote of:
A war between the saints and Satan, and that so bloody a one, that the cruelest which ever was fought by men, will be found but sport and child’s play to this. Alas, what is the killing of bodies to the destroying of souls?
To win this war against the devil and his minions, we need three tactics. We see these in Paul’s instructions for spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6:10–20. (For a full development of the following great truths, I highly recommend Gurnall’s treatise The Christian in Complete Armour, which is built upon this scripture.) Here is how those tactics work in spiritual warfare.
1. Our strategic supply line is dependence upon Christ.
Paul begins this text by saying, ‘Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.’ He ends by saying, ‘Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit.’ If you try to fight Satan in your own strength, even with the best methods, you will fall before him.
As Christian soldiers, we must lean on Christ’s might, for we have no shelter from Satan but the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our refuge and our hiding place. He is like a cave hidden in rock (Ps. 57:1). He is our fortress and deliverer (Ps. 18:2). He is the bread by which we live and grow (John 6:35). He gives us the living water of the Spirit (John 4:10). He is our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30).
We draw upon Christ’s strength by exercising our faith through prayer. Faith is the eye that looks upward to the crucified but now glorified Christ at God’s right hand, full of grace for us. Prayer is the hand reaching up to Christ, empty of self but open to the Spirit purchased by Christ’s wounds. What can wash away our sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. We have victory in Jesus!
2. Our unyielding defence is the armour of God.
We need God’s spiritual armour to enable us to withstand the attacks of our enemy and not be thrown down by his violent assaults (Eph. 6:13). Paul described this armour as if it were the equipment of a soldier of his day (Eph. 6:14-17). Christ put on the spiritual counterpart of these pieces of armour to wage war on our behalf (Isa. 11:5; 59:17). The Spirit fit this armour to Christ in His humanity and now fits it to us in Him. Christian, give thanks to Jesus Christ that you can wear the armour of God!
We cannot give a detailed exposition of that armour in this short space, but each piece of armour reminds us of a critical aspect of our walk with God. Like a belt holding together our clothing, the truth of God’s word equips us for battle. As Thomas Brooks says in Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices, ‘A man may lawfully sell his house, land and jewels, but truth is a jewel that exceeds all price, and must not be sold.’ As a breastplate protects our vital inward parts against battle thrusts, so Christ’s righteousness protects us against Satan’s deadly attacks and accusations.
Well-crafted, studded shoes give a soldier solid footing so he does not slip. Likewise the gospel of peace enables us to stand firm in the confidence that by Christ’s blood we have peace with God no matter what happens. As a large Roman shield (120cm by 60cm) protected the entire body of a soldier from an opponent’s flaming arrows, so faith in God’s promises shields us against temptations that would inflame our souls with sin. As a helmet guards us against a blow to the head that could stun or kill us, ‘the hope of salvation’ keeps us lively and clear-headed as we battle Satan in the eager anticipation of Christ’s return (1 Thess. 5:8).
3. Our overcoming offensive against Satan centers upon ‘the sword of the Spirit’ (Eph. 6:17).
The word of God is a divine weapon, for it does not contain merely the words of men but the very words of God which powerfully works in those who have faith (1 Thess. 2:13; Rom. 1:16). Indeed, this word is God’s weapon to create faith (Rom. 10:17), for it is the instrument of the new birth (1 Pet. 1:23).
Therefore, speak the word of God to others, and do all you can to promote the preaching of the word by faithful ministers of Christ. Speak out by bearing witness to scripture truth. Carry the light of God’s word into a dark world, shining its light into every dark corner. And pray for the preaching of the word, that it might be preached boldly and freely and be glorified.
Christian, don the spiritual armour of a well-equipped soldier! Christ has given you all that you need for the battle. So do not be lazy or careless. Do not act as if you are at peace with the devil. You are engaged in a war against Satan and all his devils. This war will last until Christ comes again in glory.
Joel R. Beeke is a minister at Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation and President and Professor of Systematic Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA.