“Piece of Cake,” “Sitting Duck,” “Out Gunned,” “Pushover”: These and other phrases could be used to describe our weak, pathetic, and inferior position before the powerful Evil One.
If Satan is the god of this present age and
If he is a mighty spirit entity—a fallen high angel and
If he is the great deceiver and
If he commands legions of other supernatural agents and
If he is a cunning master liar and
If he is ancient and an experienced foe of God and
If he powerfully opposes all that God stands for and
If he has knowledge of God and his plan from an unique and extra human vantage point and
If he is out to deceive and destroy humanity—especially believers and
If he goes about like a vicious lion seeking prey and
If he has studied your vulnerabilities and has methods to exploit them and
If he is the master tempter and knows our weaknesses and….
If all the above is true, and I believe it is, how do we mere mortals stand a chance against such a formidable enemy? Do we as individual humans possess any innate power sufficient to defeat such a foe? In Martin Luther’s majestic hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God is this sobering line from the first verse:
For still our ancient foe Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, And armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not His equal.
God at War
Jesus didn’t casually consider that “ancient foe” of God and man. Jesus’ great temptation by the Prince of Darkness was a contest unparalleled in human history. His very ministry and life were at stake. He knew what powers he faced. He knew the Adversary’s purpose and cunning. He also knew that the battle was not his alone to wage; God was both his defense and offense in combat with the Enemy.
Jesus had read the account from the Book of Daniel of a certain evil cosmic power, identified as the Prince of Persia, who was able to delay—for three weeks!—an angel of God sent to answer Daniel’s prayer. God’s messenger, no doubt a high-ranking one, had gotten caught up in a fight by a determined enemy set on preventing Daniel from receiving God’s answer. Finally, the awesome Chief Prince of angels, Michael, was sent by God to engage in the mighty conflict of supernatural beings. That proved decisive and the delayed angel sped to Daniel to give him information from the Book of Truth. His task finished, the angel told Daniel he must return to the ongoing battle with the Prince of Persia.
The Bible from beginning to end presupposes spiritual beings who exist “between” humanity and God and whose behavior significantly affects human existence, for better or worse. Such a conception lies at the center of the biblical worldview. We war “against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12).
Some may mock the idea of there being a devil. To some he is but a cartoon character, a mere foil for morality plays and religious fables. To others he is simply a handy image for the dark corners man’s nature. Still others are fascinated by the whole devil business and establish cults to worship Satan. C. S. Lewis observed,
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.
Jesus took seriously the reality of spiritual warfare knowing it had been raging since the Garden of Eden. He knew of his own self he could do nothing and that he was no match for the Devil one-to-one. He realized he needed the “armor of God” so that when the Evil One attacks he could stand his ground. To that end he fasted and prayed before his Father forty days crying out for strength to resist the Devil. He anticipated the psychological vulnerabilities the Devil would seek to exploit. The weaker his fasting body became the stronger his spirit and his bond to God—the ultimate Power.
The Devil presented himself full of charm, intellectually challenging, his arguments seductive, and his propositions appealing. The allure of this ruling demi-god offering Jesus real power was tempting. The gospel accounts give only the briefest summary. This very real temptation of Jesus continued for forty days. It was not a game. For a temptation to be tempting the sin must be more attractive than the good. Jesus was temptable in all points of normal human desire, just as we are. The Jesus-Devil dialogue must have been intense and exhausting.
Jesus, the Second and True Adam, stood up to the Serpent from Eden and defeated him. He, unlike Adam, obeyed his God and resisted all attempts to drive a wedge between Father and Son. Jesus was committed to doing his Father’s will, come Devil or high water. When the contest of wills was over Jesus was still standing, the Devil defeated, departed, sulking, but plotting for another “opportune time.”
We may not attract such personal attention from Satan himself; nevertheless we are among his evil kingdom’s first targets. We are followers of God and of his Son Jesus, the Messiah. As sons and daughters of God we are the objects of Satan’s distain. He has a score to settle. Unable to destroy God’s firstborn, his devious efforts are directed at the Church of God, the spiritual body of believers—you and me among them.
“Know your enemy” is a maxim for battle and it might be helpful for us to review the dossier on Satan.
Three Strikes and You’re Out!
Let’s look at Satan’s dossier beginning with the creation of man. Unable in Eden to destroy God’s new creation, after his initial success deceiving Eve, he turned to exploiting human freedom to bend minds and behaviors toward evil. As the centuries passed he succeeded spectacularly in making sin more attractive than obeying the loving Creator who had made man in his image. “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.”
Etched in the Serpent’ mind was the fearsome prophecy of his Maker—Gen 3:15. His coming destruction was predicted and Satan determined to prevent its happening: A child of Eve would one day, God said, “crush your head.” From that day eliminating the human race became his strategy, a strategy that almost succeeded.
Before the second millennium of human history was completed, God ordered the earth destroyed by water and his “heart was filled with pain.” But not everyone on earth had been corrupted. There was Noah, a righteous, faithful soul. Just as God began the human family with Adam and Eve, he was prepared to keep the hope of humanity alive with the family of Noah. Mankind survived; Satan’s corrupted world perished. Strike One!
More centuries passed with the Adversary opposing God at every turn. God’s calling out of the nation of Israel to bear witness to his goodness became Satan’s prime target for destruction. Satan managed much mischief, but was unable to destroy Israel.
Then, suddenly, the dreaded prophecy of The One coming from the seed of Eve (a human) invaded earth. The stately and mighty Gabriel, the angel of The Presence, came to Mary announcing the Promised One would be born to her. The fulfillment of Gen 3:15–the seed of Eve coming to crush the Serpent—was now in the womb of a young Jewish girl. The Evil One must have been in a panic.
Satan witnessed Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and induced his agent Herod to kill him. A lot of baby boys were killed but not The Seed whose parents had hurriedly taken him to Egypt.
Ever persistent, Satan didn’t give up on eliminating his potential executioner. As we discussed above, Satan mounted a frontal attack tempting Jesus to give up the hard and narrow road the Heavenly Father had given him to walk, give up his messianic calling. He offered Jesus something more immediate, more appealing, and more satisfying. No success.
Satan tried to get mobs to kill Jesus. No success. Satan trolled about and finally hooked one of Jesus’ disciples to betray him. He then worked his magic on all the powers of the time—Sadducees, Pharisees, Romans—hired some false witnesses and succeeded in finally killing the Promised One, the seed of Eve. He must have breathed a sigh of relief on that Passover day thinking he had hit a home run and won the game. He had defeated God’s promise and threat of Genesis 3:15. He was home free…for three days.
But the Son of God, the seed of Eve, was raised from the dead to eternal life, exalted to His Majesty’s throne and glorified. Death was defeated. The Son of God vindicated. The Adversary vanquished and his fate apparently sealed. He failed. Strike two.
The Devil’s Daily Business
Following the resurrection, the Devil’s options have narrowed and his time is running out. Like a cornered rat, Satan fights for his life, pathetic as it is. He knows what is most important and precious to both Father and Son are those now taking on the Divine nature of God—the Church. He knows of God plans for the church to rule in the coming Kingdom of God. If that happens, he knows his kingdom will be judged, destroyed, and replaced with those bearing the Image of God. Satan’s kingdom is tormented with that prospect. One of its demonic members shouted at Jesus, “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” Their dark kingdom fears, of all things, being sentenced forever to what the Bible calls the “blackest darkness.”
Satan’s last option to avoid his feared fate is to destroy the church and postpone or thwart God’s coming kingdom. His number one job is to resist the process of turning sinful carnal humans into righteous sons and daughters of God, to stop us Christians from following Jesus. He is attempting this by whatever means at his disposal. In this too he will fail. The church is that tiny mustard seed that has grown large with millions joining The Way to life everlasting. Jesus promised the Church would not die but thrive until the end of this present evil age. At that time the resurrection will again dramatically vindicate God’s own by defeating sin, death, and the Devil.
But the resurrection is not yet here and the spiritual war against God’s people rages on. It is a war you and I are in whether we want it or not; whether we are aware of it or not. We had better be aware.
You Are No Secret
Peter warns us to not be ignorant of the spiritual struggle we face and of the Devil’s dastardly devices. His devices are tailored to the job at hand. He and his malicious minions work at several levels: individual by individual, religious, cultural, educational, political, and governmental. His kingdom seeks to corrupt the world at all levels and in all arenas for the purpose of doing hurt to God’s creation. His success is never total for God’s forces of truth, goodness, and light are holding the total darkness at bay.
You and I must be concerned with how the tempter is working on our case. Consider that the tempter has a dossier on you. What does your file read? It will list your vulnerable areas of thought; your spiritual and moral weaknesses; your bad habits; your undisciplined areas of lust and greed. It will note the situations and things that tend to trigger you to envy, to become prideful, to anger, to self pity, to hate, to gossip, to lie, to boast, to deceive, to over indulge, to criticize, to put others down, to be selfish, to sin.
Everyone has a little different profile of strengths and weakness and it is the task of the tempter to know yours. His focus, of course, is to exploit your areas of weakness. This is how battles are won. Find the vulnerable areas and attack there. Find the gaps in the line, the chinks in the armor and attack there. The Enemy has made a specialty in spotting and exploiting the soft spots in our character.
I quoted C. S. Lewis above from his preface to unique and strangely fascinating book, The Screwtape Letters. Read it sometime. After writing it he said he could never do such a work again. He labored to put himself in the mindset of the Enemy who is set on destroying Christians and preventing potential Christians from becoming believers. After completing the book he declared he would never attempt such painful task again. Yet, the book is most helpful is alerting Christians to the spiritual forces operating upon them.
Screwtape is a senior demon who is writing letters to guide a less capable and less experienced demon, Wormwood. The letters concern Wormwood’s assigned “patient” or target who is a young man in London during WWII. Every area of this young man’s life, environment, and family come into play. Meanwhile, the young man dealing with the pulls and passions of life begins to consider the reality of a God. He is introduced to Christianity. Screwtape’s letters are insightful toward understanding both how God and the Devil deal with this fellow. The man is free, he cannot be made to do things or forced to believe things so the methods of influence upon him must be subtle, undetectable, invisible. The story ends well; Wormwood loses his “patient” to the one Screwtape calls the Enemy (God) and is sent back for retreading at the Tempter’s Training College. The young man endured, with God’s unseen help, the various trials and temptations thrown his way. He freely chose God’s kingdom and way of life, found happiness and became a useful servant of his Lord.
It is safe to assume that your prowling-about-enemy, the Devil, does have a file on you. You should know your vulnerabilities as well or better than he does. These will be, and I’d wager, have been your continual areas of trouble, stumbling, and sin. They have been the areas that have caused you and others the most grief and discouragement. Admit to your self that these are your weakness and ask God for help.
When Peter was under great temptation of the Devil and in danger Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (Lk 22:31). We must pray for others as well as ourselves that we resist temptation and cling to God in faith.
We have been promised help to combat evil temptations. Resist we must. Take on the armor of God, close the gaps, and shore up the vulnerable positions. It might be helpful tactic to make a list of your key vulnerabilities where your moral and spiritual life is at risk. The list will probably be short—perhaps only a few areas of character weakness. What would be on that short list? If you don’t have any immediate ideas, a close and honest look into the mirror of God’s law, the fruits of his spirit, and the works of the flesh, should illuminate areas of lack and concern. We need the clarity and focus of Christ as we engage the formidable forces out for our destruction.
Satan is not our focus, God is. But Satan will use all his wiles to stand between you and your heavenly Father.
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)
James details the life cycle of sin, the sequence of the downward slide. God’s Word takes temptation as a given. It assumes it. We must identify the source. If God is not the tempter, who is? Well, I think we know the answer. James instructs us:
Submit yourselves, then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. (James 4:7)
The alchemy of our own lusts combined with Lucifer’s enticements spells sin. Temptation comes not from God!—but from Satan either directly or indirectly via his system, his surrogates, or his corrupted culture. He has learned all the subtle tricks to tweak your particular variety of lusts and weakness to produce the sin he seeks.
With all this talk of the powers of the supernatural kingdom of Satan it might be natural to feel like “easy picking” and to feeling woefully “out gunned.” But the truth is quite the opposite. There is no need to quake and fear before the fallen angel. If God is for us—and he is if you are his son or daughter—who can be against us? Paul makes that a rhetorical question since the answer is quite obvious. Jesus conquered the kingdom of Satan and dispatched demons with a word, confronted Satan and defeated him. What power can stand before the Master of the Universe, Yahweh? And God has given his beloved Son power above every power.
We may face evil boldly with the power of God firmly before and behind us. We need not be preoccupied with the various machinations of the Devil and his fellow unclean spirits. He is a loser, a condemned power whose days are numbered.
Sure, we have troubles and will encounter temptations. God-fearers always have. You and I are not unique. Peter, who had first hand dealings with the tempter, wrote:
Humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…. (1 Pet 5:6-9)
“We are more than conquerors through him who loved us,” writes Paul. Conquerors of what? Paul continues,
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, not any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:37-39)
The Devil and his demons know there is one true God—“and shudder.” We know the one true God—and rejoice. Christians are members of the triumphant heavenly kingdom, we have tasted the powers of the age to come, and we will one day see with clear eyes the ultimate end of the Evil One as he is cast into the consuming lake of supernatural fire. Strike three! You’re out!
Easy Pickings? No. God has called us to have confidence in him and his power to deliver us from all our temptations and trials. We are not victims. We are winners. We must do our part by resisting the Evil One, asking God’s help to shore up our areas of vulnerability, forsaking our lustful habits, and seeking to have God’s good and loving character become ours. God has called us to be bold in carrying out the mission of His Son—proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom of God—whatever the opposition. The Father and Son will not let us fail.
We began this article with a line from the first verse of Martin Luther’s scripturally powerful hymn, A Might Fortress Is Our God. Let’s close with verse three:
And tho this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God has willed his truth to triumph through us;
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure;
One little word shall fell him.
 Eph 2:2; 6:12; John 14:30; 2 Cor 4:4
 Rev 12:7-9
 John 8:44
 Rev 20:10
 1Pet 5:8
 Eph 6:11
 Daniel chapter 10
 Dan 10:21
 Boyd, Gregory A., God at War – The Bible & Spiritual Conflict, IVP, 1997, p. 11
 The Screwtape Letters, Harper Collins, 1942, p. ix
 John 5:19, 30
 Eph 6:13
 Heb 4:15
 Luke 4:13
 Gen 6:5
 Gen 6:6
 John 5:18
 Mat 8:29
 Jude 6, 13, 2 Pet 2:17
 Mat 16:18
 Rom 8:31
 James 2:19
 Heb 6:5
 Rev 20:10