Spiritual warfare is a popular topic in Christian circles. Most of those who have written on the subject have contributed valuable information, but have stopped just short of teaching believers how to engage the enemy personally and set him to flight. I think Christians are afraid of a “hocus pocus” method, as they should be. However, I can’t help imagining Satan secretly smiling in the background as authors pass over the most important step in our battle against him.
Before I started writing this article, I asked the Lord for His guidance to bring Him honor and glory. Then I spoke out loud to the evil ones, telling them to be gone in Jesus’ Name and quoted the Scripture, “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). This is an example of how to use our “sword of the Spirit,” the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). Lest we think this is some unnecessary exercise in Bible gymnastics, quoting Scripture in this manner was done by Jesus Himself. The Lord has left us a specific example of how He personally dealt with Satan in Matthew 4, as will be explained in more detail later.
In James 4:7-8 it says, “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.” We best not attempt the second step without the first. Our enemy would only mock us! The Apostle Paul wrote: “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3). Our relationship with God is of primary importance in our daily walk with Him. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). When our relationship is right with the Lord, we can resist the devil and he must flee!
For brevity’s sake, I will list below some of the thoughts that have gone into my understanding of the spiritual battle.
♦ Satan and his fallen angels are created spirit beings with distinct personalities and proclivities, motivated by malignant evil. As creations, their power and authority are limited to that designated to them by their Creator God. We must not underestimate nor overstate their intent, power, or ferocity. As a wise commander studies his enemy and his battle plan, so it would be wise to know our spiritual enemy: “we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Cor. 2:11). This is a real battle with real casualties. Each of us is the target!
♦ Satan hates to be revealed. He operates best “in the dark.” We must not allow him that freedom. He will attempt anything in his power to keep humans from discovering his ways. Some of Satan’s “devices” or tactics are: deception (2 John 1:7; Matthew 24:4, 11), lies (Satan is the father of lies, John 8:44), temptation (Matthew 6:13; 2 Corinthians 10:13), false visions and lying divinations (Ezekiel 13:7), Scripture (twisted or out of context, Matthew 4), false prophets (Matthew 24:11), false religions, false religious experiences, angels of “light”, dreams, physical attacks, possession, sickness, fears, unbelievably severe temptations, despair, and more.
♦ It is assumed by the Apostle John that learning to deal effectively with Satan is a normal stage in our Christian growth: “I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one … I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one” (1 John 2:13-14). Most of us have never become “young men.” Satan has worked hard at keeping us from knowing and utilizing our scriptural authority over him, and this regrettably has stunted the growth of many believers. Also, we cannot become spiritual “fathers” until we have been “young men.” The “fathers … know Him who has been from the beginning.” A deepening and true knowledge of our Lord appears to be intimately linked with having learned to overcome the evil one. For in that learning, we cannot help but utterly despair of our own strength, only to fall into the strong arms of our Father. What grace!
♦ Although the devil is a purposeful individual, he is one under authority. Almighty God does use him to accomplish His will. In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 is Paul’s account of his visions of heavenly Paradise. Then he explains, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.” God allowed a demon under Satan’s command to harass Paul on a permanent basis in order to keep him humble! When our Lord allows troubling conditions in our lives, we may never know the true reason behind it! But, as He promised Paul, it is also true for us: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
♦ The story of Job further illustrates the sovereignty of God over the kingdom of darkness. Satan is given permission to test the Lord’s godly servant, Job, who is very wealthy and has a large and beautiful family (Job 1). Satan desperately wants to undermine Job’s character and cause him to curse God. One way he attempts this is by barraging him with a series of very personal disasters, including the death of all his children. Then Satan is granted permission to strike Job physically. This he does by covering his body with painful boils. Each time God limits how far this angelic destroyer is able to go, so that Job will not be tempted beyond what he is able to endure (1 Corinthians 10:13). On top of all that, his wife urges him to curse God and die! Often times our accusations and trials can come to us through those closest to us—those we love the most. This also bears the mark of one of Satan’s schemes.
♦ I believe one reason Satan hates us so much is because we are created in the image of God, the One whom he aspired to be equal to. I am not aware of any biblical evidence that angels were created in God’s image. Though we are not, nor ever will be God, it seems plausible that our enemy is extremely jealous of our creative status and God’s eternal purpose for us.
♦ Satan and his demonic followers have been in existence since the beginning of man’s creation. They have had millenniums to observe us and our human weaknesses, both in general and individually. They may also observe family lines over generations and produce believable impersonations and factual information through mediums.
♦ Scripture says of angels, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14) It follows that if demonic watchdogs observe angels protecting a certain person, that this definitely gets their attention. I believe they would go to work doing everything they could to keep that person blind (before salvation), and to thwart their fitness or worthiness as a vessel for God’s use afterwards. It is possible that one or more demons are “assigned” to us, possibly from birth, to observe us intimately and learn how best to fashion their assault against us. If not assigned, then they definitely do observe us specifically and individually, and will use the things they observe against us later on. I have personally experienced this, and it is really very sobering!
♦ As Christians, we are new creations in Christ. When we are tempted in ways that we fell prey to in the past, I believe it is because of the very point above. The tempters know our weaknesses and what made us fall into sin before—what has, in essence, laid a familiar track to our front door. This is likely to be the track they will come down again at those “opportune moments” in our lives. Of course, they are not beneath laying the groundwork for newer, more subtle forms of temptation.
♦ Satan and his beguilers will stoop to anything to twist, malign, confuse, sidetrack, and corrupt God’s highest creation. And if the enemy’s more obvious plans of attack seem less persuasive, they will engage their covert powers of subtle seduction, beauty, and light, to entice and enlighten people “above” God’s reach forever. “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). Self-actualization and transcendental experiences are but a few examples of this device.
♦ We have no scriptural evidence that the angelic order can read the minds of men and women. I believe this attribute remains with God alone. Consider these wonderful words of the Psalmist:
“O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. . . .
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:1-4, 23-24).
♦ Since demonic personalities cannot read our minds, in order to engage them, we should do it audibly. I have found this to be true in my own experience, time and time again. Be aware, however, that they are able to implant thoughts into our minds, which is one general avenue of temptation.
♦ Since we are new creations in Christ, demonic onslaught would take place from outside us. “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” (Ephesians 6:12). This chapter continues by instructing us regarding the weapons of spiritual warfare:
♦ “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:13-18).
♦ Jesus was sinless—perfect! Yet, He could be tempted just like us. Temptation can reach us through three avenues: the world, the flesh, and the devil. The Lord has left us a specific example of how He personally dealt with Satan in Matthew 4:1-11:
The Temptation of Jesus
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
♦ Here are some specific points worth noting about this passage:
1. Satan waited for an opportune moment: one of physical weakness.
2. The Father allowed Satan to tempt Christ (Jesus was led by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil) at a crucial moment in His life, just before His public ministry started. It is possible He might similarly “prepare” us for, and during, times of crucial ministry.
3. Satan used three temptations aimed specifically at what he perceived Jesus’ greatest points of weakness would be.
4. Satan used Scripture, twisted though he made it. This is probably his most subtle and malicious form of attack, judging by Whom he used it against (Jesus). Perhaps we should be most wary when we find ourselves rationalizing with Scripture.
5. Jesus responded audibly: “But He answered and said . . . .”
6. Jesus used the Word of God as His sword to fight against the devil: “It is written . . . .” He then quoted the most appropriate verse for the specific temptation. Herein lies one benefit (from the human standpoint) for all the years of study Jesus had done as a boy. If we hide God’s Word in our hearts, it will be there when we need it most! It would be especially wise to memorize key verses for the areas in our lives where we are the weakest and most vulnerable to attack. Psalm 119:11 says, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
7. Jesus finally said: “Be gone, Satan! For it is written . . . .” Then His arch-enemy left Him, and angels came and ministered to Him.
If we will follow the example of Jesus Christ, we will experience the same results. Satan left Him, and Satan and his demons will leave us, as well.
♦ In our daily prayers to God, we can be proactive in asking for help in our fight against the powers of darkness. In “The Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus taught us to pray, among other things, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13). If the Lord Himself says we can ask, we should ask!
♦ Of course, there is no substitute for, or shame in fleeing! We could quote the Word of God all day, but if we don’t put some feet to our intentions, what good does it really do us? If we play games with Satan, we lose. If we trust in the strength of our Lord and use “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” we win (Ephesians 6:17). That is a promise from the One who never lies!
It is a powerful thing to experience the lifting of demonic oppression and to literally feel temptation set to flight. After Jesus sent out His 72 disciples to share the Gospel, they “returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven’” (Luke 10:17-20).
The question is, why have we not learned to effectively use our Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God? The primary reason is probably found in the second major point. Satan hates to be revealed! He likes operating in the dark, and does not like Christians to understand him, his strategies, and how he operates in the Kingdom of Darkness. Another reason, I believe, is we tend not to invest our energy in studying the Scriptures regularly and memorizing those which can help us most in combating the sin and weaknesses in our lives. Our enemy is doing everything he can to keep us in the dark about the power of the Word of God in the clean hands of forgiven people. Beyond this, perhaps we are not as aware of the reality of the two Kingdoms that exist and in which we live on a daily basis. The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Darkness are very real, and the warfare that goes on between them over the eternal souls of people is constantly ongoing and of utmost importance to every person’s eternal future.
The Word of God tells us how to protect ourselves and how to fight this battle. Perhaps quoting the Scripture out loud is new or awkward to some. When I first learned to do this, it was like the dawning of a new day in my walk with the Lord. Undergoing enemy attack can make us more like Christ (He went through it, too), mature us as believers (recall the young men and fathers analogy), develop our character, lead to perseverance, and so much more. The depths from which God is able to redeem Satan’s assaults against us and transform them into that which brings Him glory is absolutely astounding! Jesus answered the Apostle Paul’s pleas for relief from demonic attacks in this way: “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
©1989, 2012, 2014, 2019 by Cindy A. Harris, M.A. Theological Studies
Translations used: New International Version and English Standard Version.