"Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench 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. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints." (Ephesians 6:11-18)
“Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil,” warns Paul, in his famous letter to the Ephesians. Peter similarly cautions us to “keep alert.” Because, he continues, “like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.”
Ever since God created Adam and Eve way back in time, mankind has been subject to constant assaults from the devil whose sole purpose is to facilitate its destruction. He is God’s arch enemy, but because he can’t get to him, he tries to get to us, who are created in the image and likeness of God. If we are to defend ourselves, and even more importantly, get on the offensive ourselves, there are a few things that we need to understand, especially about our enemy.
The devil is real
Much of the world does not acknowledge the existence of the devil. Even evil is negated, as in New Age thinking that “all is one” good and bad both; and, of course, psychologists and humanists put their own spin on the issue. This is the enemy’s greatest achievement because it allows him to walk unhindered amongst us, more or less free to do whatever he wants.
But he is real.
We find constant reference to the devil in Scripture, in both the Old and the New Testament. There are countless mentions of him in the Old Testament beginning with his appearance in the Garden of Eden as a serpent who tempts Eve to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge that God has forbidden her from eating. He was created as part of the angelic realm and was the highest in rank of them all but was laid low by his pride and arrogance. This well-known passage in Isaiah, directed at the king of Babylon, is interpreted by many Christians as describing Lucifer, a fallen angel better known as Satan.
“How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God. I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the Pit.” (Is 14:12-15)
Seventeen books of the New Testament speak about the devil and four others make reference to demons. There is mention of the devil 29 times in the gospels and the person to speak about him 25 out of the 29 times was Jesus himself. Jesus had several personal encounters with the devil, including a fateful encounter in the wilderness where he had an extended conversation with him (see Matthew 4:1-11). To say that there is no devil is to cast aspersion on the integrity and the sanity of Jesus.
The Church affirms the existence of the devil. “Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy. Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil”. The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing” (CCC 391). In fact, one of the baptismal promises all Catholics are required to make is a renunciation of Satan, and all his works, and all his empty promises, an implicit acknowledgement of the devil’s reality.
Also evidence for the reality of the devil is the universal and persistent temptation to do evil, even by God fearing people. How can one account for the crimes, some extremely heinous, committed by mankind unless the desire to do so is being inflamed by the constant and powerful urging to do wrong, despite every wish to do the opposite? Surely we have all have felt this sustained attack that we know doesn’t come from within our own mind, even though it might eventually have our mind’s cooperation. An impersonal force, as evil is sometimes described as being, cannot suddenly launch concerted attacks just like gravity cannot suddenly double the gravitation pull that it exerts.
The devil is not omnipotent
If there are many among us don’t believe in the devil, there are also many who do, and among them are several who make him out to be a very powerful creature. He is not. If he was, he would have stopped you from doing this course or reading this book. He would have stopped you from going to church. Leave all that aside: he would have killed you if he failed to get his way with you. He can’t. He doesn’t have the power. The only power he has is the power we let him have.
Scripture has a lot to say about this. James tells us to “resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). The devil doesn’t have the gumption for a prolonged fight. Resist him and he will eventually give up, just like he did with Jesus in the desert. This is not the hall mark of a powerful opponent. However, he will return, especially when he perceives that you are weak in the manner of the cowardly hyena who doesn’t approach its prey until it is practically helpless. This is what Peter said when he spoke of the devil prowling about looking for somebody to devour. He can’t devour just about anybody he feels like devouring. He has to look for the weak!
Scripture does calls the devil “the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4) but he can lord it over only unbelievers, not the Christian. John in his first letter says, “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 Jn 4:4) and he who is in us is the Holy Spirit. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?” (1 Cor 6:19).
The Holy Spirit is the one who has breathed life into everything, and having him within us gives us unimaginable power over the enemy, power that has been authorized by Jesus himself. “Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you“ (Luke 10:19). We see his disciples exercising this authority and declaring triumphantly as they returned from battling with the devil: “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” (Luke 10:17)
The demons the disciples were referring to are the cohorts of Satan. They are evil, cunning and highly organized spiritual entities racked against us on four levels of varying authority (see Ephesians 6:12). Satan and his generals are on the topmost level directing those under them, and while it might seem a little terrifying to think of the enemy as an organized force of so many, we need to remember the most important truth about the enemy.
He is defeated!
The devil is a defeated enemy
A little over two thousand years ago Jesus defeated Satan by his death and resurrection. “He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him” (Col 2:15).
A disarmed enemy is a powerless enemy, and all the excessive growling and snapping that the devil does is only to hide the fact, trying to make us believe that he still is “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31). However, those words are often taken out of context. The full context reads: “Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:31-32). To ensure that there was no ambiguity about this victory, Scripture says that Jesus made a public example—some translations say “public spectacle”—of the devil so that everybody knows the devil is a vanquished foe. So why does he still flex so much muscle?
During World War II it seemed that the German army was going to overrun the world, until the Allied forces of America, France, Russia and England began to gain the upper hand. Germany soon surrendered, but there were many places under German occupation that didn’t receive the news about the surrender until later. During this time POW’s—Prisoners of War—remained captive, until the news got through about Germany’s capitulation. It is the same thing with us. A lot of us don’t know the war has been won—by the good side!
Another thing that happened following this war. The Allied powers who defeated Nazi Germany divided the country into four occupation zones for the years between 1945–1949. Furthermore, all territory annexed by Germany before the war from Austria, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, France, Luxemburg, Poland and Yugoslavia was returned to those countries. If they hadn’t done this, there is a good chance that Nazi Germany would have re-emerged and continued to trouble the world. We need to take similar command and control and we will learn how to do this over the course of this module. The first thing we need to do, however, is stand our ground.
“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 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....” (Eph 6:11-14)
In this passage of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians that we have been studying we find the apostle using the word “stand” four times. Every student of Scripture knows that the significance of a word used in a passage is directly proportional to the number of times it is used, and to have a word repeated four times—a very rare occurrence, and that too in rapid succession, indicates that there is something that is really important.
Have you ever watched a “Western”? There is invariably a showdown at the end with the bad guy in a stand-off with the good guy, both waiting, squint eyed, hands by their sides waiting to see who would draw their weapon first. Then there would be a flurry of movement, and one of the men—the bad guy, always the bad guy—would topple to the ground, dead. The man remaining standing is the obvious victor.
We need to make sure that we are standing, and although it may seem a difficult task when faced with an opponent like the devil, it isn’t when we fully internalize three facts, two of which we have already looked at. One: the devil is a defeated enemy. Two, he is a defenceless enemy. Three, Jesus stands by our side.
Rejoice in the Lord always
Paul offers some remarkably sound advice to the Philippians that contains all the elements we need to “stand our ground”: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:4-7)
The devil constantly and continuously shoots arrows at our minds to take our hope away. A joyless Christian is a defeated Christian and makes for easy pickings. How does the Christian stay joyful always? By knowing the Lord is near! If you love Jesus—and surely you do—and he is near you, that is reason enough to always be rejoicing. This helps us remain standing.
Knowing that the Lord is near also brings security. The devil is like a bully in a school playground who picks on the smallest, weakest kid. He can do this as long as the kid is alone. But when the kid’s big brother shows up, the bully is nowhere to be seen. Jesus is like a big brother to us. In fact, he says that “whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister” (Mk 3:35). This helps us remain standing.
The devil makes us worried and anxious and fearful, but Scripture tells us we needn’t be so. All we need to do is to tell God what we need, thank him, and go away in peace. This seems remarkably simplistic but imagine this scenario. A child goes to her father telling him that she needs some money for a class picnic. The father smiles at her and nods his head. The girl gives him a tight hug, whispers her thanks and goes away peacefully. She hasn’t got the money yet, so why is she at peace? Because she knows that on the day she needs to take the money to school, or a day before, she will have it. It is the same with us. If we truly believe the Lord is near, and if we are in a relationship with him, there is no genuine need that we have that he will not meet. This will give us the peace that will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and it is vital that we guard these because a wound to either heart or mind will incapacitate us. To do this we need to have on two items in the Armor of God: the helmet (of salvation) and the breastplate (of righteousness). We will come to that soon.