Dealing with the Devil
Knowing and overcoming the enemy.
“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:11)
A lot of people assume that becoming a Christian means their life will get easier. The logic goes something like this:“If I get right with God, and try my best to be a good person, then God will bless me and good things will come my way.” Certainly, this logic seems to make at least some sense. After all, when we make peace with God by receiving the Gospel, we are forgiven our sins, we are counted as justified before Him, and we are offered the promise of eternal life. This, in itself, is a tremendous blessing that will no doubt affect the whole life of a believer.
And yet, when you become a Christian you immediately gain new enemies. In fact, according to the Bible, all of God’s enemies declare war on you the very moment you make peace with God and begin to work against you. Part of what it means to be a Christian then is to expect spiritual attack and hardship. It simply comes with the territory.
As we pointed out in last week’s devotional, the very first step we must take in fighting this spiritual battle is to know our enemy. In Ephesians 6:10-20, we are told that one of our primary enemies is the devil. So who exactly is “the devil,” and what kind of “schemes” can we expect from him?
In sizing up our foe, it is perhaps best to start by naming what the devil cannot do. The devil cannot destroy your salvation. Jesus says in John 10:28-29 that “no one will snatch” those who belong to him out of his hand. This is a very important verse for us to consider because it guards us against over-estimating the enemy. His powers are limited, and ultimately he is subordinate to God (see Job 1-2).
But while the devil cannot alter or destroy your salvation, that does not mean he isn’t a threat. We are told, for example, that he is like a lion searching for prey to devour (1 Peter 5:8), which is a metaphor for his power. He becomes more intimidating when we consider that he commands an army of demons (Matt 5:1-20; Eph. 6:11-12) and often appears in disguise as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). Certainly, the Bible wants us to take the devil seriously as a threat and as an enemy.
If the devil is unable to destroy our salvation, why exactly is he such a threat? The answer is that, while he cannot alter or destroy your faith, he can make your life miserable by attacking your assurance of salvation. Indeed, the devil’s aim is to make you an anxious, joyless, ineffective Christian by causing you to doubt and disbelieve God and robbing you of your peace and joy.
To that end, the devil’s primary methods of attack are through deception and accusation. In fact, the Greek word for “devil” is “diabolos,” which literally means “slanderer.” It’s also where we get the word “diabolical” from. This is actually helpful for understanding who the devil is: he is a diabolical slanderer. The devil is a schemer, and his primary weapon is lying. As Jesus says in John 8:44, the devil is “the father of lies.”
The devil lies to us by slandering God in order to cause us to doubt God’s character, just as he did in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1). The devil lies to us about our standing before God, accusing us of sins that we have already been forgiven of in order to make us doubt our salvation (Zech. 3:1-2). The devil leads us into temptation (Gen. 3:1-7; Matt. 4:1-11), telling us that other things will offer us more satisfaction than God. These lies are described in Ephesians 6:16 as “flaming darts” which the devil hurls against us. How might we guard against them?
The answer that Paul gives us is to “take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Eph. 6:16). In other words, our faith is the shield with which we can withstand the devil's blows. It is only by leaning into our faith and strengthening it that we will be able to hold onto the peace and joy that is offered to us in the Gospel whenever our faith is assailed. This is exactly why 2 Peter 1:10 urges us to confirm our calling and election.
Being a Christian comes with the guarantee that you will endure spiritual conflict. It does not guarantee an easier life. Yet, we are not left helpless against any of our spiritual enemies. We are offered the guarantee that the devil has already suffered many defeats (Col. 2:13-15), that we can withstand anything he throws against us (Eph. 6:11), and that he will one day be defeated forever (Rom. 16:20; Rev. 20:7-10).
For all of these reasons, we are able to say and to sing with confidence the words which Martin Luther wrote many years ago:
“And though 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.”
Adam Smith is a Ministry Associate in Washington D.C.