Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 6:11f “. . .against the wiles of the devil.”
Modern minds often depersonalize the spirit realm, and consider “the devil” an obsolete superstition, but Jesus, Paul, and every other early church leader believed in the existence of a personal Warlord of darkness. Satan is not imaginary. He is a real person who thinks, plans, hates, and attacks. Believers know Satan is real; the Bible says he is, and our experiences confirm it. Joseph Parker said, “Satan has nearly torn me to pieces; he is a terrible opponent. He is not a metaphysical antagonist–he is a real and tremendous foe.”
The Bible seems to go out of its way to prove the literal, true existence of an evil Warlord. Scripture affixes many horrifying labels to this foe: the devil (accuser), Satan (adversary), Abaddon and Apollyon (Hebrew and Greek words for destruction), angel of the bottomless pit (RV 9:11), Beelzebub (god of filth, LK 11:19), Belial (wickedness, 2 C 6:15), the great dragon, that old serpent (RV 12:9), god of this world (2 C 4:4), prince of the power of the air (EP 2:2), roaring lion (1 P 5:8). The penmen of Scripture believed Satan was real.
The early church contained Gentiles recently converted out of pagan religions obsessed with dread for demons. Christianity did not counteract this fear by saying evil spirits were a figment of people’s imaginations. We did not deny the existence of evil spirits, but exposed them, explained who they are, how they act, and how we can confidently and reliably protect ourselves from them.
With regard to demons, Christianity gave its adherents facts and comfort. With joy we realize “the devil” and his demons cannot indwell or possess a believer. His assailing of Christians is limited to tactics which Paul describes here as “wiles.” The term is “methodeia,” the basis of our word “method.”
“Methodeia” refers to stratagems, craftily designed plans of attack used by a commander to take advantage of his opponent. “The devil,” experienced in the art and craft of devious warfare, lies in ambush. Frontal assaults are not his style. Shunning open fields, he deals in secret plots.
He would be much less dangerous a foe if he appeared to us as he really is, and taunted us, “Hello, I am the devil, and have come to trip you throughout the day, to use you to humiliate God.” If he did this, we would immediately say, “Get thee behind me, Satan” (MK 8:33). Sadly, he is not this easy to perceive. “Transformed into an angel of light” (2 C 11:14), he deceitfully tries every conceivable, underhanded tactic to ensnare the Christian warrior.
Christians, beware. Be not obsessed with Satan, but also do not ignore or underestimate him. Realize what he truly is: a formidable foe, in age second only to God’s age, a power second only to God’s power, a mind second only to God’s mind. Satan is neither a novice, a weakling, nor an ignoramus.
Satan is no novice. Angels were God’s first companions. Satan, the old serpent, predates man and has had eons to practice and perfect his “wiles.”
Satan is no weakling. The superhuman tempter fearlessly ventured to fly in the face of God, and had power enough to mount in heaven itself a rebellion so effective that it brought down one-third of the angels. B.H. Carroll felt this uprising was spawned by pride in angels chafed at God’s decision to make them ministering servants to human beings. Satan is strong. Even the archangel Michael, when contending for Moses’ body, dared not speak lightly or loosely to Satan, but ventured only to say, “The Lord rebuke thee” (Jude 9).
Satan is no ignoramus. His is “more than a human mind” (Beacon BC). He was the master architect of not only heaven’s, but also the world’s, rebellion against God. In the spirit realm, he roars like a lion, but in our world, the sinister genius quietly shrouds himself in sheepskin. Watch for sly lions prowling in sheep’s clothing. Plotting ingenious schemes of stealth, Satan systematically stalks us to way-lay us with “pits dug in unsuspected places” (Parker).
The devil is like a hawk who sits on a fencepost all day, patiently waiting for a field mouse to make a wrong move. Satan patiently waits, weighing his options, and watching our tastes, triumphs, trials, and traitor.
When he catches us relishing for a moment the taste of a past sin, he helps us roll the juicy morsel under the tongue of our memory. Satan stirs up the remembrance of how good the evil tasted for an instant.
When we triumph over sin, Satan has mixed emotions. He hates to lose, but loves knowing that our celebrations often cause us to let our guard down.
Satan revels in our trials. When we strain under the burden of life, when our energies are crippled, and happiness is but a memory, he attacks.
Satan’s favorite beachhead is the traitor in our own camp, the Judas within us, our own flesh, our old nature. “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (GL 5:17).
With trickery and cruel cunning, Satan seeks to finagle to his advantage our tastes, triumphs, trials, and traitor. He confronts our weaknesses in the critical moment, and too often wins the day. Watch your weakness–be assured Satan the hawk does. In the wilderness, Satan attacked where he thought our Lord would be weak (LK 4). Hungry, Jesus was tempted to make bread. Feeling weak, Jesus was pressed to worship Satan and rule all the kingdoms of earth. Unknown, Jesus was tempted to attract attention by jumping off the pinnacle of the temple. Fortunately, Satan at his strongest was no match for Jesus at His weakest. Unfortunately, the devil succeeds with everyone else.
When Abraham left Canaan due to famine, Satan knew he was watching a man whose weakness was the issue of security. Satan put Abraham in a bind, in a situation where a lie would seemingly protect him. Abraham lied.
The devil saw in Samson one glaring weakness, an inordinate desire to please the wrong crowd. He was not careful about the company he kept. Seeing this, Satan sent Delilah. Samson fell.
Satan found David’s weakness. The king was supposed to be in battle with his troops, but had decided he had done enough in life, it was time for ease and self-indulgence. Satan let him see a bathing woman. David yielded.
Before the devil’s wiles, great patriarchs fell, fine kings fell, even prophets and priests fell. With but one exception, all have fallen, none has been able to overpower and outwit the devil. “All have sinned” (RM 3:23).
Even Adam in his perfect state fell. He not only fell, but fell very easily. If Adam in Eden fell, what chance have we who possess a sin nature? Only one chance. Our only hope is to assess accurately Satan’s strength, to acknowledge our weakness, and to flee to our heavenly seat. Our greatest danger lies in not being prepared due to not feeling our danger. Pearl Harbor taught America this lesson. Be prepared. Know what Satan is doing. He is wooing us away from our spiritual resources, hoping we will rely on our own strength. We must remain fully armored in our walk, and stay in our heavenly seat as near to Jesus as possible. Our Lord beat the devil in the wilderness temptation. The power to overcome evil is still to be found in Jesus.