Some have said that the devil’s greatest trick is convincing the world that he doesn’t exist. Satan is the supreme deceiver, striving to rid our minds of his existence and to make us believe that all the Bible’s teaching about him is the stuff of myth, legend, and ancient folklore — antiquated stories that have no place in our enlightened and comfortably brave new world.
The devil is the father of lies (John 8:44) and the deceiver of nations (Revelation 20:3, 8). He “disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14), and he will do whatever is in his power to get us to forget him altogether and to live as if he doesn’t exist. As believers, we know Satan exists, but many of us still fall into his subtle trap of ignoring him and hoping he’ll leave us alone.
The Attitude I Fear Most
But just as we cannot read a page of Scripture without running into the sovereignty of God, neither can we read very long without coming face-to-face with the harsh reality of the power of the evil one. And so, we recognize that we cannot completely ignore his existence.
“We know Satan exists, but many of us still fall into his subtle trap of hoping he’ll leave us alone.”
Because we too often walk by sight and not by faith — thinking we can live our Christian lives by some sort of spiritual inertia — we fall into Satan’s trap of thinking he’s not really there, or at least as if he’s not very active. It does seem, after all, to be a much more pleasant thought to believe that he’s not around or, at least, that we’re really not a significant enough target for him to spend his time on.
While all true believers know Satan exists, many have succumbed to the notion that spiritual warfare is not that big of a deal. I fear that there are even some Christians reading this now, saying to themselves, “Yeah, okay, sure, I know Satan exists, and yeah, I know spiritual warfare is real, but I don’t believe that Satan or his demons are lurking behind every bush, and I don’t believe that I can really do anything about spiritual warfare anyway.” That is the attitude I most fear for myself, for my family, and for the congregation I serve.
If We Were Not God’s
We do wrestle against cosmic powers — “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). These forces of evil have set their sights on all true believers, and they are unrelenting.
Paul teaches us that the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they might not see the light of the glory of the gospel of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4). The implication is that in having blinded their minds, the devil then focuses his primary work on the followers of his enemy. It would seem to be the case that before we trusted Christ, the devil was certainly our enemy, but not to the degree that he became our enemy after we trusted Christ.
If we were blessed to grow up in a Christian home, he was unquestionably the enemy of our family. But after trusting Christ, we gained Christ and his righteousness by being united to him once and for all, and, as a result, Christ’s enemy became our enemy in a more significant way, and he began to take greater aim at us with his flaming arrows in order to try to bring us down. As Thomas Brooks wrote, “If God were not my friend, Satan would not be so much my enemy.”
Ordinary but Deadly Weapons
Although we know that Satan and his eager servants can neither indwell believers nor read nor control our minds, we also know that under the sovereignty of God, they can wreak havoc on us. However, rather than living with a minimalist view of what Satan won’t do, and rather than living as practical deists as if the Holy Spirit is not living and active, and rather than living as Reformed determinists as if secondary causality and secondary means are irrelevant, we must remember that God is sovereign not only over the ends of all things but over the means of all ends.
“The forces of evil have set their sights on all true believers, and they are unrelenting.”
Therefore, we must make every effort to make use of the means our Lord has given us to fight. He has given us ordinary means of grace, and these are also the ordinary means for our daily warfare; namely, the word of God, prayer, and baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He has given us the Lord’s Day, and he has given us weekly, gathered worship with our family where we sing and proclaim our battle songs of final victory and affirm the faith once delivered to the saints.
We must not underestimate the mischievous work of Satan designed to keep us from regularly attending to these ordinary means of grace. Above all, our Lord has given us himself in Christ, and he has given us the Holy Spirit. And although Satan is not afraid of us, he is terrified of the one within us. And our protector never sleeps nor slumbers (Psalm 121:3–4), and in him we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37) because greater is he who is in us than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).
We Cannot Be Unprepared
We must be prepared. We must acknowledge the war is real and raging all around us, and we must be ready to fight, for it is a battle for our hearts, our marriages, our churches, and our children, our time, our talents, our words, our wallets, our motives, our hope, our joy. We cannot pretend these things are off-limits to our accuser.
We cannot coast through the Christian life. We cannot live as if we are defenseless. We cannot allow ourselves to be unaware of Satan’s schemes. We cannot allow fear and anxiety to get the best of us, and we must pray to be strong and courageous, because the Lord is with us, for us, and in us. We cannot allow ourselves to be caught off our guard, but we too often are, because we too often forget about the harsh reality of spiritual warfare.
And while we cannot know the mind of God, and while we are not infallible interpreters of the providence of God or the work of the evil one, we know that God is sovereign, we know that Satan is at work, and we know that for those who love God and who are called according to his purpose, all things work together for our good, according to the good pleasure of God’s will and for God’s glory (Romans 8:28).
His Rage We Can Endure
And though this world with devils filled
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath 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. —Martin Luther
Since we have been justified by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8–10), our Father is conforming us to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29), and just as Jesus was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15), so God will allow us to be tempted by the deceiver in manifold ways (1 Corinthians 10:13). For that reason, Jesus taught us to pray to our Father in heaven, “deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13).
“We must acknowledge the war is real and raging all around us, and we must be ready to fight.”
And as the Spirit conforms us, we must become more keenly aware of our enemy’s deceitful schemes so that we would neither be outwitted by Satan nor ignorant of his designs (2 Corinthians 2:11), but instead be more watchful as he “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8), that we might always escape the snare of the devil (2 Timothy 2:26), resting assured that in Christ we will endure to the end by his sustaining grace, because Christ has crushed the head of Satan and his seed, and the God of peace will soon crush Satan under our feet (Genesis 3:15; Romans 16:20).