The Spirit Calls us to Prepare for Spiritual Battle
Text: Ephesians 6:10-12
Sermon by Rev. Alan Camarigg
Orthodox Christian Reformed Church of Lynden, Washington, 2003
© Burlington United Reformed Church; The Preacher, Vol. 19, No. 1
This sermon may be used in worship services for free; please state the author and church above.
Congregation, beloved of the Lord Jesus Christ,
Over the past couple of years, we’ve been called numerous times to a heightened state of alert. At the present time our nation is under orange alert which is, if I’m not mistaken, the second highest state of alert. That means that we are to be very alert and to watch very carefully for suspicious activity. And it is our ardent hope, while we are under this heightened state of alert, that nothing happens, and eventually, we can all relax our vigilance just a little once again.
But that is never possible when it comes to the other war that we are fighting. In this war, we are on constant red alert! We are called, every day, to the battle stations, for our enemy, in this war, never ceases his attack! And mind you, he is the terrorist of all terrorists, for he is the very embodiment of evil. He has a very clear sense of who his enemy is. He knows God, and hates Him in every corner of his being; and he has, for that reason, absolutely no inhibitions when it comes to destroying the works of God’s hands. A human terrorist might still pull back — might hesitate to pull a trigger or set off a bomb. He may still delay his plan one day in order to spare a friend, but not our enemy. He never hesitates. He is pure evil, and the only thing holding him back is the limitations that God Himself has established for his diabolical activities.
And this enemy of God also hates us: particularly those of us who love God and love His Son, Jesus Christ. That infuriates him. It makes him crazy with a hatred so pure that it has compelled him, all through the ages, to attack the saints. And there is never so much as a moment when he stops to say to himself, “I’m going to relent today in my fierce opposition to God and His church. I’ve been really hard on these people, and they’ve had enough for a while.” Don’t you ever think it! The devil is so full of hate that he cannot help himself. The thought of relenting never crosses his mind. He is always on the attack; and if he should happen to notice that someone is struggling and hurting under his attack, without even the slightest hesitation, he moves in for the kill! He is diabolical in the ultimate sense of the word; and it’s for that reason that we must be on RED ALERT! We must be on guard. We must be prepared and equipped to do battle with this great spiritual enemy. But how? How do we fight against this spiritual terrorist? That’s the question we hope to answer today.
I proclaim the Word of God to you today where “The Spirit calls us to prepare for spiritual battle.”
1. Who is our real enemy?
2. Why is he so dangerous?
;3. How can we fight him?
As any military commander would tell you, it is extremely important, in any war, to know your enemy. And that is as true of the spiritual war in which we are engaged as it is in any earthly warfare. We must know our enemy; and to that end, the apostle Paul, carried along by the Holy Spirit, reminds us, in verse 12, that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Notice that the apostle draws a sharp contrast here between “flesh and blood” and “principalities and powers.” And I draw this to your attention because it is our tendency, sometimes, to ignore the fact that it is a contrast, and begin, immediately, to talk about these principalities and powers without taking the time to ask ourselves why it was necessary for Paul to say that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood. Why does Paul say that first? Why doesn’t he just say, “that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle against principalities and powers…”?
He doesn’t say it that way for the simple reason that it is our tendency, even as Christians, to think that it is with flesh and blood that we wrestle. In fact, we can take this a step further, and say that Paul must put this in the form of a contrast for the simple reason that people, by nature, ignore the spiritual explanation for all the troubles that we face in this world, and focus on “flesh and blood.” What explanation do the majority of people give for the troubles that we face in the world today? Why is there so much crime? Why are there tensions between nations? Why are families in trouble? Why is the economy so depressed? What is the explanation you hear from the so-called analysts and experts? Have you heard any of them, in more recent months, talking about spiritual enemies — principalities and powers in the heavenly places? Absolutely not, because, in their mind and way of thinking, our struggle — our wrestling — is with flesh and blood.
How do we account for the present tensions between ourselves and Iraq? Well, the problem is analyzed entirely from the perspective of flesh and blood. On one side of the aisle, we hear people saying that Saddam Hussein is a madman — an evil dictator who murders his own people. And that’s certainly true, but that’s as far as it goes. The focus is entirely on the “flesh and blood” of Saddam Hussein. On the other side of the aisle, we hear people saying that the whole crux of the problem is that president Bush wants oil. We may not agree with that, but the point, again, is that our struggle is analyzed completely in terms of “flesh and blood.” And on the home front, all of our problems are considered from the perspective of flesh and blood. Poverty is blamed on the lack of quality education for all children. All we need to do is pump more money into education, and eventually we can overcome the problem of poverty.
And it has gone so far that even sinful behavior is explained in terms of “flesh and blood.” Why are people addicted to alcohol and drugs? Why do people become homosexuals? Why do psychopaths commit heinous crimes? More and more, the answer given to the perplexing questions is focused completely and solely upon “flesh and blood.” It is argued that there are certain anomalies in the brains of these people which cause them to be more disposed to a certain activity than others. The whole emphasis, you see, is on flesh and blood. This becomes the explanation of our troubles; and for that reason, it is precisely with “flesh and blood” that we must wrestle.
And all of this has been carried a step further by those who not only focus on “flesh and blood,” but deny the very existence of these spiritual “principalities and powers.” You and I are looked upon as rather naive and childish to believe that there is such a thing as a devil and demons. Perhaps we are even a little sheepish about insisting that the devil is real because we realize that there are so many people today who think that’s just pure poppy-cock — mere myth and fairy tale; and we hesitate because we fear being made to look foolish for really believing that there is a devil and demons. The idea of a devil and demons and powers of darkness may make a good Harry Potter plot (something I sincerely hope that none of you children are watching, by the way), but who really believes in a devil anymore. Come on! It’s time to grow out of all that mythical nonsense; and get with the program of finding real solutions to our troubles!
And, of course, the devil couldn’t be happier with the whole situation. He couldn’t be more pleased when people deny his existence. Imagine how easy it would be for terrorists to operate in our country if all of us simply denied their existence — said to ourselves and to one another, “Terrorists!? Come on, there is no such thing! They don’t exist.” That would be pure lunacy, of course, but isn’t that precisely the situation when it comes to these principalities and powers of darkness? They are given even greater freedom to go about their devilish business — exercising tyranny over people’s lives, inciting hatred, goading into sin, fueling the fires of hatred, and brutalizing mankind — for the simple reason that more and more people deny their existence, scoff at those who insist that they do exist, and laugh at the idea that people live each day of their lives under his tyranny.
And it’s for precisely that reason that we must be reminded that we do not wrestle against “flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. In other words, know your enemy! When facing the difficulties and hardships of life in this world, know your real enemy. When men and women attack us for being Christians — when they pass laws that are in direct violation of God’s Word and threaten our freedoms as Christians — it is crucial for us, as Christians to bear in mind that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood.
Is that how we think? Is that our mindset? Is that our perspective on things, or do we tend to think immediately in terms of wrestling with flesh and blood — with the people who are making laws and promoting ungodly practices and policies which bring so much unrest and misery into life — the people who support abortion and homosexual rights and the like? Do we see our struggle only in terms of flesh and blood? That’s so easy to do because it is flesh and blood that is most apparent to us; and it is for precisely that reason that we must be reminded, every now and then, that it is not ultimately against flesh and blood that we wrestle, but that we are wrestling against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of this age, against spiritual hosts in the heavenly places.
And why is it so important that we know our enemy? Well, we must know our enemies, in the first place, so that we realize we are no match for them. They are exceedingly cunning and powerful, and we, in our own strength, would fall victim to them in the blink of an eye! But they are also revealed, in the second place, so that we may know how we are to gain the victory over them. That may sound like a complete contradiction, but it’s true. We must know our enemies in order to gain the victory over them even though they are too powerful for us. The key, again, is to know our enemy — to understand him, for it is only then that we can have the victory over him. And to that end now, we must now ask ourselves,…
Having considered who is our real enemy, we must take a few minutes to consider why he or they are so dangerous. We’ve already touched on the fact that our enemies are principalities and powers, that they are rulers of the darkness of this age, and that they are spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. This information is absolutely essential to any victory we might enjoy in the spiritual warfare in which we find ourselves engaged each and every day of our lives. If the United States does go to war with Iraq, the gathering of information on the Iraqi military forces will be absolutely essential to victory. Our troops and commanders must know where their troops are located, where they might hide out and the kinds of weapons they will deploy. And that, in a very real way, is what the apostle Paul gives us in this passage.
We now know our enemies’ base of operation. Our enemy operates in the heavenly places, which indicates not so much heaven itself but the heavenly realms surrounding the earth; and he or they are the rulers of the darkness of this age, that is to say, that they are the rulers of the spiritual darkness and ignorance and rebellion into which the world was plunged by the fall. And the point that needs to be pressed home, in this connection, is that our enemies are rulers of the darkness of this age. They are the ones who control it. We would not want to go so far as to say that they have absolute power over this realm, for God is all-powerful and sets the limits as to how much they can do. But the fact remains that our enemies exercise great power and rule over the darkness of this age. I can’t help but think, in this connection, of II Corinthians 4:3-4 where Paul writes, “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing,” and listen carefully now to what he says, “whose minds the god of this age has blinded…” What is Paul describing? He is describing the power being exerted by these rulers of the darkness of this age.
And in this connection now, we take note of the fact that we are to put on the full armor of God so that we can stand against the wiles of the devil. The word in the original is meqodeiav, which is the etymological ancestor of our English word, “method.” We must put on the full armor of God so that we can stand against the methods, schemes, wiles of the devil. And what are these methods which require suiting up in the full armor of God? Why are they so dangerous? They are dangerous for the very reason that they are methods devised by a very powerful and insidiously evil being. In comparison to the devil, Hitler was a pussy-cat! The devil is cunning. He is crafty. He has an intuitive understanding of how our minds work, and what will be the most effective in rendering us ineffective in spiritual warfare. It has been noted that the supreme activity of the devil is in the minds of men.
Take, for example, the way that the devil can transform himself into an angel of light. What a diabolical method or scheme when it comes to inflicting harm upon the church (and I should point out, by the way, that the command issued here is in the plural which means that it is directed not at a specific individual, but to all of us as a body). It is imperative that we put on the full armor of God to withstand those times that the devil decides to come at us as an angel of light. What devastation the devil has inflicted upon the church by this scheme — raising up false prophets who have employed the language of Scripture, have stroked God’s people with Scripture, have presented their case with the terminology of Scripture, have allied suspicions and fears with Bible words, and have succeeded, with this method, in leading millions away from the Lord! This method has been successfully employed by the devil in the formation of many heretical movements and cults over the centuries. I am convinced beyond all doubt that we see this method being employed again in the teaching of Harold Camping!
But this is not the devil’s only method. Not by a long shot. He studies each situation, each church, each believer very carefully. He plots and schemes. He develops his plan and then puts it into action. He waits until the time is just right — a time when we are particularly weak and vulnerable — a time when we have become somewhat delinquent in prayer and Bible reading; and wham! — he hits us hard with a temptation expertly aimed at our greatest weakness. Or he waits for those times when the pressures of life have made us particularly vulnerable to bitterness and hostility; and then stirs our minds and agitates us until we begin to murmur and complain about how bad things are and how hard and unfair life is. Ever had one of those days, boys and girls? Did you ever stop to think that you were being hit with one of the devil’s fiery darts — that you were under yet another attack in a spiritual warfare that will never come to an end as long as we remain in this world?
And what about the fiery darts of doubt and discouragement? How many times have you struggled with doubts — not so much doubts about whether or not God exists or that Jesus is the Son of God who has come to save sinners, but doubts about whether or not your own sins have really been forgiven! Have you ever stopped to consider, in those times when these doubts nearly overwhelm you, that you are under attack? We must be sure, of course, that we’re not ignoring some sin in our lives that needs to be repented of, but Oh the perplexity of spirit and anxiety and depression of spirit we sometimes endure only because we have overlooked the fact that our enemy loves nothing more than to make us doubt the goodness and mercy of God — to doubt that He has really forgiven us even though we’ve confessed and sincerely repented of sin. And how can we be sure it is demonic attack? Because the Spirit always leads us to Christ and peace in Him while it is always the devil’s goal to drive us away from Christ in a state of doubt, hopelessness and despair.
Are we aware of that? Do we recognize this tactic — this scheme — this diabolical method? And does that knowledge help us — help us to see also the importance of suiting up with the full armor of God? Looking ahead just a little, it should occur to us that God has designed each piece of His armor to protect us from some specific scheme of the devil — to provide us with total protection from his attacks. Hopefully that will become apparent to us over the next couple of weeks. But before we consider the armor of God in detail, there’s something else that is absolutely essential to our victory. And what is that? It is simply this, that we must be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might — which makes perfect sense, doesn’t it, once we understand something of the power of our enemy.
It should be obvious to all of us, not only on the basis of God’s Word, but also on the basis of our experience in this spiritual warfare, that our enemy, the devil, is too strong for us. We cannot gain the victory over him in our own strength; and we would be utter fools to even attempt spiritual battle with him in our own strength. If we try to fight our enemy in our own strength, we may end up like those Jewish exorcists, spoken of in Acts 19, who took it upon themselves to call upon the Lord over those who had evil spirits saying, “We adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” We read that the evil spirits said back to them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?” and then proceeded to leap on these men and overpower them! So it will be for us if we attempt to overcome these spiritual enemies in our own strength. We will be overcome. So how do we fight this terrible enemy? How can we resist the devil, as Peter exhorts us to do, so that he flees from us?
The answer, plain and simple, is that we must be strong in the Lord. Now there have been those who have suggested, in this connection, that the key to spiritual victory is that we “let go and let God.” What they say is that we will never enjoy real peace and victory and security in the Christian life until we stop striving and let God fight the whole battle for us. And to be sure, the word Paul uses here, translated “be strong,” is in the passive mood which normally indicates an action that is done to us — that it is something that happens to us while we are passive. And there is certainly a sense, is their not, in which being strong in the Lord is something that is done to us and for us. It is, after all, the Lord who takes hold of us, and sustains us, and defends us. But the fact remains that this is also a command — Finally, brethren, be strong in the Lord. And what I believe this underscores is this: that our obedience to this command to be strong in the Lord is, at one and the same time, the result of His faithfulness in maintaining us in His power.
And so being strong in the Lord is something the Lord does for us. At the same time, simultaneously, it is something we strive to do as God Himself works in us to will and to do according to His good pleasure. We strive each day then, to be strong in the Lord. And what does that mean? I can’t think of a better way to say it than simply this: it means that we stay close to the Lord — that we don’t wander too far from His fellowship and protection. I can’t help but think, in this connection, of the opening words of Psalm 91, “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” Can you think of a safer place to be than under the shadow of the Almighty!? What a marvelous description of God’s protective care over us! What enemy dares to approach us when we abide under His shadow. Don’t forget that our enemy, in order to attack us there, must also come himself under the shadow — the shadow which makes him conscious of the One who casts the shadow!
And our comfort there in the shadow of the Almighty is that His power is matchless — His power is supreme. But more than that, it is exerted always for our defense and deliverance and protection, because the One who wields this infinite power is none other than the Lord who loves us. And we remain strong in that power, beloved, when we simply walk with the Lord day by day. When we bear in mind that it is He who saves us — that it is He who gives us the victory over sin, the devil, death and hell too, through His Son Jesus Christ. When we remember that He defeats our enemies by the power of His might — and, mindful of this, flee to Him each day for forgiveness, strength, guidance and the daily renewing of our minds and hearts so that we can live as His children and walk in the way ever lasting. Is that not what it means to be strong in the Lord?
Be strong in the Lord then, and in the power of His might. Rest in the Lord. Seek Him each day for His protection and strength. Dwell under the shadow of the Almighty, and be sure to put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the wiles of the devil. Let us do that together as the church redeemed through the blood of Christ. Let us do this to our everlasting joy. And let us do this so that we can be an effective witness as we go about the work that Christ has given us to do here on earth — even while surrounded on all sides by our spiritual enemies. Let us do this without fear to the glory of our God and to His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.