Like many things, many Christians either take the issue of spiritual warfare too lightly or become obsessive about it. Christian soften either say, ‘Oh yeah, principalities and powers – I get it’ and don’t even think about it. Or they go around “binding” Satan and demons whenever they pray throughout the day. What is needed is a biblical balance to the issue of spiritual warfare: a healthy fear of our spiritual enemies, as well as a clear reliance on our spiritual strength in Christ.
What I hope to do over the next week or two is provide a kind of primer on the issue of spiritual warfare. This will not be an exhaustive study, but rather an overview of our spiritual enemies as well as the spiritual resources God gives us to fight against them. In the end, I believe the Bible teaches that spiritual warfare is about fighting sin and advancing the gospel (Eph 6:18b-20). This will be the focus of these posts and I hope the focus of our lives.
We begin with looking at one of the Christian’s enemies.
For years of military history, one aphorism has held true – “know thy enemy.” It is no different in spiritual warfare either. Paul alludes to as much when he writes to the Corinthians and says that he desires “that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Cor 2:11).
Paul’s words say that there is an awareness of Satan as well as his tactics or designs. So, we want to follow Paul’s example and remind ourselves of these things as well. But we want to begin by understanding who Satan is and what his powers are before we look at his tactics.
1. Satan’s Nature
1.1. He Is Created by God
Everything that exists except God himself was made by God (Genesis 1-2). Thus, Satan and demons are created beings. The Christian worldview is set apart from others – especially Eastern philosophy which says that evil and good are co-eternal.
1.2. He Is Evil
In John 17, Satan is flat out called, ‘the Evil One’. Though we are not given the details of what transpired, we know that between Gen 1:31 and Gen 3:1, something has happened. Satan and his demons have moved from being part of the “very good” creation.
We are given hints of a rebellion against God that had at its root an issue of pride –
2 Peter 2:4 – For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment;
Jude 1:6 – And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—
Likewise, Isaiah 14 also seems to describe the sense of rebellion in Satan’s heart as it is likened to the heart of the human king of Babylon.
Evil had its beginnings in Satan himself – 1 John 3:8 says, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.”
This is not to say that Satan was evil from the beginning of time, or from the beginning of his existence (he wasn’t created evil), but that from the beginning of evil in the world, Satan was there.
Furthermore, Jesus refers to “Satan and his angels” in Matthew 25, giving the indication that it was Satan himself who led the rebellion and provides some kind of leadership to the other demons that rebelled against God.
1.3. He Is Powerful (but Limited)
In the mystery of his will, God has ordained that Satan be allowed to continue to exist and retain his angelic power. Thus, Satan is powerful, but he is not all-powerful (he’s not simply an evil version of God).
He is not sovereign. Even a cursory reading of Job 1-2 reveals that Satan is still on a leash. He may be Satan, but he is God’ Satan. He can never go or act beyond the bounds God established for him. In many ways, he is the most pitiful character in all of Scripture. He has power and wants morel; he wants to be God. But instead, even in his rebellion against God, he is used by God!
2 Cor 12:7-10 – So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul asked God to remove it this thorn, but God chose not to (vv. 8-9). God allowed Satan to do something that would ultimately bring Him glory (vv. 9-10).
He is not omnipotent. Satan is powerful, but not all powerful. 1 John 4:4 says, “Greater is he that is in you [a reference to God the Holy Spirit] than he that is in the world.”
He is not omniscient. Satan does not know everything. Many Christians wonder if Satan can read their thoughts. The Bible gives no indication that he can. Satan doesn’t know everything because he is an angel, and angels don’t know everything. That is evident from 1 Peter 1:12, where we find that “angels desire to look into” the mystery of salvation. There are some things angels don’t understand. And if holy angels don’t understand everything, there’s no reason to believe a corrupted one would. While there is no indication that Satan can read our thoughts, he is good at predicting our behavior because of his knowledge of human nature. He has spent untold years observing our attitudes and actions.
He is not omnipresent. Angelic beings may be fast, as Daniel 9:21 indicates, but they cannot be everywhere at the same time.
In all of this, Satan is shown to be one who should be feared as our enemy, but not feared in the same way we fear our Lord.
1.4. He Is Defeated
Although, he is called the ‘god of this age’ (2 Cor 4:4) and ‘the ruler of the world’ (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), Satan is ultimately also shown to be a defeated enemy. From the beginning of his war against God, his defeated was promised (Gen 3:15). This defeat was realized through the cross of Christ – “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to e open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Col 2:15).
And in Hebrews 2:14 – “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil”
And although the decisive battle has been one, his power has been broken, he has not yet been destroyed. However, when Christ returns for his bride, that is the fate that awaits him –
Matt 25:41 – “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
Rev 20:10 – “and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
2. Satan’s Designs
How does the Devil operate? What is his goals in fighting against God’s people? The Bible shows us several things.
2.1. Opposition to God
The very name Satan is actually just the Hebrew word for ‘adversary.’ At his core, Satan is God’s adversary, opposed to his every good work. Though this is the line of his appearance throughout the Bible, this is clearly seen as he tempts the first of God’s image-bearers (Genesis 3), and the image of God incarnate – Jesus (Matthew 4)
2.2. Opposition to God’s people
In opposing God, Satan he is also the adversary of God’s people. Peter warns – “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8).
All of this opposition is really focused on Christ and the gospel. In 2 Cor 4:3-4, Paul says, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to f those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
One pastor insightfully comments,
The supreme value of the glory of Christ revealed in the gospel is what makes Satan so furious with the gospel. Satan is not mainly interested in causing us misery. He is mainly interested in making Christ look bad. He hates Christ. And he hates the glory of Christ. He will do all he can to keep people from seeing Christ as glorious. The gospel is God’s instrument for liberating people from exulting in self to exulting in Christ. Therefore Satan hates the gospel. Thus 2 Corinthians 4:4 says that Satan blinds people to keep them from seeing “the light of the gospel.” (John Piper, God is the Gospel).
This also helps us to see where the heart of our spiritual warfare lies. The battlefield may vary, but the objective is always the same – we want to advance the gospel, Satan wants to destroy it.
continued in part 2
Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices
William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour
John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation (edited by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor)
David Powlison, Power Encounters: Reclaiming Spiritual Warfare