Spiritual Warfare – Resist the Devil (Pt 2)

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Our last post in our series on spiritual warfare looks at James’ instruction on resisting the devil. We continue looking at the Bible’s teaching on resisting “our ancient foe,” this time from the words of the apostle Peter.

Peter’s Instruction

1 Peter 5:6-11

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, [7] casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.  [8] Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  [9] Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  [10] And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  [11] To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

1. Trust in the Power of God

Despite what some books on spiritual warfare might teach, Peter begins by reminding us who has the real power in our fight against the Devil.  He says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, [7] casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

One pastor writes –

“Humility is not a popular human trait in the modern world. It’s not touted in the talk shows or celebrated in valedictorian speeches or commended in diversity seminars or listed with core values. And if you go to the massive self-help section of B. Dalton’s or Barnes and Noble you won’t find books on humility.  The basic reason for this is not hard to find: humility can only survive in the presence of God. When God goes, humility goes. In fact you might say that humility follows God like a shadow. We can expect to find humility applauded in our society as often as we find God applauded—which means almost never.” (John Piper, sermon on 1 Peter 5:5-7).

Humility may not be the popular option–inside or outside the Church.  Nevertheless, humility is commanded in this passage.  More importantly, humility is necessary for victory in spiritual warfare.  If we are not humble, then we will fail in our fight against sin.

Thankfully, God tells us how to cultivate humility.  Peter says, ‘casting all your cares on him.’  The participle shows instrumentality – the instrument by which the command is to be carried out.  So how do you humble yourself under the mighty hand of God?  By casting all your anxieties on him.  Why should this be an easy thing to do?  Because he cares for you.  Thus, it is with faith and confidence in God’s goodness towards us, his care for us, that we can give our cares over to him.  Doing that, helps guard our hearts against sin.

C. S. Lewis recognized this in The Screwtape Letters. There has that senior devil say to his apprentice, “There’s nothing like anxiety for barricading up a human mind against the Enemy [God].” After all, is it not under the pressure of pain and suffering in life that makes us more susceptible to sin?  We see it as an easy way to escape the problems we are facing.  We deceive ourselves into thinking God doesn’t love, or care for, so our holiness doesn’t matter.

But much of the biblical mindset informing Peter’s words here in chapter 5 comes from the Psalms. In each of the passages about the prowling lion, the psalmist fights by finding refuge in God himself.  He sets his heart to hope steadfastly in God’s promises amid pain and danger; he worships.  So should we.

2. Watch for the Enemy of God

Peter goes on to say in verse, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Most people make themselves vulnerable and then defeated by our enemy simply because they forget Peter’s words – ‘be sober-minded; be watchful.’

A couple of years ago, there was a horrible incident at a zoo where they found two people dead and a tiger loose in the park.  At first there was great sympathy for the men.  Now, there is great disdain because it’s come out that they actually went to great lengths to taunt the tiger, provoking it to attack. In autopsy it was discovered that both guys had incredibly high blood-alcohol levels, as well as drugs in their system.   In a very literal sense, they were not sober-minded.  As a result, they were ignorant of the danger they were in.

Many Christians walk around the same way.  Not inebriated with alcohol, but nevertheless, spiritually hazy in their thinking.  They walk around willfully ignorant, or carelessly fearless in light of the danger they are in. Friends, co-workers, family members, television, movies, newspapers, and imaginations – all can be used by the enemy of our souls.  We have to remain vigilant and aware of the reality of the devil’s presence.

Bear in mind, though, Peter never says to go after him.  We aren’t to be spiritual big-game hunters, trying to hunt down the lion.  That’s the mistake many make in spiritual warfare. They think we are called to be demonic hunters. Instead, the picture is simply one of being aware of danger and being prepared to defend ourselves when he attacks.

3. Remain Faithful to God

Only now does Peter get to the command.  He says, “Resist him, firm in your faith” (5:9). Thus, I think it’s important to bear in mind that verse 6 comes before verse 9.  Before we even begin to think about resisting the devil, we need to be right with God – relying on his strength.  Thomas Schreiner comments:

“We must bow before God before we stand against the devil. The call to resistance does not summon believers to do Herculean acts on God’s behalf.  Believers are not encouraged to gather all their resources to do great works for God.  No, resisting the devil means that believers remain firm in their faith, that is, their trust in God.”

We aren’t saved by faith and then live the Christian life by our own strength and hard work.  No, we continue on in the Christian life by faith.

Summary

Many who talk about spiritual warfare mock dependency on God through faith, as though asking God for help communicates a stance of childish weakness, fear, and defeat. They say that God calls us to grow up and ‘take authority’ over the powers of darkness. From this stance of authority we should then bind and cast out the demons of moral slavery that threaten and inhabit us.

David Powlison (Power Encounters) reminds us that this may sound persuasive until we realize that our Lord and his apostles teach us some­thing different. Faith undoubtedly has an unshakable confidence in God’s promises and power and is triumphant over evil; mature faith exhibits a certain fearless authority. But Jesus, Paul, Peter, and James, like the Psalms, teach and practice a mode of spiritual warfare that is fundamentally “weak”— that is, fundamentally reliant on God.  When the messenger of Satan pierced Paul with a thorn, Paul interceded three times, then learned to say, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).  When the roaring lion attacked Jesus’ body, he said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Then, he was raised victorious over death through the power of the God’s Holy Spirit.

Therefore, we should follow their example and the exhortations of Peter and rely on God’s power to resist the Devil.

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