Unless you dish out $10.75 to watch some poor fictional family be terrorized by them on the big screen, you aren’t going to hear much talk about Satan or demons nowadays. Contemporary thinking is far too “advanced” to entertain the existence of such entities. Most westerners classify the devil and his demons alongside trolls, poltergeists, and vampires—they’re a little scary to think about, but make-believe nonetheless.
Even in modern Christian culture (at least the Baptist circles I run in), there is very little dialogue about these invisible beings the Bible quite clearly teaches are real. We talk a lot about the evil powers of sin and the flesh but tend to gloss over the evil powers of Satan and his army of spiritual hellions. We don’t deny their existence, but the way we process our experiences in this life often reflects we don’t really believe they are present and working. When it comes to our various inward battles, many of us are quick to blame merely our flesh . . . or more “rational” culprits—a bad diet, not enough sleep, a chemical imbalance, rough circumstances. Sometimes our inward battles are solely the workings of our sinful flesh. Sometimes anxiety, depression, or crazy-intense levels of temptation do have natural causes. But I think many times there is something more going on in our mental and emotional struggles that we are hesitant to acknowledge.
Satan and demons are an inescapable reality of the New Testament. In Mark chapter 9, Jesus heals a boy who was possessed by a demon that made him foam at the mouth, grind his teeth, and throw himself into fire and water. In Luke chapter 9, Jesus encounters a man filled with many demons that caused him to run about naked and cut himself. Luke 13 tells of a woman who was physically crippled by a demonic spirit. I know these are all extreme situations, but there are more subtle examples of demonic activity in the Bible, as well. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul describes his thorn in the flesh as a “messenger from Satan.” Also in his letters to the Corinthians, Paul writes that demonic spirits tempt us to sin sexually (1 Cor 7:5), seek to outwit us (2 Cor 2:11), and disguise themselves as angels of light to lead us away from the truth of the gospel (2 Cor 11:13-15).
Believers, we have real enemies. Satan is real. Demons are real. And they are relentlessly utilizing every tool at their disposal to destroy our faith. We must really believe this if we are to interpret our experiences rightly and fight accordingly! If demonic forces afflict us and we respond as if the problem is merely a chemical imbalance or the effects of a bad diet (again, these all can be valid causes), we are going to get nowhere fast. We can take medication and cut sugar out of our diet all day long, but if we don’t acknowledge the reality of demonic attacks and fight them accordingly, we are destined to be defeated.
We have to respond to spiritual attacks spiritually—just as Paul instructed the believers in Ephesus to do:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” – Ephesians 6:10-18
If we want to triumphantly endure the attacks of Satan, we’ve got to make putting on the armor of God our way of life. Soldiering-up isn’t supposed to be a mere defense to individual demonic attacks; we are to always be soldiered-up, living on the spiritual offensive! Day in and day out we have to be filling our minds with the truth of the gospel and allowing our hearts to be saturated by the Spirit. As many of us know, episodes of spiritual warfare don’t always subside quickly. They can last for days or weeks or months. We need to be so grounded in the gospel, so filled with the Spirit, and so protected by the armor of God that we don’t crumble after a few days of oppression. To quote the writer of Hebrews, we have need of endurance.
Until we get to heaven, Satan will be relentless in seeking to destroy our faith. He wants to get into our minds and beat us down day after day until our joy in God disintegrates. He will strive to create in us so much grief and turmoil that we begin to disbelieve God’s love for us. He will whisper all sorts of vile things into our ears, seeking to stir up the lusts of our flesh so that we will fall into faithless debauchery and question our ability to continue living a life of repentance. He wants us powerless, hopeless, and despairing. Don’t let him have his way!
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 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.” – 1 Peter 5:8-10.