The Battle You’re In–Whether You Realize It or Not

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
-C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

No doubt both errors that Lewis mentioned continue to thrive. But it doesn’t take the shrewdest thinker to figure out which one we fall into most often in 21st century America. The adjectives we routinely use to describe our age and culture are telling: enlightened, technological, scientific, intellectual, sophisticated, and the like. We tell ourselves–at times with a not so subtle hints of self-congratulation–there is no longer any need to be afraid of things that go bump in the night.

To be clear: science, technology, and the God-imaging human intellect that fuels them are all obvious goods. If, however, our perspective fails to accommodate anything outside of such things, we’ve clearly left the biblical path.

Despite being familiar to many Christians, I wonder if this passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is still greatly under-appreciated:

6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 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. 13 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. 14 Stand therefore…

No less than four times, Paul exhorts his readers to “stand” in some way. This makes clear that this battle is no product of a fanciful imagination. It is real, fierce, and constant. So much so that, like a commander on the line, Paul is compelled to urge his fellow soldiers to do everything to hold their ground against the onslaught.

Note also the adversaries in question. They are “the authorities…the cosmic powers over this present darkness…the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (v. 12). This description is followed by a mention of Satan himself simply as “the evil one” (v. 16). If these descriptions are not sufficiently sobering, the wider context of Scripture offers further detail in its grave assessment of the enemy. There, Satan and his followers are nothing like the cartoon devil that sits on your shoulder tempting you to eat more chocolate than you should. Instead, for example, Peter reveals that the real devil “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Satan’s aim isn’t inconvenience, as if he’s content to be a mischievous irritant. No, his goal is nothing short of our destruction.

To remain ignorant of the threat, then, or to underestimate its intensity is sheer folly. One more observation both underscores this truth and points us to the needed provision. Paul begins this section by instructing the Ephesians to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.”

This conflict, Paul knows, will overrun our own defenses. The capabilities of Satan and his followers dwarf our own and they are intimately familiar with human frailties and how they may be exploited. To face them under one’s own strength is to be defeated. But the power of the Lord is more than an equalizer. Elsewhere in the letter, Paul describes the power already at work in the life of the Christian in these terms:

1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

Without this power, the outlook is bleak. With it, victory is not only possible but also inevitable. How we’re to arm ourselves with this power—what Paul goes on to describe—will have to be the subject of a subsequent post. Until then, however, it’s worth asking yourself a few questions: Do I live day to day as if I’m in a fight? Do I understand the goal and strategies of my enemy? Do I recognize my need for the Lord to strengthen me in this struggle? Or do I consider passages such as the one mentioned at the outset of this post to be the functional equivalent of fairy tales?

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