Last week we started talking about the apparent tension between the freedom we have in Christ (Galatians 5:1) and our ongoing struggle with sin. We talked about Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:1-3 where he says that they were captive to three things; the cravings of our sinful nature (flesh), the ruler of the Kingdom of the air (the devil) and the ways of this world. While none of these are mutually exclusive our aim this week is to talk about the devil and his schemes.
John Stott writes that “all evil, error and violence can be traced back to Satan” and Paul writes that Satan has blinded the minds of unbelievers (2 Cor 4:4). As Christians the truth is that Satan can no longer blind us because our eyes have been irreversibly opened. Yet even though Satan was defeated at the cross and even though our eyes have indeed been opened, he still has the power to influence us and distract us, through the power of his lies. He will try to tempt us, he will try to accuse us and he willtry to deceive us – he is the Father of lies (John 8:44). Some Christians believe the lies and eventually give up while others try to take Satan on. Both responses actually distract us from our goal of living godly lives for Jesus. We need to train ourselves (with the help of the Holy Spirit) to choose truth in the face of every lie and not pay any attention to Satan’s lies. We must press on towards the goal, running the race marked out for us.
“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
Why we need to be aware of Satan’s schemes?
In 2 Corinthians 11 Paul says that “in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes” (v11) and he also says that “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (v14). Peter warns his readers to “be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Peter 5:8-9).
The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis is an amusing and insightful correspondence between a senior devil, Screwtape, and his obstreperous and incompetent nephew, Wormwood, a “young fiend.” The book takes the form of letters from Screwtape to Wormwood, and the subject of the correspondence is a human being, newly converted to Christianity, whom Screwtape refers to as “the patient.” Throughout the correspondence, Screwtape tries to help Wormwood tempt the patient away from Heaven and into Hell. He encourages his nephew’s successes, suggests various and devious ways to enter the man’s thoughts and influence him, and berates Wormwood for his failures as the man begins attending church, goes through various ups and downs of faith, falls in love with a Christian girl, and is called to service in the War. It is a gripping yet disturbing read as C. S. Lewis explores some of the schemes employed against us by our enemy the devil.
What are the lies that Satan feeds us?
Satan is good at dressing up his lies as our own thoughts – that is how he deceives us. I thought it would be useful to look at a few examples from what we have studies this term of the lies that the devil feeds us to keep us from living healthy and fruitful Christian lives:
1) Identity – Satan tells us that we are insignificant, worthless, unaccepted or unloved and for some of us these lies leave us feeling hopeless and defeated. Satan cannot change the truths about who we are in Christ but he can stop us from realising them. What is the truth? The truth is that Jesus Christ went to the cross because He loves us – it wasn’t the nails that held Him to the cross, but His love for us. We are loved. We are children of God and God accepts us for who we are. We don’t serve God to gain acceptance, rather it is because we are accepted that we serve God. We don’t follow Christ to be loved, rather it is because we are loved that we follow Christ. It is not what we do that determines who we are but rather it is who we are that determines what we do. Satan has deceived and continues to deceive us about who we really are.
2) Grace and struggling with sin – Firstly, Satan might also tell us that God’s love and acceptance of us is conditional on us doing certain things us. In Galatia some people were saying that they had to be circumcised in order to be saved. What is the truth? The truth is that there is nothing we can do to make God love us more and nothing we can do to make God love us less. We are saved by grace alone and not by anything in ourselves. Paul says in Galatians 5:7 “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?” Satan will use anything and everything to prevent us from obeying the truth and allowing grace (not legalism) to shape our lives.
Secondly, Satan might deceive us by telling us that grace is a license to do what we want and that our lifestyle doesn’t really matter – after all we are saved by grace aren’t we? What is the truth? The truth is that God does love us and that we are forgiven but that does not mean we can live our lives how we like. Paul says that “grace teaches us to say no to ungodliness” (Titus 2:12). The grace that has been shown us is the right motivation for holiness not for living our way.
The devil uses a combination of these lies along with the various ways that he appeals to our sinful nature and tempts us to sin. When we do sin he is the first to accuse and tell us that surely God can no longer love and accept us.
3) Relationships – In such a sensitive and emotive area as relationships the devil can wreak havoc with our emotions and can leave us feeling broken and finding it hard to trust God. For those of us who are not in boy-girl relationships, one of the devils schemes is to tell us that we are not loved, not accepted, that we are going to be ‘left on the shelf’. He tries to make us feel that it is a relationship that will solve all our problems and satisfy all of our needs. The last things he wants is for us to trust God and find our satisfaction, our sense of being loved, accepted and valued from God. For those of us who are in relationships, another of his schemes is to convince us that actually our need for these things can be met by our partner/spouse and then when they let us down we are left broken and far from the loving arms of the God who made us. For all of us in relationships of any kind, the devil tries to cause division and conflict between us, he tries to do all he can to prevent us from supporting, encouraging and building one another up in love.
What does it mean to be involved in Spiritual warfare?
We could go on and on with examples but we would be here all day. The truth is that our world is “enemy occupied territory” and while we are living here we are involved in a spiritual battle that requires spiritual weapons. Below are a few encouraging verses that help us in our fight:
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. 1 Corinthians 10:13
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:15-16
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Ephesians 6:10-18
In 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul talks about a way out, a way of escape so that we can stand under temptation. If we consider something that we find tempting, we will eventually act on it and that is sin. Instead, Paul says ‘we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:5). The first step for escaping temptation is to capture every thought before it enters our mind. We then have to evaluate it on the basis of Philippians 4:8 ‘whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.’ We must ask ourselves ‘Is it true?’, ‘Is it noble?’, ‘Is it right?’ and so on. If the answer is ‘yes’, then we should think about such things, but if the answer is ‘no’ then we must continually dismiss it and choose the truth. The key (all be it no simple thing to do in practice) is to know and believe the truth and dismiss all of the devils lies.
We need to put on our spiritual armour (Ephesians 6) so that we can take our stand against the devil’s schemes. As Peter says, we need to “be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you [that is the royal you] know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” We are in a battle but we should not be unarmed and neither should we be isolated, we need to stand and fight together with each other…