This common idiom is stereotypical of our modern culture’s perspective on the devil. We blandly affirm, at minimum, the “legend” of such a being, and employ his title in a contemporary proverb such as this in order to encourage excellence in our productivity-driven society. Those who aren’t in this camp exist on the opposite two extremes of the spectrum: either the occult, or the atheists. Are we American Christians really any different than the secular Western culture? Where would you land on the spectrum?
I, for one, waffle in the muddled in-between. Sure, I believe in the existence of the devil and demons. But I’m not too sure what they have to do with me.
There were a couple times in the recent years that I pulled my trusty Grudem off the shelf to further sharpen my understanding of the spiritual realm, but I find, as I begin the readings for my Issues in Spiritual Warfare class, that I have not moved much farther down the line towards a decisive understanding of the Evil One.
Dr. Clint Arnold’s Three Crucial Questions about Spiritual Warfare starts out with the right questions: “What is spiritual warfare, and why is it important?” It is the answer to that second question that I believe makes the difference between conviction and ambiguity.
Dr. Arnold makes the case that a better understanding of the definition of spiritual warfare lends an aid to addressing the “why”. If spiritual warfare is actually more broad than casting out demons, (which he decisively and justifiably determines), perhaps we Western Christians wouldn’t be quite so intimidated — or on the contrary, turned off. Spiritual warfare, Dr. Arnold proposes, is actually more a description of our daily and life-long struggles as believers in Christ. Therefore, it is something none of us can avoid.
I would like to suggest that a common observation of our current state as a Church and as individual believers demonstrates the consequences of ignoring the truth of the influence of the devil in our world and in our lives.
Primary to Dr. Arnold’s definition of spiritual warfare and the works of Satan is the dissemination of false teachings about Christ. We see this throughout Scripture (2 Corinthians 10:3-5 and 2 Timothy 2:25-26 for example). It is easy as believers to identify “the crazies” on TV, but what about deceptions that have crept into our own lives, practical beliefs that manifest themselves daily, such as:
- That’s great that God forgives me, but I can’t forgive myself of this awful sin I’ve done. (i.e. Christ’s work on the cross is insufficient).
- I keep struggling with this sin because I’ve not read my Bible enough, or prayed enough. (i.e. transformation comes as a result of our efforts alone and Christ and the devil have nothing to do with it).
These examples are honest expressions of the struggle of applying God’s Truth to our hearts, and I cite them not to diminish the struggle, but to demonstrate the power of truth — and lies.
How would things be different if we truly understood that a wretched, disgusting, abhorrable being existed who really was out to get us — simply because we side ourselves with God and Christ?
Dr. Arnold maintains a balanced approach to spiritual warfare: neglecting the existence of the demonic realm is equivalent to attributing every horrible evil to the work of Satan (i.e. seeing the devil behind every bush). What if its not about distinguishing the work of the devil from the influences of our sinful nature, and the world? What if, as Dr. Arnold purports, the three work in harmony together, like the twisted chords of a rope?
Why is this important? Dr. Arnold’s conclusions are just: It awakens us to the reality that “the decks are stacked against us. The Christian life is more than just notching up the level of our effort. There are evil supernatural forces seeking our moral and spiritual demise” (p. 69 Three Crucial Questions).
We have not been left alone to deal with this supernatural, invisible enemy. On the contrary, Christ has complete authority over Satan and his demons. Paul’s words in Colossians 2:8-10 are apt:
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority.
In the verses that follows, Paul reminds us that we are in complete union with Christ — in His death, His burial, and His resurrection — and that His authority is our authority.
Dr. Arnold unpacks the significance of Ephesians 6, reminding us that the point of the metaphorical spiritual armor isn’t the “hidden meaning” of each piece, but the virtue Paul describes: truth, righteousness, faith, our salvation, the Gospel, the Word of God and prayer. Paul is, in fact, engaging with each of these through the very means of writing this letter to the Ephesians, who themselves were struggling against deceptive teachings in their church (see pages 42-46 of Three Crucial Questions).
Paul did not pen these words in vain: “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.” (Ephesians 6:10-13).
I have a long way to go in reversing the mono-dimensional, materialistic, and cloudy vision of my current perspective. But I pray and trust this class will be monumental in bringing me back to a balanced perspective that acknowledges the very real and evil existence of the devil and the glorious, victorious power of Christ which has been so freely and graciously given to me in my ongoing struggles against sin, doubt, fear, pride, and temptation in this life.