(Shout out to my dad Alan for suggesting to me the title/structure for this column as we discussed some of these issues!)
Image via Pixabay
While the faith teaches that Satan was defeated at the Cross, we know from Scripture that he retains influence in this world and has declared war on God’s people, which he will wage until he is removed from the scene for good (Rev 12.17; Rev 19).
Satan is alive and active. We are not afraid, but we are not finished with him yet.
No doubt we have all seen him win a battle in our lives from time to time.
With repentance, reflection, and commitment, such times can still be victories, as they are redeemed by God into moments of maturity, that we would be stronger and wiser next time.
What follows are some of the ways that Satan trips us up, and some tips for resisting him, that we might be aware and alert to where he is at work, and take our stand against his strategies (1Pet 5.8-9).
We have weapons to use, but we do not want to use his, nor the weapons of this world – we are called to fight differently (2Co 10.4).
Surely this is not an exhaustive list. But hopefully enough to get us thinking.
So then: Christians let Satan win the battle…
1. …when we do not love others well. We are called to love God, neighbour, and even our enemies (Lk 10:27; Mt 5.43-48). Indeed, one of the things distinguishing us as “children of God” versus “children of the devil” is how well we love one another (1Jn 3.10). This suggests that when we move away from love, no matter who it is, we are moving into the enemy’s territory.
Resistance: Draw near to the love of God and press through in the love of others. God’s love for the world sent Christ to the cross (Jn 3.16). It was an active and engaging love. Our love too should be active and engaging towards others (1Jn 3.16-18).
2. …when we give in to temptation. Sin happens, not when “the devil made me do it,” but when Satan finds a way to exploit the sin inside of us and we give in (Jam 1.13-14). He’s been doing this since the Garden (Gen 3), and he is very good at it. We can blame him for the temptation, but he can only tempt us towards what is already within us – we are responsible for our actions.
Resistance: Constantly seek the Lord, the filling of the Holy Spirit, the Word, the transformation that comes as we are renewed in Him (2Co 5.17; Eph 5.18). Find spiritual companions you can be honest with to help you along (Gal 6.1). Confess your sin to God and at least one person you trust (Mt 6.12; Jam 5.16). Lean into His amazing grace when you do (1Jn 1.9).
3. …when anger towards others burns too long. Anger is unavoidable, and we can’t control it when it arises. We do need to decide what to do when it appears. We are told to avoid the sins that anger can lead us to, to deal with anger quickly and intentionally, and to ensure that in our anger we “do not give the devil a foothold” (Eph 4.26-27). Anger hardens our hearts, twists our thinking, pulls us out of peace with God and others, and causes us to lay aside love. When we remain in anger towards others too long, the Enemy sets up camp.
Resistance: Notice anger when it arises, and without judging it, prayerfully process the “why” behind it, getting others to help if needed. Keep short accounts with others and work towards forgiveness (Col 3.13). Find people you can trust to help you do so.
4. …when Christians spend our energy fighting one another. Jesus said, “A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand” (Mt 12.25). Satan surely knows this, and seeks to divide marriages, families, countries, and certainly churches. It’s hard to imagine any healthy organization that spends the majority of its time arguing and pointing out flaws in others, but the Church has an unhealthy commitment to these activities, often in the name of “pursuing truth.” Scripture warns, “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Gal 5.15). When we move into attack-mode towards brothers and sisters, we are playing into the Enemy’s hands.
Resistance: Learn to disagree in love and with a commitment to unity, in the spirit of Romans chapter 14. Disagreements must come, but the way in which we disagree is crucial. If we are pursuing truth, we must pursue it in ways consistent with the fruit of the Spirit of truth (see Gal 5.22-23), and with the qualities of divine wisdom (see Jam 3.13-18), which are very different than how the world/Enemy fights.
5. …when we forget that we are people of peace. While encouraging the Roman church, Paul wrote, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet,” (Rom 16.10). It’s a fascinating image; a peaceful God “crushing” His Enemy under our feet. He is the one doing it. Christ defeated Satan not with violence or worldly power, but as a peaceful Lamb willingly and submissively going to the Cross (Jn 1.29; Col 2.15; Rev 5.6). It doesn’t make sense, but God’s wisdom doesn’t always make earthly sense (1Cor 1.18-25). We are called to be peacemakers (Mt 5.9), and Anabaptists would always emphasize that we always use peaceful means to establish peace. We fight for good, peacefully. We do not use the tactics of this world. When we are contributors of strife, division, fear, anger, bitterness, etc., even if we believe our cause is right, we have moved away from the God of peace and into the tactics of His Enemy.
Resistance: Find the way of peace and walk in it. Seek to be peacemakers, creatively creating peaceful solutions wherever peace is missing. Remember how Jesus won the victory, and seek to follow His example.
6. …when we walk in entitlement instead of sacrificing for others. Traditional Church teaching is that Satan was an archangel who lost his place in Heaven when he rebelled and attempted to exalt himself above God (Isa 14.12-14; Eze 28.12-19). Satan was all about himself, felt that he deserved more, and in his self-centeredness sought to promote himself higher. Contrast that with Jesus, who, even being God, chose to lay aside all His rights and privileges to obey God and serve others, sacrificing His very life for their sake (Phil 2.1-11; 1Jn 3.16). Whenever we are entitled – focusing on ourselves, what we want, what we deserve, what we aren’t getting, what others are getting instead, our credit and acknowledgement, etc – we are no longer walking in Christ’s example, but Satan’s.
Resistance: Willingly embrace the lowest place and serve others in love (Lk 14.7-14; Gal 5.13). Don’t focus on what’s best for you, but what’s best for others (Phil 2.4). Don’t promote yourself, but trust that God is more than capable of promoting you, if He decides to (Jam 4.10).
7. …when the ways of the world overtake the ways of the Kingdom. Satan’s influence is in the world and its ways (2Co 4.3-4; Eph 2.2), and we are warned to avoid the ways of this world, which are contrary to God’s ways (2Co 6.17; Eph 2.1-3; 1Jn 2.15). It is incredibly difficult for Christians and churches to not get caught up in such things. The world’s values, politics, structures, strategies, financial attitudes, metrics of success, etc., very easily infiltrate the Church. When that happens, we are appropriating the ways of kingdom of darkness and not the Kingdom of light.
Resistance: Be so alert and aware of how easy it is for the things that the world celebrates to become things that the Church embraces. Be full of Scripture, that we would be so familiar with truth that we recognize the false when we see it (Jn 17.17; 2Tim 3.16-17).
8. …when we don’t give care to our words. James tells us that “The tongue is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (Jam 3.6). Sounds like the domain of the Enemy to me! He goes on to say, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be,” (v.9-10). Jesus said that even calling someone an idiot puts us in danger of hellfire (Mt 5.22). When we slander, gossip, cut, curse, insult, dismiss, and degrade others with our words, we are a tool in the enemy’s hands to attack fellow image-bearers of God.
Resistance: Embrace more wisdom from James: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (Jam 1.19). If we cannot control our words, we may need to simply stop talking, or at least talk much less, especially when we are angry. We then use our words in godly ways: to worship God, to encourage others, to build up, to strengthen, to bless.
9. …when we make people the enemy instead of the Enemy. Part of MLK’s great legacy was that he did not demonize racists; he loved them, as Christ called him to (Mt 5.43-48). He did not attack the people as evil; he attacked the system that deceived them and oppressed him as evil. Scripture says “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” (Eph 6.12). It seems very clear: Our battle is not against people; it is against the Enemy and the systems and powers of darkness. When we forget that, we lose our compassion, demonize fellow image-bearers of God, and end up fighting the wrong thing, doing much damage as we do.
Resistance: Love the people who oppose you, even your enemy. Be driven by compassion and mercy for the person, even and especially if you feel they are deceived. By all means get angry, but rage against the Enemy. Our warfare is first and foremost a spiritual one, against spiritual powers, and not a temporal one, against temporal people, made in the image of God. We must not forget this.
10. …when we stop fighting back. The language used in the New Testament towards the devil is that our role is to “resist” him (Jam 4.7; 1Pet 5.8-9). We resist his schemes, his evil, his sin, his injustice, his tactics, his ways. It is certainly easy to stop resisting. When we do, we allow him to win the battle uncontested.
Resistance: A good rule of thumb in spiritual warfare is to approach things in “the opposite spirit” of what the enemy is trying to. Where he seeks to divide, we choose unity. Where he stirs conflict, we sow peace. Where he causes cursing, we bring blessing. Where there is heaviness, we bring joy. Where there is injustice, we seek justice. The list could go on, but when we choose the godly opposite of whatever he is up to, we resist the darkness and push back with light.
If you’ve enjoyed what you read here, you can follow Third Way Christians on Facebook or Instagram, or sign up here to get new columns emailed directly to you! As well, you can track along with Chris’ Sunday morning teaching at Meadow Brook Church’s YouTube page!