American Christians often think demonic activity doesn’t affect us, perceiving it only happens elsewhere and in plain sight, as it often occurs where occult rituals (calling upon spirits and using curses, etc.) are actively welcomed and practiced. A little over a year ago, it struck me that it didn’t make sense for spiritual warfare to be selective. In light of Ephesians 6:10-20, it’s clear that Christians are engaged in spiritual warfare every day, whether we acknowledge it or not.
“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.”Ephesians 6:12 ESV
As much as I believed this passage, I felt blind, ignorant, and numb to the warfare that must be going on around me. Perhaps you can relate. I did not see it for what it was, so I didn’t know how to pray against it. Verse 18 tells us to engage in the battle through prayer, being equipped with the whole armor of God as described in verses 13-17. In frustration, I asked the Lord to open my eyes and show me more specifically how to pray. And boy, did He answer! Over the past year, He’s opened my eyes and helped me to pray bold, authoritative, specific prayers for the battles waging in my own family and church, seeing them in light of the ongoing battle between good and evil that has existed for centuries.
When it comes to the conversation of our lives being affected by Satan and demons, there are two opposite extremes of a pendulum swing I see Christians fall prey to. On one side, there are those Christians who attribute everything in their lives to Satan, from personal sin to minor life inconveniences to major life trials. All of those things *may* be used by our enemy to attack us, but it’s unwise to give him too much credit. This line of thinking often ends up denying any personal responsibility for sin, reframing the truth to make the person seem merely a victim.
The other end of the pendulum swing denies that Satan and demons have any influence over us and that all of our sins are merely the result of our sinful flesh. This neglects the reality that our warfare is supernatural, trusting only in what is seen and undercutting what is spiritual. It assumes that every thought that enters our minds has it source with us, not acknowledging that thoughts can be planted in our minds by both our Heavenly Father and the devil himself. We see this is the case with Peter, as seen in his back-to-back interactions with Jesus in Matthew 16:17 and 23. Both ends of this pendulum swing are dangerous. Scripture teaches us a better balance.
Who or what is the source of the temptations we face?
“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire (James 1:13-14 ESV).” We are tempted by the desires of our flesh, yes. But this passage says we are lured and enticed toward them which begs the question: who is doing the luring and enticing? Who sees our desires and strategically tempts us to give in to sin? The enemy, for we see him craftily tempting from the very beginning in the garden of Eden and throughout history, even tempting Jesus in the wilderness.
Ephesians 2:1-3 shows us the reality of our complex depravity. It is not simply our flesh that we can be held captive to, but also the devil and the world. Voddie Baucham addressed this misconception at the 2014 Ligonier National Conference in his sermon, “The world, the Flesh, and the Devil.”
“The broader problem is this,” Baucham began. “That unless we understand this interplay between the world and the flesh, and the devil, we do not understand the sinfulness of our sin. We do not understand the radical nature of our depravity unless we understand that we are hemmed in on every side, that it’s not just one issue, but it’s everything around us and everything about us. And there are many of us who have lost an understanding of the radical nature of our sinfulness and as a result, we’ve lost an understanding of the radical nature of the sinfulness of those around us as well.”
With depravity this deep, who or what is the source of our redemption?
After describing the radical nature of our depravity in Ephesians 2:1-3, Paul goes on to say in verse 4 that familiar and wonderful caveat we see throughout Scripture: “But God…” Hallelujah, for He is our only hope! “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved… (Ephesians 2:4-5 ESV)” Galatians 5:1 says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” By the grace of God, the Christian is alive and free, but we must guard against the temptation to sin and thereby go back to captivity.
One glance at the world shows us how badly we need God’s help. The hour is dark. The need is great. Spiritual warfare wages all around us, with sin destroying everything in its path. We are desperately in need of help. There are vast reservoirs of grace available to us in prayer. Let it not to be said of us that we leave them untapped, having not because we ask not. As children of God, we are co-heirs with Christ, our birthright being freedom from the bondage of sin to be reconciled to God.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16 ESV).”
We pray with boldness not because of our righteousness, but His. Not because of our wisdom or understanding, but His. It is only through the power of Christ we petition God’s help. It is only through the power of Christ we prevail. He is our only hope.