The Lookout | 10.30.11
By Alan Dowd
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
Although these words were penned in 500 BC by Chinese warrior Sun Tzu as part of his treatise on warfare, they can also be applied to the Christian’s struggle with Satan.
The Scriptures often use the language of battle, conflict, and danger in relation to Satan—and understandably so. After all, he’s been at war with God’s people from the moment the snake slithered into the Garden. Ever since, their battleground has been the world around us and the hearts within us.
The Word and the World
Although the old hymn sweetly assures us, "This is my Father’s world," that’s not completely true—at least not right now. To be sure, the Father can exercise dominion over anything and anyone at any time. And one day his will on earth will be done just as perfectly as it is in Heaven. But until then, Scripture tells us the world around us is dark, broken, and fallen.
And Jesus tells us why: Satan is "the prince of this world" (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11). In Job we learn that he roams "throughout the earth." Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church describes him as the "god of darkness" while another translation calls him "the god of this age."
He was once so beautiful that he was figuratively described as the "son of the dawn" (Isaiah 14:12). Another Old Testament text suggests that he became conceited because of his beauty (Ezekiel 28:12-19). Driven by pride, the adversary traded light for darkness. Pride was the sin that first poisoned him, but it was another sin he taught in the Garden that led us into disobedience: lying. Indeed, all the ugliness in the world can be traced to this fallen angel’s first lie.
After twisting God’s words to confuse Eve, he lied to her. "You will not die," the enemy hissed in the Garden, speaking "his native language" by directly contradicting God’s Word.
From that first lie flowed all the other sins, all the brokenness and evil that poisons this world. When Adam and Eve believed the lie, they not only disobeyed God; they obeyed the enemy, granted him access to our hearts and, in a sense, gave him the keys to this world.
In short, although he has done great violence and damage to God’s creation, we must not make the enemy out to be more or less than he really is. If you think about it, doing either gives him more power than he has.
Hell’s High Water Mark
If we underestimate him, if we make light of him, and especially if we convince ourselves he’s not real, he will get the upper hand. And to borrow Sun Tzu’s words, we will "succumb in every battle."
Look at the world around you, and you’ll see the consequences of approaching Satan this way.
We are no match for this enemy. He prowls around like a roaring lion, slithers into our lives like a serpent, and masquerades as an angel of light.
Jesus, mincing no words, reminds us that the enemy is a "murderer from the beginning." In other words, Satan doesn’t play games.
Just look at Job and the vicious way Satan attacked him, brutalized him, tormented him, broke him, and nearly destroyed him. Job’s servants, flocks, and children were killed. And the enemy would have taken Job’s life if God had not prevented it.
God is not to be blamed for Job’s pain. It was Satan who killed and stole from Job. It was Satan who ruthlessly used Job to attack and mock the Father. The mystery as to why God allowed it to happen can be solved by looking at our own lives. Job endured great hardship not only so God could show Satan that we are capable—and worthy—of the Father’s love, but also to remind us that there may more to what we endure than we can understand in the here and now.
David was God’s handpicked king, a man after God’s own heart. Yet he was lured away from the light by the enemy. David’s sin resulted in death—the death of Bathsheba’s husband and the death of their infant child. And the poison spread throughout David’s family. Amnon’s wicked attack on Tamar left her "a desolate woman." When David did nothing to avenge his daughter and punish his son, the Bible tells us that Absalom—another of David’s sons—killed Amnon. Absalom then carried out a coup against his king and father, triggering a civil war that resulted in Absalom’s death.?Perhaps no story in the Bible underscores how Satan knows our weak points, knows how to attack them, and knows how to press the attack once we give him a foothold.
Or consider the apostles, who literally walked with Jesus and learned from him firsthand, yet were overwhelmed by the enemy over and over again. Mark 9 recounts a time when they tried to exorcise a demon but failed because they relied on themselves and forgot what they learned from Jesus—that he is the source of all strength. The low point for them came on Good Friday when the Shepherd was struck and they were scattered. One betrayed Jesus openly and killed himself rather than seek forgiveness. Others betrayed their Savior quietly. One denied he knew Jesus. Another became so frightened he ran away naked, leaving his garment behind. One of their names became synonymous with doubt.
On that awful weekend they lived through Hell’s high water mark. They felt the full fury of the enemy and learned what it means to count on Christ.
God is more powerful than Satan. So if we blame everything on the enemy—every car accident, every ache and pain, every sneeze and sniffle, every computer crash, every bump in the night, every natural disaster—we elevate the enemy to a god-like status, which is the very place he wants to be.
In other words, not every problem of ours is a spiritual battle akin to what Job endured.
The reality is that Satan is not omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent. Those qualities belong only to God. And the good news is, well, the Good News. Jesus "made a public spectacle" of the enemy at Golgotha and triumphed over him three days later (Colossians 2:9-15).
That means Satan has already been defeated. "The reason the Son of God appeared," John tells us, "was to destroy the devil’s work" (1 John 3:7, 8). All that’s left now is for Christ to lock the guilty one up—the one who causes us to fall, the one who separates us from the Light, the one who tempts us, then accuses us, then shames us. The victory is won, but the battle is not yet over.
How can this be? Consider an imperfect example from our own world and our own history: When the Marines raised the flag on Mount Suribachi on February 23, 1945, four days into the Battle of Iwo Jima, it served as a signal to the troops and to the world that victory was at hand. As the U.S. Navy explains in a history of the battle, "This symbol of victory sent a wave of strength to the battle-weary fighting men below, and struck a further mental blow against the island’s defenders." Yet the battle would continue for more than a month.
In the same way, when we see the cross and the empty tomb, we can be assured that Christ has won, even though the enemy has yet to be vanquished.
In the interim, Christ has shown us how to resist the enemy, how to take our stand against the devil’s schemes. He offers to outfit us with a helmet of salvation to cover and protect our minds; a shield of faith to extinguish and block all the tempter’s seductions and lies; the Word, which is mysteriously Jesus himself, as our sword; an armored breastplate of his righteousness; a belt of truth to hold everything in place; boots fashioned out of his perfect peace, enabling us to stand and fight, and when necessary even to flee from temptation; and a prayer promise that if we ask for his help in resisting the tempter, Heaven will intervene (Ephesians 6; James 4:7, 8). But most important of all, Jesus gave us the priceless gift of his life, which disarmed Hell of perhaps its deadliest weapon: fear. Because Jesus lived, died, and overcame the grave, we don’t need to fear this enemy.