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Who is the Real Enemy? – Ephesians 6:12

Questions about the sermon
Sermon 6 of 8 from the Asymmetric Spiritual Warfare series

4 questions or comments

April 2009 – Not long ago I received the following email:

I am studying Ephesians 6 about the Armor of God & and there is one verse that I’m afraid I don’t get the full meaning of. It’s verse 12

“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.”

A couple of questions I had...

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1. What does this verse mean?
2. What does it mean when it says “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms"? Does it mean in Heaven? Or does it mean in all the earth?
3. When it talks about the rulers and authorities is it talking about literally those that rule our countries, nations, etc? Or is it talking about those rulers who are not Christian who have been put in a position of power?

In order to get our hands around this verse, let’s look at it in several other versions:

“We are not fighting against humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world” (CEV).

“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (NLT).

Here are four facts about our satanic opponents:

  1. They are numerous. Note the various expressions in verse 12. They are principalities and powers. They are rulers. They are authorities. These different expressions describe the many different ranks and categories of evil spirit beings.
  2. They are powerful. Don’t think of Casper the Friendly Ghost or of some nice spirit beings who like to play tricks on you. The demons are real and they aren’t on your side. J. B. Phillips calls them “spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil.”
  3. They are wicked. They follow no moral code. They live only to do the devil’s bidding. They are opposed to all that is good and holy and right.
  4. They are clever. Paul speaks of schemes and diabolical plans. Do not be deceived into thinking the demons are stupid. They are morally corrupt but as spirit beings, they possess enormous intelligence. Like spies working for some lethal enemy, the demons know the weak spots in our armor. They lie in wait, looking for a chance to pounce.

Our Real Battle

What should we learn from Ephesians 6:12?

First, it reminds us that our battle is not against other humans. We do not struggle against flesh and blood. Sometimes we focus on the abortionists, the pornographers, the godless politicians, the corrupt business leaders, the drug dealers, and the purveyors of filth, as if they were the source of our problems. Yet those people are unwitting dupes of powerful spiritual forces that they know nothing about. They are morally culpable for their choices, yet they are also in the service of evil beings that influence them in ways they do not realize. Or we could make it more personal. When someone has hurt us deeply, it’s easy to say, “That person is the source of all my problems.” But our struggle is not with flesh and blood-even though it seems that way most of the time.

Our struggle is not with flesh and blood even though it seems that way most of the time.

Second, this verse teaches us that there are various kinds of demonic powers. All those phrases are roughly equivalent in that they all refer to the spiritual powers arrayed against us. They teach us that there are various kinds of demonic powers. There are “rulers,” “authorities,” “powers of this dark world,” and “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” It’s not clear how we should differentiate between them. Perhaps it is enough to know that just as there are various types of angels so the demons are organized and serve different purposes in Satan’s service. The word “rulers” doesn’t refer to mayors or governors or presidents. It’s not about Obama or Osama or Bush or Putin. It’s not about people you work with or your boss on a bad day or anyone else who gets under your skin. On those days when people treat you badly, you may feel like they are the enemy. But they aren’t, not in the deepest sense.

We are all foot soldiers in a vast invisible war that stretches across the cosmos.

Finally, this verse explains why we must “put on the whole armor of God.” Our godly character (or lack of it) actually does make a day-to-day difference. Not only for us but also in the great struggle between good and evil. We are all foot soldiers in a vast invisible war that stretches across the cosmos. I picked up a newsletter from LoveINC, headed by Robert Odom, a man whom I know well and admire greatly. LoveINC (the name means “Love In the Name of Christ) does groundbreaking work in uniting churches to work together to meet the needs of the poor in cities and in depressed rural areas. Robert wrote the lead article called, “The Depth of the Call” based on a conversation he had with one of his community directors who had gone through a series of very hard trials that included the suicide of her husband, eventual remarriage, divorce, major surgery, and bankruptcy. In talking with this woman, Robert said that and he and his wife had recently returned from a whirlwind trip to visit the LoveINC affiliates in Alaska. They visited six affiliates in six cities in 12 days, which meant taking ten flights, staying in eight hotels and making 15 speeches. In one city, Robert spoke at an open community meeting. During the question and answer time, a woman said that ninety percent of the people in that community don’t go to church, and what could they do about it? Robert replied that he didn’t have an answer for the ninety percent. Why, he wondered, aren’t the ten percent living such godly, joyful, selfless, egoless, loving, compassionate lives that the ninety percent are drawn to them and ultimately to Christ. That’s a good question. “There is no shortage of people talking about Christ, but there is a shortage of people living like Christ.” I couldn’t get this sentence out of my mind:

When God brings someone out of the deep, not coming out of the deep wiser, more selfless, more committed, more Christ-like is dishonoring to God and dishonoring to them and all that they’ve gone through.

Our godly character really does matter. It matters in our struggle with “principalities and powers,” it matters in our Christian walk, and it matters greatly to the watching world. Life is a struggle that will continue till the day we die. There is no release from the battle. If we go AWOL, we simply find a bigger battle on the other side of the hill.

Take up your armor, Christian, because all hell will soon break loose against you.

Two Key Questions

This leads us to two key questions:

  1. What is Satan trying to do in your life? He wants to frustrate God’s plan for you. He wants to get you off the track of doing God’s will.
  2. How does Satan attack us? He attacks us when we least expect it. Rarely does he approach us with an overt invitation to evil. After all, if the devil came up wearing a name tag that said, “Hello! My name is Satan,” we would recognize him immediately. If he said, “I’ve come to destroy everything that is good in your life. I plan to destroy your family, your marriage, your reputation, your integrity and everything that is good in your life, and when I am finished, you will end up in hell forever,” if the devil came to us talking like that, we would say, “Get lost!” But he doesn’t appear that way. He comes to us like the serpent came to Eve in the Garden, with a simple question that causes us to doubt God’s goodness. He comes as an angel of light talking about tolerance and telling us not to be so uptight and judgmental in our morality. He comes with an insinuation that we have been mistreated and we’re right to be angry and hurt. He whispers to us, “Go ahead! Say what you’re thinking.” And when we do, he laughs because now we’ve destroyed a friendship-and we may have destroyed our own future. Or he convinces us that a little pornography doesn’t matter. Or he seduces us into thinking that the truth is in the eye of the beholder. Or he encourages us to take the low road. Or he nurses within us a grudge that becomes a root of bitterness that leads to outbreaks of anger.

Though I don’t have time to develop it here, I have often thought that Satan’s greatest tool is discouragement. If he can’t get us with lust, if he can’t trap us with anger, if he can’t induce us to dishonesty, if he can’t lure us into profanity, if he can’t lead us into compromise, if all those things don’t work, he still has the tool of discouragement. That often works against us when nothing else will.

Satan comes as an angel of light talking about tolerance and telling us not to be so uptight and judgmental in our morality. 

In light of all this we need to heed Paul’s words in verse 13: “Therefore put on the full armor 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.”  The command “put on” is a military term. It’s the last step you take before going into battle. It’s like cleaning your rifle, checking you ammo, putting on your flak jacket, and grabbing your helmet. Take up your armor, Christian, because all hell will soon break loose against you. The “day of evil” refers to those moments of special temptation we all face. Not every day is an “evil day” in the precise sense Paul uses the term because not every day to do we feel great pressure from the enemy. Some people have faced several “evil days” this week. You never know in advance when one is coming your way.

God’s Intention for Every Christian

The end of the verse gives us God’s intention for every Christian. “After you have done everything, to stand.” The battle now over, the Christian stands victorious on the battlefield. This is not only possible but practical. Nothing I have said about Satan indicates that he should win the day. You have enormous resources available to you at every moment. We need to remind ourselves of several key passages:

“Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4 KJV).

“Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

“And they overcame him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11).

When you know who your enemy is, you will not take him lightly.
When you take up God’s armor, you are ready to enter the battle.
When you fight in God’s strength, you will not be defeated.

You may be severely tempted and the people closest to you may be completely unaware of your struggle. 

This victory is not easy or instantaneous nor does it come without struggle, sweat, sacrifice and blood. Nor does one victory assure another. You cannot live on the strength of yesterday because your enemy comes against you again and again. Furthermore, the battle is not the same for any two people. What tempts you may not bother me. What trips me up may not trouble you at all. Satan tailors his assaults to each person’s weak points. The battles you face may all be unseen, but they are nonetheless real.

We Face a Defeated Foe

Some who read these words have faced enormous temptation this week even though others may not know about it. You may be severely tempted and the people closest to you may be completely unaware of your struggle. Some have faced discouragement because of a battle that seems never to end. Some, no doubt, have lived in Satan’s domain for a long, long time. He’s held you captive through fear because you’ve never known a way out. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). 1 John 3:8 says, “The Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil” (NLT).

There is no need for any Christian to live in fear of the devil.

He is real.
He is powerful.
He is wicked.
He is clever.
He is defeated.

Calvary dealt a death-blow to the devil and his legions of demons. 

At the cross Satan thought he had defeated Jesus, but he only bruised his heel. Instead it was Satan who was defeated when Jesus crushed his head. Calvary dealt a death-blow to the devil and his legions of demons. The cross mortally wounded the enemy of our souls. Someday he will be cast into the Lake of Fire. Between now and then, he fights on, defeated but not destroyed, using every weapon in his arsenal to convince us that he has power to overcome us.

While preparing this message I came upon a slim volume in my library called The Christian Warrior by Isaac Ambrose, a reprint of a book first published in 1660. Very early in the book Ambrose gives a long exhortation for the Christian warrior to be brave with many reasons given, among them that when you were baptized, you took a “military sacrament” to fight against the devil (that’s probably news to most of us, but it is true–at least if we understand what baptism really means). Here are a few choice morsels from the book:

“God is on the side of all true wresters, and, if God is for them, who can prosper against them?” (p. 14)

“The Lord Jesus not only feels deeply, but prays earnestly for his children when they wrestle with their grand adversary. No sooner does Satan run in upon you but Christ runs into the bosom of the Father to intercede for you” (P. 15).

“Christians, be not afraid of Satan; he is only a creature of limited power. Is he potent? Your Captain is omnipotent” (p. 17).

Let me make one final point before I close. Many well-meaning people assume that once they come to Christ, their temptations will end. The opposite is closer to the truth. Temptations increase once you become a follower of Christ. Why should the devil attack one of his own? He fights against those who follow Christ. That’s why some people can honestly say, “I gave my heart to Jesus, and things are harder than they were before.” Welcome to the battlefield. It’s been like that for 2000 years.

If you are looking for an escape from your problems, Jesus is not for you. 

Christianity is not a religion for sissies or for those who want an easy road. If you are looking for an escape from your problems, Jesus is not for you. Christianity is for strong men and women who will not flee from the struggle. We need some valiant soldiers willing to enter the field of battle.

My appeal is Paul’s appeal. Name your trouble, your trial, your temptation. And then enter the battle in the strength of the Lord and find out for yourself whether it is possible, “having done all, to stand.”

Here is my contention. Christ cannot fail. I may struggle, but he cannot fail. I may waver under the attack, but he cannot fail. If Christ is in me and I am in him, then weak though I may feel, Christ cannot fail.

It’s not about me.
It’s about him.

You do not need to take my word for it. Try it for yourself. Put the Lord to the test this week. Give God his fair chance. Name your personal battleground and then go in the strength that God provides. Take up the divine armor and march forward into battle.

I challenge you.
God invites you.
See for yourself what the Lord will do.

“Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.” Amen!

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