Summary: Never give up in the fight against sin and evil. But always remember the power of God and the armour with which he’s equipped us. And pray on every occasion that you’ll be able to stand firm.
Do you remember when we looked at Paul’s prayer in Eph 3 that I commented how difficult it is to achieve the sort of unity that God wants from his church? In fact I pointed out that that’s why Paul prays the way he does: because only by God’s power can this miracle come about. Paul knows that apart from the problem of our own weakness, our hardness of heart, there are forces in the world that’ll try everything they can to stop us showing God’s wisdom and glory to the world. The reality of life for the Christian is that we face opposition from the spiritual forces around us every day. We have an enemy whose sole aim is to ruin our efforts at every point. So Paul warns us. He says “our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
So what do these spiritual forces want to do? They want to thwart God’s plans. Is God’s plan to create a new society? They’ll do their best to break it down. Has God, through the death of Christ, broken down the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile, indeed between all people, independent of gender, race, or culture? Then the devil and his agents will try to build that wall again. Does God intend his new people to live together in harmony and purity? Then the powers of evil will sow the seeds of discord and sin in our midst. Never underestimate the danger. Never take for granted your victory over sin. Never stop fighting temptation. Never give up in your efforts to overcome it. And never be surprised when you see a Christian leader fall into sin of some sort or another. Until Christ returns to take us to the Father we’ll always be fighting these spiritual battles. The peace, which Christ has bought by his blood, is still a promised peace. It’s a peace that we enjoy in the midst of a relentless struggle against evil. The war is won but the battles continue.
So never underestimate the devil. Paul describes him and his followers as powerful, evil and cunning. They’re the rulers and authorities, the cosmic powers of this present darkness. Until Christ returns they continue to wield their power. Christ has won the victory but they continue to fight, and will do so with more and more desperation, until the last day. And make no mistake, their intentions are evil. They’re the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. We find ourselves opposed by spiritual forces whose desire is to conquer us and to rule us, to lead us astray from following Christ.
Notice too that the devil is a wily opponent. That is, he combines tactical shrewdness with ingenious deception. Jesus called the devil the “Father of lies” (Jn 8:44). He’s described as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He even disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). If he finds one strategy isn’t working he’ll try another.
One of his great strategies in this day and age is to convince people that he doesn’t exist. People don't talk about the devil any more, do they, except as a joke. “Oh, the devil made me do it!” But do you see that that’s one of his great successes. If you don’t believe in the devil, you won’t be worried about his lies and temptations. If he’s just a children’s fable we can forget him because we’ve outgrown that sort of childishness. But don’t be fooled. The devil is real. His opposition is something to be reckoned with. What we’re fighting against isn’t just human weakness. Psychological counselling and self-help groups may solve some problems, but they won’t help with this one!
But having said all that, let’s not be overwhelmed by the situation. Let’s remember that the battle we fight, we fight for the Lord. And remember that God fights with us. We fight in his power, with his armour. Paul says “From now on, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” Notice that this is a 2-pronged strategy. Be strong in God’s power, and enter the battle wearing the equipment he provides.
There’s a balance needed here, you see. Some Christians are so confident in themselves that they don’t even bother to ask God for his help. They just assume that they can go through life resisting all the temptations the devil throws at them. But there are others who forget that they have a part to play. These people think that as long as they pray and trust God, nothing can go wrong; he’ll look after them. But that’s only part of the truth isn’t it? We need to rely on God’s power alone, but we also need to put on the armour of God so we can defend ourselves.