July 10, 2016

A Spiritual Battle

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Series: Ephesians Scripture: Ephesians 6:10–12

A Spiritual Battle—Ephesians 6:10-12

This evening, I’d like to discuss a subject that many of us have heard of but don’t always pay very much attention to. And yet, regardless of how attentive we are to it, the fact remains that our lives are lived in the midst of a spiritual battle. Now, when you’re in a battle or a war, that changes the way you live. Like during World War II, when the United States was fighting the Axis powers, Americans lived differently. They mobilized every possible resource in American society and put it all towards the war effort. They drafted nearly every male between 18 and 30 who was fit for military service into the military, they retooled factories making non-essential consumer products into factories making war-related products, they organized scrap metal collection drives so they could have more raw materials for war-related weapons and machinery, they instituted strict systems of rationing on consumer staples like food and gas so that more of those things could be used for the war, massive numbers of women worked in heavy industry during the war, and even the scientific community was mobilized for the war effort as mathematicians, doctors, engineers, and chemists used their minds to help the American war effort succeed. Literally every aspect of American society was mobilized to help the war effort. Wartime was a lot different than peacetime even for American civilians. And all of that was necessary to win the war. 

And yet, I’m concerned that many Christians don’t realize that they’re living in the middle of a spiritual war. I’m concerned that many of us are acting like it’s peacetime when, in reality, it’s wartime. We have the mentality of walking through life like a peaceful stroll in a park rather than understanding that we’re actually right in the middle of a battle zone. And I realize all of this may sound a bit extreme, but the Bible tells us that this is reality. So please open your Bibles and turn with me to Ephesians 6. Over the past several months, we’ve been working our way through the book of Ephesians passage by passage, and today we come to Ephesians 6. And in Ephesians 6:10-18, Paul talks about the spiritual battle we’re in. And we’re actually going to take two weeks to look at this passage. This week, we’re going to focus on verses 10-12, and next week we’ll focus on verses 13-18. But let me go ahead and read the whole thing just so we can get a feel for what it says. 

Read with me, Ephesians 6:10-18: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 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. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.

So as we think about verses 10-12 of that passage, the main idea is very simple: We’re in the midst of a spiritual battle. And as we think about this battle, I’d like to use our time this evening to lay some groundwork and help us get a clearer picture of the battle we’re in. So I’d like to discuss first the reality of our enemy, then the mission of our enemy, and finally the methods of our enemy. 

The Reality of our Enemy

First, the reality of our enemy. Paul states in verse 12 that “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.” So this isn’t some imaginary struggle. There are “rulers,” there are “authorities,” there are “cosmic powers over this present darkness,” and there are “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Now, don’t be confused by all those fancy terms because they all refer to demons. Demons are angels who were once good but have now rebelled against God. So they’re angels, but they’re dark angels, and they continually work evil in the world. That’s why Paul calls them “spiritual forces of evil.” And the highest ranking demon is Satan. The name “Satan” is a Hebrew word that means “adversary.” The Bible also calls him “the devil,” “the serpent,” “Beelzebul,” and “the evil one.” It also appears as though God has given Satan temporary permission to do a lot of bad things in this world—so much so that the Bible even calls Satan “the ruler of this world” and “the prince of the power of the air.” Those are other names for Satan that how he does have some power. And that’s also why Ephesians 6 refers to Satan and other high ranking demons under him as “rulers” and “authorities.” Paul isn’t talking about government rulers or authorities; he’s talking about demonic rulers and authorities. 

We may not be able to see them, but that doesn’t mean they’re not real. Unfortunately, even as Christians, we’ve been so influenced by naturalism and naturalistic theories that we often act as if the only things that exist are the things we can see and hear. Of course, as Christians, we believe God exists, but a lot of times, I think we aren’t very aware of other spiritual realities—creatures that we can’t see or hear but who are just as real as the chairs we’re sitting on. And these creatures don’t just live in Africa or other primitive places. They live right here. There’s so much happening right under our noses that, so often, we’re not even aware of. It reminds me of the difference between an infant and a toddler. Last November, we went to Trax Farms and did all the fun stuff that you could do there. And there was a big difference between Caleb, our 3-year-old, and Silas our 5-month-old. Caleb loved it and enjoyed it to the max. From going on the hayride to picking out a pumpkin to petting the goat to riding on the miniature train—it was probably the highlight of the whole month for him. He was talking about it for weeks afterward. Silas, on the other hand, was a lot different.  He was cute and cuddly, but he wasn’t really able to appreciate the pumpkin farm yet. He didn’t notice everything Caleb noticed or have all the fun Caleb had. He played with his hand and his foot and his blanket just like he would have at home. And the reason he didn’t care about the pumpkin farm that much was because he didn’t yet have the capacity to take all of that in and interact with it in a meaningful way. But here’s the point: that doesn’t mean the pumpkin farm wasn’t real. The pumpkin farm exists whether Silas noticed it or not. Silas may have been completely unaware of everything outside his little bubble, but all of that outside stuff still exists. 

And in the same way, we may not be aware of the spiritual forces that armed themselves for war against us, but that doesn’t make them any less real or any less dangerous. In fact, they’re more dangerous when we’re unaware of them because we’re not even making an effort to defend ourselves. We’re just sitting ducks—easy prey—for Satan and his demons to oppress as they see fit. 1 Peter 5:8 states that “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” That’s what he wants to do, and that’s why it’s so important for us not to be unaware of what’s going on all around us like infants who only notice what’s right next to them but to be alert and engaged in the battle that’s being fought. 

The Mission of our Enemy

However, in addition to recognizing the reality of our enemy, we also have to be aware of the mission of our enemy. That’s the second item I’d like to discuss: the mission of our enemy. And in order to understand the mission of our enemy, we first have to understand the mission of God. Because Satan’s mission is the mirror image—it’s the exact opposite—of God’s mission. Whatever God’s trying to do, you can bet that Satan’s trying to sabotage it. That’s what Satan does. That’s pretty much all we see him doing in the Bible. He’s kind of like someone playing defense in basketball. Wherever the player with the ball runs, that’s where the defender runs. If they player with the ball goes to the left, the defender goes to the left; if he goes to the right, the defender goes to the right. Just about everything the defender does is in response to that player with the ball. And it works the same way spiritually. Satan’s mission is to hinder and sabotage and oppose God’s mission in every way he can. 

Now, very briefly, God’s mission is to fix everything that’s broken with this world. He’s working to bring restoration and renewal and redemption to a world that’s been marred by the ugliness of human rebellion. You see, God originally created the world to be good. In Genesis 1:31, the Bible says, “God saw everything that he had made and behold, it was very good.” Everything was good, everything was beautiful, everything was perfect. But then human beings rebelled against God. They disobeyed God’s commands and rejected his authority. Interestingly, the Bible actually says they did this because they were instigated by Satan. So we see how Satan was opposing God’s mission from the very beginning. And because of humanity’s sinful rebellion, this world became a really messed up place to live in. Sin entered the world along with suffering, dysfunctional relationships, violence, hatred, natural disasters, disease, and even death. This world went from being a place of pristine beauty to a place that’s been marred and twisted by sin. And that’s why we see so many examples of brokenness in our world today.  

But God is in the process of making everything new. He sent his Son Jesus into this world to start that process of renewing and redeeming and restoring everything to the way he originally intended for it to be. Of course, Satan actively opposed everything Jesus tried to do. The Bible records how he waited until Jesus was at his weakest moment, fasting from food in the desert, before approaching Jesus, and tried to convince Jesus to deviate from what God the Father had told him to do. Satan even tried to entice Jesus to worship him instead! But Jesus wouldn’t do it. He wouldn’t worship Satan or deviate in even the slightest way from his Father’s instructions. And after living a perfectly sinless life, Jesus voluntarily died on the cross to take the punishment for our sins. He paid the debt that we owed, satisfying the justice and appeasing the wrath of God the Father. That’s what happened on the cross. The justice of God in punishing sin and the love of God in rescuing us from sin were both on display in unparalleled splendor. 

And then after Jesus died on the cross, he resurrected from the dead. And Jesus’ resurrection is a picture of what can happen to us as we turn from our sin and put our trust in him to rescue us. When we do that—when we direct our hope towards him as our only hope of salvation—we become a new person. Our sins are forgiven, our heart is changed, and we can look forward to enjoying the fullness of God’s work of renewal in the future. Because one day, God’s going to complete the work of renewal he’s begun. The Bible describes it as “a new heaven and a new earth.” It’s going to be a place where everything that’s wrong with this world will be made right—the sin, the suffering, and even death itself will be completely done away with, and this world will be even better than what God had originally created. And the best part is that God himself will be personally present as the centerpiece of that new creation—because God and his people will have been reconciled. But Satan doesn’t want any of that to happen. And so he’s made it his mission to oppose God’s work of renewal in every way possible. Just like a good basketball defender, Satan’s matching God’s every move and trying to hinder his work.

The Methods of our Enemy

And he tries to do that in several ways. So having discussed the reality of our enemy and then the mission of our enemy, let’s now turn our attention to the methods of our enemy. Verse 11 of our main text in Ephesians 6 refers to these as “the schemes of the devil.” 

One thing Satan does this is try to prevent people from becoming Christians. 2 Corinthians 4:4 states that Satan “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel.” So Satan tries everything he can to prevent people from seeing the truth of the gospel and embracing Jesus. Of course, people’s own hearts many times hinder them from becoming Christians, but Satan adds an additional hindrance and blinds their minds. 

And in addition, Satan also oppresses people after they become Christians. He tries everything he can to hinder them and keep them from being effective for Jesus. And three of the most common ways he does this is by dividing believers, derailing believers, and discouraging believers. Satan will try to divide believers by pitting them against each other and stirring up trouble in churches. In 2 Corinthians 2:11, Paul talks about forgiving each other after a church conflict and then expresses the desire “that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.” So that church conflict was at least in part inspired by Satan. Second, Satan also likes to derail believers by enticing them to sin. He wants to get them off track spiritually and destroy their closeness to God by promoting them to rebel against God’s instructions. We saw that in the Garden of Eden, we saw that with Jesus, and we see it today. And third, Satan tries to discourage believers. He makes them feel guilty for their sins even after they’ve repented. He tells them lies about God’s love and forgiveness. He causes them to feel depressed and worthless and down. And again, it’s all about hindering Christian from being effective servants of God. Satan will try to divide, derail, and discourage Christians so that they won’t be able to do what God has called them to do—they won’t be able to share the gospel or make disciples effectively. 

As it turns out, my wife Becky has actually felt this in a very direct way. Even in the past few months, she’s frequently experienced what both she and I believe to be demonic attacks. Of course, we don’t want to be the kind of people who find a demon behind every bush and it’s possible that there are medical issues involved, but over the past few months we’ve become more and more convinced for various reasons that there’s something demonic going on here. During the day, Becky’s been having a lot of intrusive thoughts—almost like voices in her head telling her that God doesn’t love her or that he still condemns her or that he won’t keep his promises in the Bible. And these are very intrusive thoughts; they just instantly pop into her head seemingly out of nowhere. And these thoughts can come at various points throughout the day. But, interestingly, most of the more focused demonic attacks seem to happen at strategic times—mainly on evenings that we try to set aside for family time and on Sundays, the day we have church. And when these attacks happen, it’s often very difficult for Becky to pray because she can’t think clearly, her heart races, her head hurts, she becomes physically exhausted. And there are a few other things—actually of a more direct nature—that lead us to believe demons are behind these symptoms. Now, thankfully, as we’ve been praying very directly against these attacks, they seem to have decreased significantly, but they still happen from time to time. And I think it’s quite clear what the demons are trying to do here. They’re trying to do the same thing they’re trying to do in every Christian, though to varying degrees. They’re trying to hinder us in any way possible from being effective disciple-makers for Jesus. 

And one of the most common devices that Satan employs in all of these various schemes we’ve looked at is deception. Satan is a liar. That’s actually what the term “devil” means—it means “slanderer.” He’s the best con man you and I will ever encounter. Several months ago, I received this postcard almost identical to this one in my mailbox. I threw away the original one, but it was almost exactly the same as this one I found on the Internet. And as some of you can see, this postcard looks like a legitimate piece of correspondence—at least when you’re not suspecting anything. It identifies itself as an “important compliance notice,” it was sent to our church with our church’s “business entity number,” which is a real thing that we have. It has a return address that reads “business compliance division” with an address in Harrisburg. And it even has an official-looking seal which says “business compliance division.” And when you call the number they provide, they want you to pay $100 dollars to obtain a required “certificate of existence,” as they call it, for your business. This flyer was designed by some crafty people. Thankfully, I did not pay the $100. I almost did, but then I googled the phone number and discovered it was a scam. But it was a clever scam. It almost had me fooled. And that’s the way Satan operates. He’s a master con man and makes his lies seem so convincing. But at the end of the day, he’s a crook and a deceiver. 

Conclusion: Victory

Thankfully, however, his days are numbered. You see, when Jesus died on the cross and rose again from the grave, the Bible says he won a decisive victory over Satan. Colossians 2:16 describes how he “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, triumphing over them by the cross.” And as we put our faith in Jesus, we get to share in that victory. Looking back at our main text in Ephesians 6 in verse 10, we’re told to “be strong in the Lord.” It’s only through Christ that we can be victorious. And next week, we’ll read the rest of the chapter and discover some methods we can use as we fight against the enemy.

other sermons in this series

Jul 17


Jun 26


The Beauty of a Biblical Marriage

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Scripture: Ephesians 5:22–33 Series: Ephesians

Jun 12


Be Filled with the Spirit

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Scripture: Ephesians 5:15–21 Series: Ephesians