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Our Unseen Ever Present Enemy

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Date May 11, 2007

I am constantly amazed how quickly and easily I forget that ‘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’ (Eph. 6:12). This does not mean that indwelling sin is not to be reckoned with and fought against, or that the world is not an unholy seduction we are resolutely to refuse. It does mean, however, that we must never forget that it is Satan himself who is inciting and orchestrating all that seeks to drag us down and make shipwreck of our faith.

Our fundamental problem is that while we can’t see who we are and see the temptations that would entice us and then swallow us whole, Satan is an unseen enemy. More than that, he even masquerades as an ‘angel of light,‘ wearing the guise of the good, the holy and the familiar in order to catch us off guard and ensnare us in his ‘wiles.’ There is an incident in our Lord Jesus’ life that makes this point startlingly. He has just told his disciples that soon he will go (indeed ‘must’ go) to Jerusalem, suffer many things, be killed and on the third day be raised to life (Matt. 16:21 ff). At this high watershed of biblical revelation, Peter took the Lord aside ‘and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said, “This shall never happen to you.”‘ Peter had just confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God (16:16), and now he is rebuking God’s Messiah Son. What is deeply sobering is that Jesus turns and says to Peter, ‘Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men‘ (16:23). Here is Peter, one of our Lord’s hand-picked disciples, one of the ‘inner circle of three,’ and he has become a mouthpiece of the evil one as he seeks to turn the Saviour away from the cross. Jesus recognised that the conflict was not with Peter as such but with Satan, the inciter and architect of Peter’s folly.

The Christian life is a life of unremitting warfare with an unseen enemy, powerful and utterly malignant. Recognising this fact (for fact it is) is vital. It helps us to see the enemies of the gospel for what they are, dupes of the devil. Willing dupes, but dupes nonetheless. Satan is often pictured in Scripture as a tyrant who captures men and women and binds them to himself. In prayer, then, we need to see beyond the flesh and blood that we can see, to the unseen world where Satan rules with ensnaring power (see 2 Cor. 4:4). Yes, he is a defeated enemy (Col. 2:15), but he is yet a powerful and present enemy, who tirelessly seeks the ruin of God’s people. He has to be reckoned with. This will mean at the very least cultivating our spiritual antennae in order to say with Paul, ‘we are not unaware of his schemes‘ (2 Cor. 2:11). In this passage Paul writes of Satan seeking to ‘outwit us.’ The evil one had been seeking to rupture irreparably Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian church by fomenting a spirit of suspicion and distrust. Good people were being used to spread Satan’s poison, in the hope that God’s cause and kingdom would be harmed. Paul recognised Satan’s unholy fingerprints in the situation and cultivated a forgiving spirit that would give him no room to extend his ungodly influence. Rather than be taken up with personalities, Paul saw where the root of the problem lay.

This truth should markedly influence our prayers. We should be asking the Lord constantly to bind the strong man, even as he has already bound him by his cross (Matt. 12:29). We should plead constantly the cosmic conquering triumph of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has subdued all principalities and powers. We should remember that our battle is not with flesh and blood, mere men and women, our self included. The words of the old hymn may be a little trite, but they are very true: ‘Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees.’ In our spiritual lives we have a great, unseen enemy, who lurks hidden in the shadows. Don’t ignore him. Do battle in the name of the One who has overcome him. Live to be a conqueror. He leads the whole world astray (Rev. 12:9), but God’s people ‘“overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony‘ (12:11).

Ian Hamilton is Pastor of Cambridge Presbyterian Church.

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