Following the death of General Qasem Soleimani last week in Iraq, U.S. citizens and military in the Middle East were put on the alert: Iran had promised to avenge Soleimani’s death; everyone needed to beware of revenge attacks that could happen at any time.
Those kinds of warnings need to be heeded. It’s foolish to have your “guard down” when you know have an enemy who is actively seeking to destroy you. But that is exactly the position that many of us as God’s people find ourselves in, virtually every day, when we go walking right out into the world from our homes, unprepared, when we need to be“on the alert,” because we have an enemy who is seeking to destroy us!
If we are going to succeed in the Christian life, we’ve got to realize that we are in a battle, every day. We aren’t here on earth just to “coast along” and “have fun” or “live our best life now.” Life is a spiritual battle. You may not want to hear that, but I’m not here to tell you what you want to hear; I’m here to tell you the truth. And the truth is, we have a real enemy who is out to do everything he can to harm us and hinder God’s kingdom work. So Peter gives us this warning here as he brings this book to a close in :8-14, that we need to be on the alert every day:
“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
I. The existence of an adversary
Peter says in :8, “Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” This is important. God says here: you have a real spiritual enemy. It is not that you & I are here on this earth, just trying to do the best we can, as we face the natural obstacles of creation. We do have some natural obstacles, but there is also something more than that. There is a real, spiritual enemy who is actively working against us as Christians.
You know, it’s hard enough to do something, like walk across a 6-inch balance beam, just by yourself. But it’s also many times harder when there is someone ELSE standing on that beam with a cudgel or boxing gloves who is actively trying to keep you from crossing it!
The Bible says, as you try to walk the “narrow way” of following Jesus, it’s not just you against yourself, or you against the natural obstacles of this world. There is an evil being who is actively trying to knock you out of that way, or to discourage you as you walk. And that “someone” the Bible says is the devil and his demonic forces. Yes, the Bible does indicate that there is a real devil. He doesn’t wear a red suit and have pointy ears and a long tail, like many cartoons picture him. The Bible says he disguises himself as an angel of light. He is a deceiver. He is an accuser. And he is against us. The very word “Satan” in Hebrew means “adversary.” He is the adversary of God — and if you are God’s child, he is an adversary to YOU too.
We see his person and work in several places in scripture:
— First of all we see him in Genesis 3 in the Garden of Eden, tempting Eve to take the forbidden fruit. He tried to undermine God’s word, asking Eve: “Has God said you shall not eat from any tree in the garden?” He wanted to entice her into disobedience, to spoil both God’s paradise and the people that God had created.
— We see him again in Chapter 1 of the Book of Job, accusing Job before God: “Does Job fear God for nothing … You have blessed the work of his hands … put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.”
— We see him in a similar position in Zechariah 3, where Joshua the high priest was standing before the angel of the Lord, and it says that Satan was “standing at his right hand to accuse him.” This is what Satan does; he is an accuser. Revelation 12:10 calls him “the accuser of the brethren.”
— We see him in Matthew 4, when Jesus is about to begin His earthly ministry, and Satan is there to try to tempt Him; to get Him to doubt who he is, and what God wanted Him to to.
We learn a lot about the devil from these places in scripture where we see him — and we learn about what he tries to do to us with his diabolical work. We’ll look at that some more in a moment. But what we need to realize is that the existence of this adversary is not limited to Eden, or the Old Testament, or to the time of Jesus. He is still active and working among us today, opposing God’s kingdom work and His people.
I mentioned Martin Luther last week, who in 1517 kicked off the Protestant Reformation that brought Christians back to the authority of the Bible, and salvation by grace through faith. Luther had GREAT struggles in his life. He would have deep, dark nights of the soul, which he called in German, “Anfechtungen,” deep, deep depression almost to the point of despair and suicide. He wrote to Philipp Melanchton, one of his friends, “For more than a whole week I have been tossed to and fro in death and in hell, so that I am still drained of all my strength in my body and am trembling in all my limbs … I have been shaken by the floods and storms of despair and blasphemy.” Luther believed that these bouts of “Anfechtungen” were the attacks of Satan himself, trying to destroy him through discouragement and despair, and to ruin what God was doing in the world through this Protestant Reformation.
Now, some “scholars” smile at Luther saying it was the devil who was at wrk in his life. But I don’t doubt it. What was happening through Martin Luther was undoubtedly THE single greatest point of spiritual contention in the world at that time, and I do not doubt that Satan would have been there in person. We’ve got to realize, there IS a real devil; there ARE real demons; there ARE spiritual forces who oppose us as God’s people and who want to hinder God’s work: in Bible times, in Martin Luther’s time, and today as well. And we need to realize that it will be more so as the end approaches; Revelation 12:12 says that as the end times unfold, Satan will be cast down to the earth, “filled with fury because he knows his time is short.” It’s not going to get any better; it’s going to get much worse. There IS the existence of a real adversary who opposes us as God’s people.
II. The Nature of His Attacks
We have this adversary, so Peter tells us here in :9 “But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world” and “after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.”
What Peter says here tells us something important abut the nature of Satan’s attacks. The context, like a lot of the Book of I Peter, is the suffering that Christians are going through. But notice what he says about Satan’s attacks, and what we are to do about them. He says: “But resist him, FIRM IN YOUR FAITH” because other believers in the world are experiencing those same kinds of sufferings. He’s telling them, in your suffering, hold on to your faith. Don’t think that you are being “singled out” for punishment by God because you are suffering. Since he says this is how we are RESIST Satan’s attacks, that tells us something about the method of and nature of his attacks. It is not merely the “suffering” that is Satan’s attack; it is the discouragement, and the attack on your FAITH in God and His purposes that the devil really goes after in those times.
In our times of suffering:
— Satan wants us to think we’re being “picked on” by God. Peter says NO: your brothers in the world are experiencing this same suffering.
— He tempts us to think: “Oh, this is just going to last forever.” Peter says, NO it won’t; in :10 he says it will just be a “little while.”
— Satan will whisper in our ear that God has abandoned you and given up on you. So Peter says NO: God loves us and has called us to His glory; He HIMSELF is working with you, to perfect and strengthen and establish you!
So Peter says, “Stand firm in your faith” against Satan’s lies. You’re in a spiritual battle. What we have to understand is that Your spiritual warfare isn’t necessarily just the physical trial you are going through; the spiritual battle is whether you will believe the lies Satan is telling you about what you are going through, or whether you will hold to your faith during those trials. THAT is the spiritual warfare. (This is why Ephesians 6 tells us to take up “the shield of faith” in our spiritual battles — because what we are battling in spiritual warfare is Satan’s LIES about what we are going through.)
We saw earlier that Satan is always attacking people with the lies he wants them to believe:
— In Genesis 3, he tempted Eve to doubt God’s word.
— In his temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4, he kept saying “IF You are the Son of God … IF You are the Son of God …”. He tried to get him to doubt who He was; he attacked Jesus’ very relationship with His Father. And he tried to get Him to believe his warped version of God’s word (LIES) instead of God’s truth. This is what Satan does: he wants us to believe lies about God and His goodness, and about what God says about us in His word. THAT is spiritual warfare: it’s the devil’s lies, vs. God’s truth.
I’ve heard a lot of people refer to “spiritual warfare” as if it were some of the physical trials that happen to us in life. I remember someone saying one time: “The devil is really doing spiritual warfare; he gave me a flat tire on the way to the mission trip.” Now, I DO believe the devil is at work today, but I think that sometimes we MISS the real nature of his work. His spiritual warfare is not necessarily the flat tire itself; remember, this is “spiritual” warfare. “Spiritual” warfare deals primarily with SPIRITUAL things. So spiritual warfare is probably not the flat tire itself; rather spiritual warfare is what the devil wants you to THINK about the flat tire. He wants you to think:
— “well God must not be in control because I have this flat tire,” or
— “God must not care about me since I got this flat tire,” or
— “God must not be going to bless this mission trip since I got this flat tire,”
— Or, “I’m so discouraged and frustrated because I got this flat tire,”
— or all kinds of other things.
The point is, it’s not just the “flat tire” itself that is the spiritual warfare; the spiritual warfare is the LIE that Satan wants you to believe about God, or His kingdom work, or about you, because of that flat tire. The LIE he wants you to believe; the accusation he wants to make against you, or God, or others; THAT is the focus of the spiritual warfare.
Remember Satan is an accuser. And Jesus said he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). That is what he does. So he will try to plant lying thoughts in every area of your life:
— For example, when I got sick several years ago, and we lost our church, and our home, and many of our possessions, he tried to get us to think that God was not good, and that He was being mean to us.
— Or he may tempt you to think: “God will never forgive my sin; it is too bad.”
— or “God can’t use me; I’m not gifted enough”
— or “my prayer is not going to be answered; why should I even pray?”
— or “doing that sin will really make me happy.”
All these kinds of thoughts are LIES. And some of you have fallen for them — or are about to fall for them — today. Don’t do it!
As Paul says in II Corinthians 2:11 we are not ignorant of Satan’s schemes. We know what His method is. We know what the nature of His attack is. He will attack us with spiritual warfare, and try to get us to believe lies about God, about God’s word, about ourselves, about others, or about the situations we are going through. That is what he was doing in Peter’s day, that is what he has been doing all through history, and that is what he is doing today. That is the nature of spiritual warfare, and our adversary’s attacks.
III. The Weapons of our Defense
:9 says “resist him, firm in your faith.” Peter reinforces the spiritual nature of the enemy’s attacks, by saying that it is by FAITH that we resist them. Because the attacks are attacks of lying and doubts, then it is by faith in God’ truth that we must fend them off.
II Cor. 10:3-5 talks about the nature of our weapons. It says:
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh; for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful … we are destroying speculations, and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”
Again we see here the SPIRITUAL nature of our warfare. Paul says our weapons are not “of the flesh.” You don’t fight the devil with tanks and planes and bullets. This is a SPIRITUAL battle; it’s a battle of thoughts and lies. That’s why he says: “We are destroying SPECULATIONS … every lofty thing raised up against the KNOWLEDGE OF GOD … taking every THOUGHT captive …”. Do you see what he’s saying here: the battle is “speculations;” it’s “knowledge;” it’s thoughts.” Spiritual warfare is a battle of God’s thoughts and knowledge and truth, vs. Satan’s lies.
So HOW do we resist the devil? How do we combat that? Peter says it is by being “firm in (our) faith.” He doesn’t elaborate on that here with a lot of specifics. But we do see here and in a number of other places in scripture how we build up our faith and fight those spiritual battles:
— First of all, like Peter says here, we need to be on the alert for the devil’s spiritual attacks. DO NOT just live life as if you don’t have an enemy. That is foolish. “Be on the alert.” Realize that Satan WILL attack you with lies, doubts, and temptations. Some people think anyone who doubts their salvation isn’t really saved. NO! Satan will attack our faith. Martin Luther had horrendous doubts; when he was under those attacks of Satan he felt like Christ had totally forsaken him and left him to the devil. This is Satan’s attack. Realize that you too WILL be assaulted with doubts, and lies, and temptations. Don’t be ignorant, and think it won’t happen to you. “We aren’t ignorant of his schemes” Paul said. So be on the alert for them.
— Second, you need to build up your faith, and be ready to combat the lies that the devil will throw at you, with the word of God. Romans 10:17 says “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” This verse says that our faith is built up by the word of God. So it is VITAL — again, as we’ve talked about SO many times — that we spend time in God’s word every day, to build up our faith. I hope that you are making it a #1 priority this New Year, to spend time in God’s word every day. As you do that, it will build up your faith, and make you less susceptible to the devil’s lies.
And we’ve got to do more than just read God’s word; we have to study it, and really know its truth. Remember Matthew 4 shows us that the devil will even try to use God’s own word against you — that how insidious he is! He told Jesus: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written: ‘He will give His angels charge concerning you … lest you strike your foot against a rock.’” He was quoting Psalm 91:11-12 to Jesus, but distorting its meaning. So don’t be deceived; the devil will even try to use God’s own word, twisted out of its true meaning, to spread his lies. This is why there are so many cults and religious groups that use scriptures. Listen: you have to use discernment; not everyone who quotes a Bible verse is teaching Christian truth. John said “MANY false prophets have gone out into the world.” Jesus knew the word better than Satan did, so He was able to fend off his lie. And we’ve got to be strong enough in His word so that WE are able to do the same thing too.
And we’ve to to USE that word when we are facing these attacks. Ephesians 6:17 says “the sword of the Spirit is the word of God.” I said before we don’t fight the devil’s attacks with planes, tanks, or bullets. How DO we fight them? We fight his lies with the TRUTH of God’s word. That is what Jesus did every time He was tempted. It was always the same: “It is written … it is written … it is written.” He always fought the devil’s lies with the word of God. And that is what we have to do too.
I said before that when I got sick back in 2012, and had to step down from our church, and we had to sell our house, and a lot of our possessions, and move, and start to apply to disability, it looked like everything was going bad for us. And one of the spiritual battles our family fought was thinking that God was against us, and being “mean” to us. But God gave us a simple but powerful word of scripture during that time, from Psalm 119:68: “You are good and do good.” (Literally in Hebrew: “GOOD You are and do”!) And whenever we were tempted to doubt it, we would just come back to that verse, again and again. It became a kind of “family memory verse” for us: “You are good and do good.” God wasn’t being mean. He is GOOD. And what was happening was going to end up good for us. We just had to take up “the sword of the Spirit” — the word of God — and take up “the shield of faith” and believe that word.
And folks, that is what we all need to do, all day long, in every situation we face. Satan (or one of his minions) is going to throw the “darts” of thoughts and lies and temptations at you, all day long. If you’re going to stand against it, you’ve got to resist it, by taking up the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith. You’ve got to answer those lies with the truth of what God says in His word. If you don’t, you WILL fall prey to the schemes and lies of the evil one. You’ve got to be “on the alert,” and you’ve got to use the spiritual weapons God has given us.
But there’s one more thing I need to say. Every Christian here today needs to be aware of the spiritual battle going on, and take the steps I have talked about. But there are some of you who can’t do that, because the truth is, you are not under the active Lordship and spiritual umbrella of protection of Jesus Christ, and you are in the hand of Satan. You may be surprised by that. You may say, “Hey, I’m not really following Jesus, but I’m not a follower of Satan!” You have to understand: There is no “neutral.” Jesus said “He is not for Me is against Me.” Ephesians 2 says when you are “a son of disobedience” (you are disobeying God; you are not saved; you’re not a follower of Jesus) then you are walking “according to the prince of the power of the air” (that’s Satan). If you are not actively following Jesus Christ and under His spiritual umbrella of protection, then you are in Satan’s hand, and you are completely helpless against him. There is no “neutral.” There is no “middle ground.” You are either in the hands of Jesus Christ — who said if you are in His hand, then NO ONE can pluck you out, not even the devil — or you are in the hand of Satan, helplessly under his power and influence. One or the other. So the most important question of your life is: whose hand are you in? If you’ve never done it before, you need to make sure today, that you are in the hands of Jesus, who will hold you forever and guard you and help you against the real adversary who is working every day to destroy you.