I hate snakes.
I hated them before Indiana Jones hated them.
And when I learned that there were spitting cobras in Zambia, I prayed that I would never even see one.
We were in Zambia to care for patients at Mukinge Hospital for about a month, and the eye specialist, a Zambian, told us about these snakes. The spitting cobra spits, or sprays, his venom into the eyes of his victim, up to a distance of 8 feet with remarkable accuracy. This low dose of venom does not kill. It only blinds, often permanently. Afterwards, the serpent comes in for the kill, able to take his time before he sinks his fangs into the victim’s body, injecting a lethal dose of venom that results in blood, organ, and neurologic damage and, eventually, death.
I never saw a snake there at all, but I was always scanning the bushes and brush as I walked to and from the hospital, especially at night. God was gracious to me.
Our great adversary, Satan, the devil, that great serpent, works in much the same way. He attempts to spray blinding venom into our eyes, and if he is able to do it, rendering us temporarily and then permanently blind, the blindness eventually results in death. And as long as the victim is blind, it really does not matter when death occurs. Satan will come in for the final kill at his leisure. Who cares when the victim dies, as long as he is dying and eventually dies?
Satan’s strategy is always based on blinding the eyes of his victims. His bag of tricks always includes deception and deceit; he is the father of lies, as Jesus said. He is also a murderer. So, lying and killing, blinding and murdering, are the strategies he employs.
To combat Satan, we must know about him and his schemes in order that he not gain the advantage over us (II Corinthians 2:11).
I. The Bible takes Satan seriously, and so must we.
He is real and he is powerful, but he is not God. We tend to make one of two mistakes about the devil. We may underestimate his power, thinking he is non-existent or some kind of cartoonish character, either way of no real threat or significance to us. Or, we overestimate his power, knowledge, and presence, giving him credit for far more than he is capable of doing, thus resulting in a servile fear of him. Genesis 3:15 sets up the reality for us: Satan bruised the heel of Jesus, but Jesus crushed his head. Satan is powerful, he is real (just as evil and hell are real), and he is our mortal enemy. Satan hates God, he hates Jesus, and he hates his followers. He hates you. He hates your marriage and family, your children, and your church. He will do all he can to destroy you and anything good. But, and I say it again, but, Jesus is far more powerful than Satan. On the cross, and with his resurrection from the dead, Jesus has already defeated Satan; he has crushed him. And, Satan cannot touch us without God’s allowing it, nor can he ever ultimately destroy those who belong to Jesus Christ. He may inflict great pain and suffering, but he cannot ultimately do you any harm. Satan is limited by God in both his timeframe and his scope of action. Do not cower before him, but realize that you are no match for him on your own. You are safe only in the cover that Jesus gives you.
The name “Satan” means adversary. He is our sworn enemy, and he will attempt to destroy you at every possible level. He viciously and aggressively attacks believers as a roaring lion (I Peter 5:8). To accomplish this destruction, he lies to us and deceives us about what is real (God’s promises vs. our circumstances, the beauty of Jesus Christ vs. the fleeting beauty of this world, etc.). He uses deceit and lies in his attempt to kill us or destroy us. He will try to destroy you, but failing that, neutralizing or paralyzing you is his next objective. This is not a game. Peter tells us to be serious about this. Our life with Jesus Christ is a war with the devil and with evil.
“Devil” means accuser, maligner, and slanderer. He will accuse you before God, but Jesus is there interceding for us and continually making the case that he died for us, that no matter what we have done, our sins are forgiven because of his shed blood. God the Father will not accuse us or find us guilty because of what Jesus has done. And, the Holy Spirit also intercedes for us. No one can truly bring a charge against God’s people and make it stick (Romans 8:33).
The devil will accuse you to yourself. He will bring up real sins you have committed, either in your pre-Christ days or after you began following him. He will dredge up old things you have done and are utterly ashamed of, telling you that you really could not be forgiven for those sins, and he will heap crushing guilt on you. Or, he will tell you that you can never really be forgiven for “that one sin” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones), the one that plagues your conscience. And, in ourselves, we have no defense; only the blood of Jesus can defend us from these attacks, because his blood cleanses us from all sin. Satan will tell you that you cannot really be saved: you are such a sorry example of a follower of Jesus; after all you still sin and fail miserably, and your progress in holiness is hardly evident, or not there at all to your own eyes. How can God’s Spirit live in you? Satan will tell you that you are worthless, that God could not really love you or do anything with you; you must be delusional. He will tell you that all you have attempted to do because you love Jesus is futile; so, give up, he says. He will tell you that you have committed the unpardonable sin (I have experienced this horrible attack). Loading on false guilt is also a favorite method of accusation, resulting in an amorphous, shapeless, pervasive sense of guilt that can immobilize and cripple you, without any obvious way out of the web. Real guilt or false, it does not matter. Either way, guilt kills us.
All these accusations against us are designed to discourage and dishearten us, to lead to depression, and to despair; suicide appears to be a reasonable option. His accusations against us are given with no possibility of resolution. We are caught in his web if we listen to him as he loads on guilt. The Holy Spirit, by contrast, may convict us of sin, but always offers a way out by repentance and faith in Jesus: we can be forgiven and restored, and we can be free of guilt. The Holy Spirit does not accuse and condemn us. He convicts in a way that is specific, gentle, humble, and kind. He always offers a way out if we have sinned, and that way is through the blood of Jesus Christ, which cleanses us from all sin. Through Jesus, we can have a clear conscience, and we are freed of our true moral guilt and our guilty feelings.
The devil also maligns us because he maligns Jesus Christ, our blessed Savior. Have you ever wondered why the name of Jesus is a favorite expletive of many? Why would any rational person hate Jesus so much that he would use his name as a curse? Jesus was wholly good, did only good, gave himself for us, and showed us only infinite love. Why do people hate him so? It is because Satan maligns him, and so do those who do not know Jesus.
II. How does Satan work? What are his schemes?
He is the ultimate liar and murderer (John 8:44). Every one of his strategies and tactics flow from these two things. He deceives, lies to humans, and blinds them to the truth for one purpose: to kill them. His primary objective is to keep humans from being saved because their salvation brings glory to God and brings ultimate and absolute good to them. Secondary objectives, which feed into the first, are to keep believers in Christ out of the battle by neutralizing them with fear, crippling them with guilt, and paralyzing them with lies about what will satisfy them (comfort, affluence, materialism, power, etc.). And, because he is evil and hates all that is God-created, he also desires to destroy as much good as possible, and to inflict as much pain upon the believer as he can. You may notice, as I have, that the battle often intensifies and the vicious attacks increase when we are attempting to do something for God; it is not a coincidence. Satan wants to keep us on the sidelines, so he turns up the heat when we engage his minions in battle.
Satan is crafty, wily, and subtle. He deals in lies, trickery, and half-truths. He is able to appear as an angel of light, looking good, making plausible arguments, and thus deceiving us (II Corinthians 11:13-15); he even uses Scripture to trick us. He plants seeds of doubt in our minds about God, his character, and his promises, often asking leading questions, just enough to cause us to doubt God and his goodness. Here is a sampler of questions you might find yourself asking, planted in your mind by the deceiver.
1. Is the Bible a book of myths, and is Jesus as Savior just a fairy tale? There are many intelligent people who think so, many much smarter than you. How can you think this is true?
2. Are God’s promises real? Are they real for you? Will he fulfill them? How can you be sure, since it looks fairly bleak at the moment? Can you really trust God with your life and your soul? Has God deserted you forever?
3. Is God really in control? Look around you and get a taste of reality; does it really look like a good God has a handle on things?
4. Does God really love you? Does he even care about you? Does he even know you exist? If so, how can he allow you to suffer as you are? Where is he, anyway?
5. How can you think that God will make you happy? Do you really think he can or will satisfy your deepest desires? Isn’t he keeping you from what you really need and want? Then, go for all the self-created happiness you can find. If it looks good, feels good, and feeds your pride, do it.
6. What makes you think you will be faithful to Jesus until you die? How can you keep this up all of your life? What if Jesus deserts you at the end?
Satan does not fight fair. He will attack you when and where you are most vulnerable (e.g., sick, weak, sleep deprived, discouraged, etc.). He will kick us when we are down, and in fact, that is the best time for him to attack us. He waits for an “opportune time” (Luke 4:13). He is a bully, but he is also a coward, and cannot stand to face Jesus Christ who has already defeated him. He is the original terrorist, and his goal is to terrorize our hearts to such an extent that we have difficulty trusting God and seeing what is real. Fear is a potent weapon that can demoralize and paralyze us.
III. How do we fight Satan?
First, we must know him, his schemes, strategies, and tactics (above).
Second, there are certain things that we are to flee, such as immorality, idolatry, the appearance of evil, and the occult. We are extremely foolish if we open ourselves to sin and temptation. Run as fast as you can from obvious sin, and give the devil no opportunity at all.
Third, we should make no provision for evil. Sometimes we are stupid and we think that just a little playing on the edges of sin will be alright. But, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us to be ruthless with sin. Paul tells us to mortify (put to death) sin. Do not feed your sinful tendencies. Do not play with sin. It is like fire, and we will get burned if we play with it.
It helps for us to realize the extreme evil of sin. Jesus had to give us life and shed his holy blood to ransom us from our sins; nothing else would have worked. Sin is so evil that, without Jesus, we are damned forever, removed from the presence of our holy and good God forever, deserving hell. Sin destroys us and those around us. Sin destroys or severely damages our relationships with God and people. There is no such thing as a victimless sin.
Fourth, there are times when we must stand and fight Satan. We cannot stand against him in our own strength, but Jesus has already defeated him. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you,” James tells us in James 4:7 (cf. I Peter 5:9). How do we resist him? We stand and we fight in the power of the Lord and in the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10ff.). Paul tells us to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might, and he tells us repeatedly to stand. Do not give up and do not surrender. Stand and resist the onslaught of Satan, and God promises that he will flee. God also promises that there is no unique temptation, and that with every one, he provides a way of escape (I Corinthians 10:13).
Fifth, what about our weapons? Paul outlines them in Ephesians 6. Very briefly, our armament includes:
1. Truth- we fight the lies of Satan with the truth of God. Jesus used the Word of God, memorized, as a weapon to fight Satan and defeat him in the wilderness temptation. God is truth, and his Word is truth. His promises made to us are true.
2. Righteousness- we are righteous in God’s sight (and his sight is all that matters) because of the righteousness given to us by Jesus. Who can place any blame on us?
3. The preparation of the gospel of peace- I think that this at least refers to the fact that we are to keep moving in gospel ministry and service to Jesus, stay in the game, and keep on showing up. Do not give up, retreat to your bedroom, pull the covers over your head, and cower. Keep going.
4. The shield of faith- we trust in Jesus alone to protect us from Satan’s arsenal; God is our refuge, and he protects us. We are safe.
5. The helmet of salvation covers our brain, the central nervous system of our being. If we think rightly about what God has promised, what Jesus has done for us, what the Holy Spirit is now doing for us, this salvation will cover us and protect us. The salvation of God protects our most vital organ.
The only offensive weapons Paul mentions in this passage are the are sword of the Spirit (the Word of God), and prayer. We must know the Bible, study it, think about it, and be saturated in it. We must take time to pray. Without these, we do not stand a chance against the schemes of the devil. We are either arrogant, ignorant, apathetic, lazy, or just plain stupid if we do not spend time with God in Bible reading and prayer. This is survival. It is not so we can impress our friends, ourselves, or God with our personal devotions.
Light is a weapon, as well. I have discovered that admitting my sins, confessing my weaknesses, and exposing my experiences to the light of God and to others weakens the attack of the devil. He is of darkness, and cannot abide the light. I have found that when I have been under savage satanic attack, as I planned to tell someone of my struggles, even before I actually told them, I had unusual peace and relief from attack. And the actual telling has brought even greater relief. We must be so desperate for help that we do not care who knows we are sinking. Bringing our whole experience into the open light of the God who loves us, of the truth of Scripture, of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and into the confidence of people who love us will help defeat Satan, and will bring healing to us. Transparency and openness must mark our dealings with each other in the church of Christ. We are called to walk in community with other believers, and this open sharing of our lives with them helps defeat the power of Satan. If Satan can keep us isolated from others, or convinces us that we must keep our inner failures or struggles as secrets, he will have the upper hand. Exposing things to the light of God also exposes what is real, because everything false melts away and disappears when God’s light shines on it. God’s light destroys the lies, deceptions, and deceit of Satan.
( Ephesians 5:13 “But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light.”)
Finally, we must follow the example of the believers in Revelation12:
And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them before our God day and night. (Revelation 12:10)
“And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even to death.”
I have loved verse 11 for many years, ever since some German missionaries we met in Haiti, Johannes and Luise Schurer, pointed it out to me. This verse tells how these believers overcame Satan, the accuser. They defeated him by the blood of Jesus; the blood of the Lamb utterly destroys the weapons and work of Satan. Why? First, because in the shed blood of Jesus on the cross, we are washed, cleansed, forgiven, and declared righteous. Satan cannot legitimately accuse us of anything. Second, the blood of Jesus is the symbol and reality of the permanent defeat of Satan, and all the forces of hell know it. Third, the blood of Jesus is a symbol and proof of the love Jesus for us, and of his infinite commitment to us. And, fourth, the blood of Jesus protects us from the rage of Satan against us. We have a safe refuge where nothing can ever really, ultimately harm us as we are in the precious blood of Christ. I have often prayed, “dear Jesus, cover me with your blood.”
The believers also overcame Satan by the word of their testimony. I think this means that they continued to proclaim, out loud, audibly, their hope in God; their hope was based on his promises to deliver, his goodness and faithfulness to always perform what he has promised, and his infinite power to actuate his promises. For me, this means that I must, at all times, but especially when I am under satanic attack, verbally speak forth the goodness of God and his salvation, so that all (God, angels, demons, and fellow believers) can hear, . This means public worship as well, participating in worship and singing hymns and songs of praise to Jesus Christ. I might not feel like it every time, but to force my body and lips to praise God even then is honoring to God, and a defeat for the devil. I must sing and say what is true, out loud, no matter what.
These believers also did not love their lives, even if it meant losing their lives. They had courage, and were not afraid of risk, danger, and self-sacrifice. This kind of courage comes from hoping in God, from the joy that he gives, and from the love we have for him. Satan cannot stand against a foe who has counted the cost, and is willing to die for Jesus.
Satan will run from the power of God, and that power is accessed through the Word of God and prayer, and shown at its greatest in the blood of Jesus Christ. Satan cannot endure this power. He cannot endure the Light of the World.
Satan is a spitting cobra, eager to blind and kill us. He will attack us. And he may hurt us. But, ultimately, he can never really harm us. We may arrive in heaven beaten, bruised, and bloodied from our battles with the devil and evil, and we may barely be able to crawl into glory because we are so wounded. But, we will get there, because God has promised that in Jesus, we are safe forever. We will arrive in heaven safely because we are united to Jesus, who has the power of an indestructible life (Hebrews 7:16). If Jesus is indestructible, and his followers are united to him, then we can be destroyed no more than Jesus can be destroyed. We are indestructible. Do not fear Satan or his attacks; he is a defeated foe. Jesus is the victor, and he will reign forever. He is in control, and he knows exactly what is happening to us, limiting the ability of Satan to harm us. Our Sovereign God is actively directing all things for his glory and our good. And, Jesus has promised to take us to heaven, to be with him, the most beautiful and pleasant person in the universe, forever.
…. I was delivered out of the lion’s mouth.
The Lord will deliver me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
(2 Timothy 4:17, 18)
Copyright 2010 Jerry Miller, Jr. All rights reserved.