Pastors should be a model of standing strong in the Lord in the face of spiritual attack and oppression. My many years of preaching, teaching, writing and witnessing have taught me that the more truth you have to offer a needy world, the more the enemy of our souls comes after you. Dwight L. Moody, the great American evangelist (1837-1899), said there were two reasons he believed in the Devil. First, the Bible teaches it. Second, he had “done business with him.” This “business” is not a transaction, but a battle. It is every pastor’s business to equip the flock to engage this war on God’s terms, since, as Peter warned, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
American culture is more interested in spiritual phenomena—such as ghosts, zombies, poltergeists and spirit animals—than it is in the Bible’s view of the supernatural. Therefore, pastors should preach what the Bible teaches on the basic topography of the spiritual world. Remember C.S. Lewis’s warning in the introduction to The Screwtape Letters:
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased with both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.
While the Bible says much more about God and humans than angels and demons, they do exist and we need to know something about them. Besides knowing the lay of the spiritual land, we also need to know how to navigate through it with wisdom and power. I will address both issues.
God alone is the self-existent and eternal Creator of the universe. No power rivals God’s omnipotence and no knowledge rivals God’s omniscience. Any other spiritual being is a creature, and is, therefore, on a lesser level of being. They can only be one place at a time, unlike God who is everywhere all of the time (omnipresent). Besides making humans in His image and likeness as beings of body and soul, God created angels who are spirits. Not much is said in Scripture about the origin of these beings, but we are told that some of them rebelled against God and are led by Satan or the devil. Those who did not rebel are God’s servants who obey God by declaring certain revelations (Luke 1:11-20), fight dark angels (Daniel 10), protect God’s followers (Psalm 34:7; 91:6) and worship God Himself (Isaiah 6:1-2). Christians can be encouraged that angels are “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14).
Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). Revelation speaks of Satan as a dragon who fights against God’s angels and is thrown out of heaven with his own fallen angels (Revelation 12:3-9). Satan is also here identified as “the ancient serpent” who deceives the world (Genesis 3). When Jesus warned of those who falsely claimed to follow Him, He said, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).
The Apostle Peter writes, “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment” (2 Peter 2:4). Jude writes similarly of “the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day” (Jude 6).
Satan and demons are invested in deception and propagating falsehood. Jesus referred to the devil as “the father of lies” (John 8:44). Paul speaks of Satan’s work: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4; see also Ephesians 2:1-3). Paul also warns us that “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).
The average Christian will likely not have a supernatural encounter with either an angel or a demon (fallen angel). However, we know that demons can affect and afflict people, as seen in Jesus’ many exorcisms in the Gospels. This happens today as well. But demonic influence may be more subtle, so Christians should be alert to their wiles without becoming paranoid. We do well to remember two simple principles.
No one can stand up to the devil or demons on their own
They are supernatural beings who have been around for a very long time and know the tricks of their nefarious trade quite well. Thus, our stance against them and for the truth must rest in Christ alone. Jesus’ atoning death for our redemption was both legal and military. We were forgiven, and Satan was defeated. Listen to Paul:
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross (Colossians 2:13-15).
Followers of Christ can stand in the victory of Christ, our Advocate, as we face spiritual opposition to God’s work. On that basis, James writes, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
We find our security in the matchless work of Christ
This comes through knowing and trusting in God’s holy Word, the Bible. When Jesus Himself was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, He rightly applied biblical texts to his situation. “It is written,” Jesus said to silence His tempter (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). We can do the same by wielding what Paul called, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).
I have committed to memory several texts (or paraphrases of texts) that speak to Christ’s victory of Satan as it pertains to me. For example, John says that “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Christ in us is greater than Satan. When I am weighed down by fear or discouragement (which may be caused by spiritual oppression), I often recite, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me. Bless his holy name” (Psalm 103:1, RSV). In so doing, I focus on God and worship Him, which is always a tonic for spiritual depression or dejection.
Pastors are shepherds who need to teach their flocks how to protect themselves against wolves, both human and demonic. By teaching their congregations on the nature of the spiritual world and how to navigate through demonic turbulence, they help “equip the saints for works of service” (Ephesians 4:12). By knowing and living in the truth, Christians can discern the ways of darkness and expose them with the light of the Gospel.