Bulletin :: July 2001

Honey, I Shrunk the Devil
By Paul Anderson

Satan is not convinced with words but with authority. The seven sons of Sceva discovered this when they tried unsuccessfully to cast out demons (Acts 19:13-16). When Jesus came on the scene, He declared war on the devil, bound him up in the corner, and plundered his goods. How did He bind him? Three ways: first, He used the authority given by His Father to cast out demons. Second, He lived a sinless life, giving Satan no room to attack Him. Jesus said of the devil, “He has no hold on me” (John 14:30). Third and ultimately, He died on the cross, devastating the powers of darkness. As He faced His death, He said, “Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:31).

So how are we to bind the strong man? The same way Jesus did. First, we have authority to cast out demons. Second, the armor we put on to stand against Satan is the righteousness of Christ. Tolerating darkness puts us in the enemy’s camp. Jesus warned, “See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness” (Luke 11:35). Darkness is where the devil works. Where he sees it, he feels invited.

Unforgiveness, for example, is like an open invitation for Satan to come against us. Wherever we are deficient in armor, we are subject to the attack of the enemy. If we believe lies from the devil about ourselves or about God (“He doesn’t love me.” “He’s punishing me for what I did as a teenager.” “I’ll never get victory over this.”), we are not wearing the belt of truth, and we become vulnerable to Satan’s onslaught. He doesn’t fight with raw power. The weapons of his warfare are deception, intimidation, accusation, and temptation, by which he seeks to exploit our natural bent toward sin. We are told: “Resist him, firm in your faith” (I Peter 5:9). James similarly writes, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7b). Paul’s word for resistance in writing to Ephesus is the word “stand,” used four times in four verses: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles (Greek: “methodias” – methods, designs)  of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). There’s a method to Satan’s madness.

Paul warned against giving the devil an opportunity by letting anger turn to resentment (Ephesians 4:27). Unresolved anger removes the breastplate of righteousness (“The anger of man does not work the righteousness of God”; James 1:20) and allows Satan to fire away at our hearts. We must forgive, letting go of our anger, “to keep Satan from gaining the advantage over us” (2 Corinthians 2:11; notice the context).

Our most effective strategy against the devil is dying to self. Satan was soundly defeated at the cross (Colossians 2:15), and he is again disarmed as we die to selves. We bind him up and render him inoperative when we choose to go God’s way rather than our own. This kind of resistance means suffering (I Peter 5:9,10); it can also mean death. The followers of the Lamb overcame Satan, because they “loved not their lives even unto death” (Revelation 12:11). The Smyrna church had been infiltrated by the so-called synagogue of Satan. Jesus’ counsel to the believers was not to use words alone against the enemy – it was: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
This strategy of going the way of the cross is effective, because it keeps us from focusing too much on the devil. Jesus spoke about Satan in two of His parables (the sower, and the wheat and the tares), and He referred to him on several other occasions. But the law of proportion would suggest that He assaulted Satan most by doing what He came to do, “to give His life a ransom for many.”

There are two extremes when it comes to dealing with the devil. On the one hand are those who feel we never talk about him enough, who trace every problem back to a demon, and who pray for the Lord to come soon, because Satan is on a rampage and will probably be going after them next. On the other hand are those who don’t think we need to talk at all about him, some because all authority is in Christ and the devil is thus, a non-issue, and others because one can’t really get too serious about this character in red pajamas sporting a pitchfork.

The Apostle Peter provides us with a proper balance. In his more naïve days, he was told by Jesus that Satan was going after him. He shrugged it off with an unrehearsed vow of allegiance. Within four hours Satan and a servant girl worked him over. Had not the Master foreseen the adversary’s advance and counterattacked with prayer, Peter would never have come through. Seasoned by years of service, he wrote to the saints of the Dispersion, giving them valuable information on the enemy’s tactics. But notice where it comes-in the middle of the fifth chapter in two verses after a Christ-centered letter instructing believers on how to die to themselves in the midst of difficulties. He writes, “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world” (I Peter 5:8,9).

His two-point strategy for dealing with Satan is to recognize and to resist him.

Recognize. Sobriety enables us to see things as they really are. Watchfulness means that our eyes stay open. Peter gives us three names for the enemy. The first is adversary. We may think that our enemy is the person who always ignores us at church-or maybe it’s those secular humanists. But Paul reminds us that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood….” One reason for weakness in the Church is that we wrestle more often with flesh and blood than with Satan.

The second designation is devil, meaning slanderer. How freely he mocked the Almighty when talking with Eve: “Has God really said?” When God spoke favorably about Job in Satan’s presence, he responded, “Does Job fear God for naught?” Satan likewise slings missiles of accusation with unholy persistence at God’s children. The unguarded Christian will be assaulted by the attack.

The third term is lion. Peter says that the devil does not sit in a cave; he stalks about. When God addressed Satan on Job’s behalf, He asked him where he had been. The devil answered, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it” (Job 1:7). As he roams, he roars. God usually speaks in a still, small voice, while Satan is more defiant. He agitates; he stirs up; he tries to intimidate with his noisy growl. Fearful saints cower before his onslaught, while watchful Christians realize that his growl gives him away. By recognizing him, we are prepared to…

Resist. We must exercise our will and refuse to accept his devilish ideas. Peter wasn’t doing much resisting in the garden or a little later by the fire. Only those who recognize are able to resist. Paul suggests that our resistance take the form of wrestling. Spiritual and emotional energy is expended. We resist, firm in our faith. In the midst of Christ’s conflict, He trusted in His Father to deliver Him. And we do the same.

Resistance is effective when we have already submitted ourselves to God, so we are not tempted to think we are doing hand-to-hand combat with the devil. We are contending with his methods, not his muscles. The battleground is the field of the mind (see 2 Cor. 11:31). We need to take every thought captive, and to be careful not to faint in our minds. If we win fourteen rounds and lose the fifteenth, we may have lost the fight. That is why James precedes the call to resist with the words, “Submit to God.” Submission is specific and practical-children to parents, wives to husbands, citizens to government, flock to shepherd, younger to older. Notice how Peter likewise exhorts us to humility before actively resisting the devil (I Peter 5:5,6). Submission is essential for spiritual power because authority comes from chain of command, not from shouting louder than our opponent.

Let me share three applications of this truth. I once heard of a lady who got sicker every time she was prayed over for healing. That sounds to me like she was subject to attack from the enemy because of a weakness in her armor. The best way to take authority over Satan in that situation would be to put on the armor, piece by piece, meaning the character of Christ. Do a quality control check.

Another instance occurred at two prayer meetings recently where people were taking authority over Satan by saying, “I bind you, devil.” While this may be effective if a person understands his or her position in Christ and operates in that authority, a simplistic formula like “I bind you, devil” with no authority behind the words will only make Satan laugh. Words don’t phase the devil, but authority does.

Thirdly, I occasionally hear of Christians who are being overrun by a string of disasters. Sometimes these people are yielding to the onslaught, because they know that we are all called to endure hardship. While we are expected to suffer for righteousness’ sake, we should not for a moment let Satan harass us. Passivity invites the devil. That’s why the baptismal covenant can be a strong deterrent: “I renounce the devil, and all his works, and all his ways.” People who figure that life is simply being played out and that what is going to happen will happen are likely to be attacked by Satan. Here is the way I would encourage friends to pray:

“Father, I yield every area of my life to You. Please show me any area where I am not following You. If Satan is the cause of any of these misfortunes, I resist Him. I put on the armor you provide for me, the character of Your Son, so that I can overcome the devil’s deception. In the name, the nature, and the authority of Jesus Christ. Amen.”

There’s no demilitarized zone in this war; we’re either for or against. Fence sitters fall off. But those who stand in the authority they have as blood-bought saints filled with God’s Spirit will shrink the devil, just as Jesus did.