Is the devil real? It is interesting how present experiences can influence our point of view on this question. In the early seventies I had an experience that impressed upon me how great our God in Jesus Christ truly is. Even though I was saved in my teens, it was not until then that I understood where the men God used to write the Bible were coming from. After having personally experienced His awesome presence, I could not even begin then to see the devil as a threat to the child of God.
At the time I was fairly certain that I could convince love ones and friends that what I had experienced was real and that the Bible was true. Most were unfazed, and others probably thought I was confused. To me the truth of the Gospel was obvious, and I assumed the change they saw in me would be enough to convince them of it. It did not take long for me to learn that other forces were also at work, forces that the Bible also had much to say about. At one point I even felt the sense of what the scriptures taught on the pervasive presence of evil in the world. It is simply a matter of perspective.
As time progressed, I sought to understand the Scriptures more and to understand the sovereignty of God and His wisdom in permitting the devil to continue in this earth, with some success. In a time when preachers were mostly sin and devil conscious, many of us were seeing the importance of acknowledging the finished work of Christ upon the Cross. Scriptures like this one seemed to literally jump of the page:
“For in Him (Christ) all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.”
Think of it! Your are complete IN HIM! The invisible evil forces that rule in this world have been disarmed, overcome and publicly humiliated. Every accusation that has been made against God has been put to rest. His motives that had been questioned first in the garden can no longer be doubted, as He proved His love and perfect intentions for humanity by His sacrifice on the Cross. Every accusation against those who trust in Him is eradicated as well, for they become identified with Him in baptism. Their old life has been buried, and they are raised with Him into the new!
All of this actually happened the moment I surrendered my heart and life unto Christ. I began to experience it immediately, but without full understanding, I could not live in the fullness of it. Our minds are the actual battleground in this war, which in Christ has already been won. In one sense the growth process of the Christian is related to our increasing ability to accept the fact that we have become entirely new and righteous by the work of Christ on the Cross.
Jesus Christ was manifested that He might reverse the damage done by the devil. (1 John 3:8 Darby and Amplified Bible).
“Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.”
From these Scriptures we see that the devil has been rendered powerless through the death of Christ on the Cross. As our adversary and opponent, he attempts to deceive us into doubting the goodness and faithfulness of God, which in turn leads us into foolish and sinful actions which separate us from the peace of God. When Christ overcame death and the grave He disarmed him by proving His authority over all things. The fear of death cannot be used against us either since the resurrection of our Lord two thousand years ago!
A considerable portion of the New Testament was written to encourage and solidify us in our position and identity in Christ. When ever believers drifted in their hearts and minds or weakened in their confidence in Christ and His work on our behalf, the apostles were quick to remind them of the glorious victory we have already in Him. They were also quick to remind us of the spiritual battle that continues to rage.
The apostle Peter wrote:
“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about 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.” (1 Peter 5:8-9 NASB)
So why is it that we still have to be on the alert for a powerless adversary? Are we dealing with one of those contradictions in the Bible that we often hear about?
No. This is not a contradiction. It is both true that Christ defeated the devil, and that presently “we wrestle – not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12 KJV)
In the creation we have examples of how this can be without contradiction. For example, the law of gravity is a fact. For thousands of years, men have tried to overcome the law of gravity and fly like the birds. Eventually they discovered other laws in the physical universe. Principles of aerodynamics have been studied and applied to the extent that now we can not only fly, but leave this earth for other planets in space!
Does the law of gravity ceased to exist when we fly? No. Are the laws of physics used in the operation of airplanes and rockets newer than the law of gravity? No, but until they were both discovered, and applied, humanity would remain earthbound.
Paul described the problem of sin and death as a spiritual law. When we receive the work of Christ on our behalf we are filled with the Holy Spirit which frees us from the power of the law of sin and death. Instead of yielding to the downward, gravitational pull of sinful desires from our old self, we now can yield to the love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, faith and self-control of the Holy Spirit. It is the very nature of Christ Himself Who lives within us! (Romans 8:1-2, Galatians 5:22-23)
We have received a new way of thinking, to which we must commit. This is the spiritual mind which leads to life and peace, as opposed to the fleshly mind which leads to death.
Like the scientists and inventors of jet planes and spaceships, we face the existence of gravity (that is, sin and death), but we learn to apply the higher law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus! It is not enough to simply know the truth of what Christ has done for us and in us, we must apply it to our daily lives. Here is where the battle begins. Will we focus on the fears and doubts of the past, or will we concentrate on the present and glorious future we have in Christ?
Will we set our limits according to thousands of years of fallen human history, or will we look at our life through the eyes of faith? The apostle Paul was not foolish enough to deny his shortcomings. He did not base his hopes upon his own ability to overcome them. His trust was in the righteousness of Christ, but not in a passive sense. That is why he urged us to put on the whole armor of God, in order to stand in the finished work of Christ. Not only are we to stand for our own sake, but for the sake of all those for whom Christ suffered and died!
After telling us to stand with the belt of Truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the Gospel of peace, the shield faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, Paul finishes his great teaching on the armor of God with these words:
“praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints – and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6:18-20 NKJV)
This life of the child of God is centered around the Good News of the Kingdom of God. For you and me it might begin with a personal experience of the presence of God, but it does not end there. Even if I was to arrive at a place of perfect peace and freedom from any temptation to sin, the war would not be over for me. I will remain a warrior in the army of God until “the earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14, Isaiah 11:9). KJV
If Paul could ask the church at Ephesus to pray for the right words and the boldness to proclaim and make clear the mystery of the Gospel while still a prisoner in Rome, what should our request be?
Should we be content that we are “resting in the finished work of Christ,” while our friends, loved ones, neighbors and society are still under the rule of sin and death? Should we simply “name and claim” the victory for them, or rather enter into prayers, supplications, being watchful and persevering for all to come to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ?
It is only because Christ overcame death that we have become “more than conquerors” in Him. And yet, we continue to groan with all creation to see creation itself liberated from the bondage of corruption unto the glorious liberty of the children of God! (Romans 8:19-23).
Now let us consider a practical example. As a believer, the devil has no right to me, no power over me. And yet, he freely deceives and manipulates millions out there. They have not yet received the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness by which they might reign in life by Christ Jesus. (Romans 5:17). On several occasions Paul was physically attacked by evil men who were full of the devil. He once spoke of a messenger of Satan sent to rough him up. Inwardly he kept his cool. He sought the Lord who imparted His all sufficient grace. Just the same, he admitted to the personal struggle he endured. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
So today we must be sober and on alert to attacks from both without and within. Recently our home was attacked by thieves who broke into our garage and stole our car. You can imagine how much of a distraction a situation like this can be. It took a significant determination to keep a positive attitude while we dealt with the practical issues involved. Can you see how the devil took advantage of some weak-minded small-time thieves in order to disrupt our lives, hoping to steal our joy?
Now let us return to a situation that makes ours look almost silly. One of the most godly men who ever lived was imprisoned in Rome, after having been beaten, shipwrecked and endured numerous persecutions. He of all people could speak with authority on the subject of spiritual warfare. Peter as well knew the reality of our victory in Christ and the level of participation we would experience in that victory. Both were sustained by their hope and relationship with God in Christ.
The finished work of Christ requires our participation with Christ in it. If we suffer with Christ, we will also reign with Him. All who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. This is not a downer. Paul even wrote that he would “take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake.” He said: “for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)
In cultures like ours in North America, we would rather think and talk about the material blessings that result from the faith-filled life. Persecution, and physical distress are not popular themes on Christian television programs. In fact, any suffering for the Gospel’s sake might even be interpreted as the result of weak faith by some of them.
There is a saying about being “heavenly minded but no earthly good.” That can be said of those who take spirituality to be only for one’s one personal peace and safety. But true spirituality as demonstrated by Christ and His apostles includes bringing good to others on this earth. To pray to the Father, “Hallowed be Your Name, Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, in earth as it is in heaven,” is to have a vision that is outside one’s self. It is to participate in His great plan for His creation. This is being heavenly minded according to Paul:
2 Corinthians 5:17-21:
“Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (NASB)
Those First Century ambassadors have passed off the scene. In every generation the torch has been passed on to the next. It is time for our generation to take up the torch to spread the message of reconciliation in our day. Some of us might be called to “endure hardship, as good soldiers in Jesus Christ,” as we step out of our comfort zones for the benefit of others. This mission will require training in spiritual warfare. To go out not expecting resistance from our adversary will prove to be foolhardy and dangerous.Many who expected a smooth and easy road have been blindsided and brought to public disgrace. On the other hand, those prepared and disciplined have effectively participated in the coming forth of the Kingdom of God in the lives of others. This is not the bland, lukewarm faith that some experience, but true, abundant life in God. We have received a kingdom that cannot be moved, one that is encompassing the whole earth. We rejoice with all the angels of heaven when one sinner comes to repentance, and it is His joy that is our strength!