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Know your enemy

By Robert C. Crosby

Are we at peace or are we at war? What difference does it make?

The difference between sleeping and waking. When you know you are in a war, your adrenaline flows. You are passionate. You willingly make sacrifices. You don’t expect or demand constant comfort, security, enjoyment and entertainment. Each day’s tasks become a spy mission, an assignment from our Commander.

The one thing life never is in battle is the very thing it is for the modern world: boring. 1
Peter Kreeft

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 by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.
— C.S. Lewis
The Screwtape Letters

The warning was clear, but overlooked. The Opana Radar Station of the United States 55th Signal Aircraft Warning Service near Hawaii’s Kahuku Point detected a large mass of incoming aircraft at 136 miles. The airmen on duty, however, were advised by higher-ups at Information Center not to be concerned. "It’s nothing worth worrying about. They’re probably just U.S. supply planes due from the mainland," the leaders said. At this point in history, radar was a new technology and wasn’t entirely trusted.

The day was December 7, 1941, and the approaching aircraft turned out to be the vanguard of Japan’s "wild eagles" — 353 carrier-based warplanes that were about to sink and heavily damage 18 U.S. warships in Pearl Harbor and kill 2,403 men.

Somewhere up the chain of command in Hawaii an individual leader made a hasty decision. A speck of uncertainty appeared on a fuzzy radar screen. Instead of sending pilots to check the aircraft out and identify them, he assumed that it was "nothing worth worrying about." That little "speck" of snow on a screen in truth revealed a group of planes that was poised to wreak havoc on lives and scorch the soul of a nation. The warning was right under their noses, but they chose to ignore it.

I wonder how often Christians do the same?

We overlook the work of the enemy of our souls — harboring bitterness, putting off prayer, neglecting Bible study, missing church, gossiping, holding grudges, lusting after the world’s enticements, denying feelings of conviction and clinging to modern-day idols. Satan and our own sin natures have a way of helping us "justify" those sins and, as we do, the enemy’s hold on our lives increases. How easy it becomes to overlook the "blip" of conviction on our radar screens, to discount or deny it.

When we become Christians, God begins a work in our lives calculated to conform us to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). You might say He starts to "bring the glory out" in us, to create a change in our person and character by the work of His Holy Spirit. At the same time, however, the enemy of our souls begins a work of repeated attacks calculated to slow down and hinder this process of growth in Christ. Immediately, our former peaceful coexistence with the forces of evil ends and we enter the arena of spiritual conflict.

Three enemies
Actually, the Bible tells us we have three enemies — the world, the flesh and the devil. R.C. Sproul says the world can be described as the fallen "planet," the flesh as fallen "man," and the devil as the fallen "angel."

The enemy the Bible refers to as the "world" is not referring to mankind, per se. We know that God loves lost humanity. Rather, it refers to the fallen culture around us that pulls us like a magnet away from God’s will and standards. The world system calls us to worship the creation and not the Creator. The "world" in this sense is not the world of the creation, but the world of the fall.

The "flesh" in this context is not speaking of the body or skin. It is, rather, the falleness of our souls. Peter Kreeft writes: "The flesh is not the body as such but the addictive, selfish, bodily desires of fallen man; not sex, but lust; not money, but greed; not self, but selfishness." (Making Choices). 2

And, the "devil" is not some red man with horns and a pitchfork. He is the fallen angel, the spirit force hard at work with a passion to subvert the work of God wherever he can and in whatever life he can. Wise is the Christian who knows enough about this enemy to avoid his traps and resist his attacks.

Enemy profile
Jesus informed His disciples of the enemy’s mission: "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10, NIV). Jesus made it clear that His aims and the thief’s are antithetical, completely at odds with one another. In short: Jesus gives life; Satan is out to steal it.

Clearly, one of Satan’s most effective ploys is to convince us that he doesn’t exist or that he poses no threat to us. Dr. Richard Halverson, former U.S. Senate chaplain once said: "Satan is the first to promote a man’s disbelief. He deliberately arranges the evidence to prove his nonexistence. This is his tactical masterpiece. He convinces people that he isn’t. How better to put man off guard than to persuade him that belief in a personal devil is an infantile concept?"

However, his existence is real. He is alive and active. On one occasion Jesus warned Peter that Satan desired to "sift you as wheat" (Luke 22:31). Many years later, and after several "siftings," Peter wisely warns others, "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).

But, where did Satan come from? The Old Testament informs us that he, at one time, was one of the most attractive, powerful and wise of all the angels. Compelled by his pride, he sinned against God and was removed from his position of authority (Isaiah 14:12-14 and Ezekiel 28:14-19). Paul described him as one who appears as an "angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14). His strategies are often cloaked and subtle.

In a world that is often obsessed with curiosity over evil, be it the occult or the latest horror movie, the question emerges: What is Satan like? J.I. Packer, noted Bible scholar, says, "The Scriptures picture Satan as the absolute opposite of God … Satan and his evil spirits [demons] are unimaginably evil, more cruel, more malicious, more perverted, more destructive, more disgustingly filthy, more despicable than anything our minds can conceive."3

What does Satan want? If you look at what he wanted out of Jesus when he tempted our Lord in the desert, you will find that it was ultimately worship (Matthew 4:9). The devil also wants to keep people from understanding and receiving the good news of forgiveness through Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:3,4). He wants to attack and corrupt God’s people by tempting them to compromise their lives and motives (Acts 5:1-11). Oswald Chambers zeroed in on it when he said that Satan does not want to strike you; he wants to strike at "the life of Christ within you."

Battle in the Garden
Consider the tactics employed by Satan as he tried to strike at the life of God within Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:1-7) as he tempted them in the Garden. There are a few lessons that emerge in that struggle that can help us in ours:

Our enemy tries to loosen the roots of our faith (3:1). Satan second-guessed God in his dialogue with Eve, challenging the true meaning of God’s Word and His commands. On that day his question was, "Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’ " Satan wanted to loosen Eve’s focus on the Word and to fascinate her with the world. He presumed to call into question the Word of God. He still does today.

Satan works to attract us to something sinful (3:5). The enemy worked to entice Eve to want something that was outside of God’s will for her. Satan lured her in by saying, "God knows that when you eat of [this fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Satan’s strategy is to compel the flesh within us by making pleasant to the eyes that which is poisonous to the soul.

The devil uses a half-truth (3:5). The statement that Eve would know good and evil was true, but not the whole truth. The consequence was that she would die spiritually — but Satan, of course, did not tell her that. With every temptation Satan brings a subtle promise. He offers temporary fulfillment of the flesh’s desires, but sin leaves the casualties of emptiness, shame and guilt.

Defeating the three enemies
Now that we recognize the three enemies of our souls, the question emerges: How do we defeat them? Defeating the three enemies requires three different strategies. The Bible specifically prescribes each one.

We defeat the enemy called "the world" by "overcoming it" (1 John 5:4). That does not require isolation from the world, but rather it calls for consecration to God. In other words, even though our bodies are in the world, our hearts are to be given to God. John said, "Do not love the world or anything in the world" (1 John 2:15). James 4 says, "Don’t you realize that friendship with this world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again, that if your aim is to enjoy this world, you can’t be a friend of God" (v.4, New Living Translation, emphasis mine).

The Bible clearly tells us we must "master" our flesh. We must govern it and not let it govern us. Like the taming of a wild stallion, discipline is the key. When Cain’s heart was beating with a desire to murder his brother, Abel, God warned him this way: "… sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it"

(Genesis 4:7, NIV, emphasis mine). In Cain’s temptation the "radar signal" was clear, though unheeded.

Finally, the devil himself must be dealt with differently. Only God can "deliver us from evil." We need the Holy Spirit’s power, the Word of God (Jesus’ weapon of choice in Matthew 4), our testimony (the story of God’s work in our lives; Revelation 12:11) and the power of Christ’s shed blood. And, James instructs us to "resist" the devil steadfastly and promises that "he will flee from you" (4:7).

Too little, too late
Five hours after the Japanese had successfully launched a surprise air strike on the U.S. bases in Hawaii in 1941, the U.S. Army and Navy commanders there received a message sent through commercial channels. It was from Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall, in Washington, advising the island defense forces they should be on the alert.

The first radar warning came in time; unfortunately, our nation’s response did not. The results were devastating.

How does the spiritual radar look in and around your life today? What in the "world" is drawing you away from your devotion to Christ? What temptation is pulling the most at your "flesh"? In what ways is the "devil" trying to trip you up and strike at the "life of Christ" within you? Most importantly, are you acknowledging the warning signals showing up on your conscience or ignoring them? On a spiritual level, are you alert or asleep? These are the arenas in which spiritual battles are won or lost.

1 Peter Kreeft, The Good War (Christianity Today, August 20, 1990).

2 Ibid.

3 As quoted in Combat Strategy for Spiritual Warfare by Rod Sargent (Discipleship Journal, Issue 002).

Robert C. Crosby is pastor of Mount Hope Christian Center in Burlington, Mass., and author of several books including Living Life From the Soul (Bethany House Publishers).

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