Spiritual Warfare

“I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make unto yourself any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Exodus 20:2-4

The strategy of the devil is to corrupt the nature of God in our thinking. His purpose is to distort the image of God in our hearts in order to cause us not to believe God, not to believe in his goodness and grace and mercy, not to believe in the power of God to save us from sin. Satan seeks to persuade us that God is against us, that God has left us and even that God is punishing us for some particular reason. One of the aims of Satan is that we do not recognise the true nature of God.

In the beginning Satan came to Eve in the garden to deceive her and to lead her into sin. Satan tempted her with thoughts and suggestions like the following, “The fruit looks sweet doesn’t it? It so attractive, so appealing! Why should you resist eating it? How can you resist eating it? Go on, eat it! Just give in, you won’t suffer any harm!” But of course all these thoughts are a total deception, and only lead to death. The purpose of Satan in all this is to lead you and me to sin in order that we should be separated from God. Thoughts such as these are not simply your thoughts alone, but it is the devil himself who seeks to inject such thoughts into our thinking so that we end up believing a lie instead of believing God.

The devil seeks to plant in us through these thoughts and suggestions what the Bible calls “an evil heart of unbelief.” The devil stands in direct opposition to the truth of God. He told Eve, “you shall not surely die. For God does know that in the day you eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (Exodus 3:4,5).

Do you see? The devil tries to portray God as a liar – ‘you shall not die’ – and plants the thought in her heart that God is withholding something good from them, namely, that God doesn’t want them to be like him – which of course is the opposite of the truth! It was for this very purpose that God created man and woman that they should be in his image sharing his nature! And this is the work and purpose of the devil – to make us think that God is against us, that he is depriving us of his best blessings, that he has left us on our own and that he is out to punish us. This is why the scriptures say, “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called Today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:12-13).

How can we know God’s help, comfort and saving power if we reject what he says and believe the devil’s lies? The Bible says that this unbelief actually hardens our heart against God and his truth and leads us into darkness and sin.

After Adam and Eve had eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they immediately fell into spiritual darkness and death – ‘in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die.’ (Genesis 2:17) – and immediately we see the result of this sin in their thinking and reasoning! The aim of the devil is to distort the image of God in our eyes! Adam and Eve immediately hid themselves in the bushes. Why? Because they thought that when God came into the garden he would judge and condemn them; he would crush and destroy them for their sin. They had no view of God’s mercy or grace or forgiveness but only thought that he would now be totally against them (have you ever felt like that?). They hid in fear among the trees! This was not repentance! This was the fruit or result of receiving into their hearts the lie of the devil who distorts God’s image to us to make us think that God is against us. Satan’s strategy and aim is that we should be taken captive by such thoughts and feelings of rejection because they are the things that separate us from God’s presence and power. He does all this in order to stop us believing God and going to him for help and salvation.

First the devil comes to tempt us to sin. If he succeeds, then he immediately starts to accuse and condemn us without mercy; he assails our hearts and conscience with thoughts that we are no good, that we are useless, that we can’t be forgiven, that we will never be able to overcome, that we’ve gone too far and he fills our hearts with discouragement and self-pity so that we cannot see God at all. Do not think that such thoughts are simply your own thoughts. This is the very work and strategy of the devil to bring you into such a place where you feel separated from God unable to avail yourself of his help and salvation.

Adam and Eve could have thought like this, “We have sinned before God. We’ve been totally deceived and have not believed God. Truly, God had done all things well and he had blessed us beyond measure in giving us every good thing! Come on, let us go to God and confess our sin before him. Let us bow before him and repent! God is good and compassionate and it may be that he will have mercy on us and forgive us!”

This would have been true repentance! This would have been faith! However, the lies of Satan and sin had taken root in their heart, with the result that the very nature of God had become distorted in there eyes and in their thinking. They could only think that God was against them and out to destroy them, and there was no place left in their heart to think that God could forgive them and in his mercy restore them. It is the devil’s strategy to destroy our faith in Christ and in his saving power! This is what the Bible calls the deceitfulness of sin. Once it enters in, it hardens the heart in unbelief where we cannot avail ourselves of the riches of God’s grace and of the power of his salvation. Thus, we can get totally discouraged and drift away from knowing God, from knowing his grace and mercy and the power of his salvation.

That is why it says in the book of Hebrews, “…without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6).

We are saved by faith. We are sanctified by faith. Everything is of faith so that it might all be by the grace of God (Romans 4:16). There was nothing we could do of ourselves to save us. It is by faith in Christ that we are saved. It is by faith in what God has done through Christ for us that we receive the riches of God’s grace and salvation. In this sense, the only ‘right’ thing that a man or woman can do is to believe God. Without faith it is impossible to please God. This is the declaration of the word of God. He that comes to God must believe that HE IS. This means much more than just believing that God exists. For the apostle James makes this statement, “Do you believe there is only one God? You do well. The demons also believe and tremble!” In other words, demons know there is only one God but it doesn’t change them one bit! He that comes to God must believe that he is. In other words, he must believe that God is who he says he is! It is to do with believing in God’s integrity, with believing in God’s revealed nature – “And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.” (Exodus 34:6). And again, “He that believes on the Son of God has the witness in himself: he that believes not God has made him a liar; because he believes not the witness that God gave of his Son.” (1 John 5:10).

He that comes to God must believe that God is who he says he is! Even though there may be difficulties and severe trials, even though we may feel left on our own, our faith must be of the kind that perseveres through this, that waits on God, that puts its trust wholly in him, that diligently seeks him until he comes with the answer! (Luke 11:5-8; 18:1-8).

This is what the Israelites failed to do! Why did they have to wander around the wilderness for 40 years? It is because they didn’t believe God; they didn’t trust in the integrity of his nature; they interpreted the nature of God according to what was happening to them. When trials came and they seemed to lack what they needed they immediately began to accuse God himself and said,

“Because the LORD hated us, he has brought us forth out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us.” (Deuteronomy 1:27).

What happened in the garden of Eden is repeated again here in the wilderness! The Israelites had seen all the wonders and miracles that God had done in Egypt and how he had led them on dry land through the Red Sea. Also, a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night miraculously followed them! Despite all this, when they were faced with trials and difficulties, their faith was non-existent; they quickly and easily fell into unbelief; they listened to the lies of the devil; the deceitfulness of sin hardened their hearts so that they actually ended up believing that God hated them and wanted to destroy them! This truly is the deceitfulness of sin! This, undoubtedly, is the work and strategy of the devil, to lead people to think in this way. However, the Israelites themselves were responsible for giving in to such thoughts and reasonings! And it is the same for us; we cannot blame the devil for our own unbelief and hardness of heart in view of everything that God has spoken and done for us through Christ!

This is why, referring to the hardness of heart and unbelief of the Israelites in the wilderness, the Scripture says, “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, Today if you will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the rebellion, in the day of testing in the wilderness: When your fathers tested me, proved me, and saw my works forty years.” (Hebrews 3:7-9).  At the end of this chapter in Hebrews the word of God says that those Israelites could not enter into God’s promised land because of unbelief. Unbelief is not just a matter of ‘not believing God’, but involves a corruption and distortion of the image or nature of God.

Trials, temptations and difficulties will come. But our faith in God and what he has done through Christ for us must remain steadfast and unshakeable, whatever happens or doesn’t happen. We are to resist the devil and submit ourselves unto God. The apostle Paul exhorts us and warns us about these things in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. He reminds the Corinthians how God lead and blessed his people the Israelites in the wilderness and how, despite this, his people complained, lusted after the wrong things, and committed fornication. He then says, “Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come. Therefore let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.” The admonition is very clear. In and through Christ, God has blessed us in a far greater and deeper way than he blessed the Israelites in the wilderness. Nevertheless, the word of God makes it clear that we shall face trials and temptations that will seek to undermine our faith in God’s faithfulness and in God’s salvation. We are not to give up; we are not to give in; we are not to become boastful or proud in what God has done for us; but we are to trust God; to wait on him; to believe him; to endure temptation believing God will make away for us to bear it and overcome – even when we seem to be tempted beyond measure or beyond our capabilities!

This brings us on to an important and fundamental truth. God could have prevented the serpent from entering into the garden of Eden – but he didn’t. He allowed Adam and Eve to be tested through the devil’s suggestions and temptations. God wanted them to grow in their trust in him; God wanted them to grow in righteousness and in understanding by refusing the evil and choosing the good; God wanted them to discover his faithfulness and goodness in a deeper way; He wanted them to live by what he had spoken to them; to live by his word!

God himself made this clear to his people the Israelites in the wilderness.

“And you shall remember all the way which the LORD your God led you these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you, and to test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or not. And he humbled you, and allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna, which you knew not, neither did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD does man live.” (Deuteronomy 8:2-3).

This is revelation. God had promised his people wonderful things in the promised land, but before they could enjoy the fullness of God’s promise, they were to be tested and tried to see whether their hearts were just after blessings, or whether their whole being was committed to him in love and trust -whatever happened. To this end, God allowed them to suffer need in some measure; he allowed circumstances in which they might feel abandoned and unloved and uncared for, if their faith wasn’t rooted in him! God didn’t want his people to stumble or fall! He wanted to purge them of wrong thinking and wrong motivations, where faith in him and love for him – expressed in obedience – is the only priority!

Jesus Christ was in the desert for 40 days and he suffered hunger. For every year that Israel spent in the wilderness, Jesus spent one day in the desert without food. After Jesus had been baptised in water, who was it who led Jesus into the desert? It was the Holy Spirit who led Jesus there! Why did the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into the desert? The scriptures tell us very clearly, “Then was Jesus led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1).

Now here is a remarkable thing! The son of God was led into the desert by the Holy Spirit in order to be tempted of the devil. This is consistent with what we saw in the garden of Eden and what we saw with the Israelites in the wilderness. Here in the desert, the devil came to Jesus with temptations that suggested that God had abandoned him, that God had left him alone, that God didn’t care for him, that he himself lacked power! When tempted by the devil to perform a miracle to meet his apparent need for food, Jesus refers to the passage in Deuteronomy that I have just quoted from; he says, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” (Mtt.4:4). In all the temptations of the devil, Jesus answered always in the same way, he said, “it is written…”. Jesus didn’t try and hold a prayer meeting against the devil; Jesus didn’t shout at the devil and try to cast him into the pit; in every instance Jesus is simply lived by the word of God.

The whole purpose of temptations and trials is that we should reject the evil and choose the good. The purpose of trials and temptations is to strengthen our faith, not to weaken it; to cause us to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ; to make us men and women of God who trust him with our whole hearts whatever happens so that we reflect his nature and glory here on earth. Luke tells us that Jesus entered the desert “full of the Holy Spirit” but when the temptations in the desert had ended we are told that Jesus returned into Galilee “in the power of the Spirit”. Adam and Eve started well. The Israelites started well when they came out of Egypt. You and I may start well, but if we do not continue to live by the word of God through thick and through thin, if we do not persevere and endure in faith and love, then our spiritual life will dissipate and waste away and we will not know the power of God’s salvation in our daily lives. Jesus came out of the desert in the power of the spirit! Here we find the reason why so many people lack the power of the Spirit (and the fruit of the Spirit) in their daily lives: they are not living by the word of God – in their thinking and reactions – in the various situations that they pass through in everyday life.

It is for this reason that Paul writes, “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation works patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope makes not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given unto us.” (Romans 5:3-5). It is for this reason that James says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith works patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4). Growth takes place during times of difficulty, trial and temptation! This is where we ‘learn’ God. This is where we are meant to resist the devil and his lies, to resist the evil and hold on to the good, to deny ourselves and choose Christ,. This is where we are to be made strong in faith and love as we wait on God, believing him, holding onto him, holding onto his word, calling upon his name and submitting and offering our lives to him without condition or reservation.

Men and women of God are made here – not at Bible school. We learn God and the power of his salvation through the difficulties, trials and temptations that everyday life brings our way – irrespective of where we are what we are doing! If we are talking about educational qualifications, the only qualification you need to be a man or woman of God on this earth is the ability to read! Essentially, all you need to be a man or woman of God is God’s word in the Scriptures and to be full of the Holy Spirit – other things may be peripheral helps but cannot be deemed as essential. I am here talking about being a man or woman of God on earth in the eyes of God and before men and women – what I am not talking about is the educational qualifications or otherwise that certain denominations or organisations may require you to have in order to serve in them!

The devil’s strategy is to exploit difficulties and trials to discourage us, to make us feel God has deserted us or that He is even against us; to make us feel isolated, rejected and condemned. If we do get discouraged or sin, the devil will then try to monopolise on this to make us feel that we are useless, that we are failures, that we will never overcome sin or be victorious as over it, and that although God helps others he can’t or won’t help you!  This is why the word of God exhorts us with these words, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7). Peter exhorts us in the same way: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith…”. (1 Peter 5:8-9).

You will probably have noticed that the kind of conflict or warfare that we are describing here takes place in our hearts and minds. In a way it is a battle for our hearts and minds. This is highlighted by Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, where he says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh: For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds; Casting down arguments, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” From the beginning, as we saw in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve and in the wilderness with the Israelites, the devil brings arguments and reasonings that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God, against knowing Him; reasonings and imaginings, that if we accept them, become as citadels in our mind, keeping us captive in unbelief and in darkness, obscuring God from our spiritual sight so that we can’t really see God in our situation or in our lives! But Paul says that our weapons are powerful through God to the pulling down of such attitude strongholds in our mind! We can lay hold of the truth of God and the word of God which triumph against such reasonings and bring our thinking to obey Christ and his word.

It is Ephesians chapter 6 that describes this conflict and how we are to handle it in greater detail:

“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For 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 heavenly places. Therefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girded about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, with which you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thus with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.” (Ephesians 6:10-18).

Paul begins by telling us that we need to be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. To this end we are to put on the whole armour of God which alone will enable us to stand against the cunning and strategy of the devil. He explains to us that what is arrayed against us is not some human agency or energy, but spiritual forces of darkness. It is these evil spiritual forces that seek to make plausible the lies of the devil and so affect our very thinking and our attitudes. To resist and overcome this spiritual foe we need the armour of God!

So what does Paul tell us to do? Does he tell us to engage in prayer, and to pray against or bind these principalities and spiritual powers? No he doesn’t. Not at all. Nowhere in the Bible are we are exhorted to do this, neither is there a single example of a believer doing this! Paul tells us to stand against the wiles of the devil and to put on the whole armour of God. In our every-day journey, we are to clothe and equip ourselves with the truth of God, so that we are ready and prepared to counter the suggestions and lies of the devil; we are to put on the breastplate which guards our hearts against unrighteous thinking; we are so to walk with God that at any time we can give witness to his Gospel. And, above all, says Paul, we are to take the shield of faith, which is the weapon that directly counteracts and extinguishes the fiery darts of the devil! He continues by telling us to protect our minds and thinking by putting on the helmet of salvation! We are to believe what God has done for us through Christ’s death and resurrection in bringing us not just forgiveness of sins but deliverance from the power of sin in our lives! And he concludes the items of our godly armour by exhorting us to take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God! In other words, as our enemy is a spiritual one, so our armour needs to be spiritual and the sword of the Spirit becomes effective in defeating the enemy when we hold on to the word of God; when we declare and feed our own hearts and minds with His word! In battles of old we see soldiers wielding shield and sword together, and we can see the relevance of this for our own spiritual walk! The word of God and faith acting together to overcome all the cunning strategies and lies of the evil one!

This is what Adam and Eve failed to do. This is what the Israelites in the wilderness failed to do. However, Jesus showed us the way. He stood and lived and acted by the word of God. And we are to do the same.

As I mentioned above, essentially this spiritual warfare has to do with our thinking – the kind of thoughts we allow or don’t allow to enter our hearts – particularly in times of trial, difficulty and temptation. This is where the devil tries to get in; this is where he tries to undermine us and seeks to deprive us of our spiritual armour. He seeks to oppose and nullify the word of God in our lives! You will easily understand that without protective armour one can easily become wounded and fall. The power that is arrayed against us is spiritual in nature – though it may use the bodily senses and appetites. The only way to truly overcome and to stand in righteousness and holiness, in love and patience, is to embrace the word of God, to stand on the word of God, to believe the word of God. This is the spiritual weapon by which we overcome the evil one and overcome sin in our lives.

If we do fail or sin, we are not to let the devil exploit this by bringing overwhelming discouragement as if we are no good and useless, as if we will never be able to overcome, as if God is against us and won’t help us any more! This is the devil’s strategy and work: that we become swallowed up by self-pity and discouragement! No. We are to arise and to go to the one who loved us and died for our sins – “My little children, these things write I unto you, that you sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1) – and rose again that we may live free from sin, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1-2).

Discouragement is the thing that stops us truly coming to God. Discouragement and self-pity are two of the worst enemies for our spiritual life and growth, in fact, if these abide in us there can be no true spiritual growth. Discouragement and self-pity are born of unbelief, and they prepare a slippery path to failure and sin. Whatever we think of ourselves, let us not be taken captive by the devil’s deceptions! Let us rise and flee to Jesus for help, because it says, “He (Jesus) is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever lives to make intercession for them.” And again the writer to the Hebrews exhorts us with these words, “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not a high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our weaknesses; but was in all points tempted like we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 7:25; 4:14-16).

Don’t get discouraged if a ‘quick fix’ doesn’t seem to happen! Wait on the Lord. Put all your trust in him. Persevere before him in prayer believing him irrespective of how you feel! At times, we need to follow the perseverance and patience of the psalmist who says,

“Truly my soul waits upon God: from him comes my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation; he is my defence; I shall not be greatly moved. My soul, wait only upon God; for my expectation is from him… I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. (Psalms 62:1-5; 34:4-6).

In times when we may be tempted to become discouraged let us remember the word of God that came through the prophet Isaiah, who said,

“O you afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay your stones with colourful gems, and lay your foundations with sapphires. And all your children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of your children. In righteousness shall you be established: you shall be far from oppression; for you shall not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near you. Behold, they shall surely gather together, but not from me: whosoever shall gather together against you shall fall for your sake. No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, says the LORD.” (Isaiah 54:11-17). And again,

“Awake, awake; put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for no longer, there shall no more come into you the uncircumcised and the unclean. Shake yourself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem: loose yourself from the bonds of your neck, O captive daughter of Zion.” (Isaiah 52:1-2).

“I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make unto yourself any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Exodus 20:2-4

The strategy of the devil is to corrupt the nature of God in our thinking. His purpose is to distort the image of God in our hearts in order to cause us not to believe God, not to believe in his goodness and grace and mercy, not to believe in the power of God to save us from sin. Satan seeks to persuade us that God is against us, that God has left us and even that God is punishing us for some particular reason. One of the aims of Satan is that we do not recognise the true nature of God.

In the beginning Satan came to Eve in the garden to deceive her and to lead her into sin. Satan tempted her with thoughts and suggestions like the following, “The fruit looks sweet doesn’t it? It so attractive, so appealing! Why should you resist eating it? How can you resist eating it? Go on, eat it! Just give in, you won’t suffer any harm!” But of course all these thoughts are a total deception, and only lead to death. The purpose of Satan in all this is to lead you and me to sin in order that we should be separated from God. Thoughts such as these are not simply your thoughts alone, but it is the devil himself who seeks to inject such thoughts into our thinking so that we end up believing a lie instead of believing God.

The devil seeks to plant in us through these thoughts and suggestions what the Bible calls “an evil heart of unbelief.” The devil stands in direct opposition to the truth of God. He told Eve, “you shall not surely die. For God does know that in the day you eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (Exodus 3:4,5).

Do you see? The devil tries to portray God as a liar – ‘you shall not die’ – and plants the thought in her heart that God is withholding something good from them, namely, that God doesn’t want them to be like him – which of course is the opposite of the truth! It was for this very purpose that God created man and woman that they should be in his image sharing his nature! And this is the work and purpose of the devil – to make us think that God is against us, that he is depriving us of his best blessings, that he has left us on our own and that he is out to punish us. This is why the scriptures say, “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called Today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:12-13).

How can we know God’s help, comfort and saving power if we reject what he says and believe the devil’s lies? The Bible says that this unbelief actually hardens our heart against God and his truth and leads us into darkness and sin.

After Adam and Eve had eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they immediately fell into spiritual darkness and death – ‘in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die.’ (Genesis 2:17) – and immediately we see the result of this sin in their thinking and reasoning! The aim of the devil is to distort the image of God in our eyes! Adam and Eve immediately hid themselves in the bushes. Why? Because they thought that when God came into the garden he would judge and condemn them; he would crush and destroy them for their sin. They had no view of God’s mercy or grace or forgiveness but only thought that he would now be totally against them (have you ever felt like that?). They hid in fear among the trees! This was not repentance! This was the fruit or result of receiving into their hearts the lie of the devil who distorts God’s image to us to make us think that God is against us. Satan’s strategy and aim is that we should be taken captive by such thoughts and feelings of rejection because they are the things that separate us from God’s presence and power. He does all this in order to stop us believing God and going to him for help and salvation.

First the devil comes to tempt us to sin. If he succeeds, then he immediately starts to accuse and condemn us without mercy; he assails our hearts and conscience with thoughts that we are no good, that we are useless, that we can’t be forgiven, that we will never be able to overcome, that we’ve gone too far and he fills our hearts with discouragement and self-pity so that we cannot see God at all. Do not think that such thoughts are simply your own thoughts. This is the very work and strategy of the devil to bring you into such a place where you feel separated from God unable to avail yourself of his help and salvation.

Adam and Eve could have thought like this, “We have sinned before God. We’ve been totally deceived and have not believed God. Truly, God had done all things well and he had blessed us beyond measure in giving us every good thing! Come on, let us go to God and confess our sin before him. Let us bow before him and repent! God is good and compassionate and it may be that he will have mercy on us and forgive us!”

This would have been true repentance! This would have been faith! However, the lies of Satan and sin had taken root in their heart, with the result that the very nature of God had become distorted in there eyes and in their thinking. They could only think that God was against them and out to destroy them, and there was no place left in their heart to think that God could forgive them and in his mercy restore them. It is the devil’s strategy to destroy our faith in Christ and in his saving power! This is what the Bible calls the deceitfulness of sin. Once it enters in, it hardens the heart in unbelief where we cannot avail ourselves of the riches of God’s grace and of the power of his salvation. Thus, we can get totally discouraged and drift away from knowing God, from knowing his grace and mercy and the power of his salvation.

That is why it says in the book of Hebrews, “…without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6).

We are saved by faith. We are sanctified by faith. Everything is of faith so that it might all be by the grace of God (Romans 4:16). There was nothing we could do of ourselves to save us. It is by faith in Christ that we are saved. It is by faith in what God has done through Christ for us that we receive the riches of God’s grace and salvation. In this sense, the only ‘right’ thing that a man or woman can do is to believe God. Without faith it is impossible to please God. This is the declaration of the word of God. He that comes to God must believe that HE IS. This means much more than just believing that God exists. For the apostle James makes this statement, “Do you believe there is only one God? You do well. The demons also believe and tremble!” In other words, demons know there is only one God but it doesn’t change them one bit! He that comes to God must believe that he is. In other words, he must believe that God is who he says he is! It is to do with believing in God’s integrity, with believing in God’s revealed nature – “And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.” (Exodus 34:6). And again, “He that believes on the Son of God has the witness in himself: he that believes not God has made him a liar; because he believes not the witness that God gave of his Son.” (1 John 5:10).

He that comes to God must believe that God is who he says he is! Even though there may be difficulties and severe trials, even though we may feel left on our own, our faith must be of the kind that perseveres through this, that waits on God, that puts its trust wholly in him, that diligently seeks him until he comes with the answer! (Luke 11:5-8; 18:1-8).

This is what the Israelites failed to do! Why did they have to wander around the wilderness for 40 years? It is because they didn’t believe God; they didn’t trust in the integrity of his nature; they interpreted the nature of God according to what was happening to them. When trials came and they seemed to lack what they needed they immediately began to accuse God himself and said,

“Because the LORD hated us, he has brought us forth out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us.” (Deuteronomy 1:27).

What happened in the garden of Eden is repeated again here in the wilderness! The Israelites had seen all the wonders and miracles that God had done in Egypt and how he had led them on dry land through the Red Sea. Also, a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night miraculously followed them! Despite all this, when they were faced with trials and difficulties, their faith was non-existent; they quickly and easily fell into unbelief; they listened to the lies of the devil; the deceitfulness of sin hardened their hearts so that they actually ended up believing that God hated them and wanted to destroy them! This truly is the deceitfulness of sin! This, undoubtedly, is the work and strategy of the devil, to lead people to think in this way. However, the Israelites themselves were responsible for giving in to such thoughts and reasonings! And it is the same for us; we cannot blame the devil for our own unbelief and hardness of heart in view of everything that God has spoken and done for us through Christ!

This is why, referring to the hardness of heart and unbelief of the Israelites in the wilderness, the Scripture says, “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, Today if you will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the rebellion, in the day of testing in the wilderness: When your fathers tested me, proved me, and saw my works forty years.” (Hebrews 3:7-9).  At the end of this chapter in Hebrews the word of God says that those Israelites could not enter into God’s promised land because of unbelief. Unbelief is not just a matter of ‘not believing God’, but involves a corruption and distortion of the image or nature of God.

Trials, temptations and difficulties will come. But our faith in God and what he has done through Christ for us must remain steadfast and unshakeable, whatever happens or doesn’t happen. We are to resist the devil and submit ourselves unto God. The apostle Paul exhorts us and warns us about these things in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. He reminds the Corinthians how God lead and blessed his people the Israelites in the wilderness and how, despite this, his people complained, lusted after the wrong things, and committed fornication. He then says, “Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come. Therefore let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.” The admonition is very clear. In and through Christ, God has blessed us in a far greater and deeper way than he blessed the Israelites in the wilderness. Nevertheless, the word of God makes it clear that we shall face trials and temptations that will seek to undermine our faith in God’s faithfulness and in God’s salvation. We are not to give up; we are not to give in; we are not to become boastful or proud in what God has done for us; but we are to trust God; to wait on him; to believe him; to endure temptation believing God will make away for us to bear it and overcome – even when we seem to be tempted beyond measure or beyond our capabilities!

This brings us on to an important and fundamental truth. God could have prevented the serpent from entering into the garden of Eden – but he didn’t. He allowed Adam and Eve to be tested through the devil’s suggestions and temptations. God wanted them to grow in their trust in him; God wanted them to grow in righteousness and in understanding by refusing the evil and choosing the good; God wanted them to discover his faithfulness and goodness in a deeper way; He wanted them to live by what he had spoken to them; to live by his word!

God himself made this clear to his people the Israelites in the wilderness.

“And you shall remember all the way which the LORD your God led you these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you, and to test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or not. And he humbled you, and allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna, which you knew not, neither did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD does man live.” (Deuteronomy 8:2-3).

This is revelation. God had promised his people wonderful things in the promised land, but before they could enjoy the fullness of God’s promise, they were to be tested and tried to see whether their hearts were just after blessings, or whether their whole being was committed to him in love and trust -whatever happened. To this end, God allowed them to suffer need in some measure; he allowed circumstances in which they might feel abandoned and unloved and uncared for, if their faith wasn’t rooted in him! God didn’t want his people to stumble or fall! He wanted to purge them of wrong thinking and wrong motivations, where faith in him and love for him – expressed in obedience – is the only priority!

Jesus Christ was in the desert for 40 days and he suffered hunger. For every year that Israel spent in the wilderness, Jesus spent one day in the desert without food. After Jesus had been baptised in water, who was it who led Jesus into the desert? It was the Holy Spirit who led Jesus there! Why did the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into the desert? The scriptures tell us very clearly, “Then was Jesus led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1).

Now here is a remarkable thing! The son of God was led into the desert by the Holy Spirit in order to be tempted of the devil. This is consistent with what we saw in the garden of Eden and what we saw with the Israelites in the wilderness. Here in the desert, the devil came to Jesus with temptations that suggested that God had abandoned him, that God had left him alone, that God didn’t care for him, that he himself lacked power! When tempted by the devil to perform a miracle to meet his apparent need for food, Jesus refers to the passage in Deuteronomy that I have just quoted from; he says, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” (Mtt.4:4). In all the temptations of the devil, Jesus answered always in the same way, he said, “it is written…”. Jesus didn’t try and hold a prayer meeting against the devil; Jesus didn’t shout at the devil and try to cast him into the pit; in every instance Jesus is simply lived by the word of God.

The whole purpose of temptations and trials is that we should reject the evil and choose the good. The purpose of trials and temptations is to strengthen our faith, not to weaken it; to cause us to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ; to make us men and women of God who trust him with our whole hearts whatever happens so that we reflect his nature and glory here on earth. Luke tells us that Jesus entered the desert “full of the Holy Spirit” but when the temptations in the desert had ended we are told that Jesus returned into Galilee “in the power of the Spirit”. Adam and Eve started well. The Israelites started well when they came out of Egypt. You and I may start well, but if we do not continue to live by the word of God through thick and through thin, if we do not persevere and endure in faith and love, then our spiritual life will dissipate and waste away and we will not know the power of God’s salvation in our daily lives. Jesus came out of the desert in the power of the spirit! Here we find the reason why so many people lack the power of the Spirit (and the fruit of the Spirit) in their daily lives: they are not living by the word of God – in their thinking and reactions – in the various situations that they pass through in everyday life.

It is for this reason that Paul writes, “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation works patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope makes not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given unto us.” (Romans 5:3-5). It is for this reason that James says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith works patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4). Growth takes place during times of difficulty, trial and temptation! This is where we ‘learn’ God. This is where we are meant to resist the devil and his lies, to resist the evil and hold on to the good, to deny ourselves and choose Christ,. This is where we are to be made strong in faith and love as we wait on God, believing him, holding onto him, holding onto his word, calling upon his name and submitting and offering our lives to him without condition or reservation.

Men and women of God are made here – not at Bible school. We learn God and the power of his salvation through the difficulties, trials and temptations that everyday life brings our way – irrespective of where we are what we are doing! If we are talking about educational qualifications, the only qualification you need to be a man or woman of God on this earth is the ability to read! Essentially, all you need to be a man or woman of God is God’s word in the Scriptures and to be full of the Holy Spirit – other things may be peripheral helps but cannot be deemed as essential. I am here talking about being a man or woman of God on earth in the eyes of God and before men and women – what I am not talking about is the educational qualifications or otherwise that certain denominations or organisations may require you to have in order to serve in them!

The devil’s strategy is to exploit difficulties and trials to discourage us, to make us feel God has deserted us or that He is even against us; to make us feel isolated, rejected and condemned. If we do get discouraged or sin, the devil will then try to monopolise on this to make us feel that we are useless, that we are failures, that we will never overcome sin or be victorious as over it, and that although God helps others he can’t or won’t help you!  This is why the word of God exhorts us with these words, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7). Peter exhorts us in the same way: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith…”. (1 Peter 5:8-9).

You will probably have noticed that the kind of conflict or warfare that we are describing here takes place in our hearts and minds. In a way it is a battle for our hearts and minds. This is highlighted by Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, where he says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh: For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds; Casting down arguments, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” From the beginning, as we saw in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve and in the wilderness with the Israelites, the devil brings arguments and reasonings that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God, against knowing Him; reasonings and imaginings, that if we accept them, become as citadels in our mind, keeping us captive in unbelief and in darkness, obscuring God from our spiritual sight so that we can’t really see God in our situation or in our lives! But Paul says that our weapons are powerful through God to the pulling down of such attitude strongholds in our mind! We can lay hold of the truth of God and the word of God which triumph against such reasonings and bring our thinking to obey Christ and his word.

It is Ephesians chapter 6 that describes this conflict and how we are to handle it in greater detail:

“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For 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 heavenly places. Therefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girded about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, with which you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thus with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.” (Ephesians 6:10-18).

Paul begins by telling us that we need to be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. To this end we are to put on the whole armour of God which alone will enable us to stand against the cunning and strategy of the devil. He explains to us that what is arrayed against us is not some human agency or energy, but spiritual forces of darkness. It is these evil spiritual forces that seek to make plausible the lies of the devil and so affect our very thinking and our attitudes. To resist and overcome this spiritual foe we need the armour of God!

So what does Paul tell us to do? Does he tell us to engage in prayer, and to pray against or bind these principalities and spiritual powers? No he doesn’t. Not at all. Nowhere in the Bible are we are exhorted to do this, neither is there a single example of a believer doing this! Paul tells us to stand against the wiles of the devil and to put on the whole armour of God. In our every-day journey, we are to clothe and equip ourselves with the truth of God, so that we are ready and prepared to counter the suggestions and lies of the devil; we are to put on the breastplate which guards our hearts against unrighteous thinking; we are so to walk with God that at any time we can give witness to his Gospel. And, above all, says Paul, we are to take the shield of faith, which is the weapon that directly counteracts and extinguishes the fiery darts of the devil! He continues by telling us to protect our minds and thinking by putting on the helmet of salvation! We are to believe what God has done for us through Christ’s death and resurrection in bringing us not just forgiveness of sins but deliverance from the power of sin in our lives! And he concludes the items of our godly armour by exhorting us to take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God! In other words, as our enemy is a spiritual one, so our armour needs to be spiritual and the sword of the Spirit becomes effective in defeating the enemy when we hold on to the word of God; when we declare and feed our own hearts and minds with His word! In battles of old we see soldiers wielding shield and sword together, and we can see the relevance of this for our own spiritual walk! The word of God and faith acting together to overcome all the cunning strategies and lies of the evil one!

This is what Adam and Eve failed to do. This is what the Israelites in the wilderness failed to do. However, Jesus showed us the way. He stood and lived and acted by the word of God. And we are to do the same.

As I mentioned above, essentially this spiritual warfare has to do with our thinking – the kind of thoughts we allow or don’t allow to enter our hearts – particularly in times of trial, difficulty and temptation. This is where the devil tries to get in; this is where he tries to undermine us and seeks to deprive us of our spiritual armour. He seeks to oppose and nullify the word of God in our lives! You will easily understand that without protective armour one can easily become wounded and fall. The power that is arrayed against us is spiritual in nature – though it may use the bodily senses and appetites. The only way to truly overcome and to stand in righteousness and holiness, in love and patience, is to embrace the word of God, to stand on the word of God, to believe the word of God. This is the spiritual weapon by which we overcome the evil one and overcome sin in our lives.

If we do fail or sin, we are not to let the devil exploit this by bringing overwhelming discouragement as if we are no good and useless, as if we will never be able to overcome, as if God is against us and won’t help us any more! This is the devil’s strategy and work: that we become swallowed up by self-pity and discouragement! No. We are to arise and to go to the one who loved us and died for our sins – “My little children, these things write I unto you, that you sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1) – and rose again that we may live free from sin, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1-2).

Discouragement is the thing that stops us truly coming to God. Discouragement and self-pity are two of the worst enemies for our spiritual life and growth, in fact, if these abide in us there can be no true spiritual growth. Discouragement and self-pity are born of unbelief, and they prepare a slippery path to failure and sin. Whatever we think of ourselves, let us not be taken captive by the devil’s deceptions! Let us rise and flee to Jesus for help, because it says, “He (Jesus) is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever lives to make intercession for them.” And again the writer to the Hebrews exhorts us with these words, “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not a high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our weaknesses; but was in all points tempted like we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 7:25; 4:14-16).

Don’t get discouraged if a ‘quick fix’ doesn’t seem to happen! Wait on the Lord. Put all your trust in him. Persevere before him in prayer believing him irrespective of how you feel! At times, we need to follow the perseverance and patience of the psalmist who says,

“Truly my soul waits upon God: from him comes my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation; he is my defence; I shall not be greatly moved. My soul, wait only upon God; for my expectation is from him… I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. (Psalms 62:1-5; 34:4-6).

In times when we may be tempted to become discouraged let us remember the word of God that came through the prophet Isaiah, who said,

“O you afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay your stones with colourful gems, and lay your foundations with sapphires. And all your children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of your children. In righteousness shall you be established: you shall be far from oppression; for you shall not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near you. Behold, they shall surely gather together, but not from me: whosoever shall gather together against you shall fall for your sake. No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, says the LORD.” (Isaiah 54:11-17). And again,

“Awake, awake; put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for no longer, there shall no more come into you the uncircumcised and the unclean. Shake yourself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem: loose yourself from the bonds of your neck, O captive daughter of Zion.” (Isaiah 52:1-2).

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