Angels. Demons. These beings are not spoken about too much in churches today (at least not the ones I’ve been in). Pastors and teachers like to focus more on positive edification, rather than talking about spiritual warfare. Focusing on the positive is good, but knowing our enemy and his tactics will help Christians to walk out their faith victoriously. Ask a seasoned Christian who has experienced ministry and they will likely have stories to tell of a spiritual war, of demonic attacks. When I was in high school, my youth pastor specifically spoke about the topic every year. Since then, I have heard more first hand accounts from Christians who were sharing the Gospel in dark places and have picked up bits and pieces about demonic powers and bondage. There is so much I do not know, but one thing I do know for sure: it exists.
The American culture is so loud and “practical” that anything unusual easily gets explained away. Miracles and demonic oppression are mostly invisible because of this fact. It could also be because we have been blinded as a culture to the spiritual reality. There is a spiritual war going on, whether it is seen or not. God and Satan are pitted against each other. God is for mankind and has reached out for a restored relationship with us, offering us life. Satan rebelled against God and now wants to bring as many people as he can down with him to his eternal punishment. Each person is on one side or the other. There is no in between. You and I are either friends of God or enemies of God.
If we are friends of God, then Satan and all his demons hate us. Their goal is to destroy, kill, and create as much chaos as possible before their damnation. Even the people who are on their side will be ultimately destroyed because that is what Satan does.
Satan does not have total power, though. God is more powerful, as Creator, and is perfectly able to keep the chaos in check. In fact, we see in Job 1:6-12, Satan has to ask permission to sift Job.
In 1 Peter, the character of the devil is given, along with plenty of commands for us in relation it it: “Be sober-minded; 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 kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9). Something else to note is that, “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). He is appealing. How else would he get so many followers and lead so many astray, including Christians?
Paul explains this spiritual reality further in Ephesians by saying, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:10-13).
There are many examples of how this spiritual warfare plays out in every day life. Something to note is that people and what we see are not the enemy, but against the spiritual enemy. The most general form of demonic power would be blindness to this spiritual reality. Materialism, accomplishments, and surface level are what people focus on, never stopping to ask if there is something more. Anything odd, in a good way or a bad way, is often explained away or simply ignored. Another way this is seen is how people desire to fill every minute with entertainment and productivity. It’s all distraction from the spiritual reality. There are also very specific attacks on people who are pushing back the darkness bringing many to salvation. Multiple Christian leaders have told stories of waking in the night to find a demon in their room. What woke them was a heavy weight upon their chest which was severely hindering their breathing. After commanding the demon multiple times in Jesus’s name, the weight would lift and the demon would leave. In between these two extremes would be demonic strongholds and opposition to us seeking Jesus or living the life He asks us to. These are varied and common. (And also things I don’t know much about, so I recommend you read a book about them to find out more.)
Not only did Paul explain the spiritual reality in Ephesians, but he also told us how to fight in the war. He describes a suit of armor. When these things come, we are to “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:14-18).
Did you notice that “Be alert,” “Be sober-minded,” and “Be watchful” are the attitudes that we are to have? How can we make sure to stand firm if we don’t even know there is something pushing us? We are commanded to be aware of this war to watch for where the attacks are happening. After explaining the suit of armor example, Paul says twice to pray. The first time, he says to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Eph. 6:18). The second time, he applies the whole war and armor analogy to how we should be thinking of our fellow Christians: “Be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Eph. 6:18).
My youth pastor specifically said not to ascribe too much credit to Satan and demons because that could become worship. As children of God, we have a mighty King who we can look to constantly for our security, for eternity! We have been commanded to have a certain attitude and mindset and to stand, though. Understanding that the enemy does want to destroy our lives and our witness will help us to recognize an attack when it comes. When we have recognized it, we can stand firm and pray to Jesus for help and freedom.