In his mercy, God has revealed the nature of spiritual warfare to us in his Word. And the truth is that it is fairly easy to understand. You don’t have to be a Medievalist expert in demonology or a hyper-charismatic enthusiast in order to understand that just as there is a God who saves men through the truth, so there is a devil who destroys men through lies. Scripture even teaches us that we are to be aware of the the devil’s schemes (2nd Cor 2:11) and, what is more, goes on to teach us what those schemes are (see this article I wrote about 2 years ago)!
Scripture also tells us that the church will not be immune from having to deal with the devil and his lies. Yes, even though Christ is currently reigning over all of his foes, crushing them underfoot, and omnipotently building his church against which the gates of Hell will not prevail, we still have to deal with enemies of God and his Gospel that come into the church and seek to replace the truth with lies, as well as destroy the lives and all around well being of the elect people of God.
A Possible Misconception
Given the fact that this warring will continue until Christ puts an end to it at his second coming, it is incumbent upon Christians to always be on guard against the enemies of God. As Peter writes –
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
– 1st Peter 5:8
This lion is fierce, dangerous, and can only be completely and utterly defeated by the Greater David – our Shepherd and Enemy Slaying King, Jesus Christ. But we have a duty to be watchful, to take note of what is occurring around us, and to do so for our own spiritual well-being.
A possible misconception we may have about spiritual warfare is that there are times in which the enemies of God are not actively engaged in trying to destroy the people of God. It is refreshing and encouraging to see that the grand heretics of the past have been ferreted out by our Lord through his Spirit empowered preaching and teaching of Scripture. And it is refreshing and encouraging to see that major political regimes that have opposed all men, but Christians in particular, have been brought to ruins by our Lord as he providentially brings about his good purposes for his church. We rejoice in the fact that Arius is now known, nearly universally, as the “Arch-Heretic” of Christianity. And we rejoice that rulers like Mussolini, Hitler, and Pol Pot have been brought to nothing by the almighty power of God.
But these aren’t the only kinds of enemies we are facing. So it is foolish to think that their absence means the absence of warfare altogether. We are right to desire peace, to desire an end to fighting, to desire to see Christ glorified by all men who profess his name, but this will only occur when Christ himself returns and subjects all things to himself. And until that day, Peter tells us to “be watchful” for the devil and, by implication, those who do his bidding.
The Majority of God’s Enemies are Subtle, Crafty, Manipulative, Flattering Deceivers
In our own day, we can easily be misled into thinking that the primary concern of the church is socio-political teaching that is subversive to the Gospel – but it isn’t. While the postmodernist, social justice, critical race theorists ARE indeed a great problem, and a problem against which I’ve written quite a bit, there is a greater problem. That problem? Men who profess faith in Christ, and who profess to be sound teachers of the Word of God, who are yet teaching men a false gospel of salvation by faith and works. These men will always be present among us, along with the Ariuses and Hitlers and Mussolinis, but they are more dangerous because they are subtle, crafty, manipulative, flattering, and sometimes very hard to detect.
And while this should inspire us to work harder to guard our lives and our doctrine, we often get lazy. We are distracted by the “bigger” issues – by which we mean the more obvious ones – and are content to let men off the hook for saying and doing what is completely contrary to the Gospel and Law of God simply because these men are less of a headache and they agree with us, and can prove to be helpful cobelligerents in our striving against the “bigger” issues.
But Scripture is very clear on this matter. God’s enemies are not always in your face grandiose heretics like Benny Hinn or Kenneth Copeland or Joyce Meyer. Rather, God’s enemies are more often lions, snakes, and spies. Three creatures who are subtle, crafty, manipulative deceivers. The Lord does not identify his enemies as clumsy and obvious animals, nor as men practicing an honest vocation, and neither should his people.
The lion’s movements are calculated and almost indiscernible to the unsuspecting prey he hunts. And yet many Christians expect the enemies of God to not be vicious, calculating, and nearly imperceptible to the untrained eye.
The serpent hides among leaves and foliage, rocks and bushes, concealing himself among things that have his shape or his color, burying his body in the sand as he waits for his prey, or concealing the length of his body by coiling into himself, only to thrust his body, fangs first, toward some foolish creature who thought getting close to him wouldn’t pose a threat to his life.
The spy inserts himself into a world to which he is actually mortally opposed. Like the lion, he is calculating, subtle, and without empathy for his prey. Like the serpent, he adapts to his environment, hiding his ability to entangle his prey in his deceptions, and eventually choking the vitality out of his prey, or wholly consuming them.
Less metaphorically, we can say that the enemies of God are not heavy handed door to door peddlers of heresy. God’s enemies are crafty in how they present themselves to God’s people. They adapt to avoid detection. They disguise their true intentions with intentions that look godly and righteous. They secretly bring in destructive heresies. They prey on gullible women and take advantage of widows. And they do so while maintaining a very sheeply appearance. Here are some of the descriptions of the enemies of God that are given to us in the Word of God.
His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;
under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.
He sits in ambush in the villages;
in hiding places he murders the innocent.
His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket;
he lurks that he may seize the poor;
he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.
The wicked are estranged from the womb;
they go astray from birth, speaking lies.
They have venom like the venom of a serpent,
like the deaf adder that stops its ear,
so that it does not hear the voice of charmers
or of the cunning enchanter.
They make their tongue sharp as a serpent’s,
and under their lips is the venom of asps.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
“You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”
“You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?”
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”
Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery…
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.
—2nd Peter 2:1
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Sola Scriptura: Our Defense and Offense Against Enemies of the Truth
If the enemies of God are nearly impossible to discern, how then are we to guard ourselves against them? By listening to the Scripture’s teaching about these men. God gives us the means necessary for protecting ourselves against his enemies – his Word. After telling Timothy about how bad things will get in the future, as false professors and false teachers multiply and seek to destroy the church, Paul goes on to write—
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
—2nd Tim 3:14-17.
Cling to God’s Word. Though all fall under the spell of silver-fork-tongued serpents pretending to be our brethren in the faith, cling to the Word of God. Listen to God’s Word, be filled with its pure light, speak God’s Word – the Law and the Gospel – and watch as the light of his Word dispels darkness and sends his enemies scurrying for cover.
Soli Deo Gloria