Rev. Ryan Barnhill, pastor of Heritage Protestant Reformed Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

A little boy, eyes wide, body shaking, and hands perspiring, tucks himself even deeper under his bedsheets. His young mind spins: perhaps if he can cover his whole body and close his eyes, he can disappear from it all. He hears the distant sound of footsteps, shouting, and even the sudden burst of gunfire. If he gathers the courage to peek out his bedroom window, he sees masked men in the distance, the same brutes who night after night have made it their business to terrorize the locals. During the day, no children are allowed outside and adults make only necessary travels on the city roads. The boy’s dad and mom talk in low voices, but the son catches enough of their words to complete the puzzle: the terrorists are slowly gaining the upper hand over the local government, and soon the middle-eastern region where they live may be overrun by these bloodthirsty and cruel men. The child cowers in fear, not knowing what might happen to his house, his family, and his own life should the government’s resistance against the terrorists fail. The smells, sounds, and sights of war surround this boy every day.

Sadly, this is a reality for many around the world. They live in a war zone. They experience the horrors of conflict continually. Lurking enemies threaten and assault daily.

And yet, reader, I wonder how often we think about the battle we are in. You might say about that boy hiding in his bed, “What he experiences is real war—I can’t imagine living in the midst of such heated conflict.” But you, too, are in a war—a war no less real than what is happening overseas in many regions. You, also, know and daily experience the heat of battle, no less than someone inundated with the sights and sounds of terrorist attacks. Young person, you are a Christian soldier in a spiritual warfare. The conflict rages all of your life. The adversaries cease not to assault, and they are bent upon your destruction.

This series of articles is about our spiritual warfare particularly against the devil. In this first article, we will simply establish the fact that we are in a spiritual warfare and that we have enemies. In the following article, we will narrow our focus to one of those enemies, Satan, and will explain his identity and tactics. After that, we will have a few articles addressing our battle against this adversary, taking our instruction mainly from Ephesians 6, the classic passage on spiritual warfare.

The subject could not be more urgent. Hear the urgency in I Peter 5:8: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” Take heed to the sobering words of Ephesians 6:11-12: “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye 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 high places.” Take to heart the warning of Revelation 12:12: “Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! For the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.” And then, look around you and see the devastation this dragon leaves in his wake: broken marriages, rebellious children, rent churches, painful betrayals, rampant slandering…on and on the list goes.

Warfare

That we stand and fight as soldiers in spiritual warfare is not always before our mind as it should be. We forget that as we wake up from sleep, Satan lurks. We so often fail to see or care about the flying arrows and sword thrusts of temptation as we walk through our day. Instead, we frequently view our life as a stroll down a winding path next to a lazily flowing river under the warm sunshine. Even when we remember the reality of the battle, we often deceive ourselves into believing that the enemies, though real, do not present any real threat; we become dull to their presence. It is even the case that in our pride, we rely upon our own strength, foolishly thinking that we would never fall wounded from a projectile sent from the enemies’ hands. When Satan and his allies observe these spiritual insensitivities and foolish patterns of thinking, they rub their hands in glee—for such a young person is a prime target for attack.

Conscious of it or not, you are on a battlefield: when you wake up, as you walk down the school hallway, as you enjoy a Friday night with friends, as you sit in church, as you hold phone in hand, as you lie down for sleep. Every year, every month, every week, every day of your life—hot battle!

The Bible tells us so

The foundational passage is Genesis 3:15, known as the ‘mother promise,’ an announcement of warfare and victory spoken after the fall of our first parents: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” God put enmity between the devil and the woman, and between their seeds—an enmity that runs through all of history. Battle, warfare, and conflict exist between the reprobate and the elect. But unlike earthly warfare, the outcome of this spiritual warfare is not in question: the seed of the woman has the victory. The comforting gospel spoken in the hearing of trembling Adam and Eve was that God would give His Son, who should be made of a woman, to bruise the head of the serpent. This crushing blow Christ delivered at the cross. When you step on a snake’s head with some force, it might thrash about for a while, but it will soon die—it has, after all, been dealt a deadly blow. Christ has bruised the serpent’s head; while Satan does thrash around for a while (as the church experiences in the New Testament age), his doom is sealed, and soon Christ will return to throw him into the lake of fire. Christian soldier, fight against Satan in the consciousness of this good news: You have the victory in the Lord Jesus Christ!

The ‘mother promise’ stands at the head of many other passages speaking about spiritual warfare. A classic passage on this warfare is Ephesians 6:10ff., which concerns the armor of God. By referring to “armor,” the apostle is drawing upon something in the ancient world his readers would have readily understood: a Roman soldier with armor. When a Roman soldier went to battle, he would not go in his regular clothes and barehanded. He would enter the fight with armor, what he was suited up in and the instruments he carried. Each piece of the equipment was designed either to prepare the soldier for battle, or to defend him, or, in the case of one piece, to go on the offense. In Ephesians 6:10ff, the apostle Paul is not referring to that physical armor, but to the spiritual armor of the Christian soldier, designed either to prepare him for battle, defend him in it, or to go on the offense. The point is that the Bible speaks of our life as Christian soldiers in a warfare.

Faithful summaries of Scripture, our confessions also speak the language of war. I call your attention to one of those confessions, the Heidelberg Catechism, in three places. Lord’s Day 12 teaches us about the title “Christ,” and follows this instruction with an explanation of the term “Christian”: “But why art thou called a Christian? Because I am a member of Christ by faith, and thus am partaker of His anointing…that with a free and good conscience I may fight against sin and Satan in this life, and afterwards reign with Him eternally over all creatures.” Young people, you are kings, and kings fight against sin and Satan in this life! Lord’s Day 33, teaching us the doctrine of conversion, includes battle vocabulary. One part of the true conversion of man is the mortification of the old man. Every catechism student in eighth or ninth grade knows that mortification means “to kill.” The mortification of the old man is the killing of the old man—that is the language of conflict. Lord’s Day 52, Q&A 127, continues this theme; notice the Catechism’s wording as it summarizes the sixth petition: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil; that is, since we are so weak in ourselves that we cannot stand a moment; and besides this, since our mortal enemies, the devil, the world, and our own flesh cease not to assault us, do Thou therefore preserve and strengthen us by the power of Thy Holy Spirit, that we may not be overcome in this spiritual warfare, but constantly and strenuously may resist our foes, till at last we obtain a complete victory.”

Rightly, then, does theology call the church on earth the “church militant.” She is a fighting church, and you, dear reader, are a part of her ranks.

Enemies

In any warfare, there are enemies. Earthly soldiers must know the foe, else they cannot fight effectively. So must Christian soldiers know the adversaries.

Our Heidelberg Catechism helpfully identifies our mortal enemies in Q&A 127 as “the devil, the world, and our own flesh.” We are warned about the wicked world in I John 2:15-16: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” Galatians 5:17 refers to the sinful flesh: “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.”

Then, there is also the devil, the one upon whom we are focusing in this series. Who is he? What is his history? What tactics does he use in his warfare against us? These questions and more we will answer next time.