A couple from Chicago decided to go south to Florida for a long weekend to thaw out during one particularly icy cold winter. They both had jobs, and had difficulty coordinating their travel schedules, so it was decided the husband would fly to Florida on a Thursday, and his wife would follow him the next day. Upon arriving as planned, the husband checked into the hotel. Then he opened his laptop and sent his wife an email back in Chicago. However, he accidentally left off one letter in her email address and sent it without noticing his error.
Meanwhile, in Houston, another woman, a widow had just returned from her husband’s funeral. He was a minister of many years who had been called home to glory following a heart attack. The widow checked her email, expecting messages of condolences from family and friends, but upon reading the first message, she fainted and fell to the floor. Her son rushed into the room; found his mother on the floor and saw the computer screen which read:
To: My loving Wife
From: Your Husband
Subject: I’ve arrived!
I’ve just arrived and have been checked in. Everything is prepared and ready for your own arrival tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing you then… P.S. Sure is hot down here!
We laugh… but I deliberately tell that joke to make a serious point: most people don’t take hell or the devil or evil seriously! They think the devil is a joke and that hell is just make-believe, or else they accept the popular caricature or false image of hell being a place where there will be wild parties, sex, drugs, free flowing alcohol and lots of fun people hell-bent on having a hell-of-a-time! Friends, that’s not how the Bible defines evil or hell.
Some people even say, ‘before I became a Christian I had a problem believing that God existed. Surely you don’t really expect me to now believe in the devil as well; that’s just pushing the imagination too far!’ For many, the devil has been filed away as make-believe, in the same way as fairies, giants and ogres! The problem, in part, is because of a false image of what the devil is like. If the devil, whose other name is Satan, turned up in a red jump suit with stick on horns and a pitch fork, we’d spot him a mile off and we wouldn’t listen to a word he says. But Satan is far too cunning for that; he is way too clever to take that approach. Instead he masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) but behind the disguise he is really THE master of deceit and false teaching who wants us to think he doesn’t exist because he wants to lead people astray.
But we have power, we have been given spiritual authority and we are on the winning side when it comes to spiritual warfare…
The United States government has what is called a Federal Witness Protection Programme. It is for individuals who are at high risk because they have testified against someone who wants to see them killed. What the government does for these individuals is literally change their identities. It changes their names, looks, social security numbers, and locations. If the people in the programme don’t accept these changes, the government will not guarantee their protection. But when they do accept the changes, the government protects them.
Let me let you in on a secret: Satan is very upset that when you trusted in Christ, you testified against him. In fact, your life is a testimony against him every day that you operate under the authority of Christ. Because of this, Satan is after you to destroy you. But God has put you in His own protection programme. He can change the way you look at yourself by showing you how He looks at you. When you see yourself the way God sees you, you will begin to walk differently, talk differently, act differently, and live differently. You will live in the victory that He has already given you. Citation
It has been said that the devil’s greatest work is to convince people that Hell doesn’t exist. Jesus, you remember, came to show us the Way to heaven, and to rescue us or save us from hell. Or to put it another way: if hell is not a reality then why did Jesus bother coming at all? ‘I have not come to call the righteous but sinners,’ said Jesus. If sinners don’t really need rescuing, why the rescue mission? If hell is not real why do we even need saving; why did Jesus come? Jesus came to save people from hell, which is eternal separation from God. But, friends, and let’s be absolutely clear about this: God does not send people to hell. People make that choice for themselves. There is only one way to go to hell and that is to reject or refuse to accept the only way to heaven.
‘Most people acknowledge that evil is real and has always had devastating effects on our world. From the sexual abuse of children to the horrific terrorist attacks of 9/11, evil continues to rear its ugly head in our own time.’ Citation
Why does God allow evil to happen? ‘God is capable of preventing evil, and God desires to rid the world of evil. So why does God allow evil? Perhaps another way to look at that question is to consider the alternative ways that people might have God run the world. For example:
- God could change everyone’s personality so that they are not able to sin. But that would mean we’d no longer have freewill and so there’d be no meaningful relationship between us and God.
- Another option is that God could compensate for people’s evil actions through supernatural intervention 100 percent of the time. God would then intervene and stop a drunk driver from causing an accident or stop terrorists from flying airplanes into buildings. But while this solution sounds attractive, it would very quickly lose its attractiveness as soon as God’s intervention infringed on something we wanted to do. We want God to prevent horrible evil actions, but are we willing to let “lesser-evil” actions slide? Again we don’t really want to be controlled, do we? We want to retain control over our own lives. We value our freewill.
- Another alternative would be for God to judge and remove those who choose to commit evil acts. But the problem with this is that there would be no one left, because God would have to remove us all.
Instead of these alternatives, God has chosen to create a “real” world in which real choices have real consequences.’ Citation And that’s why God says in Romans 12v21: ‘Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.’
‘According to the biblical worldview behind all the evil in the world lies the devil. The Greek work for devil, diablos, translates the Hebrew word Satan. We are not told very much about the origins of Satan in the Bible. There is a hint that he may have been a fallen angel (Isaiah 14:12-23). He appears on a few occasions in the books of the Old Testament (Job 1; 1Chronicles 21:1). He is not merely a force but is personal. We are given a clearer picture of his activities in the New Testament. The devil is a personal spiritual being, who is in open rebellion against God and has the leadership of many demons like himself. Paul tells us to take our ‘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’ (Ephesians 6:11-12). The devil and his angels, according to Paul, are not to be underestimated. They are cunning. They are powerful. They are evil. Therefore we should not be surprised when we come under a powerful assault from the enemy.’ Citation
Our topic tonight… ‘How Can I Resist Evil?’ is a controversial subject, so…
1. Why Should We Believe That The Devil Exists? (Romans 12:21)
I want to start by looking at three pieces of evidence:
‘Firstly, it is biblical. That’s not to say the Bible concentrates on the devil. Satan is not mentioned very often in the Old Testament and it is only when we get to the New Testament that the doctrine is developed more fully. Jesus clearly believed in the existence of Satan and was tempted by him. He frequently cast out demons, freeing people from the forces of evil and sin in their lives, and gave his disciples authority to do the same. In the rest of the New Testament there are many references to the work of the devil (Luke 10:17-20, 1 Peter 5:8-11, Ephesians 6:1-12).
Secondly, Christians down the ages have almost invariable believed in the existence of the devil. The early church theologians, the Reformers, the great evangelists like Wesley and Whitfield, and the overwhelming majority of men and women of God, knew that there were very real spiritual forces of evil around.
Thirdly, common sense confirms the existence of the devil. Any kind of theology which ignores the existence of a personal devil has a great deal to explain: evil regimes, institutional torture and violence, mass murders, brutal rapes, large scale drug trafficking, terrorist atrocities, sexual and physical abuse of children, occult activity and satanic rituals. [How else can we explain such atrocities?]
Scripture, tradition and reason all point to the existence of the devil but this does not mean that we should become obsessed by him or develop an unhealthy interest in him, as many have. There is still widespread interest today in spiritualism, palm-reading, Ouija boards, ‘channelling’ (consulting the dead), astrology, horoscopes, clairvoyants, crystals, witchcraft and occult powers. Involvement in these things is expressly forbidden in Scripture (Deuteronomy 18:10, Leviticus 19:20ff, Galatians 5:19ff, Revelation 21:8, 22:15). [We are not to use spirituality for our own ends.] If we have meddled in any of these things we can be forgiven. [It is good practice to repent of any past involvement] and destroy anything associated with that activity such as books, charms, DVD’s or magazines.’ Citation
So what about temptation…
2. What Are The Devil’s Tactics? (Genesis 3)
The devils primary aim is to destroy – to steal and kill and destroy whatever is good. He has always wanted to do this. From the very beginning he set out to destroy Adam and Eve’s relationship with God. Jesus said (in John 10v10): ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; [but] I have come that [you] may have life, and have it to the full.’ Satan aims to blind people to the truth (2Corinthians 4:4); he’s a devil at creating doubt (Genesis 3:11, Matthew 4:3, 6); and he also instigates temptation (Genesis 2:16-17) and generates accusation. In fact, he’s known as the ‘Accuser’. If we turn to the beginning of the Bible, to Genesis chapter 3, and we look at Adam and Eve’s relationship with God, we get an exposé or a depiction of how the devil works.
You remember the story: The LORD God then took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden, to work it and take care of it. And in the middle of the garden were two special trees: One was ‘the tree of life’ – giving everlasting life to those who eat its fruit – the other, ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ – bringing death to those who eat from that tree. Now God created Adam and Eve to live in fellowship with Him, in paradise forever, and so God said that Adam could eat from any tree in the garden, including from the tree of life, but God commanded him, ‘you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die’ (Genesis 2:17).
But then in Genesis chapter 3 the devil or Satan, disguised himself as a serpent; a snake, and he came to the woman and ‘slyly’ suggested that God didn’t really have man’s best interests at heart. And so the serpent craftily planted doubt in the Word of God and tempted Eve with the proverbial ‘forbidden fruit’: that’s still one of Satan’s major tactics; causing doubt and then using falsehood mingled with truth. First the serpent caused doubt: “Did God really say you must not eat from any tree in the garden?” Then the falsehood: ‘You won’t surely die’, he said, ‘God knows that if you eat it you will be just like God knowing good and evil.’ – It was a part-truth to disguise the lie: True, they did become like God in knowing good and evil, but a lie in saying they wouldn’t die. That one small challenge or questioning of God’s Word turned out to be the mostly deadly of snakebites!
The devil still uses similar tactics today: ‘Did God really say that sex outside of marriage is wrong?’ … We need to be aware of the devil’s tactics – he keeps teasing, tantalising and tempting us to sin – he tries to justify wrongful behaviour by saying things like, ‘it’s not that bad; don’t be so prudish; it’s the 21st century, everyone’s doing it; it’s not like you are deliberately hurting anyone; what harm can it do?’ All of which sounds very much like: “Did God really say you mustn’t eat from any tree in the garden? You won’t surely die!” – Satan always tries to put a comma where God puts a full stop!
We can’t help being tempted; there’s no sin in being tempted. ‘All of us will be tempted to have wrong thoughts – Jesus himself was tempted – but temptation is not sin. It is not the thoughts that are sinful; rather it is the entertaining of them. The more we give in the more difficult it gets, BUT the more we resist, the easier it gets. James wrote, ‘Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you’ (James 4:7-8). It tends to be a spiral, either going up or down.’ Citation If we don’t immediately resist and flee from temptation the allure of sin grows stronger and stronger.
Don’t give in to temptation. Kill it, stop it in its tracks, starve it to death, escape, flee, run for your life. There’s a saying that goes: To triumph is to TRY with UMPH! We need to be deliberate, disciplined and determined: we need to say ‘no’, mean no and run away! Part of the way the devil makes sin so attractive is to deny its consequences… you won’t get caught; no one need ever find out; it’s not that important in the grand scheme of things… you won’t surely die! It’s that subtle suggestion that God doesn’t really love us or want what’s best for us.
In the verses that follow in Genesis, we see the consequences of disobeying God. First there is shame and embarrassment. Adam and Eve felt exposed and began a cover-up operation [that’s what the fig leaves were all about].
How quickly would we want to leave the room if every action we had ever done was displayed on a big screen for all to see, followed by a written list of every thought we had ever entertained? Deep down, we all feel ashamed and embarrassed by our sin. We don’t want people to find us out.
It’s said that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once played a practical joke on a dozen friends; all of them well-known public figures. He sent each of them an anonymous telegram that simply said, “Flee at once. All is discovered.” Twenty-four later every one of them had left the country! Virtually all of us have something in our lives which we are ashamed of; something we do not want everyone to know about.
Next, Adam and Eve’s friendship with God was broken. When they hear God coming they hid (Genesis 3v8). Many people today shy away from God. They don’t want to face up to the fact of the possibility of his existence. Like Adam and Eve they are afraid. There is a separation between them and God just as there was with Adam and Eve. But God immediately started out to try to draw them back into a relationship. He called out, ‘Where are you?’ (v9). He still does. [God still seeks lost sinners today. But not only was there a separation from God], there was also a separation between Adam and Eve themselves. Adam blamed Eve… Eve blamed the devil.’ Citation Someone has said: ‘The man blamed the woman. The woman blamed the serpent. And the serpent didn’t have a leg to stand on!
So where do we stand in all of this… ‘How can we resist evil; how can we resist the devil’s tactics?
3. What Is Our Position?
Would you turn with me to Colossians 1v13: ‘For he [God] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.’ – God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness. We haven’t been called to defeat Satan; because Jesus did that some 2000 years ago. We have been called to enforce Satan’s defeat each day. Jesus already disarmed and made a public spectacle of him at the cross. Let me share an illustration to make the point…
Standing on the deck of a US aircraft carrier, in an historic moment never to be forgotten, General MacArthur walked over to Tojo, the Supreme Commander of the Japanese forces at the end of World War II, and publicly stripped him of all his symbols of power.
He took the sword out of his hand, declared victory and enforced the terms of unconditional surrender. And that’s what Jesus did for us at the cross. Colossians 2:15 says: ‘Having disarmed the principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them.’ – The Japanese Supreme Commander had first wanted peaceful coexistence, then compromise, then concessions. But he got none because he was powerless.
In a card game an opponent with an empty hand will try to bluff and bully you. But when you know you have a winning hand you can face him down, because knowledge is power. And your power over Satan comes from knowing that he’s a defeated foe. Citation
Jesus gave his disciples authority over the devil and his demons. In Luke 10v17-20 we read: ‘The seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’ He replied, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’ – The devil is a powerful and dangerous enemy but he is also a defeated enemy and he is no match for Jesus, or for those in whom the presence of Jesus resides, through the Holy Spirit. 1 John 4v4 resolutely tells us: ‘The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.’ And Matthew 28v18 Jesus said: ‘All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.’ – If Jesus has all authority then the devil has no authority over us… none, that is, unless we give it to him!
The devil has been defeated but he has not yet been destroyed. It’s a bit like what happened at the end of WWII: On 6th June 1944, D-Day, Allied troops landed in northern France to begin the liberation of occupied Europe. The war was effectively won on D-Day and the enemy knew it. It was a re-invasion, and the German armies were forced to retreat until their final defeat almost a year later on VE-Day (Victory in Europe); 8th May 1945. – Satan has already been defeated but he has not yet destroyed… that will happen when Jesus returns.
We are involved in spiritual warfare but we are not fighting for victory, we are fighting from victory because this battle has already been won, and we are on the winning side, but Satan is still a powerful enemy. Satan lost his authority but he didn’t lose his power. The truth we need to realise, and the truth that will set us free, is that Satan no longer has authority. That is the key. Authority is the right to use the power you possess. In order for Satan to use his power in your life, he has to keep you from functioning underneath your authority because his power is only effective when he has the right to use it [that is, when we relinquish our authority and allow him to have power over us]. Citation So…
4. How Do We Defend Ourselves?
‘Since the war is not over and Satan is not yet destroyed, we need to make sure our defences are in order. Paul tells us to ‘put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes’ (Ephesians 6:11). He then mentions six pieces of equipment which we need’ Citation – six practical tips to defend ourselves (see illustration on p68 Alpha workbooks).
First we need the ‘belt of truth’ (Ephesians 6:14). This means the foundation of Christian doctrine and truth: It means reading our Bible, listening to sermons and Bible talks, and reading Christian books. It means being so grounded in the Word of God – the belt of truth – that we can spot the devil’s lies.
Those who are trained in anti-counterfeiting work don’t focus their training on studying counterfeit bank notes. They spend massive amounts of time studying the real thing: They become so familiar with every detail of the real article so that when they come across a fake or counterfeit note they can spot it easily – no matter how clever the counterfeiters are! The more intimately aware you are of a genuine article the easier it is to recognise a fake. Similarly with us: If we will invest the time in God’s Word, so that we come to know it thoroughly, we will be able to easily spot false teaching and counterfeit Christianity and the devil’s lies.
‘Secondly, we need ‘the breastplate of righteousness’ (v14). This is the righteousness that comes from God because of what Jesus has done for us on the cross. It enables us to be in a relationship with God and to live a righteous life’, [not perfect – none of us are perfect… although we’re in the process of being made perfect – but righteous; made right with God]. Until we are made perfect we’re a sort of weird hybrid: a cross between sinner and saint. And what is it that saints do? They shine for Jesus.
A young girl was asked by her R.E. teacher to describe what a ‘saint’ was. The little girl remembered the pictures of saints portrayed on the stained-glass windows in church. “I know, Miss” she said, “A saint is someone who lets the light shine through them.” – That’s a wonderful picture of a saint!
Third, we also need our ‘feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace’; ‘we need the boots of the gospel of peace. I understand this to mean a readiness to speak about the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is often said the best form of defence is attack, and we can resist evil by attacking it; by being obedient to Jesus’ command to: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations…’ (Matthew 28:19).
I have an old pair of walking boots that I’ve kept as a visual aid to spur people on in the Christian walk. One of the boots in called ‘Trust’ and the other is called ‘Obey’. They are tied together because they are the left and right boot of the Christian life… readiness to share the gospel of peace.
‘The fourth piece of armour is the shield of faith (v16). With which we ‘can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one’. Perhaps the most important piece of armour: trust or faith.
‘Fifthly, Paul tells us to take the helmet of salvation (v17).’ We need to win the battle of our mind; to protect us against doubt and accusations.
When it comes to our mind, it’s as though we have two dogs inside our head – a good dog and a bad dog – and both of them are constantly squabbling for the same piece of meat; they are fighting to take control of our thinking. What we must do, then, is feed the good dog and starve the bad dog. In other words, we need to think about doing what is right, not what is wrong. And when we do find ourselves caught up in sin – as we will do – we must immediately cut off the food supply; we must repent and turn away from the sin, we must starve the bad dog – the bad thoughts – by consciously feeding the good dog – the good thoughts.
‘Finally, we are to take ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God’ (v17).
God’s Word is the ‘sword of the Spirit’ that we must wield against the enemy. A sword in its sheath won’t do any good during an attack. The Word of God is the only offensive piece of the armour. The other five pieces were ‘defensive’ but the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God is offensive. Remember, the best form of defence is offence. That’s what Jesus did. When he was under spiritual attack from the devil he defended himself by going on the offence; Jesus quoted Scripture when Satan attacked him. ‘Each time Jesus replied with the Word of God and in the end Satan had to leave him. It is really worth learning verses from the Bible which we can use to see off the enemy and remind ourselves of the promises of God.’ So, in conclusion…
5. How Do We Attack?
‘As we have already seen, Satan and his minions were defeated on the cross, and we are now involved in the final mopping-up operation before the return of Jesus. As Christians, we need not be afraid of Satan; he has a great deal to fear from the activity of Christians. [Remember, the devil is a powerful and dangerous enemy but he’s a defeated enemy and he is no match for Jesus, or for those in whom the presence of Jesus resides, through the Holy Spirit. What happens to the darkness if you switch a light on? The darkness flees, doesn’t it? Darkness cannot exist where the light is… so the way to attack is to let your light shine!]
We are called to pray. We are involved in spiritual warfare, ‘though the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds’ (2Corinthians 10:4). Prayer was a very high priority for Jesus, and it should be for us. In the words of the hymn, ‘Satan trembles when he sees the weakest Christian on their knees.’
We are also called to action. Again, in the life of Jesus, prayer and action go hand in hand. Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God, healed the sick and cast out demons. He commissioned his disciples to do the same.’ Citation (We will look at this in more detail in the next session.)
In conclusion, we don’t know for certain why God allowed evil and suffering to enter into the world but that doesn’t mean God isn’t concerned about it. He is. People ask: ‘Why doesn’t God do something about all the evil and suffering in the world?’ – Friends, he has done something about it (He sent Jesus), He is doing something about it (God is not inactive or impotent), and one day soon He will do something conclusively about it (when Jesus returns). On that note: No one knows when Jesus will actually return… but one thing is for certain: He is coming: you can count your life on it! “The second coming of Christ is mentioned over 300 times in the New Testament… that’s an average of once in every thirteen verses. Citation Jesus is coming again: His return is more certain than the sun rising tomorrow morning!
Let’s pray together… Are there wrong things that you have been involved with, and maybe you just want to say today, I’m sorry?
Lord, we are sorry for anything we have done that was of the devil. We turn to Christ and ask for his forgiveness. Amen