Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.
Recently I listened to an audio version of C.S. Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters. It was first published in 1942, but it is as contemporary as if it were written in 2018. The Screwtape Letters is a revealing look at the schemes that Satan and his minions use to pervert the souls of people. One of the things that stood out to me as I listened is how blind we have become to Satan’s attacks. As Screwtape writes to his nephew, Wormwood, concerning the best ways to pervert the soul of “his man,” the tactics recommended seem so obvious. Yet, in real life, we fall into these obvious traps time and time again.
The Bible tells us that Satan is like a roaring lion, prowling around, seeking someone to devoir. There are three truths that come out of this image, of which we should all be aware. First, Satan has an insatiable hunger for evil. His whole bent is to do damage to God by attacking God’s creation, especially humanity. Second, Satan is always looking for those individuals who are isolated. An isolated person is a vulnerable person. Third, Satan knows exactly how to maximize a person’s vulnerabilities.
One of the things that Lewis points out in his masterful book is that Satan often uses “the big sins” to blind people to the quieter, often more deadly, subtle sins. Although murder, stealing, and immorality are all destructive, they are set up by the sins of character. Satan is a master at slowly and subtly distorting a person’s character to the point that they are willing to engage in any manner of evil and be able to justify it. Paul speaks to this in Romans 1:28-32. Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
Paul unmasks some of Satan’s schemes in Ephesians 4:29-32. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Let’s take a closer look at the traps Satan sets for us.
- Unwholesome talk: In our age of expanded ways of communicating, it has become common for people to use these many communication tools to expound all manner of unwholesome talk. Some people feel that they can say anything on social media without accountability. They will say things through the internet that they would never say to another person face to face. It is all too easy for us to get caught up in this.
- Bitterness, rage, and anger: These three go together, because they are all part of a continuum. Bitterness comes when we feel wronged. We are hurt by what someone else does or says, and we allow that hurt to fester. It begins to sour our heart. Bitterness, if unchecked leads to rage; a burning desire to get back at someone. Rage gives birth to anger, which is the outward explosion of our negative emotions.
- Brawling and slander: Out first thought is of engaging in a fist fight, but in this context, brawling refers more to an argumentative spirit. We fight others with our words. This argumentative spirit naturally leads to slander; the demeaning of another person. Slander is so common today that we do not even recognize it.
- Malice: this is an entire category of emotions and actions that have one purpose in mind; to do harm to another person. Malice is active aggression against another person in both words and deeds.
All of these things begin within a person. They are all character issues. We want to blame our circumstances or the people around us, but the real cause of these things lies deep within us. James makes that very clear in James 1:13-15. When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
If we are going to counter these negative influences in our lives, we will need to take positive action. Paul tells us to put on the full armor of God, so that we can stand against Satan’s attacks. In Ephesians 4, Paul gave us a few strategies to fend off the schemes of Satan.
- Guard your words: It is often better to say nothing than to “speak our mind.” Paul tells us to replace unwholesome talk with words that uplift and encourage others. Make it a habit to express positive words to those around you.
- Acknowledge the Holy Spirit: The Bible tells us that when we place our faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us. Too often we forget His presence. We need to remind ourselves that God’s Spirit lives within us. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
- Actively practice kindness and compassion: These are skills that need to be developed and honed. At first, they may feel awkward, but over time they will become our natural response to others.
- Learn to forgive quickly: Just as we have been forgiven by God through Christ, we need to extend that same forgiveness to those around us. Instead of holding a grudge for some perceived wrong, we need to give it to God and let go of it.
The Devil is a master at what he does. On our own, we are no match for his malevolent schemes. But we can stand in the power of Christ. The first step is to be aware of Satan’s tactics so that we can take up the shield of faith and quench his fiery darts as the come our way.