“Spiritual Warfare and the Enemy’s Schemes”

“Spiritual Warfare and the Enemy’s Schemes”

Ephesians 6:10-20

When you think of spiritual warfare, what comes to mind?  Dr. Jerry Rankin once served as a missionary in Indonesia and recalls a time when he was asked by his Muslim Sudanese household helper and friend to visit her home to pray for her daughter who had become demon possessed.  Dr. Rankin and his wife agreed and upon entering the home, found their friend’s daughter tied to a bamboo bed with disheveled hair, torn clothes, and snarling like an animal.  When they walked into the room the girl glared at the missionary couple and said in clear, perfect English, “Jesus Christ is not God; Mohammed is the servant of the most high god.”[1] At first Dr. Rankin and his wife thought there was nothing weird about what the girl said since she and her family were Muslim… until they learned that the girl was uneducated and did not speak English. 

In a very real sense, the demonic world exists, and demonic possession and oppression happens still today.  Maybe when you think of spiritual warfare you think of what Dr. Rankin and his wife experienced in Indonesia in that little bamboo hut in a rural village.  The reality is the devil and the demons under his command do not need to possess a person to accomplish their goal(s), for the enemy is much more cunning.  Demons will use the most effective means they can employ to blind unbelievers and to hinder Christians.  In some cultures that are persuaded by the supernatural, demons will manifest themselves in more obvious ways than in cultures like ours which are more impressed with the intellect or the sciences.

Before we jump into Ephesians 6, consider what the apostle Peter wrote in his epistle to a group of churches suffering persecution: “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).  The methods the devil uses to devour his prey are strategic, deceptive, and effective.  The means by which he devours is both external and internal in that he uses outside forces, as well as the weakness of our own flesh, with the intent to destroy. 

Who is the Devil and What are His Schemes?

Satan at one time was known as Lucifer.  He was the highest-ranking angel with the title of “Guardian Cherub” (Ezek. 28:14).  We are told very little of what went wrong in Lucifer, but we are given some idea in Isaiah 14, “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low!  You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High” (vv. 12-14).

When he rebelled, we learn from Revelation 12:7-9, that he convinced one-third of the angels to help him sit on God’s throne by rebelling alongside him.  I am not sure how many one-third equaled out to, but currently there are millions of Angels who did not rebel against God, which means there are probably hundreds of thousands of demons.  Lucifer was not created evil, he chose to be evil; God knew what Lucifer would become, yet He created him anyway.  We are not told how long Lucifer existed as God’s “Guardian Cherub”; it could have been hundreds or thousands of our earth years that he served God before he fell.  However, the Bible does say that “He was guilty of sinning from the beginning” (1 John 3:8).

Lucifer is not just known as Satan, but he is known as the Accuser (Rev. 12:10), the Adversary (1 Peter 5:8), the Beast (Rev. 14:9-10), Beelzebub (Matt. 12:24), the Deceiver (Rev. 12:9), the Dragon (Rev. 12:9), the Enemy (Matt. 13:39), the Evil One (John 17:15), the Father of lies (John 8:44), the God of this age (2 Cor. 4:4), the Lawless One (2 Thess. 2:8-10), Murderer (John 8:44), the Prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:1-2), the Ruler of Demons (Luke 11:15), Ruler of this World (John 12:31-32), Serpent of Old (Rev. 12:9), the Tempter (Matt. 4:3), Thief (John 10:10), and the Wicked One (Eph. 6:16).  He is the personification of evil who often hides his true colors, for we are warned that he “disguises himself as an angel of light”; the demons and all of his other servants do the same (2 Cor. 11:14).

What does this all mean?  Well, let me highlight seven of his names.  As our adversary he sees us as the enemy.  As the deceiver and father of lies, he is a master at manipulation and counterfeiting the truth with lies.  As the lawless one, he has no moral standard besides his own wickedness.  As the murderer he seeks to destroy you.  As the tempter, he seeks to lure you as far from God as possible.  As the thief, he seeks to rob you of the kind of life and joy God intends for you. 

According to Ephesians 6:11, the devil has schemes; the Greek word used for schemes is methodeia, which can also mean craftiness.  In other words, the devil is methodical in his scheming to accomplish his evil intentions.  How does he do this? For starters, his schemes are multifaceted.  The primary means by which he schemes is through the world and the weakness of our own flesh.  Charles Spurgeon said of the schemes of Satan: “He will attack you sometimes by force and sometimes by fraud.”[2]  Sometimes his schemes are obvious and sometimes they appear to be hidden. 

Some ways I see the devil scheming today is in the aligning of world powers such as China, Russian, Iran, and North Korea.  Think about the oppression these nations have had upon the Church in history.  Think of the thousands of Christians martyred or imprisoned under the Chinese, Russian, Iranian, and North Korean governments.  I find it ironic that these nations are now the new axis of evil. 

Another way I see the schemes of the devil are in the sanctioning of sex reassignment hormone treatment of children who believe they identify with a different gender.  The fact that we are all created in the image of God, is it any wonder that it is our children that are under attack?  We have idolized the gift of sex that was designed to be celebrated between a man and a woman, in the sanctity of marriage, and now we have made it the very core of a person’s identity.  Now, the United Nations is suggesting that it is a human right for minors to consent to sex and that laws that would prevent adults to have sex with consenting children is a violation of that child’s human rights. When I learned about this, I could not help but think of Moloch who was an idol worshiped where the children of his devotees would be laid upon its arms over flames in the form of child sacrifice. 

There are thousands of other schemes in our world that I believe the devil is behind. With the ongoing problem of human trafficking, substance abuse on a global scale, and now super AI that I am sure will be weaponized or will weaponize itself, there seems to be no shortage of methods to dehumanize or destroy those created to reflect the image of the God of life. 

I believe that the devil’s most effective scheming is more subtle than what we are seeing on a global scale.  The top three ways I believe the devil schemes in the life of a person are as follows:

The devil disguises himself to look good.

The devil, and his demons, can disguise themselves as appearing to be good (2 Cor. 11:13-15).  Remember that Satan has been around for a long time and that he has had plenty of time to observe human actions for thousands of years.  He is very good at raising up false teachers who give the impression of serving God while empowered by Satan.  These people introduce doctrines that sound true but end up creating a level of skepticism with what is genuinely true, to lead them from sound doctrine to worship a different Christ (2 Cor. 11:4). 

The devil twists the word of God.

Jesus said the devil has been a murderer and a liar from the beginning (John 8:44).  He was able to deceive Adam and Eve into believing that God lied to them and did not have their best in mind when he forbade them to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3).  He has gotten people to doubt the goodness of God ever since.  The reality is that every time we give into the temptation to sin, we agree with the devil that there was something better God was withholding from us, which is the sin we seek to satisfy ourselves with. 

The devil is the great counterfeiter.

The devil is a master at creating attractive counterfeits.  How does he do this, he does it with sex, he does it with relationships, he does it with work, and he is able to do it in 10,000 other ways.  His counterfeits are not unlike the wise men and sorcerers of Pharaoh who each cast down their staff to turn them into snakes in the same way God turned Aaron’s staff into a serpent.  The serpents looked similar to what God did with Aaron’s staff, but his staff-turned-serpent swallowed up those that belonged to Pharaoh (see Exod. 7:8-12).  Satan is really good at seducing us into believing that the cheap substitute will satisfy. 

How Can the Christian Stand Against the Devil?

First, before we look for the practical ways we can stand against the devil, let me remind you that the devil is but one creature who cannot be in more than one place at a time.  Paul tells us that the way to stand in the strength of God’s might is to, “Put on the whole armor of God…” (v. 11). So, what is the whole armor of God?

The Belt of Truth is the truth of scripture.

When Jesus was in the wilderness being tempted by the devil, it was the truth of scripture that he used to resist the devil.  Jesus prayed these words for us in his high priestly prayer shortly before he was handed over to be crucified: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:15–17).  In writing to Timothy, Paul instructed: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).  One of the reasons why Christ has gifted his church with pastors, teachers, prophets, and evangelists is to equip Christians in the truth of God’s word, “…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:14-15).  Sam Storms was right when he wrote, “Satan will always flourish in the midst of theological ignorance.”[3]  

The Breastplate of Righteousness is the righteousness of Christ.

The breastplate as part of a warrior’s armor protects the vital organs, so it is no mystery why Paul would characterize the righteousness of Christ as essential to protecting the vital organs of the Christian’s faith.  Satan is also called “the accuser” for a reason (Rev. 12:10), for he will look for ways to doubt the sufficiency of Christ’s righteousness over our wickedness and sin.  The reality is that we are not good enough, but Jesus is! The enemy wants to convince you that you can do enough because he knows that your best efforts will never be good enough.  The Christian must rest confidently in the truth of God’s word that Jesus is our righteousness: “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:23-25a).  When the enemy says you are not good enough, you can respond by confidently declaring that “Jesus is all I need.”

The Shoes of the Gospel are what we wear as we follow Jesus.

The one who has the righteousness of Christ is one who hungers for the righteousness of Christ.  Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”  What does it look like to hunger and thirst for righteousness?  Listen to what Jesus said: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst…. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:35, 56).  To abide in Jesus is to follow him, and to follow him is to find your satisfaction in him, and to be satisfied in Jesus will keep you from seeking a satisfaction in any of Satan’s cheap substitutes.   

The Shield of Faith is the growing defense of a confidence that rests in God.

The shield Paul has in mind here is not the little round shield a soldier might wield on his arm, but the kind designed to shield the whole body from the onslaught of arrows.  It was about four feet tall, two feet wide, and reinforced with two layers of wood.  What are the flaming darts of the evil one?  I believe they are the doubts, temptations, and impure or evil thoughts that come out of nowhere.  The shield of faith is only as large as your confidence in the scriptures, dependance upon the righteousness of Christ, and your satisfaction in Jesus. The more your understanding and confidence grows in the word of God, the righteousness of Christ, and your satisfaction in Jesus as you follow him, the larger and more effective the shield of faith will be in protecting you from the onslaught of the enemies dangerous and deadly flaming darts.   

The Helmet of Salvation is the confidence we have that Jesus is enough.

The battle over sin is first won or lost in the mind.  We are told in 2 Corinthians 10, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3–5).  The Helmet of Salvation is the confidence that we belong to Christ and that there is no other who can satisfy and bring life to our whole being than he.  To wear the Helmet of Salvation is to know that because of Christ: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39).

The Sword of the Spirit is the offensive weapon of God’s Holy Word.

The Sword of the Spirit is our only offensive weapon in all the armor we are to put on.  The Sword of the Spirit is the word of God, and like the shield of faith, it is only as effective as our ability to wield it through a confidence in it, that can grow as we grow in our knowledge of it.  The Greek word that is used for “word” is rhema, which is the spoken word.  It is the word of God spoken in the same way Jesus spoke it to resist the devil while tempted in the wilderness (see Luke 4:1-13).  Of the word of God, we are told in Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).  It is the word of God that is, “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” (2 Tim. 3:16).  Sam Storms suggests that there are three primary ways we can use the Sword of the Spirit: “We proclaim the Word (as Jesus did; see also Rev. 12).  We pray the Word (Eph. 6:18-19; Acts 6:4; John 15:7).  And we praise with the Word (i.e., sing the Scriptures).[4]

To put on the full armor of God is how we can stand with a strength not our own so that we can resist the schemes of the devil.  

[1] Jerry Rankin. Spiritual Warfare (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing; 2009), p. 2.

[2] Charles Spurgeon. Shoes for Pilgrims and Warriors (Thursday, May 6, 1909).

[3] Sam Storms. Understanding Spiritual Warfare (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Reflective; 2021), p. 299.

[4] Ibid., p. 305.