The Unseen Enemy

The Unseen Enemy

We may not think about it, but we are in a spiritual battle not against flesh and blood but against spiritual powers led by Satan himself who works to accuse, deceive, and tempt us in ways that destroy our relationship with God. By knowing his tactics, we are better able to defeat him.

Unseen Enemy

Today we continue our series on the Unseen. Even though we can’t see this realm with our eyes, it gives meaning and purpose to our lives and explains a great deal of what we experience in our world. It takes faith to believe in things unseen, yet it is crucial that we believe in the reality of the spiritual realm.

Last week we talked about the over-arching Cosmic Drama that has been playing out since time began. Without knowing God’s story from the beginning to the very end, our own lives can seem confusing. We need the anchor of knowing how our own lives fit into the story of all life on this earth.

Last week we also saw Jesus as the Hero of the story. He is the one who sacrificed His life to rescue the entire world, enabling all who believe in Him to live happily ever after. In every story with a Hero, there has to be a Villain – the Enemy. This Unseen Enemy is our topic for today.

This Cosmic Drama is a story of war between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Darkness. We must be aware of the Villain in this battle in order to make sense of our struggles and trials in life. We must remember that the struggles we see are just the tip of the iceberg of the spiritual battle taking place. Paul describes this in Ephesians.

Ephesians 6:10-12 – Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.
11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 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.

This passage gives us three important “take-aways” about the Unseen Battle.

  1. Before telling us the worrisome truth that we are in a spiritual battle against a dark power, Paul first assures us that we fight not in our own strength, but in the mighty power of the Lord. Let’s promise never to forget this truth! We can fight and defeat any power the Enemy throws at us because our power comes from the Lord Almighty!
  2. The Devil is clearly portrayed as the real leader and schemer of the Kingdom of Darkness. Learning about the Devil (Satan) shows us how Satan may attack us.
  3. While our war seems to be against flesh and blood (bad people we see in the news, or people in our lives who are constantly at odds with us), it is actually against the spiritual powers of the dark world working to bring chaos and destruction to every aspect of our lives through any means possible.

After reading such a clear passage about the Devil and the evil powers we fight, the results of a 2009 study by the Barna Research Group might surprise you. It showed that 40% of Christians believed the Devil was not a living being, but a symbol of evil. An additional 20% somewhat agreed that the Devil was not a literal being. And another 8% said they weren’t sure. A whopping 68% (a majority) of people who identify as Christians do NOT believe in the literal existence of the Devil!

How did we get to this place where most Christians no longer believe the Devil actually exists? Think of all the Bible’s stories about the Devil: a serpent tempting Eve; Satan destroying Job’s life and tempting Jesus in the wilderness. Think of everything Peter and Paul wrote about the Devil as a very real being. Why are all these no longer believed to be true?

Problem with Satan

I think this eroding belief in Satan is best described by C. S. Lewis in his famous work called The Screwtape Letters. In this fascinating read, Uncle Screwtape, a high-ranking demon, corresponds with his nephew Wormwood, whose assignment is to keep “the patient” from coming to faith in Jesus. Here’s an excerpt from a letter Screwtape sends to his protégé:

Suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.

The Screwtape Letters

If we have a completely wrong idea of who Satan is, what he is like, and what his purpose and strategy are, it is much easier for him to convince us that THAT version of the Devil does NOT exist. And if our caricature of Satan is fake, we mistakenly assume the whole concept is just biblical imagery at best or completely fictional at worst.

This is why today’s message about our Unseen Enemy is vital to our success in this Cosmic Battle. When we are ignorant about these things, we are unprotected from his attacks. Sometimes we even blame God for the works of His Enemy. Every successful athletic team from high school up through the pros learns about the opponent before ever taking the field. They scout the opponent so they know how to defend the goal. The same is true when we are more knowledgeable about our opponent in this world.

Satan’s History

To understand Satan we must find where he began and review his history. Surprisingly, our clearest description of Satan’s origins is at the end of the Bible, in the book of Revelation, chapter 12:

Revelation 12:7-9Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9 The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

Satan once had a place in heaven, but he rebelled and began a war against God. He and his army of angels were defeated by the heavenly angels and were cast down out of heaven.

This story brings up many questions! The most important question to me is: WHY did he rebel?  If he was a heavenly being like the angels and lived with God, what caused him to fight against God?

The answer shouldn’t be too surprising since it’s the same reason we often wrestle with God today. From a prophecy in the book of Isaiah we read this story:

Isaiah 14:12-14 How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!
13 You said in your heart, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. 14 I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.

Satan’s rebellion is rooted in pride and a desire to be elevated to a God-like status. Since God will not share His glory with sinful, rebellious creations like Satan, Satan had to be expelled from heaven.

Satan’s Purpose

This important background story points us toward Satan’s purpose in our world today. Satan has been building an alternate kingdom, opposing God’s Kingdom, ever since he got the boot, and obviously he has put himself in the position of King. His purpose, therefore, is to grow his own kingdom, his own dominion, by pulling as many people as possible away from God. He knows our lives will be most fulfilled and we will be most satisfied if we walk in relationship with God. Satan’s whole purpose is to destroy that relationship and, in the process, to destroy us.

The name Satan means “Adversary,” and his purpose is to be our adversary – our enemy – in this life. He is not a cute cartoon character who wears red tights and carries a pitchfork. We’ve seen that he is a powerful being, a former high-ranking angel who now rules over an army of fallen angels. He has devoted his entire existence to crushing you and ruining your eternity.

Satan himself probably is not in direct combat with you. Remember: Satan is not God. He cannot be in multiple places at one time, and he does not know the future. I don’t want to give you the impression that your constant direct foe is the Devil himself. Yes, Jesus encountered Satan directly, but you likely won’t. By understanding Satan, we know the character and schemes of his team, the demons, the powers of darkness, and the unclean spirits. Satan works through this army around the world as he continues to war against God in both the seen and the unseen realms.

Satan’s Strategy

This information about Satan may seem like a lot to accept! It may be really scary for some of you. Others of you may be quite skeptical about the whole thing. I challenge you, though, to stick with me. In the details we learn how Satan works to destroy us. As we look at his strategy, I think there’s a good chance you might recognize some of the tactics being used against you.

Accusation – The Devil / The Accuser

Let’s look at the meanings behind the name “the devil.” Just as the name “Satan” had a meaning and pointed us to our adversarial relationship to him, the term “Devil” (or the Greek word “Diabolos”) has a specific meaning: “Slanderer.”

Slander is a defamatory statement made against another person – publicly accusing someone of something that’s false. In multiple verses, the Bible simply calls the Devil the “Accuser of the believers.”

Here’s what this means for us:

  • Satan tries to tell you terrible lies about yourself and others.
  • He tears down your self-esteem and tells you nobody likes you, loves you, or even thinks about you.
  • He tries to make you think the worst of other people, perhaps accusing them of intending to hurt you when that wasn’t the case at all.
  • Perhaps Satan leads you to believe that the constant stumbling and sin in your life disqualifies you from God’s love or from any meaningful work in the church.
  • He tells you you’re a loser, your faith is phony, and people wouldn’t love you if they knew the real you.
  • His accusations seek to destroy you with despair, doubts, and hateful thoughts about yourself and others.

Deception – The Father of Lies

Next, we see that Satan works through deception. The Apostle John says it best:

John 8:44You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

We must understand that Satan’s tactics usually involve deception and misdirection. He rarely attacks people directly. If he did that, we’d recognize that the attack was from him and we would run to God. So, instead, he tells us little lies to lead us astray, just like he first did in the Garden of Eden. His little lie to Eve was that God told them not to eat from the tree because He was holding something back from them. Satan said, “If you eat it, you will be LIKE GOD.” Does that sound familiar?

Satan continues leading people astray in masses all around the world.

Remember Revelation 12:9The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

Most of the world’s religions contain many truths about God, but lies are interspersed within the truths. The lies lead people to try to earn their salvation through works, or to give sacrifices because they recognize their sin and their need for a savior. In every case, however, Satan has people blinded to the truth that Jesus offers salvation and is the one and only sacrifice through which our sins can be washed clean.

Temptation – The Tempter

Satan’s final strategy to destroy us is to allow our sinful nature to work against us. In Matthew 4, Jesus encounters Satan after fasting for 40 days in the wilderness.

Matthew 4:1-3Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty day and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

A side note to skeptics who doubt the personal existence of Satan and his army of demons: the sheer volume of stories like this one in which Jesus directly confronts or teaches about Satan and demons, either forces one to believe in their actual, physical existence or it dramatically weakens your belief in anything else Jesus teaches or does throughout the Bible.

For me this is an incredible argument for why Satan HAS TO BE A REAL FOE. Jesus went toe-to-toe with Satan, and taught about him often. For me to believe Satan is merely the personification of evil casts total doubt on whether the resurrection of Jesus is a literal event or a symbolic story. While the doctrine of Satan seems rather secondary to Christian faith, it very quickly becomes a stone which, when removed, brings the whole house down!

Back to temptation – Satan knows where each of us is vulnerable to attack, and he tries to tempt us to fall into those traps.

  • He knows how just one drink after a terrible day at work might be just the thing to ruin your life in a moment.
  • He knows that keeping you surfing online, shopping and racking up credit card debt, is the shortest route to ruining your marriage.
  • He knows you, and he knows how to use your weaknesses to destroy you.
  • And if he can’t destroy you directly, he’ll try to make you feel guilty about your sin and your constant failures. That way he can take you out of the battle for good.

Satan’s Timing

We’ve seen Satan’s main strategies, but many Christians will never experience much direct attack from Satan. When you see their influence in the ongoing Cosmic Battle, you realize they aren’t much more than shoe-shiners or navel-gazers. Yeah, they’re on Team Jesus, but since they’re making no difference the enemy isn’t greatly concerned about them.

Some actions, however, will put you on the enemy’s radar screen! You should expect spiritual attack from Satan if you are:

  • Growing spiritually. Satan wants you to remain stunted with minimal faith. Then you are less effective in the battle. In times of spiritual growth, it’s not unusual to suddenly feel bombarded with deceptive thoughts of doubt in God, or incredible accusations about your sin. Satan uses guilt and shame in an effort to turn you away from God. Or he may tempt you to fall into the areas of sin you struggle with most by making them feel extra enticing.
  • Sharing your faith. Sharing faith is like setting prisoners free. It flips people from Satan’s team to God’s team and enrages the Enemy! You might experience an attack in your life if you share your faith. You might see other hindrances – simple things like a schedule change for the person you’ve been telling about Jesus. You don’t see that person as often and you lose opportunities to share.
  • Exposing the Enemy (just like this series is doing). With opened eyes and increased awareness, you are more effective in battle. As a result, a spiritual attack may well come your way.
  • Repenting of sin. Satan wants to keep you trapped in your sin! That’s why it sometimes feels like the temptation to sin is greatest right after you’ve had a major spiritual high and repented of doing that EXACT sin.
  • Advancing the Kingdom. Prior to a Major Breakthrough, Satan will try to put the brakes on what you are doing. Be aware that this is when attacks come. If you face an attack in the midst of a challenging ministry season, it almost always signals you’re on the verge of a breakthrough that will advance God’s Kingdom!

Discerning Natural vs. Spiritual Struggles

In working to know your real Enemy better, you may start to wonder if all the troubles and trials in your life are a result of spiritual attack. This is when you must be in tune with God in order to discern between natural troubles and supernatural attacks. Otherwise you may try all sorts of natural remedies and solution for a problem that’s spiritual. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have the Spirit of God inside you, and you must learn to trust the Holy Spirit to show you what might be a spiritual attack. Pray for eyes to see the spiritual realm with clarity.

Here’s my simple litmus test: if you feel a nudge that something is coming from a supernatural aspect, pray about it. If you still wrestle with whether it is supernatural or natural, treat it as both. Look for natural solutions: go to the doctor; have the difficult conversation; do whatever it takes. However, also treat it as a supernatural attack from the Enemy and pray that God will intervene and speak truth to cast out the lies. Let Him protect you from temptation.


Looking at our enemy can make this battle feel a bit overwhelming, but I remind you, we already know how this battle ends! Jesus overcame the accusations, the deception, and the temptations of Satan. Then He scored the decisive blow by offering His perfect life on the cross in exchange for our sin and shame.

Yes, the battle still rages on all around us, but ultimately we need not be afraid. Our Enemy has been defeated. We are not powerless when he attacks. We must remind ourselves: He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

This Cosmic Battle will end with a final defeat when Satan is cast into eternal darkness. Until then, we have some weapons at our disposal. That’s the topic for next week. We’ll see how to defend ourselves against these expected attacks, especially as we – as a church – work together to advance the Good News of Jesus Christ throughout our community.


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