Christian theology in a Sudanese context. God the Holy Spirit and our Christian experience.
Two dangers should be noted at the beginning of this subject. They are opposite extremes of each other. We should not over emphasise the devil and his spiritual forces, giving them too much attention. They do not deserve it! But neither should we ignore them completely, acting as if they do not exist. The devil is real and his forces are opposing all Christians who are seeking to live for the Lord Jesus Christ. “Satan is behind (and will help along) every belief or religion that is not honouring to Jesus Christ”. In Ephesians Paul links the visible world of church, community and family, with the invisible spirit-world. He makes reference to the spirit-world, “the heavenly realms”, in Ephesians 1:3; 1:10; 1:20-21; 2:2; 2:6; 4:14 and 4:27. Many of the challenges we face in the visible world can be influenced positively and negatively by activity in the invisible world. If our aim is “to live a life worthy of the calling”, Ephesians 4:1, then we will face many battles in both the physical and the spiritual realms. Holy living and prayer are our keys to spiritual victory.
Four general factors are involved in spiritual warfare: Firstly, there are the forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12). They are wicked. They are spiritual. Although invisible, they are real. These forces have systematic plans and they exert their strength and energy against Christians, verse 11. (See also 2 Corinthians 2:11). Ephesians 2:2-3 names the ‘world’, the ‘devil’ and our own ‘sinful nature’, as the alliance of evil forces set against us. Words used in the gospels include ‘demon’ (Greek – daimonion), a spiritual agent at work in heavenly realms; ‘evil spirit’ (Greek – paneros), a wicked and bad effect, influencing to pain or sorrow; and ‘unclean spirit’(Greek – akarthartos), something that defiles or makes impure. The ‘devil’ (Greek – diabolos) is an accuser and a slanderer. He tries to influence Christians in bad ways (Ephesians 4:27; 6:11). God created the devil (Colossians 1:16-17). He was known as the “morning star, son of the dawn”. He proudly rebelled against God and influenced other angels to do so with him. For this, he was judged by God along with his followers (Isaiah 14:12-15; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude :6). God has allowed the devil certain powers for a time, which are designed to prove the genuine faith that God’s people have in God (Job 1:6-2:10; 2 Corinthians 9:7-12). The devil knows and quotes Scripture (Matthew 4:5-7). He is Satan, the hostile enemy (Matthew 16:23). He is Beelzebub, the prince of demons (Matthew 12:24-28). He is Abaddon and Apollyon, Hebrew and Greek words both meaning ‘the destroyer’ (Revelation 9:11). He tried to destroy Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11). He tried to destroy Peter (Luke 22:31-34). He opposed Paul (1 Thessalonians 2:18). Satan is able to perform imitation miracles and astonishing signs designed to deceive people and take them away from the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10). He is Belial, a Greek word meaning ‘worthless’
(2 Corinthians 6:15). Jesus used the names Satan and Beelzebub for the devil, and described him as a murderer, a liar, and the prince of this world, (Matthew 4:10; Matthew 12:26-27; John 8:44; John 12:31). Secondly, there is the armour of God. (Ephesians 6:11). The Lord Jesus is the One who gives Christians the ‘mighty power’ of this armour, verse 10. In Jesus Christ we have every spiritual blessing that we ever need, (Ephesians 1:3). Christians do not fight for victory in spiritual warfare, we fight from victory. In Ephesians 1, notice “how incredibly great is His power to help those who believe in Him” 1:19 (J. B. Philips paraphrase). (Ephesians 1:3; 1:4; 1:7; 1:11; 1:13; 1:19). The same God Who puts us into Christ, provides us with armour. Our responsibility is to put the armour on (Ephesians 6:11; 6:13). The helmet assures the head of protection. Our salvation is in Christ alone. This indispensable doctrine is our indestructible defence.The sword can be used in attack and in defence. This word of God used under the influence of the Spirit of God is potent. The shield displays our colours – Who we belong to – and it gives us cover whenever we are attacked. It is a protection as we advance, rather than something to passively hide behind. The breastplate protects the heart. Jesus is our righteousness. He cleanses us from all sins we confess to Him. A person can survive a wounded limb, but a stab in the heart would be fatal. The belt gives support to the body and to the armour. God’s word is always the truth; we should live true to it. An honest walk with God leads to our witness being enforced by our own way of living. People around us see what we are, as well as hear what we say. Thirdly, we must take a firm stand (Ephesians 6:13-14). If we give up the resources we have in Christ, and try to live on our own abilities, we give advantage to the devil. The words ‘stand’ or ‘withstand’ come five times in Ephesians 6:10-20. The omnipotent God waits for us to take the initiative in battle, and then He fights with us. We take our stand by counting on Jesus’ sovereign authority (Matthew 28:18). We use the name of Jesus in our prayers (John 14:13-14; John 15:16; John 16:23-24). We plead the blood of Jesus as our righteousness (Romans 3:21-26). We use the Scriptures as Jesus did (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10). We claim Jesus’ victory on the cross as the grounds for our victory whatever is facing us (Colossians 2: 13-15). To ‘take a stand’ means to maintain your position in the face of the enemy. Fourthly, prayer is warfare. It is campaigning against the evil one (Ephesians 6:18-20). Prayer is the communication between the soldier in action and his headquarters back home. How should we pray? “In the Spirit”. For whom should we pray? “For all the saints”. When should we pray? “On all occasions”. What should we pray? “All kinds of prayers and requests”. How long should we pray? “Always keep on”. Paul has already shown how he prayed for the church in Ephesus (Ephesians 1:15-19; 3:14-19). He prayed that they would know God better, which is always how to ‘be strong in the Lord’. As we pray we realise“God’s incomparably great power for us who believe”, (Ephesians 1:19).
The New Testament shows Christians praying on their own (Matthew 6:6); praying with one partner (Matthew 18:19); praying in a small group (Matthew 18:20); and praying in a larger congregation (Acts 1:14). Every advantage should be taken of every opportunity to pray.
Christians need to be able to discern the origin and source of spiritual things. The spiritually alive New Testament church was told to be on the lookout for ‘christians’ in the churches who were not really of God. Some men had a desire to divide (Acts 20:30). Others were motivated by money (2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Corinthians 11:13). More men said they had new and different understandings of old truths (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3; 2 Peter 2:1-3). Christians must carefully test all people (1 Corinthians 2:12-16). The word ‘occult’ means ‘hidden’. Some of the Sudanese traditional religions and their associated practices with ancestral spirits, spells and curses, use witchcraft and sorcery to invoke the evil powers of Satan against Christians. The Bible does recognise the power of these things, but reminds us that their power is nothing at all in comparison to the omnipotent God (Deuteronomy 18:9-10; Isaiah 44:24-26; Mark 5:1-13).
All magic and occult activity is a perversion of true religion. Wanting an ability to affect others positively or negatively showed a wickedly evil hold over Simon the sorcerer’s heart (Acts 8:9-24). Using sorcery and persuasion to try and stop the work of the gospel, Elymas was described by Paul as “a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right” (Acts 13:6-12). Spirit-diviners, those who told the future, and those who made money from shrines, charms, curses and spells, brought great opposition to the young Christian church (Acts 16:16-24; Acts 19:23-34). A choice must always be made between following Jesus and following these other gods and their practices. Their can be no mixing of the two (Acts 19:13-20). Like people everywhere, Africans have invented gods to follow for themselves. Satan loves to destroy. Sometimes he uses a sincere commitment to a false traditional worship. The witch doctor says: ‘You’ll die if you leave the way of your ancestors’. Honouring Jesus means we have to make hard choices (Luke 9:23-24). Many traditions mix some good things among the bad. But would you eat a meal knowing that part of it was poison? The Christian gospel does not destroy the good values of any culture. The good is in that culture because God has graciously put it there by His general revelation of Himself (Romans 1:18-23). The gospel of Jesus Christ can be translated into African and into Arab cultures. The secret is to position the culture with Jesus Christ, His person, His work, and His teaching, at the centre. Everything can then be accepted, or rejected, by discovering how it compares with the purity, morality, and God-honouring life of Jesus.
Four good questions to ask are: 1. What does the Bible teach about this theme or topic? 2. What does our culture teach, and practice, about this? 3. How can we be true to JesusChrist in a culturally appropriate way? 4. What price are we being asked to pay for following Jesus Christ?
Facing all of these issues from the past or in the present, to trust in God is a deliberate choice the Christian makes. We trust and we carry on honouring Jesus. We can pray prayers like Psalm 35:1-10, “O Lord, fight against those who fight against me”. The opposition may become more and more intense, but God has promised the overall spiritual battle will be won. Jesus’ death on the cross may have looked like an apparent victory for Satan, but God used it to bring salvation within reach of every person.
Satan can tempt us, but he cannot force us to give in to temptation. That is a choice which we make (James 4:7). We can set ourselves against the influences of the world, the flesh and the devil by the choices we make. Satan has ultimately been defeated by the Lord Jesus Christ (1 John 3:8). Jesus actually prays now for us to make good use of His victory (Luke 22:31-32; Hebrews 7:23-25). Christians eliminate the influence of the sinful flesh-nature from our lives by putting that nature to death (Colossians 3:5-9). This means starving it, not feeding it. It means choosing to please God rather than to please ourselves. It means doing what comes supernaturally, not what comes naturally.
The cross of the Lord Jesus is our symbol of Christ’s victory. It is easy to understand why the cross has been used as the mark of the Christian in the long and troubled history of the church. The cross is the Christian’s victory sign (Colossians 2:13-15).
Thinking it through.
(a). Why should we avoid both extreme views of ‘spiritual warfare’?
(b). Since Satan can quote Scripture and perform miracles, what should our response be
to those who quote the Bible and demonstrate signs? How?
(c). What can we learn about ‘prayer’, from Ephesians 1:15-19; 3:14-19; and 6:18-20?
(d). How is the devil defeated in the believer’s life? (1 John 3:8; Colossians 2:13-15).