May 20, 2018
Jesus secured salvation for all believers when He defeated Satan at the cross. Until Christ returns, however, spiritual warfare rages on in this world and should not be easily dismissed. In His mercy, God has provided the armor by which we can withstand such fierce opposition. In this overview of God’s protective provision, Alistair Begg exhorts us to resist Satan’s accusations, look outside ourselves to Christ, and recall the truth that in Christ, we already have the victory.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to turn to Ephesians and chapter 6, and we’ll read from verse 10 to verse 20. Ephesians 6:10:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts ofthe evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”
And a prayer:
Lord, open our eyes, open our hearts, open my lips to declare your praise. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Well, we find ourselves now at the tenth verse in our studies and at what is obviously the concluding section of Ephesians. You will notice that verse 10 begins with the word “Finally…” When preachers use that word “finally,” when you’re sitting out there, it’s usually an indication that they’re about to go on for some considerable time. And that is also true here of Paul. In a sense, what he’s saying is, “Now, in light of that,” or “Henceforth, in final application of all that is being said…” So I say this because we’re not going to hurry through this material. We’re not going to try and make a rush to the end, because it is vitally important that we come to terms with it. And in that respect, what I want to do today is essentially a reconnaissance mission, flying, as it were, over this material at a height of about thirty thousand feet. In a way that isn’t routinely the case, if you miss this evening, then you will miss this, because I can only get so far in the flyover in the morning. I say that not to try and induce others to attendance but to be very honest with you.
The prevailing notion, of course, in our secular culture regarding the things that we’re confronted with here—the prevailing notion is at least skepticism, perhaps even a total disregard for the ideas that Paul is addressing: the notion of a devil, the idea of demonic, personal, intelligent forces, and so on. And yet, at the same time as people find it easy to either poke fun at the idea or to disregard it entirely, they continue to make movies about these very subjects. And throughout the period of my life, and your life too, we were confronted—not, in my case, viewing it—but with movies like The Exorcist, or Rosemary’s Baby, or The Witch, or The Omen, and so on. And one of the questions that we must inevitably ask is, Why the preoccupation with these things? Why the interest in these things? Unless, of course, the very source of the preoccupation is an indication of the reality of the one about whom contemporary man likes to make fun.
In 1978—the twenty-fifth of November 1978—The Economist magazine ran an article under the heading “Is Satan Dead?” The reason I know that is because I read it, and having read it, I filed it, which was the way in which I could bring it out just now. It’s a very good article, if you want to Google it; as I say, The Economist, November 25, ’78. And it was on the heels of the mass suicide of the James [Jones] cult who all took their lives in Guyana. And the writer of the article is expressing the fact that in the vacuum that has been created—and he’s thinking expressly in British terms—in the vacuum that has been created by the increasing decline in the influence of Christianity—he views that in terms of attendance at church, and numbers of young people involved, and so on—he says what we’ve had, then, is the vacuum and then the desire for people to fill that vacuum. Because, you know, as Dostoyevsky said, you know, when people cease to believe in God, they don’t believe in nothing; they start to believe in everything. And the writer goes on to point out that in secular terms—in terms of secular philosophy—here we are in the late ’70s; the influence of Lenin and Stalin and Mao and Marx himself at that point had really begun to lose their appeal as well. And he says, “Of course, what then happens is it’s going to be filled with something.” And he says that “when the quest for something takes place, nobody knows where that’s going to end.” And he says it explains—this quest and this amazing engagement—explains some of the appalling, dismaying, embarrassing things that have already happened, from the Manson murders to the Guyana mass suicide, by way of the intellectual dishonesty of some of the instant transcendental meditation cults.
And he says, “But perhaps there is more to come. Perhaps there is worse to come.” This is 1978. Some of you weren’t even born; I was twenty-six. “What happened in Jonestown, Guyana, is a ghoulish, cautionary tale for all these different people who in these differing ways are seeking God in a secular world.” Here’s the sentence: “In that search for God, it is all too easy to blunder into the arms of Satan himself.” And he concludes his piece, “Is Satan not dead after all? For if Satan in some sense is not dead, that implies that God is not either.”
Now, here we are, all these years later, and that which was so staggering in ’78 has repeated itself again and again and again. And when we turn to the Bible, we discover that the Bible is alert to these things—that the Evil One is at his wiliest, he is most skillful in his scheming, when he succeeds in persuading people that he doesn’t actually exist. He then may be a figure of fun, a conjecture of the imagination, but he is not a reality.
Now, it’s one thing for a secular world to have that perspective. What makes it all the more challenging and dangerous is the fact that within the framework of the Church—big C—that within the framework of the Church, little is known about the devil. Little is known about “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Because, you remember, that is how Paul has begun his letter. If you turn back a couple of pages to the way in which he begins his letter, he’s addressing not the man on the street in Ephesus—because the man on the street in Ephesus would think this was absolute nonsense, the way the man on the street in Cleveland thinks it’s nonsense. This is for the believer, who has been—1:3—“blessed … in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”
Now, notice that phrase. Because what Paul is making clear now as he comes to Ephesians 6 is that that is the realm in which this great spiritual battle is being fought. Because the same grace that reconciles a man or a woman to God antagonizes that man or woman to the Evil One, to Satan, so that we then find ourselves immediately engaged in what the Westminster Confession refers to as “a continual and irreconcilable war.” If you think about it, when we say the Lord’s Prayer together, it makes sense of one of the phrases in the prayer, doesn’t it? Where Jesus says to his disciples, “And you should pray this: ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,’” or as it may equally be translated, “but deliver us from the evil one.” “Deliver us from the evil one”—that that is a prayer for a Christian to pray. Why? Because Peter, who was on the receiving end of that instruction for Jesus, when he writes to his readers in his first letter, reminds them that the devil is “a roaring lion … seeking whom he may devour.” Therefore, he says, you need to know that, and your response to it needs to be: “Resist him, firm in your faith.”
Now, again, you see, what faith? Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. So that my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ has now introduced me to a battleground. I find that immensely helpful just to ponder that for a moment. You know, when I think about trying to play rugby at grammar school in England, and being so fearful in it all, and being miserable at it—you know, there’s no point in me coming home and telling my dad, you know, “People were throwing me on the ground and jumping on me and everything, you know.” Like, your father’d say, “Well, is that a surprise? Why would that be a surprise? That’s what rugby’s called, you know. That’s what they do to you if you get involved in that.” Well, that’s the point that is being made here.
Now, in what context? Well, in every circumstance, as we’ll see later on. But verse 10 follows verse 9. And verse 9 follows verse 8. And if you track back up through the beginning of the chapter and back into the fifth chapter, you will rehearse what we have been dealing with for the last couple of months. And that is what? The practical implications of the Christian life lived in the realm of marriage, in the home, and in the workplace, and it is in that context that Paul now goes on to say, “And I need to let you folks know that the spiritual warfare in which you find yourselves engaged is not a warfare that exists outside the realm of these things, but it is a warfare that is there in the midst of them”—thereby reminding us that we would be foolish if we were to be naive concerning the desires and designs for our great enemy, about whom we have just sung with Martin Luther; we would be naive to think that his desires and designs would leave us with a pass when it comes to marriage or to family or to work. And to do so would be to give to him an opportunity, which Paul has said in 4:27: “Make sure you do not give him an opportunity.” One of the ways to give him an opportunity is to say, “Well, this’ll never happen to me,” or “This would never be a concern for me.”
Do you ever wonder why it is that sometimes, in your marriage, it just seems like a royal war? You didn’t mean to say that, and having said it when you should have said sorry, you decided, “Nah, I’m gonna back it up.” And it was all my doing. It was all my doing. This is not Tom Sawyer: “The devil made me do it.” I did it. Every sin is an inside job. Every time I sin, I sin. But in the midst of the world in which I live and you live as a Christian believer, there are dark, demonic, spiritual, intelligent forces that are seeking to undermine, to destabilize, to cause absolute chaos within your marriage, within your family, and within your work. That’s what Paul is saying.
And that’s why I want to fly over this today. Before we consider the details, let’s just fly by.
First of all, let’s consider the fight, or the war, or the struggle, or whatever you want to call it. Spiritual warfare. Look at verse 12: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the … authorities” and “the cosmic powers” and so on.
So in other words, the conflict in which we find ourselves, rather than being a denial of our faith, is actually, in a strange way, an evidence of our faith. I hope none of us have fallen foul of the kind of teaching that says, “You know, if you trust in Jesus and become a follower of Jesus, you never have to fly in turbulence again. Oh, you can fly way up there with the Gulfstreams; you fly way above it all. That’s the great benefit of being in Jesus.” If anybody has told you that, I hope you have very kindly nudged them in the ribs, at least, and said, “Well, what world are you living in? Because clearly the world that I live in is not that way at all. In fact, I’ve discovered that since I became a follower of Jesus, the turbulence has apparently increased.” Fresh-air turbulence! Clear skies, and yet seatbelts on.
Why is this? Because we are no longer—Ephesians 2:2—“the sons of disobedience.” We have been transferred from that. We are no longer in the kingdom of darkness; we’ve been transferred to the kingdom of light. We are no longer following the ways of the prince of the evil age; we are now followers of Jesus. We are no longer in his camp; we are in Christ’s kingdom. And having been placed in that kingdom, we now find ourselves in this intense struggle, not against human beings but demonic forces, demonic intelligences.
Now, let’s just pause and acknowledge that there are immediately two dangers when we read this and think about it. One is that we just set it aside and deny it: we say, “Well, theoretically, I suppose,” or “This is a wonderful metaphor of the fact that life is difficult,” and thereby actually denying the reality of what the Bible is teaching. Or, on the other hand, we become amazingly preoccupied with it. And you will find that there are people whose whole existence is explaining all the time what the devil is doing: “The devil did this, the devil did that, the devil did the next thing,” and so on. And sometimes it’s just a scapegoat, just an ability to say, “It wasn’t actually me; it was him”—when, as I’ve just acknowledged to you, every sin is an inside job.
Now, the great danger is that we’re ignorant of what is an objective fact, the objective fact being the existence of the devil, who is an adversary, who is an accuser, and who has a complete array of fiery darts at his disposal. That’s what the Bible says.
Now, one of the ways in which we can always test something when someone is saying, “Well, would you look at this, this is in the Bible,” is to ask the question, “Well, how does this theory work in relationship to Jesus?” It’s always a very good question. When someone says to you, you say, “Well, how would that work in relationship to Jesus?”
Well, let’s go to the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. Mark’s Gospel begins, “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the good news.” And what’s the very first thing that happens? He is opposed. He faces temptation in the wilderness. He goes into the temple precincts, and he is opposed by demonic forces there. Well then, if it was true of Jesus, why would we be surprised if it was true of the followers of Jesus?
Go all the way back to the beginning of the Bible. What happens in the beauty and purity of God’s creation is that the rebellious angel who’s cast out of heaven, who appears as a serpent in the garden, immediately attacks their marriage. Immediately causes chaos with the kids: Cain kills his brother. Immediately sours the whole process of work, which is a gift from God, and so work becomes full of thorns and thistles and toil and sweat and everything else. It’s all broken. And behind that brokenness is the one who is identified here by Paul in Ephesians 6.
Now, the word that is used here—and it’s translated “wrestle” in our text, verse 12. I think in the NIV, by memory, it was “struggle,” but that’s just memory. “For we do not wrestle…” In other words, it is descriptive of hand-to-hand combat. Some of you have been wrestlers, and… Well, I shouldn’t really say anything, because I admire you greatly, but I have not the remotest interest in participating. You say, “Well, you shouldn’t, because someone will destroy you, tie you up like a pretzel, and put you out behind the building.” Okay, I get that point entirely. But why would you want to be that close to another man? I don’t get that at all. That is bizarre to me! This is not chess at arms’ length. This is hand-to-hand stuff, right? That’s the word that is used here. ’Cause that kind of wrestling was in Greece and was in Rome. I think they shoulda left it in Greece and Rome, but that’s another matter altogether.
But the Evil One then comes in that kind of engagement. He comes to sneak up on us. He comes to ambush us. He comes to grab ahold of us. And when he grabs ahold of us, he comes to insinuate; he whispers in your ear. He comes to intimidate; he’s the ultimate bully. He comes to whisper in your ear some things that you can’t even believe you would ever think. And if you’ve been a Christian any length of time at all, you know what it is to be in—to use the turbulence illustration again—to be flying at thirty-five thousand feet in a clear, clear day and all of a sudden to hit it and drop a hundred and fifty feet in an instant. You say, “Where did that thought come from? I was singing a hymn. How could I think such a thought? I didn’t engender the thought. It wasn’t a process. It was like a fiery dart.” It was a fiery dart! And then he comes to you, and he says, “I can’t believe you even had that thought, Begg! I mean, you’re the preacher, and the singer, and you’re thinking that stuff?” What’s the answer to that? That’s this evening. This is the overview.
Says my friend Sinclair, “We’re not aware how or why we face times of temptation, stress, conflict, and evil pressure. There is little doubt that some of our irrational thoughts, fears, and doubts should be traced to the ambush in which Satan hides.” I need to say this to you again; you need to understand the sphere in which this is taking place. In 1:20: “… he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead … seated him,” and “seated us with him.” All right? So we have been raised there. And in verse 6, he “raised us up with him”—of chapter 2—“and seated us with him.” And then in 6:12, and here we are, wrestling “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
Okay, that’s the fight, or the struggle. From struggle to strategy. What is the strategy of the believer in these circumstances? Well, it’s aptly summarized for us by the repeated statement or the repeated use of one verb, and that is the verb “to stand.” Look at verse 11, where he talks about being “able to stand,” and then in verse 13: “that you may be able to withstand,” or that “you may be able to stand your ground.” And then in verse 14: “Stand therefore, having … the belt of truth” and so on taken to you. Phillips paraphrases that, “[so] that … when you have fought to a standstill you [can] still stand your ground.”
Now, how is this then to be done? How is it to be done? Because most of us would immediately say, “Well, I’m not sure that I can stand,” or “I can point to times when I have not stood, when I have actually collapsed.” Well, he has already given the directive in verse 10: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” “Strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” We’ve paid particular attention—in beginning the letter, at least—to understand that Paul is saying to these Ephesians, “The most vital thing for you to understand is your union with Christ—that you have been united with Christ.” Tonight, when we have baptisms, as well, we’ll be identifying the fact that they have been buried with him in baptism and raised with him to newness of life—a picture of this union. We noted when we studied chapter 1 that Paul wasn’t referring to these folks as Christians, but he was constantly reminding them of their position “in Christ,” “in Christ,” “in him,” “in the Beloved,” and so on.
And the reason that that is so important is because it is only a life lived in union with Christ that we’ll be able to engage as required in the struggle. That’s why in the hymn “Soldiers of Christ, Arise” you have that great verse:
Stand then in his great might,
With all his strength endued;
And take, to arm you for the fight,
The panoply of God.
Calvin in his Institutes has a wonderful section on this. I may just read part of it for you, and you can find it on your own if you choose: “The tendency of all that Scripture teaches concerning devils is to put us on our guard against their wiles and [their] machinations.” In other words, what the Bible does when it teaches concerning these things is not in order to arouse our curiosity, to give us something to debate and to discuss, but in order to warn us about what we’re up against.
For when Satan is called the god and ruler of this world, the strong man armed, the prince of the power of the air, the roaring lion, the object of all these descriptions is to make us more cautious and vigilant, and more prepared for the contest. … Being forewarned of the constant presence of an enemy the most daring, the most powerful, the most crafty, the most indefatigable, … let us not allow ourselves to be overtaken by sloth or cowardice, but, on the contrary, with minds aroused and ever on the alert, let us stand [notice the verb] ready to resist; and, knowing that this warfare is terminated only by death…
Let me just come back to that again. Some of us, I think, have got the idea that once you get to a certain age, you know, you get an exemption. It’s like you can get free coffee at McDonald’s and you’re not in the warfare anymore. No, he says; no, you better not subscribe to that kind of notion, ’cause that may just bring you down at the final hurdle. Since it is only “terminated … by death, let us study to persevere. Above all, fully conscious”—of what?—“our weakness and want of skill,” so then, “let us invoke the help of God, and attempt nothing without trusting in him, since it is his alone to supply counsel, and strength, and courage, and arms.” In other words, all of that is given to us in Christ. And that is the challenge that runs from the beginning to the end of our journey. We’re pilgrims. We’re aliens. We’re strangers. We’re not out of the world in all of its disinterest and opposition to God and his truth. We’re in that world. And we have an enemy, and it’s—as they would say in Scotland—it’s a sair fecht to the end. It is a sore fight all the way to the end.
I remember preaching at a Christian conference center in the north of England years and years ago, and I had decided that I would preach on something like “We wrestle not against flesh and blood but spiritual wickedness in the heavenly places,” or maybe it was in Colossians. I don’t recall. But what I do recall is that they had someone sing a solo before I was due to speak. And the person sang a song—I don’t remember what it was—but it was something like “No more struggle, no more fight, no more warfare,” no more nothing, you know? And I’m sitting there going, “This is a bad song before this talk.” And you know me; you know that I would never, ever mention it when I stood up. But I just remember thinking, “This is so wrong. You’re gonna tell these young people that this is not part of it? Then what are they gonna do when they face the evil day? How are they gonna understand this?”
As I was thinking along these lines, I went back to reread the second part of Pilgrim’s Progress. And I was struck by the fact that part 1 and part 2 come to a conclusion in much the same way. The pilgrims, they come to the Enchanted Ground. And if you remember, the Enchanted Ground was a place of tranquility and enchantment and had a kind of soporific quality to it; it could induce sleep and casualness and so on. And the point that Bunyan is making is that right close to the entry into the heavenly kingdom you have this place of enchantment. And the place of enchantment is there in order to try and seduce the pilgrim, to cause the pilgrim to fall asleep so close to the heavenly city.
And Valiant-for-Truth and Honesty come into the realm of the Enchanted Ground, and they come on a man who is on his knees, and his hands and his eyes are lifted up to heaven, and he’s praying. And he’s praying for help in dealing with this enchanted territory in which he finds himself, because he finds it very alluring. And as he prays for help, the help comes in the form of Valiant-for-Truth and Honesty. And as they engage with him, they ask him, essentially, “What’s the deal?” And he says, “The problem is Madam Bubble.” “So what’s the problem with Madam Bubble?” “Oh,” he says, “she offered me her body, her purse, and her bed”—right on the threshold of the heavenly kingdom.
See, Bunyan was so, so aware of the truth of the Bible: “Let he who thinks he stands take heed lest he falls.” And the progress of a lifetime may be brought to a crashing halt when, unprepared for the battle, naive about the opponent, with silly assumptions about one’s own fortitude, we find ourselves collapsed.
Do you know what the fellow said to him of Madam Bubble? He said, “She’s a witch.” “She’s a witch.” She was! A real bona fide witch. A representative of a cosmic struggle that takes place in the heavenlies, that expresses itself in time and in reality, in the moment.
And so Paul says, “Finally, I need to talk to you about this. It’s all about your marriage. It’s all about your kids. It’s all about your job. It’s all about your entire life.” How good of God then to provide comprehensive armor for engaging in the battle. And to the armor we will come later on.
Let us pray:
God our Father, we thank you for the clarity of your Word. Grant that we might, with equal clarity of thought and humility of heart, receive your Word, determining to not merely hear what it says but to do what it calls for us to do. God, we want to be strong in you, the Lord, and in the power of your might, and we want to take up the weapons you’ve provided for us. We want to take our stand against the devil’s schemes. We want to help each other as we do. So, as we sing now, grant that this may be the affirmation and desire of our hearts. For we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
 The Westminster Confession of Faith 13.2.
 Matthew 6:9, 13 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 6:13 (NIV 1984).
 1 Peter 5:8 (KJV).
 1 Peter 5:9 (ESV).
 Ephesians 4:27 (paraphrased).
 See Colossians 1:13.
 See Ephesians 2:2.
 Mark 1:15 (paraphrased).
 See Mark 1:12–13.
 See Mark 1:21–28.
 See Genesis 3:1.
 See Genesis 4:8.
 See Genesis 3:17–18.
 Ephesians 6:13 (NIV 1984).
 Ephesians 1:1 (ESV).
 Ephesians 1:3 (ESV).
 Ephesians 1:7 (ESV).
 Ephesians 1:6 (ESV).
 Charles Wesley, “Soldiers of Christ, Arise” (1749).
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1845), 1:203.
 Calvin, 1:203.
 1 Corinthians 10:12 (paraphrased).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.