Spiritual Warfare - devils and demons oh my!

I'll start by saying I think a lot of the spiritual warfare stuff you might hear in a typical evangelical church borders on sounding ridiculous. But that's not because the content is necessarily wrong. It's just the language used in church often fails to 'connect'. I'm not really sure why this happens, but it happens for me a lot.

So here's my attempt to explain the idea of spiritual warfare in a way that hopefully makes sense to modern ears. Much of this is information adapted from a lecture by Tim Keller on spiritual warfare. You can see the original here: http://sermons2.redeemer.com/sermons/spiritual-warfare

The word "Devil" as used in Ephesians 4:26-27 and other places, is transliterated from Greek as "diabolos". The word is a verb in noun form. As a verb, it means to accuse, lie or slander. It also describes 'the accuser'. Diabolos is a complex idea. On one hand it seems to describe a personal being who accuses and lies, but on the other hand it describes a reality we all face - negative self talk.

To unpack this idea, it's helpful to use a metaphor.


Our psyche, or more to the point our hearts are a lot like the inside of a Piano. If you open up a piano and sing a note into the top, whatever string is tuned to the note you sang will vibrate. This will make a sound that matches the frequency of your voice. So think of your inner world as a bunch of strings tuned to different frequencies. If played properly, you can make beautiful music. If played improperly, you can make chaotic discord and disharmony.

The beautiful music is God's design; The discord is not.

The accuser then does not make a good person bad. He makes a flawed person worse. See, we all have character flaws, and it's the accuser's sole purpose to make sure that those flaws define, control and manipulate us. The accuser can take many forms, but it's helpful to categorize it into two general boxes.
  1. Temptation - any temptation at it's core is giving you too high a view of yourself, and it hide's God's holiness.
  2. Accusation - Any accusation at it's core is giving you too low a view of yourself (or others). This hides God's love.
The purpose of each is the same: to give you reason to do things you know you shouldn't.

In the temptation box, the accuser might look like the following:
  • Shows the bait (short term pleasures) and hides the hook (long term misery)
  • Rationalizing sin as virtue (I'm not greedy, I'm thrifty)
  • Showing you the sins of Christian leaders (so that you justify your own)
  • Over-stressing the Mercy of God.
  • Over-stressing the Judgement of God.
  • Making you bitter over suffering (no body knows how hard I work, so I deserve ...)
  • Showing you how many bad people seem to be having great lives.
  • Getting you to compare one part of your life to another. (I did some good things last week, so ....)
In the accusation box, the accuser might look like this:
  • Causing us to look more at our sin than our Savior
  • Making Christians think the troubles they are going through must be punishments
  • Thinking "surely Christians wouldn't have the thoughts and desires I have"
These are games. They are played inbetween our thoughts and actions. These are the pauses and split second spaces of life, of which we are seldom aware. As a side note, one way to become aware of the inner workings of yourself is the practise of listening prayers. Physiologically, Listening prayer is a similar thing to silent meditation or the Eastern practise of emptying the mind. I'm not drawing an exact comparison, I'm just pointing out that to really listen in prayer requires you to empty your mind of anything that isn't silence.

Back to the games being played by the accuser, Its like the strings of our heart and mind can be vibrated in a way that it creates chaos and discord in our lives.  And this is how to Fight - know which devices the accuser uses on you. As I said at the beginning, a lot of it seems to be forms of self-talk. Writers and artistic people understand this all too well. Many famous artists (i.e. Britney Spears) publicly struggle or have struggled with inadequacy and negative self perception. Teenagers are also keenly aware of the accuser - "I'm stupid", "I'm ugly" and "I don't care" are words I hear from teenagers constantly. These are the words of the accuser.

So we can simply ask ourselves some questions when we find ourselves engaged in self-talk: where did this come from? What purpose does this idea serve? If taken to it's logical conclusion, will this make me a better person?

I have one caveat in this discussion. I don't like over spiritualization, and I am very sensitive to over spiritualization when I see it. But I have recently recognized that it's possible to minimize something so much that it actually gains unwanted power in our lives. Like an untreated wound, ignoring the formidable power of the accuser can be disastrous over time. However, we do have medicine for the wound - it is not so bad that it can't be combated. To extend the piano metaphor, we have a renound composer waiting to play our keys and vibrate our strings in a way that creates and extends beauty in our lives. The accuser only wants to yell into our sound holes to create dischord.

The Gospel is our medicine. Jesus is our great composer.

You can be tempted to be crushed by your guilt or have no sense of your guilt at all. The accuser will either overblow God's love, or overblow God's judgement. Both are distortions of sorts - but so is a third way, which is to say that there is a balance between God's love and judgment (see my post on law vs grace). The accuser might even use otherwise good things against you in this way (i.e. A Rob Bell book, or a Tim Challies blog post). Christians walk around with two things in tension - If you understand the Gospel, you realize these two truths: there is more depravity in you than you could ever imagine, but you are at the same time more loved that you could ever imagine.

This is the Christian's shield against the accuser's schemes. If you are tempted to become puffed with pride, remember the first. If you are tempted to be crushed with guilt, remember the second.


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