God only does what He wills. Every action of God works towards His highest will of bringing people into a wholehearted, selfless love. From evangelism to discipleship to fellowship and maturity, the Spirit of God is constantly working to fulfill His design of love. However, the enemy is also always at work, trying to keep people from experiencing their design of love.
Knowing the Enemy
2 Corinthians 2:10-11 (BSB)
If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And if I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven it in the presence of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan should not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.
For thousands of years, it has been said that to win in battle you must know yourself and know your enemy. This is especially true of our spiritual warfare. In order to overcome, we must know ourselves and be confident of our identity in Christ. The Creator and Lord of the Universe lives within us; we are one spirit with Him, and we need to truly believe it.
In the passage above, Paul was aware of the enemy’s strategy of using unforgiveness to break relationships and create division within God’s people. He quickly defeats this attack by choosing to forgive. Like Paul, we cannot afford to be ignorant of the enemy’s schemes, however, neither can we allow them to distract us. Our call is to seek first the kingdom of God, which means that love is our goal; it is our vision, our mission, and our victory. With this in mind, we do not want to waste time on our enemy. Instead, we want to keep pursuing our mission of love, but also be ready to deal with the enemy should he ever get in our way.
The enemy’s attacks take the form of raids and campaigns. A raid is a quick attack on our thoughts or feelings. A demon of pride will project proud thoughts or feelings upon us. A spirit of fear will project fearful thoughts and feelings upon us. A key to overcoming raids quickly is to discern the attack as soon as it begins. This is easy when the enemy comes like a sudden, raging storm. However, sometimes attacks can come like a slowly rising tide of old but familiar thoughts or feelings. If we are to shutdown such subtle raids in their infancy, we need to be aware of our baseline—our usual way of thinking and feeling with Jesus. Our baseline is one of love, humility, faith, joy, peace and optimism. Any time there is a change, no matter how slight, we need to identify the source and deal with it. If a demonic spirit is behind the attack, we need to stand firm and overcome the enemy through the blood of Jesus, the word of our testimony, and the authority of His name. In the name of Jesus, with His authority and by the power of His blood, I command this attack to cease! I command every spirit of _____ to leave right now and not come back. I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, so the Spirit of Jesus Christ within me declares: Go!
In addition to quick raids, the enemy also employs more complex strategies in campaigns that can unfold over weeks, months or even years. The diagram on the next page represents one such strategy. The enemy starts by isolating us from God and from other believers. He then brings discouragement, followed by temptation. The enemy then tries to shape our response to the temptation by either leading us to give in to the temptation or by pressuring us to strive our way back to God through legalism. Either of these directions leads us deeper into a spiral of attack and ultimately into defeat.
He who isolates himself pursues selfish desires; he rebels against all sound judgment.
All life flourishes in design and languishes outside it. This is especially true for us. God has created us to be channels of His love for Jesus and when we live in the reality of this design, we find life in abundance: spiritual prosperity, strength, beauty, significance and joy. Conversely, when we live outside our design, we become spiritually poor, weak and insignificant.
The Father’s love for Jesus flows through us as we love one another. This means that no one can experience their design of love in isolation. In order to obey Jesus’ command, we need to develop truly loving relationships with other believers. We do not need many, but we do need some.
The enemy understands our need for unity and so his first aim is to isolate us from God and from others. In this stage of the attack, he tries to create a subtle sense of distance in our relationship with God. It may become hard to discern His voice or sense His presence. We may start to feel like God has passed us by or we have done something wrong. At the same time, the enemy may use a project, work, ministry, a misunderstanding, or an offense to separate us from those we love. Something important comes up and we get too busy to connect. Like a solider on the battlefield, we are lured away from our army into no man’s land.
Once separated from the rest of the army, we are not met with ranks of enemy soldiers, but rather a lone agent. His name is Discouragement and his mission is to talk us into laying down our weapons without a fight.
The spirit of discouragement will often soften us for an attack by targeting our sleep or putting us in emotionally draining situations. We need to know that sleep is a weapon that gives us mental and emotional strength. If we do not use this weapon, as soon as we are physically tired or emotionally weak, the enemy will launch his attack. He always attacks indirectly, composing every lie to start with “I” so that we think these thoughts are coming from our own heart. “I am alone. No one truly loves me. I fail so often, I’m not even worth being loved. There’s no point to doing anything. There’s no fruit in my life.” When we take ownership of these thoughts, they become our own doubts to process rather than arrows of the enemy to extinguish.
If we agree with these thoughts, we allow the emotions of discouragement into our hearts. We start to feel dejected, hopeless, and pessimistic. As we dwell in these emotions, our spiritual strength fades and the thoughts of the enemy sound even more reasonable. If we continue to accept these thoughts, we become even more discouraged and continue to spiral downwards.
No one can be full of faith and discouraged at the same time. So in this stage of the attack, we must choose between faith and discouragement. The moment we accept discouragement, we choose to lay down our shield of faith. We take off the breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of hope soon follows. As we dwell on the lies of the enemy, we take off the belt of truth and throw down our sword of the word of God. In this place of discouragement, the last thing we feel like is sharing the gospel, and so we take off our shoes as well. And there we stand on the battlefield—naked, defenseless, and alone.
Then the real attack comes.
The enemy knows each one of us well. He knows our strengths and weaknesses, and where we have fallen in our old life. So he sends in a familiar spirit to offer relief from the pain of discouragement. This spirit usually tempts us to escape into a sin that has given us a sense of refuge in the past such as over-indulgence in food, media, shopping, entertainment, internet, gaming, or work. If discouragement has left us particularly weak, the enemy may even try a stronger temptation such as drugs, alcohol, self-harm, pornography or some other addictive habit.
The goal of this temptation is not simply to draw us into sin, but to undermine our identity and holiness in Christ. The enemy knows that what we gain by faith, we maintain by faith. So if he can cause us to doubt the death of our sinful nature, then he can start to rebuild his nature within us. The enemy therefore challenges our identity with thoughts such as, “Did God really take away all your sin? Then why are you thinking such thoughts and feeling this way? This lust, this pride, this envy—it is all coming from your own heart. The work isn’t finished. You’re still selfish, insecure and sinful. You’ll always be a sinner.”
The enemy wants us to think that being tempted is proof that God has not circumcised our hearts. It is not. Like hearing someone shout profanity at us, it is not a sin at all to hear the words that someone else speaks. Nor is it a sin to encounter the thoughts and feelings of a demonic spirit. Jesus heard the voice of the enemy often and in many different ways. But He knew His own heart and He knew His Father. He was tempted in every way and He never once doubted His identity or gave in. And He lives within us!
Our response to this temptation determines the enemy’s next move. If we turn to God in the face of the temptation, the enemy will tempt us to strive our way back to Him. We will think that we have to pray for hours or fast or worship our way back to God. By trying to earn our intimacy with God, we fall into legalism and only end up distancing ourselves from God.
If we do not turn to God but give in to the temptation, the enemy then strikes again. He tells us to hide our sin from others, which further isolates us. He then comes against us with condemnation, guilt and shame, accusing us with thoughts like, “You have done a terrible thing! You are a hypocrite! How could God ever love you? You should weep in misery over the selfish, sinful, pitiful condition of your soul!” Again, all these thoughts make sense to the natural mind so we agree with them, but this only allows the emotions of condemnation to overwhelm us. These emotions bring with them an ungodly sense of remorse. We grieve over our sin as if it is unforgiven, unwashed, and still present within our soul. Like a wayward child, instead of running back to the embrace of our Father, we lock ourselves in our room and weep, wondering how our Father could ever take us back. In this place, our remorse separates us further from God than our sin ever could. Instead of leading us back to God, it causes us to wallow in unbelief and close our hearts to His unfailing love and goodness.
If we fall deep into despair, the enemy may tempt us to believe that we have disqualified ourselves from the love of God and even lost His gift of salvation. In their distress, some people even walk away from God at this point. Yet it is the very presence of sin in our lives that qualifies us for a Savior. Jesus says that He came for sinners. So by acknowledging our sin, we accept that we are the exact target of His love and undeniably qualified for a relationship with Him. Therefore, even if we are unfaithful, Jesus will always remain faithful to His covenant with us. No matter how far we have fallen, Jesus is right there, ready and willing to love us, to take away our sin, and to make us one with Him.
Revelation 2:4-7 (NKJV)
“Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent. But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”
Once we are aware of the enemy’s plans, we are equipped to overwhelmingly overcome our enemy with Jesus! Here our King reveals one of the most powerful weapons for overcoming: repentance.
Concerning sin, repentance is a change of direction that leads us back to our first love. We must therefore not wait until we consciously fall into sin before we repent. Instead, we need to turn back to God the moment we begin to drift from love. When we find ourselves becoming isolated, we must view isolation as a violation of our design and acknowledge it as a sin. As we accept the instant forgiveness of God and the washing of His blood, we then need to act in repentance by reconnecting with other believers and focusing again on loving Jesus through one another. As we return to loving relationships, our spiritual strength is restored, and we avoid the trap of discouragement.
Discouragement is another word for faithlessness. It is not an emotion to process, but a sin to resist. The spirit of discouragement is a real demonic spirit, and trying to process the thoughts of discouragement is like having a conversation with someone who wants to kill you. It is far better never to engage at all. Therefore, as soon as we notice thoughts and feelings that draw us downwards into discouragement, we need to repent and break every agreement with the enemy. Once our agreements are broken, the enemy has no right to fill our hearts with the emotions of discouragement. We can then stand in faith, keep our armor on, repel the attack, and return to our goal of love.
In order to take thoughts captive that challenge our holiness in Christ, we need to be confident that the work God has done in circumcising our hearts is real and complete. To help with this, God will confirm His finished work. Once we hear His voice, we can then stand in the confidence of Christ.
When we are faced with temptation, we must put our trust in Jesus for our overcoming. It is His name that has all authority, and it is His blood that overcomes the enemy. Our part is to enforce the victory that He has won. In the midst of emotion this can be difficult, but we need to remember that there is always a way out and we are not called to fight alone. We can connect with one another and help each other overcome.
If we somehow give in to temptation, we must repent and immediately return to the loving arms of our Father. He does not require a certain level of tears or remorse before He is willing to forgive us. We do not need to work ourselves into a state of distress, hoping that our remorse will somehow inspire God to take pity on us and forgive us. In fact, no emotion is needed at all. Repentance is a decision to turn away from sin and return to our design of love. We can be sure that the very moment we repent, the blood of Jesus completely cleanses us once more and restores us back to our life of love.
Father, I thank you that you have not left us to fight alone. You equip us for battle and train us for war. I thank you for the awesomely powerful blood of Jesus and the victory of the cross. Jesus, thank you that your blood flows through me. Help me to stand in unity with you and fight in your power. Be my armor Lord; be my righteousness, my hope, my faith, my word and my truth. Let us live in unity and be ever ready to fight the good fight, to share the gospel of love, and to overwhelmingly overcome our enemy!
Do I really believe that Jesus lives in me?
What strategies has the enemy been using against me?
Do I have soldiers who are fighting with me?
Do they know my vulnerabilities?
1 Corinthians 10:13
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written,
“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.
Imagine Jesus leading you onto the battlefield. Imagine Jesus showing you the enemy’s strategies in advance, revealing how you can escape and how you can stand and overcome. The imagine Him filling you with His presence, His Spirit becoming like armor of light around you. Imagine Jesus, wielding the sword of truth and lifting the shield of faith in perfect unity with you. Imagine overwhelming victory.
This post is taken from the 21st chapter of And He Will. Get your free copy.