Yesterday during my class on Jesus and the Gospels, the discussion turned to spiritual warfare. Anytime this subject comes up (no matter where I am teaching), I try to explain that there are two extremes within the evangelical church. One extreme says that any talk of demons or spiritual warfare is simply an outdated and ignorant way of thinking about things that have other, “natural” causes. According to this view, such talk was the only way that less enlightened people had of explaining things that were beyond their control such as sickness, calamity, drought, famine, etc. I would suggest that this is the default view of most evangelical Christians in the United States. The other extreme says that virtually everything that happens in a day is the direct result of activity in the spirit world. According to this view, one must be constantly alert to how the spirits/demons are at work to avoid offending them or being somehow hurt by them. This is the default view in much of Africa even among evangelical Christians.
So in the middle of our discussion one of my students, a woman named Charity, asked, “Do they go to witch doctors in the United States?” I explained that in the United States you would be hard-pressed to find a witch doctor, though I am sure that in some places you can find those who present themselves as such. It was clear that the concept of a culture where almost no one thinks of going to a witch doctor to learn why they are sick was new to her.
Satan has many weapons in his arsenal. He is perfectly content with either of the two extremes mentioned above. In some cultures (such as most of Africa and parts of Asia) he prefers to manifest his power in the spiritual realm very directly. He shows himself to be powerful through the use of witch doctors, curses, the spirit-realm, and even demonic possession. I call this the “in-your-face” approach. But just as deadly is the approach he takes in other cultures. Rather than show himself directly, Satan prefers to work with great subtlety through the apparent comforts of affluence and security. He is perfectly content to persuade people that he doesn’t really exist and that everything around us has natural or material explanations. He often dulls our senses to God through the material comforts of our affluence, as we amuse or numb ourselves to the greater spiritual realities around us.
Biblically speaking there is a middle ground. Scripture is very clear that the spiritual realm is very real, and that Satan is our great enemy. He is at work in the world to thwart God’s purposes and destroy his people. At the same time, Scripture also emphasizes that the sin within our own hearts is our most pressing problem. The problem is that Satan is a master at exploiting the sin that is within us.
Of course, the good news of the gospel is that Jesus Christ is has conquered sin, death and Satan at the cross. He is sovereign over all things including, including the spiritual realm. Consider these passages and meditate on the good news that Christ is truly the one who rules this world:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20)
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:13-15)
and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:19-23)
The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (Romans 16:20)
The devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Revelation 20:10)