Understanding the enemy in your life story
I once heard a comedian tell about an odd yet intriguing wish. "I wish I had an arch enemy," he said. "It would add so much more drama to my life knowing that someone was trying to kill me."
My attempts to track this routine down on Google and YouTube have been in vain, but as I remember, the comedian thought life would be more exciting if he knew he was daily battling a relentless foe — if he was having to keep a watchful eye, having to ward off attacks and every once in a while having to go head-to-head in hardcore battle against his enemy.
But he also thought having an arch enemy would come in handy if he simply wanted to get out of social plans. If he dreaded the chaos of a birthday party for a 2-year-old nephew at Chuck. E. Cheese, he could say something like, "My arch enemy has been spotted in the area, and he's determined to kill me. If he shows up, it's going to come to blows, and the collateral damage could be ugly. It wouldn't be safe for the kids if I attended that party."
I thought of this routine recently when I read 1 Peter 5:8 (ESV): "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."
Whoa, I thought, I guess the comedian gets his wish; he does have an arch enemy. His life does have the drama of knowing someone is trying to kill him. Of course, it would be tacky for him to use this to try to get out of a birthday party at Chuck. E. Cheese, but it is true that he has a determined enemy.
Now maybe you're not like this comedian. You can probably handle birthday parties at Chuck. E. Cheese, and you probably aren't looking for any additional drama in your life — especially from a "relentless foe." But this warning from the apostle Peter gives all of us the sobering reminder that we have an enemy.
I appreciate the cautions I've heard over the years about thinking too much about our enemy Satan. "[W]e are not to become overly fascinated with matters of evil and attempt to become 'experts' in some kinds of evil just to satisfy our curiosity," writes Wayne Grudem in Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine.
But it's equally dangerous to live as if Satan doesn't exist and as if you have no enemy. "Christians must not fear or ignore the devil," wrote the 17th-century poet Richard Lovelace. "Both positions are dangerous." Along those lines, the French Poet Baudelaire added, "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn't exist."
It's sobering to know Satan actually exists, but it’s better to know this than to be naïve. In God’s mercy, He has pulled back the curtain to reveal our spiritual reality and more importantly to show us how we should then live. Here are three thoughts to help you understand your enemy and to respond in God’s strength:
1. The stories of our lives are shaped by the fact that we have an adversary.
When I was younger, I used to get frustrated when things started going bad for the hero of a movie or book. Watching Indiana Jones, I thought, Why can't Indy just go off and enjoy exploring caves and finding things without the challenges of bad guys like Belloq, Toht or Hitler? Maybe you've had thoughts like that, too — about movies and books or even about your own life.
Yet the adversary is the primary variable in the best stories. "It's often been said that a story is only as good as its villain," writes Christopher Vogler in his book The Writer's Journey, "because a strong enemy forces a hero to rise to the challenge."
The enemies of King David, for instance, had much to do with forcing him to rise as a hero. His enemies constantly challenged him. As a shepherd, he faced the enemies of his flock, resulting in fights with a lion and a bear. Later, he faced Goliath, the champion fighter of the Philistines. For many years, King Saul pursued David throughout the countryside. Even when David secured the throne of Israel, he had to deal with numerous enemies of the Lord's chosen people. Finally, in the later years of his life, he dealt with the trauma of Absalom, his son, becoming his enemy.
In almost every other psalm David writes, he talks about his enemies (in fact, the words enemy, enemies or foes appears over 100 times in the Psalms, mostly from the psalms of David). Often David asks for deliverance. "Deliver me from my enemies, O my God; protect me from those who rise up against me," David cries out in Psalm 59 as Saul's men are watching David's house for an opportunity to kill him.
The constant threat of enemies, however, forced David to depend on God and to trust Him for protection. "Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life," David writes in Psalm 138:7, "You stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me." In one of his most popular Psalms, David presents a powerful juxtaposition: "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies" (Psalm 23:5).
The threats of enemies, however, drove David to seek God's direction for his life. "Teach me your way, O LORD," he writes in Psalm 27:11, "and lead me on a level path because of my enemies."
Don't be naïve about your spiritual enemy. You have an enemy who is more ominous than the men who hounded David, and that should force you to rise heroically to the challenge. Recognize what and who is seeking to destroy you, and let that drive you toward God and His purposes.
2. Your enemy knows your vulnerabilities.
"Villains and enemies," writes Christopher Vogler, "are usually dedicated to the death, destruction or defeat of the hero." And that's what the Bible makes clear in John 10:10 about our enemy: "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy."
We have to remember that a thief focuses on vulnerabilities — such as doors left unlocked or windows left open. And when we think of our enemy as Peter described him, we have to remember that prowling lions watch for vulnerabilities and attack at the weakest point.
Your enemy knows your vulnerabilities. Do you? We will all be tempted in life (see James 1:12–15), but where are you most vulnerable to temptation — to pride, lust, sloth, gluttony or something else? Men often forget how attractive Satan can make himself (see 2 Corinthians 11:14). "Satan would just as soon put on a dress as roar," observed a friend of mine here at Southern Seminary. Or in the case of King David, Satan can arrange for a clear view of a bathing woman from the palace balcony. Or in the case of David's son Solomon, Satan can bring a throng of exotic foreign wives who aren't loyal to the God of Israel.
Notice how Solomon describes the ways of Satan in Proverbs 5:3–6: "For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol; she does not ponder the path of life; her ways wander, and she does not know it."
Be more watchful and alert than your enemy. Know your specific vulnerabilities, and don't leave a door open for the thief of your soul.
3. Satan is after you, but it's not personal.
One of the most famous lines from The Godfather movies is when Michael Corleone says, "It's not personal, Sonny. It's strictly business." There's an application here as you think about your spiritual enemy. Satan is specifically seeking ways to destroy you personally, but at the same time, it's not personal. You're caught up in his larger fight against God. He goes after people made in the image of God as his way of fighting and enlisting God's creation in his rebellion.
This battle goes back to the beginning. "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel" (Genesis 3:15).
Satan thought he won a great victory in this battle when he influenced the enemies of Jesus to crucify Him. He didn't realize, however, that Jesus came to lay His life down. In His warning about the thief, Jesus explains His purpose:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:10–11).
By His death, Jesus forever changed the way we as humans see our enemy.
For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:21–25).
In Christ, we have authority "over all the power of the enemy" (Luke 10:19). The only way our enemy can have power over us is if we live in sin. It's through condemnation that Satan holds people captive. But, "there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).
Believers have to stay watchful, though. Satan can regain power over people who have been freed in Christ if they give into temptation and return to sin and the condemnation it brings (see James 1:12–15). Mercifully, we aren't left to fight Satan in our own strength and understanding. The One who has the victory gears us up to fight our enemy:
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 (Ephesians 6:10–13).
So stand firm in the armor of God. Be grateful for His mercy in pulling back the curtain and showing you that you indeed have an enemy in your life story. But more importantly, stand firm knowing God has given you all you need to be victorious over the enemy of your soul and to allow your story to be united with His story of ultimate victory.
Copyright 2011 Steve Watters. All rights reserved.