Sun Tzu in “The Art of War” says, “Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.” That’s a great quote and it’s hugely applicable to the Christian life. One could almost summarize the path of discipleship using almost those words. Being a Christian means getting to know Jesus, ourselves, and our enemy – and the Bible teaches us about all of those.
The primary message of the Bible, from Cover to Cover, is about Jesus – hopefully you know that by now. The secondary message of the Bible is the story of humanity – or getting to know ourselves. And, perhaps the tertiary message of the bible is the story of the spiritual realm, how angels and demons work. Everything in scripture revolves in those three spheres, and in all the stories we watch as those spheres cross over each other, revealing something about all three of them.
God wants us to know Him, and so He’s revealed Himself in many ways – through Jesus, creation, scripture, circumstances and other people. But God also wants us to know ourselves – and so He uses those same mediums to help us learn about who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. And, God wants us to know that it’s not just Him and us, but there is another realm – the spiritual realm – where things occur that affect us every day. And it is our responsibility to not only believe that, but to live accordingly.
In today’s scripture we find those three areas – Jesus, Humanity, and the Spiritual Realm – overlapping and intersecting, and teaching us a lot about all three.
“They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.
The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.” (Mark 5:1-20)
There are so many things we can learn from this episode in Jesus’ life, but before we take apart what is happening here specifically, I want to take the time to talk about that third realm – the spiritual realm – and specifically, Satan and his demons.
A Romantic View of Satan
There only seem to be three ways that people in North America seem to think about Satan and demons. The first is the Biblical worldview, not held by most people, and we will talk about what that is in a minute. Second is the opposite view, the atheist worldview, again not held by most people, that Satan and demons don’t exist at all. The third view, which we can call the “Romantic view”.
I use the word, Romantic, in the sense of the definition that they have an “idealized view of reality”. In the same way that love-struck people idealize their sweetheart – that they have perfect skin, a perfect attitude, could never do anything wrong, and that they will be wonderful for all time, without exception, ever – many people in our culture paint Satan with a personalized, romanticized interpretation, not in keeping with reality.
The average person, when asked what the devil looks like will picture him as a little red guy, with horns and a pitchfork, that sits on your shoulder, giving you bad advice. Or, they picture some huge, terrifying, winged, red-skinned giant, wreathed in flames. Or, if you’ve watched some movies, they will picture a handsome man in a business suit, or a seductress in a red dress, who promises will give people all the power and pleasure they could ever ask for, if they would only sign on the dotted line and forfeit their souls.
And to complicate matters, we now have characters in our favourite movies and TV shows which are “anti-heroes”. They aren’t the classic white hatted, good-guy who saves the town, but instead, wear the black hat of the bad-guy, are associated with evil. Some are even demons. These anti-heroes, more and more, are the lead character and person we end up cheering for! We are encouraged to cheer for the outcast demon who just wants back into heaven, the bank robber who is outwitting the police just so he can be left alone, the car thief who just wants to get back home, the adulteress who just married the wrong guy, the serial killer who is just struggling his own form of with addiction, or the manipulative businessman or shady cop who breaks the rules, drinks like a fish, and can’t keep his family together – but gets the job done. Examples include Severus Snape, Spawn, Ghostrider, Hellboy, Constantine and of course the most famous anti-hero, Batman.
Each of these pictures, though accurate in a small way, are only a caricature of who Satan really is. Yes, he is a tempter, but he’s not small or cute. Yes, he is terrifying, but he is also a spirit, so we don’t know what he looks like. Yes, he is seductive and full of lies, but he does not have power over souls. Yes, he is ruthless, but he’s also under God’s authority. And though entertaining and interesting, these anti-heroes cloud our judgement and help us practice making excuses for why bad people do bad things, and how, deep down, even Satan has a back-story that can excuse everything he’s doing.
We must be absolutely clear that Satan and demons are not just misunderstood anti-heroes. They are not just bad guys doing bad things with the excuse of trying to accomplish something positive – at least from their perspective. No, we must not be clouded in this – they are evil and are the source of evil in this world.
Evil is Real
A Christian must believe that evil isn’t just an idea, but is a real, tangible, experientially substantive force in this world. When Jesus spoke about evil and Satan, He spoke of them not as ideas to be overcome, but actual persons and forces in this world. He cast real demons out of people. He spoke to them, rebuked them, ordered them around.
If you don’t believe in hell, demons, evil, Satan or the spiritual forces in the heavenly realms, then much of the Christian faith, the message of the Gospel, the reason for prayer, and a huge portion of scripture, simply won’t make any sense to you. A Christian with a Biblical Worldview believes that evil is real, Satan is real, demons are real, and hell is real.
A Biblical Understanding of Demons
Let’s talk about that and go through a little of what the Bible says about Satan and Demons.
Let’s start with the backstory of where Satan and demons come. Unfortunately, though much ink has been spilled on the matter, we really don’t know much about how demons came about. We know that they existed before the creation of the world because Satan was there and ready in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). What happened before that is a bit of a mystery, but if we tie together a few passages from the Old and New Testaments we can get a bit of a picture.
The first passage is from Luke 10:17-18 which is when Jesus is getting a report back from the 72 disciples he sent out to preach the gospel, heal the sick and cast out demons. It says,
“The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.’” Jesus is likely saying here, “Yeah, Satan is defeated. I was the one who knocked him out of heaven in the first place!”
Now, let’s tie that to a passage in Revelation 12:3-4, which gives us a bit more information about what was going on in the spiritual realm as God was preparing the world for Salvation.
“And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne…”
This is a picture of what was going on behind the scenes during the creation of the world and the Christmas story. Satan is the “great red dragon” whose “tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth” Those “stars” are the demons that were in rebellion with Satan. And we can see that “the dragon” was trying to kill the “male child” who is Jesus.
Now, let’s tie those two passages to Isaiah 14:12-15 which many believe is a picture of the fall of Satan, and which gives us a bit more back story to why Satan was cursed and removed from heaven. It says,
“How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit.”
Finally, let’s tie in Ezekiel 28:11-19, which gives us a little different picture of the event:
“You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond… 17 Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground…”
Now, there is a lot of speculation going on here, and theologians are divided on this, but this is our classic picture of what happened when Satan fell. Satan was, likely, a great, beautiful, powerful angel, serving God in heaven before the creation of the world. At some point, he took his eyes off God and caught a glimpse of himself – and was taken over by pride. He decided he wanted to be equal to God. And led a rebellion of demons. It didn’t work, and he was cast out of the presence of God.
He became a powerful outcast, and took to tempting God’s new creation with exactly the same thing that got him kicked out of heaven – to become God. He fell from grace, and then wanted us to do the same.
Similarities Between Humanity and Demons
Actually, there seems to be a lot of similarity between demons and humanity.
First, we are both created beings. Certainly demons are powerful, spiritual beings – often depicted as serpents or monsters in scripture – but they are still creations who exist under God’s authority.
Second, demons and humans were given freewill to make choices. From what we read about them in scripture, demons are free to do a lot of different things, but, like us, they are always under God’s dominion. Think of the beginning of the book of Job where God gives Satan permission to attack Job’s family, but is withheld from being allowed to touch Job himself (Job 1). Satan could attack him however he wanted, but it was limited. In the same way, humans can do many, many things, but we are still under the authority, and within the bounds, of what God allows.
And third, both humans and demons rebelled against God because they wanted to be Him. Both of us exercised our freewill and, in our pride, tried to usurp God and be our own gods.
And fourth, we know, from what humanity was like before the Flood, that left to ourselves we will become as corrupt as the demons. Genesis 6:5-6 describes the world like this:
“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”
In verse 11-12 it says,
“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.”
That’s a great description of a demon – but it’s used to describe humanity! The only difference between us and the demons is that God has given us grace, and has chosen not to give grace to them.
Demons exist with their wills permanently opposed to God’s. They are fallen, without the presence of the Holy Spirit, without conscience, without anything good. They hate everything that God loves. They despise goodness, truth, Jesus, the worship of God, the church, and even the world God created.
And what blows my mind, is that demons are exactly what humans would be if God took away His hand and allowed evil to take over humanity – just as we talked about last week.
So what are Satan and the demons doing now that he has been cast from heaven? 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 tell us that even though they have power, and are a very present, powerful force in the world today, they are also defeated and are awaiting final judgement.
But in the meantime they are doing exactly the same thing that they’ve always done: everything they can to make as many beings as possible rebel against God. They are doing what comes naturally to them as beings who are opposed to God: spreading hate, addiction, fear, pride, and anything else that kills the soul and distracts from God – and especially opposed the work of Jesus Christ.
No one in history dealt with the demonic and spiritual opposition more than Jesus. Satan and his demons did everything they could think of to ruin Jesus’s work, His reputation, and His mission so they could keep salvation from coming to the world. They wanted Jesus to succumb to temptation, so they hit him hard, every day. They wanted to keep Jesus off of the cross so that humanity would be damned forever. Satan wanted the same thing he’s always wanted: to rule the world as a god, and have everyone under his boot.
But, as we talked about last week, Jesus won the battle and destroyed the power of the Satan, death and sin over all humanity for anyone who would believe in Him! And that really ticks Satan off. He’s defeated, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to stop fighting. The evil forces in the heavenly realms still have a lot of strength, intelligence, and experience messing with humans – and they are going to do it right up until the end. To take as many of us with them as possible.
Some Points on Satan
Satan is not God’s opposite. Satan is not all-knowing, all-seeing and ever-present (Job 1:7). He is a created being under God’s authority. He can only be in one place at a time.
He has a host of demonic allies under his command, and Jesus says that they are working together to do anything they can to accomplish their mission (Matthew 12:22-26). They will inflict or exploit physical and mental illness, tempt with every form of pleasure, accuse and bring every possible allegation possible to a person’s mind so they will be racked with shame and fear, and even oppress and possess them – just like we read about in our passage today.
Demons cannot possess a Christian, but they can oppress them. When a demon possesses someone, it means they physically and mentally take over someone’s body and mind – which is a terrifying thought – but it can’t happen to a Christian because God’s Holy Spirit dwells in us, is stronger than any demon, and will never let us go (Luke 11:20-21; 1 Cor 3:16; 1 John 4:3-4; Romans 8:11, 35-39). As 1 John 4:3-4 says, “…every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”
The Bible says there are only two teams: Satan’s and Jesus. Anyone who is not on Jesus’ team works for Satan’s and can be used by him to further his mission. But that doesn’t mean that demons can’t affect a Christian. They can and will certainly attack them, tempt them, and influence those around them in an attempt to harm, distract and destroy their joy, their witness and their love for God and others.
Going on the Offensive
We are told in many places in scripture that we can “resist” or “oppose” the demonic forces (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8-9). Resistance isn’t meant to be passive, as though we are locked in a bunker just trying not to get blown up. It means to work against, or try to prevent, to make a stand against what Satan is doing. It means “to exert oneself so as to counteract or defeat” the enemy.
That means that we are not only defended by God, but we can actually go on the offensive with Him. Ephesians 6:12 says that our battles aren’t really with the people around us, but are with demons. It says,
“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.”
The Armor of God represents a series of ways that we resist, or work against, or counteract, all the things Satan is doing around us.
It means we have a commitment to telling the truth when we are presented with demonic lies.
It means that we promote righteousness in the face of demonic temptation and sin.
It means we spreading the good news of the peace that comes from the Gospel of Jesus Christ, opposing the demonic messages of pride, indulgence and hopelessness.
It means having a strong faith, and building up others in faith, even while all of the flaming darts of temptation and accusation come flying from all directions from the evil one.
It means being studious in our minds, pursuing wisdom, and being assured of our salvation by the word of God in the face of demonic doubts, distractions and trickery.
It means having a fierce commitment to the Word of God, which is the sword by which the Holy Spirit destroys demonic strongholds in this world.
And it means we are always in prayer, always connected to God, always depending on Him, keeping alert, persevering, and praying for one another – because we realize that it is by prayer that we work with God to dismantle the plans of Satan. (Ephesians 6:10-20)
“Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.” (Sun Tzu) It is my prayer that you will know your enemy, and that you will know yourself – but it is my deeper prayer that you will know Jesus Christ. For, if we know Jesus and take up His armour, working out our faith every day, then we will know ourselves and know our enemy – and we will see him defeated over and over.
We will go through hundreds of battles in our lifetime, but through the power of Jesus Christ, and because of His love and commitment for us, we will overcome.
This is the final week we will be spending on Psalm 15. We have been going through it for nine weeks now, and it has been a challenging, and hopefully encouraging, piece of scripture to study. I know it has been for me! And from the responses I’ve heard from some of you, God has been working on your heart too. And for that I’m glad.
Let’s open up to Psalm 15 together, and let’s read it one more time from beginning to end.
“O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and
does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.” (ESV)
Throughout the series, we’ve been using the illustration of a house that God is building our spiritual house (our lives) into. If you remember, each part of the psalm speaks about a different column that holds up the roof, which is our Integrity. All of this is built on the foundation of our relationship with Jesus Christ.
If we are going to have Christian Integrity, then these 5 characteristics will describe your life: You will Speak the Truth, Love Your Neighbour, Honour the Faithful (which included Rejecting Hypocrites (Part 2)), Be Trustworthy and Generous (which means we Use Wealth Well).
The Psalm says that “He who does these things shall never be moved.” In order for this house to be secure, all of these parts have to be there holding up the walls. You cannot build your life on another foundation other than Jesus Christ because all other foundations we build our life on, no matter how strong we believe them to be, will falter and fail when the storms come.
At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, which is the longest recording of a sermon Jesus preached to His followers, He tells this story:
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27, ESV)
There are so many foundations out there that people will build their lives on – where they will seek to find hope, strength, security, and peace: Their Government, The Economy, Themselves, Other Religions. But all of these things are insecure. The only solid foundation is Jesus Christ. He is the only immovable, unchangeable, all powerful One who can weather all storms. Therefore, before all else, we must make sure that we have a strong relationship with Jesus Christ.
But to have a strong spiritual house, the pillars must be there too. Jesus doesn’t move – He will never leave you, forsake you, and you can be sure in your salvation – but our pillars can shift. We call this sin.
A person of Christian Integrity wants to be a fully functioning, healthy disciple of Jesus. And God works in them to build them into a strong spiritual house. But when we lie, act in an unloving way, embrace hypocrites, ignore fellow Christians, don’t keep our word, hold onto our money like Scrooge, or waste it on frivolous things, we are willfully making our spiritual house insecure. We are shaking our pillars, shrinking them, and chipping away at them.
What this series has been about is causing us to evaluating our relationship with Jesus (are we built on the right foundation) and then to test strength of our pillars. If we want to people who “stand firm”, “never be shaken”, and “never moved”, then it means we must be diligent about keeping our Christian Integrity.
I hope you understand this. We talked about it in the first sermon and referenced 1 Corinthians 3:11-17:
“If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light [that is the day where we all stand before the judgment seat of Christ]. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”
God will test our spiritual house. He will judge our eternal destination – heaven or hell – based on our foundation, our relationship with Jesus. Then He will judge Christians based on their obedience to His word – he will judge the columns.
When you sin, it doesn’t mean that you have lost your faith, or lost your salvation. No, the biggest difference between someone who is a follower of Jesus is that when they fail in these areas, they are convicted of their sin, come to God for forgiveness, and then ask Him to change that part of their life to be more like Jesus. A non-believer doesn’t see their sin… and if they do, they don’t hate it. They excuse it or blame someone else.
Testing the Columns
So I want to do something a little different today. What I want to do is go through some of the questions we’ve been asking for the past number of weeks, and give you a chance to talk about them together during the week. My hope is that over the next week or so you will gather together with a Christian friend, your spouse, or your small group, and go through these questions together. To reflect on them and test the strength of your spiritual house.
But before we do that I want to tell you why this is important.
Not Be Shaken
The reason I want to do this today is because of that last line in the Psalm. “He who does these things will never be shaken.” I don’t want you to be shaken. I want you to be able to stand firm no matter what happens. I want this church to be able to stand firm, and I believe the secret of the strength in your life as an individual, in your relationships, in your work life, in your home life, and in this church, is found in Psalm 15. If you get just this psalm right, you will be a huge step closer to living a life without regrets, without fear, without doubts, and without worries. This is the formula. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good. “He who does these things shall never be moved.” That sounds like a promise from God to you and me.
It reminds me of another favourite passage of scripture of mine and many others: Ephesians 6:10-19. Would you turn there with me and listen to what it takes in order to be able to “never be moved”.
Listen closely because this isn’t about gritting your teeth and trying to do your best. This isn’t about showing God how holy you are by how miserable you can make your life. It’s not about thanking Jesus for saving you and then saying, “Ok, I’ll take it from here.” This is about depending on Jesus every day, living by His strength and not yours. It’s about putting down your own ideas about how life should go, and picking up His plan and putting Him in charge of how to build your house. It’s about not doing things in your own strength, but asking God to use His strength through you. There’s a huge difference between doing things for God, doing things with God, and letting God do things through, for, in and around you.
Fight the Right Battle
“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.” (vs 10-11)
Do you see that? The strength comes from “the Lord”. The “might” comes through a closer relationship with Him. The “armour” comes from God and is given to every person in His kingdom who asks for it. And your primary enemy is not you, or the world – the enemy is spiritual, it’s Satan.
That’s critical to realize or you will spend your life running from column to column, trying to hold up your own house, and feel like a complete failure when your life ultimately collapses. And if you think this is a battle against yourself, or against your enemies in the world, then you won’t even be on the right battlefield! However, if you realize that this is a spiritual battle, and your strength comes from a spiritual source, then you will come to God for the weapons you need to build, rebuild and defend your house.
Fight the Right Opponent
“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.” (vs 12)
That’s important to know. When it comes to your Christian Integrity: being truthful, loving people that are different, knowing the difference between right and wrong, keeping your vows even when it’s hard, living generously… we have to realize that the enemy hates that, and He will fight tooth and nail, pulling out every trick in his book to stop you. And you don’t have the power to withstand him. All of the decisions you make to be truthful, loving and the rest are all made in your spirit, way before they happen in the real world. The battle doesn’t happen when you are faced with something that tests your integrity. The battle is fought before you ever get there – in your spirit – as you contest with pride, jealousy, covetousness, idols, and the temptation to put yourself in the place of God.
If you have the chance to lie, that’s not the first strike – it’s the final blow of the battle. That question has already been answered. Did you come to God and commit yourself to Him? Are you living in His spiritual strength? Are you feeling weak and entitled and selfish? Have you asked for the strength to be truthful, and told the devil that you are not one of his people – you are not a liar! Either way, you already know how you will answer the question.
The battle whether or not you will keep your vows has more to do with your view of God then it does with the circumstances that happen to you or the person you made promises too. The decision to break your word isn’t just a human decision, it is one that is fought in your heart. The spiritual forces of evil are seeking to corrupt you, through temptation and fear, to break your vows, and they are giving you every excuse in the book. And when you break them, they know it has ripple effects that will harm many people, mar the image of God, and hurt the reputation of Jesus and His church. It’s a spiritual battle that happens way before the bad days come.
It’s the same with the decision to be generous, or loving. It’s not based on whether or not the person is worth our time, worth helping, worth our money… it is about whether we are seeing through God’s eyes. Do we recognize the generosity and grace that has come from His hand? Satan doesn’t want you to see that, so he will do everything he can to distract you from it. He will fill your mind with reasons why you don’t have enough, why you deserve more, why you’ve already loved enough and it’s someone else’s turn. He’ll tell you that people aren’t worth the trouble, that it won’t make any difference, that you’re too busy, and that you don’t need to love them if they don’t love you back. I know you’ve felt this spiritual battle.
And so Paul says this in verse 13. Since it’s a spiritual battle…
“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.” (vs 13)
The only way you will be able to stand against all of these schemes, to see straight, and to have the sensitivity to know what’s really going on, is to have the full armour of God on. When the day of evil, the day of temptation, when that spiritual battle rages in your heart about who you are, who God is, whether to be obedient, selfish, generous, loving, honest… if you are not wearing the full armour of God, you will not be able to stand.
Be careful to see how it is written. Who puts on the armor? Does God put it on you? No, you put on the armour. The day of evil is coming – the day of temptation, of fear, of anxiety, of death – and you stand your ground because you chose to put on God’s armour. He’s willing to suit you up, make sure the armor is strong, and give you the power to fight, and when it’s all over, to “stand firm”. But He wants you to come to Him to put on the armour. It’s called dependence.
What’s the difference between the one standing, and the one who is lying dead on the battle field? It’s not who was carrying the sharpest sword, or biggest gun. It is who had the best armour. The one who could take what the enemy dished out, and then turn the battle around. Satan is a coward and a bully and fights like a terrorist or a sniper. You don’t often get to see the battle coming before he’s on you. You won’t have a chance to take a swing with your weapon – you’d better have your armor on.
There’s an old sports quote that says: “Offence sells tickets, but defense wins championships” Our spiritual armour is the difference between having a strong spiritual house, or a weak one. It’s the difference between being “moved” or standing firm.
Testing the Pillars
Let’s talk about these pillars.
For a long time my father worked as a pipefitter at the mill in the town where I grew up. It was his job to fix the pipes that were broken. Then they gave him a different job: he was in charge of maintenance and safety. Instead of fixing things, his job was to make sure things didn’t break and no one got hurt. He would inspect machines, check the fire suppression system, order parts in advance, make sure things were up to code, shut things down that weren’t working properly, and schedule time to fix little problems before they become big problems.
That’s what I want to do for the rest of our time here. Let’s do a maintenance and safety walk around our spiritual house – using Psalm 15 as our guide. Let’s inspect these five pillars that hold up Integrity and see what we need to work on, what we need to pray about, and what areas of our life God is going to be challenging us in over the next while. Maybe some parts need a little fix, and maybe some need an overhaul.
What I’ll do is give you a quick intro, some questions for you to discuss, and then a little time to consider your answer – maybe even write it down.
Are You Truthful?
The first pillar of Christian Integrity is to be Truthful: “Who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue.” Here we talked about how people really don’t like “right and wrong”, but instead like to talk about “differences” and how nothing is ever anyone’s fault. In contrast, Christians should realize the importance of truth, and be able to speak the truth in love to one another.
We said that truth is under attack from Relativism, Scepticism and Pluralism… and that people who tell the truth are probably going to get into trouble at some point. Jesus told nothing but the truth, and he was hurt, rejected, slandered and murdered.
So, here are the questions:
- Do Christians have the right to enforce the standards of scripture on one another? How have you handled this responsibility?
- Which attack on the truth do you encounter most? Relativism – there is no absolute truth. Scepticism – we will never really know the truth. Pluralism – all truths are equally valid? Which do you struggle with?
- Do you struggle with always telling the truth? In what ways have you been hurt by lying or being lied to? How have you been because you or someone else told the truth?
Are You Loving?
The second pillar of Christian Integrity is to Love people. “Who does his neighbour no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman.” Here we learned we need to love everyone! We believe that all people are created in the image of God, that they are objects of divine love, and there are no divisions between us based on race, nationality, culture or social status. We have no reason to hate anyone simply because of how they look, where they are from, or what their customs are. Specifically, we are to do no wrong (no evil) to anyone, or slur (meaning despise or dishonour) someone. Especially other believers!
This is where we looked at Bikers, Goths, Emos, Rappers, Hip Hop Culture, Body Builders, and Metal Heads, and said that in Jesus’ eyes, these people are also objects of grace, and can be Christian ministers within their own culture – and even went as far as to say that we are missing out when we have so much division in the church.
So here’s some questions:
- What does it mean to love every member of the human race? Is that even possible? Do you?
- Have you, or someone you know, ever been discriminated against because of your race, nationality, culture, or social status? Has it ever happened among Christians? Did you respond in a godly way?
- Do you think you could go to a worship service at a biker church, a goth church, a hip-hop church? Which would be hardest / easiest for you? Why?
Are You Honouring?
Next we took a couple of weeks to look at the third pillar which was based on the part that says a Christian “despises a vile man but honours those who fear the LORD”.
Here we spent some time looking at what it means to reject the person who claims to be a believer but has clearly rejected what God is saying in His word – and to give weight and respect those who obey God and treat Him as Lord of every area of their life. On one hand we give VIP status to other Christians. Love them, serve them, forgive them, speak kindly to them, and do all the other “one another” verses to them.
We said, based on 1 Corinthians 5, that there are 3 ways we get this wrong. First are those who are claiming to be Christians, but who are openly sinning and don’t care. Second is the group that is enabling, or even encouraging that person to sin. And third are those who know about it, know it’s wrong, but who avoid dealing with it because they don’t want to get involved.
This is where we brought in Matthew 18:15-17 where we learned that Jesus commands us to get into the business of other Christians who are sinning. And if they don’t listen to us, to take some friends along and try again. And if they still don’t listen, to get the pastor and elders involved. And then if they still are unrepentant, to turn them over to Satan and treat them like a hypocrite and an unbeliever.
So here’s the questions:
- Are you an Unrepentant Sinner, Enabler, or Avoider? What do you need to do about it?
- Have you ever gone through the Matthew 18 process? What was it like? If not, is it because you’ve avoided doing it?
- Why would God command us to treat a hypocritical Christian like a non-believer? What benefit could come from being “handed over to Satan?” How do you deal with hypocrites?
Are You Trustworthy?
The fourth pillar of Christian Integrity is to be Trustworthy. “Who keeps his oath even when it hurts.” The concept here is simple to grasp, but sometimes hard to practice. Jesus said that we need to take what we say very seriously – and follow through, even when it hurts. He said we should let our “yes be yes and our no be no” and that “anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” We should have the kind of reputations that when we say something we don’t have to add disclaimers for why might not do be trustworthy.
So here are the questions:
- Can people trust you? Do you struggle with trusting others?
- Do you ever add a bunch of disclaimers, explanations and excuses to things you say because you’re not sure if you’ll follow through? Why?
- What vows have you broken, and what are you going to do to make it right?
Are You Generous?
The final pillar of Christian Integrity is Generosity, or Using our Wealth Well. “Who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.” Here we talked quite a lot about the Amazing Grace of God, and how His grace and generosity should be the driving force for us to be gracious and generous with others.
We said that this has two sides. Those who have more should not take advantage of the people who have less by being selfish or using their resources to harm those who are poorer than them. And those who have less should not try to get money in a way that harms someone else. We then talked about some ways we can be selfish like: not tipping, valuing a possession over a person, or trading physical, psychological or emotional health for worldly wealth.
So here’s the questions:
- In what ways have you acknowledged the Amazing Grace of God this week?
- Have you ever taken advantage of someone by being selfish or using your wealth to cause harm?
- Have you ever done something wrong in order to get (or keep) more money or stuff?
That concludes our walk around our spiritual home. It is my deep hope that you were helped, and that this week you will draw closer to God, depend more on Jesus, and have a new understanding of the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life. For the areas that you have done well, thank God and give Him praise for helping you. In the areas that you have sinned, talk to God about that this week, ask forgiveness, receive forgiveness, and then spend more time putting on your spiritual armour so you will be able to stand firm.
You may have noticed that I haven’t posted anything here for a while. Normally I would say something like “life got busy” but that isn’t the whole truth. Actually, my life, home and church over the past month has been an intense spiritual battleground and for too long I was losing the battle.
Below is the devotional I gave on Sunday night at our church’s 166th anniversary celebration, which also happened to be the evening I was inducted as the full-time pastor of the church. I shared pieces of this story with a few people before then and God has been using it to help people with their own battles, so I want to share it with you as well. Partly to explain my absence, but mostly to give glory to God.
I’ve been learning a lot about blessing and discouragement over the past year and a bit since I have been serving here. I’ve learned about the importance of celebrating occasions like this one and the blessing that can come through passing along the story of what God is doing here. The Bible says in Isaiah 52:7:
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’”
and that’s what I want to do tonight, to bring good news and say “God reigns!”
To every person involved in the leadership and ministries here, I want to tell you how blessed I am to be serving with you, and what a joy you bring to my heart every week. To be serving with people who love the Lord as you do, and who serve with such passion and love for each other, warms my heart and gives me such an excitement for the future.
Those here who do not attend, and perhaps some who do, don’t know the spiritual battle that has been occurring in this church over the past few months. The Leadership Board was just talking this week about how clear the spiritual attack has been among the people here. A demon has been sent to cripple our church, the servants, the Diaconate and myself. Maybe you’ve felt it too.
I want to share my story with you because as I’ve shared it with a few people over the past week I have heard the same thing – “that happened to me!”, “that’s exactly how I’ve been feeling”, and it is a forum like this – a celebration of the work God has been doing in this church that can combat this demon and send him packing.
My Battle with the Demon of Discouragement
Over the past month I have been relentlessly attacked by a demon named “Discouragement”. Every day, multiple times per day I heard in my mind the demon repeating:
- “The church is dead. Stop beating a dead horse. Don’t be so stubborn. There are lots of other places that you could go. Just leave and find greener pastures somewhere else.”
- “Stop writing. No one’s reading it and you’re only doing it out of pride anyway. Just give up.”
- “You don’t know what you’re doing. You’re a fraud as a leader and a pastor. You’re not fooling anyone. You may as well quit.”
- “No one likes you. The church is tired of you. You’re a one trick pony and you’re all out of tricks.”
- “Quit before you make it worse. Quit before you do more damage. Quit before it’s too late.”
- “There’s not enough money. Taking this position and moving to Carelton Place will put your family in danger. Why enter a hopeless situation and risk financial ruin?”
- “You’re a fool to believe that a little church like this can grow. God isn’t blessing this place. God is closing churches all over North America. Why would you think you’re different?”
Over and over, day after day I heard this – and I started to believe it – until one day, less than a week ago, God spoke. My family and I were listening to an “Adventures in Odyssey” about the story of Moses. Right in the middle of the story a light came on in my mind and I heard the voice of God. He said to me:
“Al, you’re being just like Israel. You’ve seen what I can do. I work miracle after miracle in your life. I deliver you from financial crisis, ministry problems, spiritual weakness and yet you grumble. You sound just like Israel! You’re acting just like Israel! Haven’t I shown you that I’ll take care of you?
Stop worrying. I’ve got you. I will take you and the church to the place I have set in front of you. Start trusting in my provision, my grace, my love for you, my willingness to work miracles. Believe in me and I’ll save you, restore your joy and bring you blessing.
I told you that if you have faith like a mustard-seed, then you can move mountains – where’s your faith?
I told you that if you need workers to pray for them and I’ll send them – don’t you trust me?
I told you that if you need wisdom to just ask – why not just ask?
I told you I will grow my people and defend my church – don’t you think I will?
I told you that I will complete the work I have started – won’t you believe me?”
It was in that moment that I repented from my grumbling (which is a biblical-sin) and asked God to restore to me the joy of my salvation. I asked Him to change my heart from doubt to faith. And He has been faithfully doing that over the past couple weeks. Whenever I hear the voice of Satan in my ears, I remember the words of God and his faithfulness.
Sunglasses and a Gas-Mask
When God spoke to me, He gave me a picture and I want to pass it on to you: Satan had fooled me into wearing dark sunglasses and a gas-mask. He’d slipped them on without me even noticing. The light was there but I wasn’t able to see it. No matter how bright the light of God was around me, it looked dim. The flowers and beautiful smells of summer were surrounding me, but I couldn’t smell them because I was wearing a gas-mask. Sure I could breathe, but the joyful aromas of God’s creation weren’t making it through.
I know with certainly that Satan has been pulling this same trick on many Christians. Though you are surrounded by the light and aroma of God’s blessing, grace and hope, you can’t sense it. And that means that how you feel right now about your ministry, the church, and each other – doesn’t reflect reality! In truth, God’s blessing, grace and hope are all around you, our church, your ministry, and your life – but you can’t see it because the Demon of Discontent has dulled your senses.
The instant I repented and rebuked the Demon of Discontent in the name of Jesus Christ, the dark glasses and gas-mask fell off and I was able to see and feel God’s grace and bounty again. They were there all along! And just like when you take dark glasses off and you have to squint because of the brightness – I have been overpowered by what I have seen. The grace, blessing, hope, love, joy, wonder, delight, and voice of God have been overpowering me as God has been whispering optimistic words into my heart.
My hope is that you will do the same. Rebuke the Demon of Discontent and see your life, your ministry, and the church the way Jesus sees them!
Stones of Remembrance
Let me close with a final picture. Ancient Israel used to erect piles of stones in places where important meetings between them and God would happen. They would do this so they could return back to them during times of doubt and fear and remember that God was there, had made them promises, and had delivered them once and could be counted on to do it again.
I sat down at my computer a few days ago and looked back on the piles of stones God has given us over the past year – the times where I have seen Him work miracles, keep His promises, and show me that God is with His people. So here’s the list of stones I look back on when I feel discouraged and need to remember that God isn’t done with us yet:
- We have been successful in practicing church discipline and have a more connected and inspired group of people than we did a couple years ago.
- We saw a wonderful leadership team raised up who met every week for a long time, passionately praying to God for wisdom and discernment, worked together like champions and crafted THE MOST enviable Strategic Plan document I’ve ever seen or heard of in a church our size.
- I’ve witnessed struggling marriages come together.
- I’ve witnessed major breakthroughs in personal hurts and watched people start down a long-overdue healing path.
- I’ve seen repentance and humility in situations that plagued the church for years.
- I’ve seen a renewal in energy in the musical worship service, a new band form, and watched them commit to working together instead of dividing over stylistic differences. We are WINNING the worship wars at our church!
- Wednesday night prayer and bible study has been faithfully attended, is growing, and has an ambitious plan to minister to many more people over the next while as we start making meals, begin a new dvd-study, and energize people around us to join us.
- I’ve seen people come back to the church who didn’t attend for a long while.
- I’ve seen the Sunday School find new tools, new furniture, new energy and new volunteers and bless the children greatly. The kids are excited to go to Sunday School!
- I’ve watched and participated in forming new mentoring relationships with young men and women, showing hope for the next generation of leaders.
- We’ve heard the stories of how our financial mission contributions have been used by God to work miracles in other lands.
- While other buildings, stores, and churches have been closing around us, we are still here after 166 years of ministry.
- Thanks to the faithfulness of our members we have a good financial reserve in the bank.
- We’ve witnessed renewal of faith and new baptisms, and I’m pretty sure we’ll have more baptisms this summer!
- We have gone through a full series of Peacemaker training and have seen the fruit of it over and over.
- People have been responding well to the sermons, and especially to the Foundations series as people are being inspired to pray more, study their bible, attend more faithfully and serve one another in love.
And that was just off the top of my head! I’m sure you could all add more to this list – and I encourage you to. [Comment below with more!]
Please remain encouraged, rebuke the Demon of Discouragement, trust God to be faithful to us, and let us move forward together towards the Promised Land He has set aside for us and the church we serve!
If Satan tells you that we don’t have enough people to get the job done – remember Gideon’s victory.
If Satan tells you we don’t have enough money – remember that Jesus sent Peter to get money from the mouth of a fish and was able to turn one kid’s lunch into a feast for thousands.
If Satan tells you that we don’t have enough time – remember that God made the sun stand still for Joshua’s army.
Over and over God puts down our excuses and fears with promises from scripture and memories from our lives and ministry in this wonderful church. So be encouraged! God is here and is doing amazing things today at our church, in our area, and in our lives. I look forward to the next year to see what God’s going to be doing here.