Martin Luther was a Catholic priest and German theologian who died in 1546. Before his death, he challenged the extravagances, indulgences, and corruptions of Catholicism, becoming a seminal figure in the Protestant Reformation. Since childhood, by his own admission, Luther was pestered by demons. Later in his life, these attacks increased. Luther believed it was evil spirits that caused him to struggle with depression and wild mood swings. According to legend, late one evening (or early one morning) as Luther was in his study translating the Bible into the German language, the devil visited him and harassed him. In righteous indignation, Luther took his ink well and threw it at Satan. Luther’s study is now part of a museum. For hundreds of years the ink stain remained visible. Now, the stain is marked by a hole in the wall.
Martin Luther endured extreme suffering and ridicule from his fellow priests and leaders within the church. But he understood, as did the Apostle Paul, that we “wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12, King James Version, KJV). Just in case you are wondering who Paul was referring to in this verse, he writes, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore…” (Ephesians 6:10-14a, KJV).
Make no mistake, we have an enemy that is out to destroy us. The Christian life is a wrestling match, not a tea party! It’s a battleground, not a playground. Yet, most Christians in the United States believe “Satan” and “demons” are symbols of evil and not realities. If Satan is not real, and if demonic activity is not real, why does the Bible warn us over and over to stand guard and to fight for the faith? If we are not in a battle, why the following exhortations?
- “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…” (1 Peter 5:8-9a).
- “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
- “(Jesus replied), ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven’” (Luke 10:18-20).
- “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27).
- “…for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).
- “The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him” (Revelation 12:9).
- “If God is for us, who can be against us?…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31-39).
Two Personal Stories
I started pastoring when I was 23 years old. In my late 20s I went through a 3-year period that was pure torture. Looking back, I don’t know how I survived. Things were not going well at church, one particular deacon physically threatened my life, leaders in my denomination were unfairly attacking me, trying to destroy my reputation, and I was facing a lawsuit that would have bankrupted me. It was not pleasant, and I wasn’t even 30-years old.
During this time, the muscles in my back formed a knot just below my shoulder blades. For months I was in severe pain, with no relief. It was hard to sit, stand, or lay down for any length of time. I was miserable. But every Sunday, I put on a happy face and did my job.
My brother, a medical doctor, convinced me to make an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon to x-ray my back and make sure there was nothing physically wrong with me. The doctor, an older gentleman (I don’t remember his name), examined me, took x-rays, and then said, “Mr. Riggs, there is nothing physically wrong with you. Your back is strong and your spine is normal.” He then asked, “What do you do for a living?” I told him I was a pastor. Then he asked, “How are things going at church?” While I did not share all the ugly details, I did tell him enough so that he knew things were not good. He then said, “Well, it is my opinion that stress is the cause of your muscles tightening. I am going to give you a prescription for some powerful muscle relaxers and make an appointment for you to go through 3 or 4 rounds of therapy at the Bone and Joint Clinic. But if you really want me professional opinion, I believe you have two choices. You can either learn to manage stress or you can get out of the ministry. I would suggest you find something else to do for a living.” His words stung me to the core.
One evening, some time later, I don’t remember the exact time frame, my back was still hurting and so I told Misty I was going to take a hot bath and see if that would help. As I was alone, in the bathtub, a dark presence entered the room. The presence seemed to be in the form of a slight mist, but it was heavy and thick and tangible. This entity (I have difficulties putting it into words) started accusing me of all sorts of things. It said I was failure and no good and I needed to quit and that I wasn’t fooling anyone and the doctor was right and on and on. I started praying and for the next little while I was in a wrestling match where the outcome would determine my immediate future. Misty, sensing something was wrong, knocked on the door and asked if I was ok. I told her to not open the door. She was concerned, but I begged her to not come in. I don’t know how long this lasted, but eventually the presence left and I sat there, wet, weeping, and exhausted. But I also felt relieved and assured everything was ok. The Holy Spirit ministered to me and healed my wounds. After gaining my composure, I did my best to explain to Misty what had happened. Until now, I have never shared that story publicly.
Then, not that long ago, in the early hours one Sunday morning, I had a dream. The dream was a re-creation of my ordination into ministry. I saw myself kneeling at my home church and my dad and other ministers were standing around me, laying their hands on me, praying for me. I knew I was dreaming but I also felt like I was half awake. While they were praying, I felt something strong on top of me, holding me down in my bed. I could not move. I was paralyzed. I tried to scream but could not. Then, this presence started growling and pushing me farther and farther into the mattress. Startled, I woke up. I prayed and then sang some worship songs. Slowly, I drifted back off to sleep.
My usual routine on Sunday mornings is to rise at 5:00am, take a shower, get dressed, grab a cup of coffee, and head upstairs to my study to go over my sermon and prepare myself for the day. As I was in the shower I reflected on what had happened earlier. Was it real? Was it indigestion? Was it just a dream? Am I going crazy?
Dressed, and with my coffee mug in hand, I sat at my desk, turned on my computer, and went over my sermon. As I was going over my sermon, the computer screen got out of focus, the room started spinning, and I felt cold. I knew I wasn’t dreaming and I knew I wasn’t sick, so I prayed in Jesus’ name for this evil spirit to leave. As quickly as it had come, it left, and things returned to normal. I knew then that the dream had been real. I prayed for discernment, and I felt God say that the enemy was trying to intimidate me because in a few days I was going to start visiting a prison where there are many dark forces at work. I was about to be an uninvited guest in a hostile environment.
So burdened by what I had experienced, that morning, during worship, I knelt and prayed at one of our altars. Then, during communion, I had Phil and Tracie pray over me. After church, I told them what had happened and they confirmed it to be intimidation because of my work in the community as well as the in prison.
As I said last week, I don’t share these stories to scare you or to glorify darkness or magnify myself. I share these stories to glorify God and to wake you up to the fact that following Jesus is a wrestling match, not a tea party. We need to be alert to what is going on around us, not out of fear but out of faith so we can overcome the attacks. We must take these things seriously! We have to be on guard! We have got to stand firm! Jesus Christ has already won the victory, but in this life we live behind enemy lines and we have to prepare ourselves against the devil’s schemes.
How? How do we prepare ourselves to fight the enemy?
Preparing for Battle
First and foremost, you fight by preparing yourself for battle. You prepare yourself by placing your faith in Jesus Christ, committing your entire life to Him. You cannot fight the battle without Him. In fact, the more absent God is in your life, the more open you are to demonic activity, influences, and deceptions. Second of all, you prepare yourself by admitting you are in a spiritual battle. If you don’t believe you are in a battle, then you have already lost. Third, as the Apostle Paul says, you prepare yourself by putting on the “full armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11, 13). When Paul wrote these words he had been arrested for his preaching and was chained to a Roman soldier. But he knew his battle was not with Rome, nor the Roman soldier. His enemy was Satan, and the Roman soldier’s uniform made the perfect illustration for battle preparation.
Part of the armor is “the belt of truth buckled around your waist” (Ephesians 6:14). A belt is what holds everything else in place. Like a belt, the truth of God’s Word keeps everything else where it should be. As a believer, once you start to doubt, or change, God’s Word (“truth”), you are liable to lose it all.
Just above the Roman soldier’s belt was is breastplate. In preparing to fight our enemy, Paul says we are to put on “the breastplate of righteousness” (Ephesians 6:14). The breastplate protects the heart and all the vital organs. As a believer, Jesus’ righteousness becomes our righteousness. Through faith, we ask Jesus to come into our heart. We are now right with God! However, the enemy will attack us and tempt us to turn our backs on God. He will try to deceive us into denying who Jesus is. If we fall for his lies we will have no protection. We have been made righteous in Christ so we can live the right kind of life that will keep temptation and the enemy at bay.
Without the right type of shoes, you are likely to slip and fall. Thus, an important part of our armor is our shoes. Paul writes, “and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15). A Roman soldier’s shoes were more like cleats, providing sure footing on slippery ground. Also, shoes do no good if they don’t fit properly. Notice we are to stand on the sure footing of the “gospel of peace.” Soldiers have to be ready for battle at a moments notice. Likewise, we are to be ready to fight, but the way we fight is not through violence but through peace and through a readiness to share the gospel of peace, at a moments notice, with anyone who is willing to listen.
An extremely important part of the soldier’s armor was his shield. Paul says, “In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16). For the Roman soldier, the shield was an individual weapon as well as a team weapon. Individually, a soldier can move the shield from side to side and protect himself. However, when the arrows from the enemy come at you by the thousands, the shields would interlock with other soldiers’ shields and protect the entire army. Likewise, we come to faith as individuals, but we are called to live out our faith in community with each other. When a soldier of Jesus is AWOL from the church, they are easy targets for the enemy.
The single, most important, part of a soldier’s armor is his helmet. Thus, Paul describes our helmet as “the helmet of salvation” (Ephesians 6:17). We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Our salvation in Jesus is safe and secure.
The only offensive weapon a Roman soldier had was his sword. Likewise, our sword is “the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). The weapon we use to fight the enemy is the truth of God’s Word. When the enemy attacks us and we remind the enemy that we have been purchased by the blood of Christ and the power of His Word, the enemy has to flee. If you don’t know your sword, if you don’t know God’s Word, you have nothing to use to fight back the enemy.
A Roman soldier only had one offensive weapon—the sword. As soldiers in God’s army, we actually have two weapons—God’s Word (our sword) and prayer. Paul said, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all God’s people. Pray also for me…” (Ephesians 6:18-19a). When we pray, we pray in the power of the Holy Spirit. We pray in preparation for battle. We pray in the middle of the battle. We pray in between the battles.
Someone may ask, “If Jesus has already won the victory, why do we still need to wrestle the enemy? If Satan has already been defeated why is he allowed to continue to fight?” I think a familiar story from a missionary couple serving in the Amazon Jungle answers that question. The story goes something like this:
One day an enormous snake—much longer than any man—slithered its way right through the front door and into the kitchen of a young missionary couple’s home. They were terrified and ran outside looking for one of the natives who might know what to do. Before long a neighbor with a machete showed up, calmly marched into their house and decapitated the snake with one clean chop.
The neighbor reemerged triumphant and assured the missionaries that the reptile was dead. But there was a catch. He warned them that it was going to take a while for the snake to realize it was dead.
A snake’s neurology and blood flow are such that it can take considerable time for it to stop moving even when its head has been removed. For the next several hours, because the snake was so large, the missionaries were forced to wait outside while the snake thrashed about, smashing furniture and flailing against walls and windows, wreaking havoc until its body finally understood that it no longer had a head.
Sweating in the heat, the missionary couple felt frustrated and a little sickened but also grateful that the snake’s rampage wouldn’t last forever. At some point in their waiting, the missionaries realized the spiritual meaning of what was going on. They realized that Satan is a lot like that big old snake. He’s already been defeated. He just hasn’t died yet, and so he is thrashing and crashing, causing as much devastation as possible. But one day soon, it’s all going to end. In the meantime, “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:10-12, KJV).
 Within Catholicism, “indulgence” refers to “a remission of the temporal punishment due to sin, the guilt of which has been forgiven.” Martin Luther condemned the practice of selling indulgences, thus, selling the grace and favor of God.
 The Protestant Reformation was a religious movement of the 16th century (1500s) that began as an attempt to reform the Roman Catholic Church and resulted in the creation of Protestant churches.
 https://www.barna.org/barna-update/faith-spirituality/260-most-american-christians-do-not-believe-that-satan-or-the-holy-spirit-exis#.VxYrcmPLRAY. The same study also shows most Christians in the United States don’t believe the Holy Spirit to be a real Person.