Our Ancient Foe
Talk of the Devil and spiritual warfare makes some people roll their eyes. We live in an age of particle accelerators, microchips, and organ transplants. The Devil? Why, he’s nothing more than a medieval superstition created to scare naughty children. We can’t take any of that seriously.
Martin Luther would have disagreed. He took it very seriously and wrote often of his ongoing battle with the Devil. He was very aware of the forces of evil. Most of us have heard the story about Luther throwing an inkwell at the Devil. Whether truth or legend, such an act would not have been out of character for Luther. It is also well known that Luther believed in using contempt to fight the Devil, and some of the things he said to and about the Devil were colorful, to say the least.
According to the skeptics, Luther may have meant well, but his encounters with “the Devil” say more about his fragile mental state than they do about reality. This is what our demythologized world would have us believe, and, frankly, it is what the Devil himself would have us believe. As the French poet Charles Baudelaire said, “The devil’s best trick is to persuade you that he doesn’t exist!”
Luther’s language about the Devil wasn’t always crude. Sometimes he was more tactful. His hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” is a magnif icent description of spiritual warfare and our place in it.
A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
The Devil is quite real, and there is a spiritual war going on every minute of every day (Rev. 12:17). It was foretold by God when He cursed the Serpent and said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring” (Gen. 3:15). This war is not a dualistic Manichaean battle between two essentially equal forces, good and evil, light and darkness. Satan is not omnipotent or omniscient. God alone is sovereign and all-powerful. All that the Devil does is done only by God’s permission and ultimately will be used by God for His own purposes.
Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
It is important for believers to understand that the outcome of this war is not uncertain. As God also said to the Serpent, “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The decisive battle has already been won at the cross. The Devil may have thought he had won when Jesus was crucified, but this was actually the point in redemptive history when his head was crushed. It was by means of His death on the cross that Jesus destroyed the Devil (Heb. 2:14).
Some theologians have used World War II as an analogy of what happened. The cross was D-Day in the spiritual war. It was the decisive assault that sealed the doom of the enemy. The final victory, analogous to VE-Day, occurs at the final judgment when the Devil is cast into hell. Christians today live between D-Day and VE-Day. During this time, the armies advance against the enemy, slowly but surely, in a bloody and painful battle until Christ has put every last enemy under His feet. Some days see advances while other days see retreats, but overall there is an advance until the last day, the day of the enemy’s complete surrender.
And though this world,
with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly powers,
no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
The fact that we live between the decisive battle and the final battle explains why Peter must still warn his readers that the Devil prowls around like a lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). The Devil has suffered a fatal wound, but he is not dead. He remains dangerous, and we must remain watchful against his schemes. He does not always come at us looking as evil as he is. He and his servants can disguise themselves as angels of light (2 Cor. 11:14). In spite of this, because we are united with Jesus Christ, the One who crushed his head, we can resist the Devil, and he will flee from us.