As Halloween comes around every year, the reality of the spiritual realm comes to the forefront in many people’s minds. This opens the door for Christian parents, educators, and pastors to help inform others about the reality of this spiritual domain and prepare for the inevitable attacks from the enemy. Of course, some in the Western world simply deny the existence of the unseen, supernatural realm altogether, or think it is at most irrelevant. In 2009, Barna Group’s research found that four out of ten Christians strongly agreed that Satan “is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.”
For followers of Jesus who hold to the authority of the Bible, this perspective is not an option. God and his angels and Satan and his fallen angels are both real and highly influential in the physical realm. To dismiss or ignore these spiritual beings is not only at odds with the biblical worldview, but could have dangerous implications.
God and his angels and Satan and his fallen angels are both real and highly influential in the physical realm
Satan and his demonic forces are demonstrably real according to the Bible. Satan is called the “god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4) and “the ruler of this world” (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11, NRSV). We thus live in the “present evil age” (Gal. 1:4) because “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19). His primary targets are Christians, who must prepare for “all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph. 6:16). Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), while in reality Peter says, “Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). We simply cannot ignore or belittle the power of the enemy.
Of course, as Christians we are secure in our salvation as Christ has triumphed over all evil spiritual forces at the cross (Col. 2:15). For those of us whose allegiance is to King Jesus, nothing can separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:38-39) and no one can snatch those who are faithful from God (Jn. 10:28).
But that does not mean Satan and his minions are not still alive and active! The New Testament says we must fight the good fight (2 Tim. 4:7) and resist the devil (Js. 4:7-8). Paul sets the stage when he says, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” but rather “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Because of this, we must “put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground” (Eph. 6:12-13). But how do we do this? How do we resist and prepare for the inevitable attacks from demonic forces?
When Jesus teaches us how to pray, he says to pray to God that he would “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matt. 6:13). Praying for divine protection from evil forces is something Jesus calls us to do and therefore makes a difference in our spiritual defense. We are to be diligent in our prayer life, always presenting our requests to God (Phil. 4:6-7) as we “pray in the Spirit at all times” (Eph. 6:18, NRSV). God promises to be near to all who call on him (Psalm 145:18) as he works in and through our prayers to protect us from nefarious forces (2 Thess. 3:3).
This does not mean that God will always remove the persecution we are facing from Satan and his forces in this lifetime. God sometimes allows Satan to work his evil so that some greater good will come. For example, God allowed Satan to persecute Job to showcase Job’s faithfulness (Job 1-2); he allowed Paul to have a thorn in the flesh, “a messenger of Satan” to keep him from being prideful (2 Cor. 12:7); and he allowed Satan to help instigate Jesus’s death (Lk. 22:3) so that Jesus could be resurrected as the conquering King. Other times the persecution we endure is simply due to our own choices, choices and consequences which God allows.
We can pray this because we know that, for believers, “all things work together for good for those who love God”
Regardless of the situation, God hears the prayers of his followers (1 Peter 3:12) and wants his image-bearers to call on him to help deliver us from the evil one. Even if God allows some wicked force to influence our life, we should still pray to God, “Yet not my will, but yours be done” (Lk. 22:42). We can pray this because we know that, for believers, “all things work together for good for those who love God” (Rom. 8:28, NRSV) and nothing can “separate us from the love of God” (Rom. 8:39).
2. Pursue Virtue
Paul warns Christians, “do not give the devil a foothold” (Eph. 4:27). In other words, do not give Satan an opportunity for him to work his destruction. This likely means if we sin consistently in a certain area, we open a door for demonic forces to enter and incite further rebellion, drawing us away from God. As one theologian puts it, “Just like flies and rats are attracted to garbage, unclean spirits are drawn to unclean thoughts and behaviors.”1 Paul warns Timothy that sins like arrogance open up the possibility for Christians to fall into the devil’s trap, which has the potential to lead to following Satan himself (1 Tim. 5:5) and deserting the faith altogether (1 Tim. 4:1).
Just like flies and rats are attracted to garbage, unclean spirits are drawn to unclean thoughts and behaviors
In Ephesians 6, Paul instructs Christians to put on the full armor of God, including the breastplate of righteousness (v. 14). Elsewhere Paul talks about a breastplate of faith and love (1 Thess. 5:8), and to put aside the deeds of darkness and to put on the armor of light (Rom. 13:12). A virtuous life following Jesus leaves little room for Satan to find any foothold or weakness in our armor.
3. Know the Truth
Paul instructs us to put on the belt of truth (Eph. 6:14), no doubt underlying the importance of accurate knowledge about Jesus, God, and his Kingdom. Christians have been set free from the captivity of sin (Lk. 4:18-19), saved from the kingdom of Satan, and placed into God’s Kingdom (Col. 1:13). We have turned from the power of Satan to the power of God (Acts 26:18) and the indwelt Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:17).
These are truths which set us free (Jn. 8:32). If we ignore these realities, we run the risk of “paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1, NRSV). There is godly wisdom (Prov. 4:7), then there are false, misleading, deadly ideas. As James says, “Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (Js. 3:15). We see in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3) that one of Satan’s primary ways to draw people from God is to mislead, lie, manipulate. Paul warns, “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3).
Ideas have consequences, and false beliefs lead to behaviors which are not aligned with reality. This opens possibilities for the devil to ensnare, areas in which he and his demonic forces can misdirect and possibly lead people away from the light and truth of the gospel.
4. Know the Authority You Have in Christ
At his ascension, Jesus was given all authority and enthroned as the King of the universe. This means he now has authority over all spiritual forces, good or evil.2 What is amazing is that followers of Jesus share in this status. Paul says, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6), and that God shares “his incomparably great power for us who believe” (Eph 1:19). Believers are thus in union with Christ, sharing many of his powerful prerogatives.
One of those prerogatives Jesus had in his earthly ministry was to cast out demons as he had authority over them.3 Jesus gave this same prerogative to his twelve apostles (Matt. 10:1), and also to his general followers (Lk. 10:17,19; Acts 19:12; 5:16; 8:7), promising them all that they have authority “to overcome all the power of the enemy” (Lk. 10:19). The disciples responded by saying, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name” (v. 17). We see a similar experience in Acts 16, where Paul says to a nefarious spirit in a woman, “‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ At that moment the spirit left her” (v. 18).
Believers are thus in union with Christ, sharing many of his powerful prerogatives
This does not mean all demonic forces can be expelled immediately, as even Jesus endured significant temptation before he finally said, “Away from me, Satan!” (Matt. 4:10). But Scripture promises us that if we submit to God and resist Satan, the devil will flee from us (Js. 3:7), even if God allows for certain afflictions for our spiritual growth (See 2 Cor. 12:7). For those who are following Jesus, growing in virtue, and walking in the Spirit, they share in Christ’s authority and power over Satan and his demons.
We live in the midst of a cosmic battle between two kingdoms: the Kingdom of God, a reign of righteousness, peace, and joy (Rom. 14:17), and Satan’s kingdom, a reign of darkness and death. While Jesus won the decisive battle at the cross and will ultimately destroy all demonic forces, we must still prepare for the schemes of Satan (2 Cor. 2:11). This includes a consistent prayer life, growth in virtue, knowing the truth, and embracing the authority we have in Christ.
The spiritual, unseen realm is real! There are nefarious forces at work led by the god of this world, Satan. Perhaps during Halloween, a time when horror films, scary costumes, and darkness seems to reign, demonic forces are more active than ever. But Jesus tells us to be courageous, as he has already conquered these dark beings (Jn. 16:33). We no longer live in darkness, but now exist in relationship with God and in his marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9), so let’s walk in the radiance of the Lord (Isa. 2:5).