In his Screwtape Letters CS Lewis says that there are two equal and opposite errors that people fall into regarding the dark powers. One mistake is to disbelieve in their existence, the other is to believe in them to excess.
In Ephesians chapter 6, verses 10 through 12, Paul the Apostle writes: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power… For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places…
Paul takes the reality of conflict in the world to another level: ‘our struggle’, literally, ‘our wrestling’, is not so much against ‘flesh and blood’ but ‘principalities and powers’. In Ephesians chapter 1, verse 10, Paul speaks of the day when all things, ‘in heaven’ and ‘on earth’ will be brought under rule of the Lord Jesus Christ. However, as we read in chapter 6, for the present there’s a war between the two spheres of darkness and light.
Spiritually speaking, God’s people live in enemy occupied territory. The epic that the Gospels reveal is that, without fanfare, the true king has slipped into our world to rescue people enslaved by the dark powers. The Gospel of John records Jesus’s words to Pilate: he could have called on a powerful army to rescue him (John 18:36). However, knowing he was the only one who could defeat the prince of darkness, he came alone to accomplish his mission. He knew that only through his sacrificial death could the powers of evil, and death itself, be conquered (so Colossians, chapter 2, verses 13 through 15). Jesus’s resurrection from the dead validates his victory.
However, for the present the dark powers, although mortally wounded, continue to do their worst, attempting to destroy God’s ultimate and sure plan to glorify his people.
Against this background we learn from Ephesians 6:10 that God’s people are caught up in a spiritual conflict as individuals and together. It is here that all too often we are naïve. We think it is only the smooth-tongued and often deceitful influential and powerful who obstruct spiritual truth in the world. No, Paul warns. There are formidable supernatural forces at work – powers that will not respond to reason. And so we are caught up in a conflict that involves dark powers and human choices.
Put on the whole armor of God, we read in verse 13, so that you may be able to stand your ground. There will be times when the dark forces press us morally, whispering that everybody’s doing it. Sometimes they press us intellectually: you’re too clever to believe that. Sometimes they press us psychologically: your faith is so intolerant. And there are times when we are physically persecuted. The aim is always the same: to silence the voice of God’s people.
Stand firm, Paul says. Be alert. Don’t give in. Put on the inner protection of a godly lifestyle. Our loins need to be girded with God’s truth; we need a breastplate of righteousness; our feet need to be shod with the commitment to spread the gospel of peace, and we need the headpiece of salvation. Our lives are most at risk when our inner defenses are broken through. We need the qualities of integrity, of righteousness, of gospel readiness, and the deep assurance of God’s ultimate victory.
The dark powers will do their worst to discredit our integrity, prevent gospel outreach through lethargy and infighting, and demoralize us by discouraging us.
We need protection: the shield of faith with which we can quench the flaming darts of darkness. We can’t cope on our own. We need to trust Christ, for when we do, the darts of darkness will fall useless. ‘The victory that overcomes the world,’ John tells us, ‘is our faith’ (1 John 5:4).
The sword of the spirit. While Paul hasn’t spelled out the meaning of his metaphors up to this point, he wants us to know that God’s Word is a sword. Unlike communism or any other ‘ism’ or ideology, there is no place in Christianity for a literal holy war. God’s new society is not brought in by act of Congress still less at the end of gun. God works through his Word.
The Word of God is not a message of the freedom fighters, but one that focusses on personal repentance and God’s forgiveness: the building of God’s new society and its compassion and care for a lost world. The victory of God’s Word will have eternal outcomes.
Pray: Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints… (Ephes 6:18).
In any battle, communication is vital. In the histories of World War II there is a picture of a young soldier holding together a broken telephone line. Prayer is our field telegraph. Paul urges us to pray constantly, to persevere in prayer, and to be vigilant in prayer. We are to pray in the Spirit.
Romans 8:26f helps us understand this, for there Paul tells us that the Spirit works with us in our prayer. In the midst of suffering we’re often at a loss to know what we should say. In those times, Paul tells us, the Spirit comes to our aid, putting our inarticulate thoughts into meaningful prayer, speaking to God on our behalf.
Despite the noise of opposing voices, God’s work continues to make inroads on the kingdom of darkness. When Jesus stood on the hills of ancient Israel with a handful of his followers, he said, ‘On this rock – the rock of faith – I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it’ (Matthew 16:18). He was speaking to a small group of humble, un-influential men.
The Lord Jesus Christ is the legitimate ruler of the world. No, much, much more: the universe. Nothing in all creation will prevent the return of the King.
As we conclude the ‘Summer Growth’ season from Ephesians, let’s hold on to the shield of faith, wield the word of God with greater confidence, and most of all, pray – for one another and for others – that we will stand firm, not failing to live under God’s gospel, nor failing to take his gospel to those around us. If you have not already done so, consider TheWord121 as a very accessible ministry to introduce family and friends to the authentic Jesus through the lens of John’s Gospel. You can access it at: www.theword121.com.
A prayer. Almighty God, give us grace so that we may cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came amongst us in great humility: so that on the last day, when he comes again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.