You and I live in a world at war. It’s a war between light and darkness, between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Evil. This is the place we find ourselves. In the episodes to follow we’ll look at how evil operates and how to fight back to win the war for your heart and the hearts of those you love.
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Today I want to talk about the primary reason that I decided to call this podcast The Place We Find Ourselves.
And it’s simply this: each of us find ourselves living in the midst of a world at war.
That is The Place We Find Ourselves when we wake up each morning.
Like it or not, we find ourselves living in a world at war.
That war is between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness.
Eugene Peterson puts it quite well when he says,
“The basic nature of history is warfare. Persons who live by faith live in conflict. History is a long sequence of battles—the forces of good and evil in conflict. This is the human condition. To be human is to be at war.”
You did not ask to be born into this war, but this is the place you find yourself.
Now, before I engage this topic, let me offer a plea for a hearing.
Whether you’re a Christian or not, if you grew up in America, you likely have a hard time with the whole notion of Evil.
Ever since the Enlightenment, the Western world has devalued the supernatural.
The Enlightenment proclaimed that all Evil things in the world have natural causes—social, psychological causes. Everything has a scientific explanation.
Now Christians in the post-Enlightenment West have maintained a belief in the supernatural good (like God and angels) but have largely agreed with the Enlightenment’s dismissal of the supernatural bad (like Evil).
Not too long ago, author Andrew Delbanco wrote a book entitled The Death of Satan: How Americans Have Lost the Sense of Evil. Repeat.
Delbanco’s not a Xn. In the book he says,
“Look, I’m a secular liberal. I’m not a Xn.
But I’m making a cultural observation and the observation is simply this: during the 20th Century, the notion of evil gradually slipped out of American consciousness. Everything had a natural cause—evil wasn’t really a player in the world.”
However, Delbanco points out that we in the West are now coming to the realization that we can’t explain the world without including the supernatural, the unseen.
Until recently, post-Enlightenment Americans thought that things like ethnic cleansing, sexual abuse, domestic violence—that these things were caused merely by social and psychological ills and that they could be addressed with social and psychological remedies.
But, Delbanco argues, things are changing.
History has shown that things like violence and abuse are rather intransigent—even in the face of our best efforts to address them.
So perhaps evil is more of a player in the modern world than we give it credit.
Perhaps evil is more of a player in your day to day life than you realize.
Now, I’m guessing that some of you are saying, “Yeah, I believe in evil.” [pause]
Q: Okay, when was the last time you talked to a friend about how evil is assaulting you? [pause]
When was the last time you talked to someone about evil as a real force that is working against you?
Q: Or do you believe in evil the way you believe in the duck billed platypus… you know it’s out there somewhere, you’re not sure where, but wherever it is, it’s pretty irrelevant to my life?
Remember the film The Usual Suspects.
In The Usual Suspects, Kevin Spacey’s character has this great line. He says,
“The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.” [Repeat]
Q: Have evil spirits convinced you that they don’t exist?
There is a scene in The Lord of the Rings in which Gandalf attempts to persuade King Theoden to rally his men and head out to fight an approaching army.
With the stern strength of a warrior, Gandalf says simply, “You must fight.” Theoden responds by saying, “I will not risk open war.”
Then Aragorn speaks the sentence that could be said to all of us today: “Open war is upon you whether you would risk it or not.”
Open war is upon us. The forces of the kingdom of evil war against us daily, seeking to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10).
Charles Spurgeon puts it like this: “To be a Christian is to be a warrior. The soldier of Jesus Christ must not expect to find ease in this world: it is a battlefield. His occupation is war.”
The Bible bears witness to both the reality of evil and the reality of warfare with evil.
Jesus deals directly with evil spirits in 32 chapters across the four gospels.
Evil in some form is mentioned 199 times in the NT.
The words Satan, devil, evil spirit, demon, tempter, dominion, ruler, authority—these words are used 199 times in the NT.
For comparison purposes, the word grace is used only 134 times.
Revelation 12 describes the beginning of the war between the two kingdoms:
When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child… Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus (Revelation 12:13, 17).
Now, when it comes to warfare, there are few things more important than knowing your position on the battlefield, knowing where you are.
The apostle Paul locates our position quite specifically in 1 Corinthians 15. I’m deeply indebted to John Eldredge for pointing this out. Paul writes the following:
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead… 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 1 Corinthians 15
Let’s slow that down and take a closer look.
When will the end come? AFTER Christ has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power. In other words, after Christ destroys the present authority of the Kingdom of Darkness.
So, what’s going on? Where are we in the war? The Conquering King Jesus is reigning—that is, ruling—over the forces of darkness.
However, the word “after” in v. 24 — the end will come AFTER Christ has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power—shows that Christ has not yet destroyed the kingdom of darkness.
And Paul reiterates this in v. 25 when he says that Christ must reign UNTIL he has put all his enemies under his feet.
Christ is reigning, to be sure, but he has not yet put all his enemies under his feet.
In other words, where is the place we find ourselves?
We find ourselves living during that period of time in which Jesus Christ is in the process of putting all his enemies under his feet.
It is a peculiar point in the war.
On the one hand, Jesus Christ has conquered the power of darkness.
On the other hand, he has not yet destroyed “all dominion, authority, and power.”
The writer of Hebrews puts it like this: “In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him” (Hebrews 2:8).
So, to summarize, to be human is to be at war.
Any worldview that overlooks this reality is both naive and dangerous.
The Bible’s claims about the reality of evil tend to stun modern Western Christians.
In Ephesians 6 Paul makes the audacious claim that our struggle in this world is not primarily against flesh and blood (i.e. other people), but against the rulers and authorities of the kingdom of darkness.
The biblical witness begins with the premise that evil exists as a ruler in the heavenly realms.
And all rulers have kingdoms over which they rule. Evil is no exception.
This is the assumption of Jesus in Matthew 12 where he says, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined… If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?” (Matthew 12:26-27).
How can this kingdom stand? Jesus’ assumption is that Satan has a kingdom.
Read the intro to Screwtape Letters p. vii. Great words about who satan is. He’s the opposite of Michael, not God.
Still, when all allowances have been made, the book has had readers of the genuine sort
sufficiently numerous to make it worthwhile answering some of the questions it has
raised in their minds. The commonest question is whether I really “believe in the Devil.”
Now, if by “the Devil” you mean a power opposite to God and, like God, self-existent
from all eternity, the answer is certainly No. There is no uncreated being except God.
God has no opposite. No being could attain a “perfect badness” opposite to the perfect
goodness of God.
The proper question is whether I believe in devils. I do. That is to say, I believe in angels,
and I believe that some of these, by the abuse of their free will, have become enemies to
God and to us. These we may call devils. They do not differ in nature from good angels, but their nature is depraved. Devil is the opposite of angel only as Bad
Man is the opposite of Good Man. Satan, the leader or dictator of devils, is the opposite,
not of God, but of Michael.
The kingdom of evil is not ruled by Satan alone. Like all kingdoms, it is diverse.
Though Satan rules the kingdom of darkness, Satan has emissaries.
In describing the fall of Satan from heaven, Revelation 12:9 says, “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.”
Satan does not rule his kingdom alone; there are angels in his service.
In Ephesians 6:12 Paul provides a more specific description of Satan’s angelic emissaries when he says that our struggle is “against the rulers (ἀρχή), against the authorities (ἐξουσία), against the cosmic powers (κοσμοκράτωρ) of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil (τὰ πνευματικὰ τῆς πονηρίας).”
These four descriptors of the forces of evil are not synonyms.
This verse means exactly what it says—there are at least four different kinds of emissaries of Satan, which Paul designates with these four distinct names—rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and spiritual forces of evil.
Colossians 1:16 likewise bears witness to the diversity of the kingdom of darkness.
Paul says in Colossians 1 that Christ “created all things: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities.”
Again, these four words are not synonyms.
Paul is drawing distinctions: “thrones” are different than “powers” which are different than “rulers” which are different than “authorities.”
In addition to Paul’s designations of the forces of darkness, the gospels speak often of another entity in Satan’s kingdom, namely evil spirits (aka demons).
Q: What do we know about evil spirits? Well, consider this account from Luke 11.
Now Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed…
24 Jesus said, “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ 25 When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. 26 Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”
This passage teaches us five things about evil spirits:
They can exist outside of people or inside people (v. 24 “When an impure spirit comes out of a person”).
They can travel at will—as spiritual entities, they are not subject to the physical laws of the natural world (v. 24 again “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places”).
They can remember and make plans (the last part of v. 24, The evil spirit says “I will return to the house I left”).
They can combine forces (v. 26 “the evil spirit goes and takes seven other spirits”).
They vary in degrees of wickedness. (v. 26, The first spirit brought back seven other spirits “more wicked than itself.”) BTW, In Mark 9, Jesus also indicates a difference in the wickedness of spirits when he says of one, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.”
So, evil spirits or demons can exist outside or inside people, they can travel at will, they can remember and make plans, they can combine forces, and they vary in degrees of wickedness.
In summary, we do not know much about their rank and file, but of the fact that the kingdom of darkness includes various entities with various degrees of authority we can be assured.
William Stringfellow puts it like this:
“the powers of evil have various species, varieties, and names… They are designated by such titles as powers, thrones, authorities, dominions, demons, princes, strongholds, spirits… The very array of names and titles in biblical usage for the principalities and powers is some indication of the scope and significance of the subject for human beings.”