The following is Chapter 35 from the book entitled, Let’s Study Ephesians, written by Sinclair B. Ferguson in 2005.
Life Is a Battle
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:10-12)
The powers of darkness opposed God’s kingdom, spiritual death ruled the Ephesians; deep seated alienation existed between Jew and Gentile. But now, in Christ, these obstacles had been dealt death blows. Already in the lives of individuals and whole churches the dawning of the new age had come.
At the beginning of this magnificent letter Paul had described Christians as being ‘in Christ’ even while they were still ‘at Ephesus’. More than that, they had already begun to taste and enjoy the spiritual blessings of the new age, ‘in heavenly places’ (Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, Eph 1:3).
Now, as Paul returns to talk about life in those heavenly places (verse 12), he introduces a surprising turn of events. This realm where spiritual blessings are received is also the location of an ongoing spiritual battle. While Christ has delivered the deathblow to the powers of darkness, they are not yet finally destroyed. To be raised from spiritual death into spiritual life by Christ the King means that we are no longer the followers (or prisoners) of the prince of the power of the air (in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—Eph 2:2). We are now ‘the opposition.’ But precisely as such, we have become the object of all his recriminating and destructive forces.
Consequently, the final proof that we have been raised up to sit with Christ in the heavenly places and now walk in a way that is worthy of him is: we keep our feet and are able to remain standing in the battle against the Evil One.
Early in the Christian life we might think that to stand (verse 11) in this spiritual warfare is a relatively insignificant achievement. But the more we read the New Testament, and the longer we experience the pressure of spiritual warfare, the more clearly we will see that to remain standing – after all the heat of the battle – is the result of the work of supernatural grace in us. This is why Paul reiterates the idea (11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil; 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm;.. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, Verses 11, 13 twice, and 14).
Three issues are common to battles of every kind:
1) What is the context and nature of the battle?
2) Who is the enemy and what is his strength?
3) What are our resources for defense and victory?
THE BATTLE GROUND
1. This battle is fought in the heavenly realms, the sphere into which we have been brought through our election and union to Christ (cf. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. Eph 1:3; 2:6; 3:10) To live in this atmosphere is to be brought into the center of a conflict zone. This is the context in which the whole Bible, from Genesis 3:15 onwards is set – the ongoing warfare between the Lord and the serpent (grown into the size of a dragon by the end of Scriptures, (And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. Rev. 12:9).
This is exactly what our Lord promised: ‘I will build my church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it’ (Matt. 16:18). To become a citizen in this kingdom is to be caught up in a cosmic conflict where the issues are of eternal moment.
This is why Peter warns us of the devouring ‘roaring lion’ desires of the Evil One (Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8). He needs to be detected and resisted.
2. But far from being ethereal and mystical the regular context of the battle is in the ordinary routines of daily life. It is in Ephesus (cf. Eph 1:1 and 3) the conflict is joined. Wherever grace brings advance and victory, attacks will come. It is the ordinary progress of sanctification that the Devil seeks to defeat us, it is in the daily routines that we need to make sure he gains no foothold (and give no opportunity to the devil. Ephesians 4:27). Mundane life, not just mountaintop experience, is the sphere in which Satan appears. We need to be conscious of his stratagems.
This is brought out remarkably in the context of Ephesians 6:10ff. – for Paul has just been discussing marriage, family life, and everyday employment. This is where Satan first successfully attacked. It was not when Adam and Eve were attempting extraordinary spiritual work for God, but when everything seemed mundane, that Satan tracked them down and tripped them up. In fact, their marriage, which was the best of all God’s basic provision for them, became the strongest instrument Satan could use to set them at odds against relations, and the daily working world that we need to recognize we are not dealing merely with flesh and blood, but with rulers … authorities … cosmic forces … spiritual forces of evil (Eph 6:10).
3. There is a further dimension to the way Satan musters his forces. He plans to strike in the evil day. What does that mean? Our Lord experienced such a day. The night of his betrayal was the hour of the power of darkness (When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness. Luke 22:53).
He felt the full force of Satan’s attack. Now came the greatest pressure to turn away from the cross. Since Satan could not destroy him by the temptation to go another way than to the cross, now he would seek to dominate the event itself, inciting one apostle to betray and another to deny, while scattering the rest.
Earlier in our Lord’s ministry Satan sought to keep him from the way of the cross.
Later, he seems to have been in a frenzy of activity in order to bring him to the cross in such a way that he might destroy Jesus’ relationship with the Father.
By the evil day Paul may mean a still future day when the conflict between the kingdoms of darkness and light will reach a consummation. But even if this is so, that day is already pre-figured in our lives from time to time.
Unlike our Lord (“I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, 31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” John 14:30-31), a ‘landing place’ for Satan remains in us. We are still sinners. There is still a ‘Trojan Horse’ of sin within us, which Satan seeks to use to make his dark strategies and snares effective. Sometimes we have opportunities to sin but lack any inner compulsion to pursue them. At other times we experience an inner compulsion but opportunity is lacking or we are providentially protected from taking it. But when temptation, desire, and opportunity coincide, the ‘evil day’ has come. So it was for David (1 In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. 2 It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king's house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. 3 And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” 4 So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house. 5 And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.” II Samuel 11:1-5). And so it may be for us. Then it is all we can do to stand, indeed to remain standing is the great fruit of grace in us.
4. But there is yet a further aspect to this. ‘The battle is to be waged by us in the Lord. We cannot rely on our own resources to defeat Satan. He has experience stretching back to the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:1ff.) and beyond. (Revelation 12:4 possibly refers to his leading of a pre-fall rebellion in the heavenly world.)
In general Paul’s words point us back to the blessings and resources that have become ours in Christ as the one who has conquered all his and our enemies (cf. Eph 1:15-23). Now, in Ephesians in the Lord by wearing the armor he provides.
THE CHARACTER OF THE ENEMY
One of the most important elements in warfare is reconnaissance – learning as much as possible about the enemy before we meet him. Military intelligence is always a prerequisite to victory.
When we first encounter Satan in Genesis 3, he seems to have done his reconnaissance already, almost without Eve (and Adam) realizing what was happening. As they engaged in discussion, the serpent seems to have had maneuvered her (or tricked her by his words into her leading him, and apparently Adam too, verse 11) to stand where the forbidden fruit was within both sight and grasp. What does Paul have to say about this enemy?
1. He possesses supernatural power. Christians do not wrestle against flesh and blood. We are not engaged in ‘conflict management’ here. This is a personal contest to the death against the one who has brought down a third of the stars in heaven with a sweep of his tail (Rev. 12:4), and wounded such children of God as Adam, Noah, Moses, David, Peter, and a vast multitude of others. How foolish I would be to think that I alone am exempt from his attacks or immune to his powers! His plan is to sift us like wheat, and to devour us (Luke 22:31 and 1 Peter 5:8). And in addition, he is capable of transforming himself into an angel of light. (2 Corinthians 11:14)
What do we need to be able to do to overcome him? There is, ultimately, only one way to stand and to win: ‘They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death’ (Rev 12:11). Unreserved faithfulness to Christ is a prerequisite for enlisted soldiers in the King’s army, the church militant.
This is further stressed by Paul in the way in which he notes that:
2. He employs an organized strategy. Paul speaks about his schemes (Eph 6:11), his expert methods, his craftiness, and duplicity. (He will tell us a hundred true things, wrote the Puritan William Bridge, in order to get us to listen to the one hundred and first thing he says – the lie by which he traps us).
It would be a mistake to analyze too closely the terms Paul uses: rulers, authorities, powers, forces. These terms suggest that Satan’s powers are well and strategically organized. Moreover, his strategy is sinister (this present darkness), wide ranging (cosmic) and spiritual. His methods range from confrontation to deceit, ambush to conflagration (a destructive fire), and accusation to intimidation.
The Devil is called Apollyon (Rev 9:11). As is his name, so is his nature: he is the Destroyer who seeks to destroy. Since he hates God, he hates those who love God and hates their enjoyment of God. In his cross-hairs he is always focusing on the destruction of these five things: (1) The Word of God and its reliability; (2) The character of God and his generosity; (3) The righteousness of God and his absolute dependability; (4) The enjoyment of God and its abundant pleasures; (5) The fellowship of the people of God and its harmony and unity.
Be on your guard, therefore, Paul is saying. Satan is a deceiver, he is an accuser, he is a destroyer, he is a liar, and he is a blackmailer. Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might (Eph 6:10).
Is this the reason Paul’s questions at the climax of Romans 8, in which he challenges all the powers that might overwhelm the Christian, all begin with ‘Who’ rather than ‘What’?
Who [not, What] can be against us?
Who [not, What] can bring any charge against us?
Who [not, What] can condemn us?
Who [not, What] can separate us from the love of Christ?
The answer to the question ‘Can Satan … ?, is, ‘for those in Christ’ No! We are more than conquerors through him who loved us’ (Rom. 8:37).
In Christ alone we stand – even in, indeed especially in, the evil day.
My additional note from John W. Hendryx
John Hendryx states, As evangelical faith becomes secularized, its interests have been blurred with those of the culture. The result is a loss of absolute values, permissive individualism, and a substitution of wholeness for holiness, recovery for repentance, intuition for truth, feeling for belief, chance for providence, and immediate gratification for enduring hope. Christ and his cross have moved from the center of our vision.
John W. Hendryx, Five Solas of the Reformation, Accessed Dec 2004, http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/topic/fivesolas.html