April 4, 2016
GLEN ARGAN
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul advised the early Christians to put on the armour of God. With vivid metaphors, he urged them to wear the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit.

In this description, one can see an obvious cut-and-paste exercise for a Sunday school class. Yet as important as the religious education of children is, Paul is here giving deadly serious advice for mature disciples (6.13-17).

These qualities of truth, integrity, etc. are needed for the spiritual war all disciples face. Paul says disciples must be dressed for battle.

"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" (6.12).

Spiritual warfare is not a common topic in polite company. However, any serious Christian has to engage in it. The devil will not allow you - or anyone else - a free pass into heaven. He wants to get his hands on you and will use any means at his disposal to accomplish that end.

Moreover, the forces of evil are smarter than we are. If we are to have any hope of resisting them, we need the sword of the Spirit, "which is the word of God."

Evil is embedded in the structures of society, but it is not limited to those structures. It is personified in the devil who creates the greatest breach in our defences when he convinces us he does not exist.

Jesus' own ministry was a constant battle against the devil. Not only was he tempted in the desert, he frequently cast out demons, often ordering them not to reveal his identity. This was not just one of the things Jesus did; it was central to his mission.

So, it is not surprising that when he commissioned the apostles, he "gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out" (Matthew 10.1). In fact, in Matthew's account of the commissioning, casting out demons is mentioned a second time: "Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons" (10.8).

How does the devil outsmart us?

First of all, the devil gets us through our sensuality (Eph 2.3). This does not just refer to sexual temptation, but to all desires of the flesh - food, possessions, power and other creature comforts. These desires are basically good; we need food, sex and possessions to survive and to have a good life.

But as Paul points out, it is not the desires themselves, but our disobedience to God and our obedience to "the ruler of the power of the air." The devil tempts us to think we are free when we disobey the reasonable limits God puts on our sensuality. But that so-called freedom is actually a form of slavery from which it is difficult to extricate oneself.

All those sensual addictions are idolatrous; we worship what God has created instead of worshipping God himself.

The devil also uses our tribulations to undermine our confidence in the Lord. Paul warned the Thessalonians they would be persecuted because of their faith. When they were persecuted, Paul became concerned that they "would be shaken by these persecutions" (1 Thessalonians 3.3).

DEVIL'S FOOTHOLD

Although the Thessalonians had stood firm in their faith, Paul's worry was well-founded. When we suffer unjustly, the devil can stir up our anger. Anger in itself is not an evil, but it becomes one when we wallow in it, when we refuse to forgive and move on.

Anger can become a foothold for the devil: "Be angry but do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil" (Eph 4 4.26-27).

Paul repeated that warning to the Corinthians. Do not refuse to forgive "so that we may not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs" (2 Corinthians 2.11).

So, if the devil tries to lead us astray through sensual addictions, a false belief in freedom and unforgiveness, how do we respond?

Our response must grow out of the realization that Christ has already won the victory over Satan and evil. This is not a battle we can win on our own. "The weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds" (2 Cor 10.4).

RELY ON THE SPIRIT

When Paul, in Ephesians 6, urged us to wear the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shield of faith, helmet of salvation and sword of the Spirit, he was not primarily counselling us to develop human virtues. Rather, to defeat "the cosmic powers of this present darkness," one needs gifts that only God can give.

To win the spiritual war, we must let the Holy Spirit do the fighting. We must become a new creation through Baptism and then, when the battle grows intense, call on the Spirit to defeat Satan.

One reason the present darkness is our failure to take seriously the ongoing cosmic battle. We do not take the devil seriously.

Jesus was clear in his commissioning of the apostles: "You are going to have to cast out demons."

Jesus himself cast out numerous demons. Relying on the Spirit's power over the forces of hell is a responsibility that Jesus' followers have to take seriously, especially in this age which fancies itself too enlightened for such things.