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Getting Spiritual Warfare Right

Erwin W. Lutzer | July 24, 2011

Selected highlights from this sermon

The spirit world is a place of great conflict and activity. It’s also a place of tremendous influence.

When Jesus was accused of casting out demons by the power of Satan, He gave His accusers a couple of things to think about. But more than that, we learn that we can’t get from darkness to light on our own. We need someone who is stronger than the prince of darkness to bring us into the light.

Today it is my privilege to speak to you about the unseen spirit world. If there is anything that we can say about the unseen spirit world, and the Bible says that which is seen is temporal whereas that which is unseen is eternal, first of all, we must recognize that the spirit world is a place of great conflict because it is there where God exists. We don’t see him with our naked eyes. It is there where angels exist, and it is there where Satan exists with all of his multiplied thousands of demons. So it’s a place of activity and a place of great conflict.

Let me say also that it is a place of tremendous influence. The Bible tells us in the book of Daniel that Daniel was praying one day and he didn’t understand why his prayer wasn’t heard, and after three weeks of prayer it was revealed to him through the angel that came that the Prince of Persia withstood Daniel’s answer to prayer and the angel of God. The Prince of Persia! That leads us to believe that Satan, who stands above it all because he is only one being but has multiplied millions of cohorts, that Satan standing there has organized it all and that’s why the Bible speaks about principalities and powers and unseen forces, and I can imagine that he assigns one to Persia, one to the United States, one to Great Britain and all of the different countries of the world, and then under them there are other spirits who have responsibilities and it gets right down to our families where there is a tremendous amount of conflict in many homes, and it gets right down to the individual. And that’s why the Bible teaches that Satan is able to put thoughts into our minds that we think are our own. The best example, of course, comes from the book of Acts, chapter 5, where you have Ananias and Sapphira deciding to tell a lie, and Peter said, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?”

Now when Jesus arrives on earth all of the forces of wickedness all converge in what we call Israel. They were all there. And that’s why you have Satan showing up so often personally. It is Satan personally who tempted Jesus in the wilderness. It is Satan who shows up, and the reason is because with the coming of Jesus and the coming of light, all the forces of darkness converged there in the land. And that’s why in the New Testament you have so many different stories about people who were demonized, and it is because there was a special, it seems to me at least, a very special reason why you have all of this activity against Jesus. For example, when he was first born, Satan tried to kill him, and he did that using King Herod who slew all of the boys who were two years of age and under in the environs of Bethlehem, hoping that he would also be able to capture and kill Jesus. So Satan has always been against Jesus and trying to do him in.

All of that leads us to the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of Luke, and I want you to follow along in your Bibles because we’re going to go down this passage that Jesus Christ is involved in. Follow along in Luke 11. Notice that it says in verse 14 (and that’s where we’re going to pick it up), “Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled.” I need to pause there. Critics of the New Testament say that the ancients were very primitive and they ascribed all disabilities and human weakness to Satan, and that’s what you have appearing here in the New Testament. You have it attributed to a demon.

So I need to clarify that there are passages in the New Testament that show very clearly that oftentimes there are physical disabilities where Satan is not involved, or any of his minions. For example in John 9, Jesus said that the man was born blind not because of any sin in his life, and it was not because of the sin of his parents. There are other reasons why this man was born blind. So we can’t ascribe all disability to Satan. But there are times when the devil will actually use his authority (and we don’t know why he was given authority in this case) to bring about some physical ailments. So Jesus casts out this demon and a man, who could not speak because he was mute, begins to talk and everyone begins to marvel.

Now Jesus, at this point in his ministry, was at a place where there was a great deal of criticism against him that was building, and the criticism was for various reasons. Some people said that it was because he had large crowds. He had larger crowds than the Pharisees, and they were jealous of him, the Scripture says. But then Jesus was also making those deity statements, those claims that he was God, and so people came from Jerusalem – the Scribes and the Pharisees. They left Jerusalem; they went into the Galilee area where this takes place, and they were there to accuse him. They couldn’t deny the miracles because they were too obvious, so they did the next best thing as far as they were concerned. When people don’t have a legitimate criticism, what they do is they resort to slander, and that’s what happened here. You’ll notice that there were some among them, the Scripture says, who said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.” Who in the world is Beelzebul? In the Old Testament there’s a reference to Beelzebul as being the chief god of the pagans, the Canaanites, and then he was their chief god.

So over there in First Kings 1, it’s referred to as Beelzebub, and here Beelzebul. There are many theories as to why there is a change in spelling that we need not to go into except to say that this word that was attributed to Canaanite gods is now attributed to Satan. And so what they are saying is “He is casting out demons by Satan, the Prince” – the prince actually of demons. So that’s where they land with their criticism of Jesus – this terrible slander.

Now Jesus answers them and he does it by irrefutable logic. He gives them two things that indicate that they are wrong – thank you very much. First of all, Jesus says this. “But he, knowing their thoughts (verse 17), said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul.”

Jesus says, first of all, Satan does not have a divided kingdom. Could you imagine if Satan began to cast out his own demons. Obviously his kingdom would be weakened and his kingdom would fall. You just don’t have that in the evil world, though sometimes you have it even in the “good world.” But there is this important point. A divided kingdom can’t stand, at least not very long. This is true of Satan’s kingdom. It is also true of churches. If you have a church that is divided, and all of us know the history of many church splits as we have seen them through the years, and if you have people who have to make up their mind if they are on this side of the aisle in the debate or are you on that side, and they begin to snipe at one another and accuse one another and slander one another, that church cannot stand, or else it will be greatly weakened.

Families – same thing! Some of you come from homes where there is constant confusion. I cannot exaggerate too much that what the devil wants in our homes today is confusion and hostility so that one family member snipes at the other. One says blue and the other says red. One says green and the other says pink, and no matter where they are at, nobody rejoices in the success of another family member because all of them are hostile to one another. That is the kingdom of Satan, and no family that is divided against itself can stand very long with any sense of dignity and positive influence.

So Jesus says, “If you can’t deny that I am casting out demons,” and they couldn’t deny that, “for you to say that it is satanic is foolish. Even Satan is wise enough to know he doesn’t cast out those who are doing his bidding, even if they’re not doing it quite right.”

Then there is the second reason that Jesus gives. He says in Luke 11:19, “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Jesus is saying, “Now you folks have Jewish exorcists,” and they did. Since the time of Solomon there were exorcists who had certain incantations that they used for demonized people, and perhaps they worked, and perhaps they didn’t work, but at least the claim was that they worked, and Jesus said, “If I am casting out demons, and I’m actually doing it in the name of Beelzebul, in whose name and by whose authority do your children (your relatives – your exorcists) cast them out? They must be doing it in the name of Beelzebul as well. They will be your judges.”

And then I love this. Jesus said, “But if I cast out demons by the finger of God ….” Don’t you love it? I mean not even the “hand of God,” but just the “finger of God” causes demons to leave. “If I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.”

Now all that to set up the parable that Jesus told in this context. Jesus, in order to illustrate and to make his point (and this is a series on parables so you can understand that we’re still in that series) now says (and I’m picking it up in verse 21), “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he has trusted and divides his spoil. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

Jesus is talking about two men, and he’s talking about the strong man, the kingdom of darkness guarding his palace, and that’s a picture of Satan. He has awesome power and he wants to keep all those who are walking in darkness in obedience to him. He wants to make sure that they are kept within his kingdom and he doesn’t want any of them to get away. And by the way there’s an interesting principle here. When we go into Satan’s kingdom it is always difficult to come out of it because he wants to hang on to those who are his own. And he is the one now who has armor, and he is the one who has various names in the Bible (Satan does) and sometimes I use the word Satan almost interchangeably with his demons because we’re talking about the kingdom of darkness. And he is called, for example, in the Bible the adversary because he’s always standing against God. Wherever God shows up to do a work, Satan shows up.

If the family is brought to reconciliation through repentance Satan shows up to try to undo God’s work. Everything that God is for Satan is against. He is the adversary. Now he’s also called the devil, which means slanderer, and we see the slander right here in the text where the Prince of Demons accused Jesus of casting out demons, and slander is the devil’s work. If you say today, “Pastor Lutzer, I’d like to do the devil’s work. Show me where he works and I’ll be there to help him,” what you do is you gossip, you make false accusations, and you speak against other people in whispers because that is his work. He is the accuser, and the slanderer, and he will make false accusations, and he will take true accusations and exaggerate them because remember that is his work.

In Timothy the apostle Paul was talking about the wives of deacons, and by the way, what he said about them, of course, applies to the deacons too. But he said, “Let them not be slanderers.” In the Greek text it is literally, “Let them not be devils,” because the minute you become a slanderer, you are doing Satan’s bidding. Slander is his most important weapon and so he is called the devil.

He is also called the lion seeking whom he may devour. Young person, the devil wants you. He wants you as badly as pornographers want you to be an addict, and what he’s doing is he is looking for people to sign up in his whole host of addictions because he wants to hold you bound. He wants to keep you in the kingdom of darkness and just manage it one way or another – perhaps through alcoholism or through drugs. In some way he wants you to manage your darkness. He does not want you to come to the light. He is seeking whom he may devour. He is out to destroy you and has a terrible plan for your life, so he is spoken of as a lion.

He’s also spoken of as a serpent. The serpent is, of course, that deceiving, evil being even as he was there in the Garden of Eden. So what we need to understand is that there is a strong man who holds people bound and they can’t get away on their own. Oh within his palace, within his household! Jesus implies that he has both a household and a palace in the text – both a household and a kingdom, and what you can do is you can move from one place to another in his kingdom. You can do all that you possibly can to manage the consequences of your darkness. And it will be so important for you to call darkness light because that’s part of the deception. And so many people walking in darkness think that this is a well-lit path with all of its blessings and all of its wonderful consequences, and he’ll try to keep you there, and the problem is you can only manage it. You cannot get away from the darkness and from being held captive.

So Jesus said that there is a strong man, and you and I know how strong he is. He is very strong. He is Satan.

But now thankfully in this parable there is another man, and you’ll notice it says that Jesus said that there is another man. “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe.” Ah, thank God for verse 22. “But when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil.” The only way you can have freedom from this strong man is to have a stronger man come and overtake him, and overtake his armor, and weaken him so that you can walk away free. You need outside help though. You can’t get from darkness to light on your own. You need somebody stronger than the king of darkness, and I am here to announce to you something that I hope you already know.

In Colossians 2:15 it says that when Jesus died he disarmed all principalities and powers and made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Jesus did that. He spoiled the devil. He took away his armor. And how did Jesus do that? He did it by invading that kingdom of darkness and saying, “I’m invading the kingdom in a rescue mission, and I’m going to turn these captives who are in condemnation, from condemnation to something much more blessed, namely restoration, so that instead of being condemned they will be restored – reconciled to God. And then instead of being accused, I am going to vindicate them. And who shall lay any charge to God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemned? It is Christ that died, yea rather that is risen again and is even now on the throne of God, who also makes intercession for us. And I will vindicate them and I will no longer charge them with their sin. No longer condemnation but restoration! No longer accusation but vindication! No longer slavery but service, and no longer hell but heaven!” (applause) And so Jesus emerges victorious.

I like to visualize it this way. We are in the hands of the strong man, but a stronger man by the name of Jesus says to that strong man, “Let go of them,” and he has to drop them immediately because he’s been confronted by a man stronger than he – somebody who can bring deliverance by the finger of God, and Satan has to submit to that authority, to that power, and to that purity and glory. And you and I walk free.

Now, Jesus talked about the strong man. Then he speaks about a stronger man, namely himself, who is able to bind him and take away his armor, the armor of condemnation, the armor of accusation, and Jesus disarms him. But then Jesus tells a story, which perhaps is another parable. I think it’s connected with this one.

Jesus says in verse 24, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

What an awful, terrible story. Now whether Jesus is actually referring to a person who had this experience or not, we aren’t sure. I think that in context he probably is referring to the nation Israel first of all. First that interpretation because you see the nation Israel had all the truth and initially during the preaching of John the Baptist they responded, but for many of them their response was half-hearted, and so after that it seemed as if the demons were cast out figuratively speaking. The demon wanders in waterless places. Why waterless places – desert? You know demons prefer bodies to dwell in and that’s why they were even sent into the pigs, and the pigs ran into the water and drowned, and of course, after the pigs drowned the spirits again were seeking a place to go. So Jesus says that the spirit wanders about looking for a place to go, and then it notices that this person’s life is empty and, in fact, it is swept and it is garnished. I mean it’s all ready for someone else to enter, and he finds the house swept and in order, and more spirits come. He gets seven more wicked spirits and they come and the latter end of that man is far worse than his beginning.

What Jesus is saying in the strongest possible language is this. An empty life is a life in peril. If you think, for example, that your life is simply staying away from certain sins, and your life is not being filled with the things of God, it could well be that your ending will be far worse than your beginning, even in your walk with God. And we have examples of that, don’t we, as we think back over people we have known who at one time walked with God? Their lives were emptied and then something happened and their ending was terrible.

Now this leads me to a principle that sometimes I like to emphasize. The Bible speaks about the renewing of the mind and it talks about the need for us to fill our minds with Scripture. If your mind is not being renewed and filled with Scripture, it is empty and very much a place where evil can originate, and where those thoughts of evil can again control you. And so there’s the principle of replacement.

If I were to have a pitcher of water here there’s one way that you could take air out of it. You could build a machine that would suck the air out. The other possibility is to simply fill it with water and then the air will take care of itself. And when it comes to the renewing of the mind, so many of our struggles happen because we are empty, and an empty life is a very vulnerable life when it comes to satanic activity and doing evil – very vulnerable.

Let me give you an example. A number of years ago the wife of a friend of mine by the name of Tom died of cancer. Though he was later remarried, his first wife died of cancer and she was just at home and she went through a terrible amount of suffering. You know those awful stories. And yet Tom wasn’t bitter at God, and nor was his wife bitter. They accepted it as from God’s hand. So I said to him, “Tom, how did you do this because I’ve seen so many people become bitter and angry even with God and unable to accept this.” He said, “What we did is we bought the New Testament on records and we played it so the word of God was in our home everyday. We read the Bible a lot,” and then he said this, “and God’s word and God’s promises squeezed all of the anger and the resentment and fear out of our hearts.” What a beautiful example of someone who discovered the principle of replacement.

If you simply say to yourself, “I’m going to accept this or not accept it,” and your life is empty, all kinds of evil grows in an empty life, and Jesus is warning about a negative life that just says, “I won’t do A, B, C, D,” and then does not fill itself with God and his promises, so beware of an empty life. It is the devil’s workshop.

Now where does all this leave us? Why should these passages of Scripture and these two parables transform us? I want to make a couple of observations. The first is this. Do you notice how it’s impossible to be neutral about Jesus because, you see, there are only two kingdoms? There’s the kingdom of darkness and there’s the kingdom of his dear son, as we find out in the book of Colossians. There’s the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light, and today everyone who is listening to this message is in one kingdom or the other. Those of you who are neutral about Jesus and you say, “You know I admire him. He’s a great teacher. He’s a great this and that,” you are actually, I am sorry to say (and I want to say this lovingly) siding with the kingdom of darkness. Jesus said very clearly in verse 23, “Whoever is not with me is against me,” so I have to ask you at least, are you with Jesus? (applause)

And then he says, “And whoever does not gather with me scatters.” What a wonderful example of what the devil does. He wants to scatter. He wants to divide families. He wants to divide people. He wants to divide churches. He wants to divide you, even to be at war within yourself so that you can’t stand to live with yourself anymore. He is a being of division so you can’t be neutral. That’s why I invite you to believe on Jesus today and be saved and to say, “No longer am I going to be neutral.”

We sang a few moments ago, “I have decided to follow Jesus,” but the first step in doing that is to admit in humble repentance that you need a savior to translate you from darkness into light, but you can’t be neutral.

Secondly, how do we apply this in our lives? It is by recognizing that we need to stay close to the stronger man because here’s what happens. Even though Jesus disarmed Satan and all of his authority, Satan is out on bond today. His sentence has been commuted. He knows that it is hell fire, deservedly so. He knows that his judgment is absolutely secure, but for reasons that we can’t go into this morning, God has still allowed him to have a measure of authority. He’s still spoken of in the New Testament as the god of this world even though he is defeated legally and in other ways. And if you and I do not stand against him he will come after our families, after our own lives, after our churches, and he will want to bring darkness and division instead of unity and hope.

Parents, I’m talking to you now. Do not let Satan steal your children from you. All right? (applause) And you can only do that by filling your own life with the word of God, and it isn’t enough to simply fill your children with the word of God – getting them to memorize lots of verses, though that’s good and necessary. Ultimately it’s going to be your relationship with your children, and not what has been put into their minds in terms of truth, and that is important to do. But it’s going to be your relationship with your children, your humility, your willingness to admit that you are wrong, your willingness to be in favor and to rejoice in the success of other family members rather than tearing them down and bringing the kind of division and the scattering that Satan does. And the victory only comes by vigilance. It comes by what we call warfare praying, putting on the armor of God, as it says in the book of Ephesians, because after all, we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness. Do you notice all of the categories there because of the way in which Satan is so well organized? I have no doubt that he has some of his minions assigned to you, hoping that there will be opportunities for you to destroy your life, even in a moment of time. What he would want is for you to convince yourself that darkness actually is preferable to light, or that darkness is light, and those deceptions are the ones that he wants to bring into our lives.

The Bible says in the book of James, “Resist the devil.” And that’s not easy or something you can do in a moment of time, though you do it in a moment of time, but it is a lifestyle. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” And there are times, I believe, when we have to go into the kingdom of darkness to rescue those children through our prayers, through our intercession and our own connection with them, and we need to say, “Satan, you can’t have what you want in this home.” Jesus, the stronger man, has triumphed and we depend on him to crush the tempter because he took his heel and he took the head of the serpent and he ground it into the gravel (like this) and he won a victory. Aren’t you glad today that we have a stronger man than Satan? (applause)

I love to tell the story that is evidently true. In one of our museums here in America there is a painting. And the painting is entitled, “Playing Chess with the Devil.” And if you know anything about chess you’ll understand this much better. Actually I have to throw this in. I have an eleven-year old grandson who beat me at chess the other day. He just totally wiped me out. But if you know how chess is played, what is said in “Playing Chess with the Devil” is that the devil is announcing checkmate in three moves, because you know how you can think through what all the moves and what all the options are.

Paul Morphy (some of you perhaps have heard of him – I think you can go online and learn about him – a great chess player) looked at that painting and stared at it and began to think about moving this piece, or moving that piece, and then he said, “Young man, there’s a move you can make.” The painter had overlooked a possibility and it wasn’t checkmate in three moves.

Today the devil says checkmate, and I say to you today, “There’s a stronger man in the room, and there is a move we can all make.” (applause) And we can say, “Get thee behind me Satan, for it is written you’ll not have me, you’ll not have my spouse, you’ll not have my children, because the kingdom of light is stronger than the kingdom of darkness.” (more applause)

So no matter where you are today on the continuum - some of you in the kingdom of darkness, I urge you to receive Christ as Savior. He’ll translate you into the kingdom of light. Some of you are in the kingdom of light but you are walking as if you are in the kingdom of darkness, submitting to the devil in so many subtle unrecognized ways, when in our hearts and in heaven today there is a stronger man who spoiled the works of the evil one.

Would you join me as we pray?

Father, we’re just being honest as we confess that so often we have given in, sometimes even deliberately, to that evil ruler called Satan. We’ve listened to his demons. We’ve listened to his temptations, and we’ve said to ourselves that this way seems best for now. Father, deliver us from the deceptions that we so gladly accept, and show us ourselves. Show us Jesus, and may we be absolutely convinced that his triumph is secure. It is eternal and it is finished.

Before I close this prayer what do you have to say to God today, no matter who you are, no matter where you are listening, whether on the Internet or on the radio? You talk to God at this moment.

Father, the work that you’ve begun, complete it to your glory, to your honor as we worship today the stronger man. Thank you that Satan met his match and that it’s no contest. By the finger of God he must let go. Lead us we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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