When I was nine years old, a bully named Ricky started picking on me. This happened sometime back during the Jurassic period, in the days before bully awareness task forces visited schools. Playground survival was something you just had to learn. I took karate. I went to weekly classes, learned some moves, and had some fights in the karate studio. I sparred with a couple of black belts (who obviously held back so they wouldn’t kill me). But whenever I saw Ricky, I still ran from him. Never mind I was limber and had trained enough to tag a full-grown man on the jaw with a snap kick. That would have been more than enough to “persuade” Ricky to look elsewhere for his alpha male standing. Yet I simply never believed I had enough for a showdown. The problem was all in my head.
My experience sounds like the typical loggerhead between Christian and non-Christian. You show up to the conversation full of hope for your pal to meet Jesus. And you can’t make a dent. For years. The Bible assures us it’s not just your friend’s personal stubbornness. He or she is in a straight jacket of unbelief, held in the grip of something that outweighs the both of you by four thousands pounds. You go from resignation (I give up), to acceptance (it is what it is), to defeat (My friend is lost). What could you possibly do to change things? It’s not you versus your friend, but you versus the devil, a sumo wrestler who currently sits on your friend’s chest.
Paul reminded us in Ephesians chapter 6 that we’re not fighting against flesh and blood, “but against the spiritual forces of evil” (v. 12). That little statement definitely ups the ante here. You couldn’t even win an argument with your buddy, and now to make things worse, the Bible goes and adds fallen angels and demons—the entire satanic hierarchy—to the list. Just try arguing with a posse like that (which is exactly what you’re doing when you lock horns with your unsaved friend). You might want to start saying “uncle” right now.
Before you get out a shovel and start digging a hole for your friend though, think about what happened when Jesus walked the earth. As He carried out His work of ministry, He did it by the power of the Spirit of God. Demons ran off like rats fleeing a burning house. The kingdom of God showed up (Mt. 12:28). It’s as if someone lit a match. The light from the flame doesn’t struggle with the darkness, it simply dispels it.
Remember this: we have the Holy Spirit. Christians mostly think of the Spirit as a devotional tool—He helps us feel closer to Jesus, comforts us, guides us, shows us what jobs to take and where to move. Guess what? You also have the Spirit to bring in the kingdom of God. That involves freeing captives and overthrowing spiritual strongholds.
Look at this set of comparisons:
- Surface level challenge: Your friend would be willing to believe the moon is made of cheddar cheese before he’d believe the Bible.
Ultimate cause: The devil, who is the Father of lies (John 8:44), Deceives the whole inhabited earth (Rev. 12:9), and blinds people so they won’t see Christ (2 Cor. 4:4).
What you can bring to the table: The “Spirit of truth” (John 14:17, 16:13), who immerses the situation with reality. He tells the truth about everything related to God and the actual state of things. He also makes nonsense appear exactly as it is—nonsense (There’s another word that might have packed more wallop, but this is a Christian blog).
- Surface level challenge: Your friend is stuck in rebellion against God the way I got my mother’s Oldsmobile stuck in a mud hole one time while off-roading. Think of tires spinning, mud going everywhere, and the car going nowhere.
Ultimate cause: The devil, who is like a strong man, holds people in bondage (Matt. 12:28-29, Heb. 2:15, Acts 8:23).
What you can bring to the table: the Spirit of the Lord, who brings freedom (2 Cor. 3:17). This is the maximum liberator—snapper of ropes, breaker of chains, and (by the way), instrument of all creation. If you haven’t figured it out, He’s not afraid of anybody or anything.
- Surface level challenge: When the subject of Jesus comes up, your friend behaves as if someone insulted his mother.
Ultimate cause: The devil hates Christ and stirs others to hate him by defaming His character. Jesus told the crowds who sought to kill him, “You are of your father, the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8:44).
What you can bring to the table: The Holy Spirit, who always tells the truth about Jesus (John 15:26). He brings out the fullness of the good news of Jesus and convicts those who hate Him (1 Thes. 1:5). Take a look at what effect the Spirit-empowered word had on the crowd that had just got done killing Jesus (Acts 2:36-37). Note: the phrase “Cut to the heart” means to be really, really sorry.
Most of us encounter hardship when trying to help someone who is being held by the devil. After a little while it wears us out, so we give up. You’ve got the ultimate Kung-Fu, but keep telling yourself that the playground bully is too big and threatening. He’s not. All the facts say he’s not. You’ve got the awesome Spirit of God. The question still remains, though, about how exactly to bring the Spirit to bear on the situation.
Yep. Next post.