The Word Among Us

June 2019 Issue

Winning the Spiritual Battle

Jesus can help us overcome the lies of the devil.

By: Deacon Keith Strohm

Winning the Spiritual Battle: Jesus can help us overcome the lies of the devil. by Deacon Keith Strohm

He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. (John 8:44)

The devil is a liar. Go ahead and read that sentence again. This time, notice the emphasis. The devil doesn’t just tell lies. He is not just a spreader of false news or someone who avoids telling the truth to spare himself (and others) pain and embarrassment. He doesn’t just lie as part of a larger overarching strategy of evil.

The devil lies because, in his rebellion against God, his very nature has become corrupted. He has totally rejected the One who is truth. Truth is absent in him. In a certain sense, therefore, we can say that his very identity—his very nature—is now a lie, and this nature is opposed to God. The Enemy despises God and the things of God, and particularly his children. He has set his thoughts and actions against us, desiring most of all that, confused by his false testimony, we would reject the Father’s invitation to restoration, freedom, and new life.

Jesus also calls him the “father of lies” (John 8:44). This title is rooted in the very first lie in all of creation, which the Enemy uttered to Eve in the Garden of Eden. This is why Jesus also calls him a “murderer from the beginning” (8:44). Because of that lie, our first parents let trust in their Creator die in their hearts, and they chose themselves over God. As a result, sin, death, and suffering entered the world and have dominated human history.

Even though definitively defeated by Jesus in his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension, Satan continues to spin his web of lies, hoping to take as many people with him before the final manifestation of the kingdom of God when Jesus returns.

The Battle and the Battlefield. In his Letter to the church at Ephesus, St. Paul wrote, “Our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” (6:12). Paul understood that in our quest for holiness and justice, we would face opposition not only from the natural order—the temptations, obstacles, and wounds that come from living in an imperfect, fallen world—but also from the supernatural realm. Paul understood that even though Jesus has won the victory over Satan and his kingdom, the forces of that kingdom still oppose every believer and community, hoping to block the manifestation of that victory in our lives.

Since we are, indeed, in a battle, it is in our best interest to understand the battlefield. Scripture tells us that in the battle with the Enemy and his lies, our battlefield is largely in our heart.

Now, in our twenty-first century usage, the “heart” often signifies affections or emotions. The battle that we fight, however, is not primarily about feelings or emotionally-charged opinions. It goes much deeper. Scripturally, the heart refers to the center of the human person. We may see only the surface appearance, but “the Lord looks into the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

There is another field of battle—the mind—and Scripture in many places uses the terms “heart” and “mind” interchangeably. In contemporary thought, however, the mind is seen only as the place of thinking, reasoning, or knowledge. But this battle with Satan is not just about knowing the right information or thinking about and believing the right kinds of doctrines. It is about understanding who God is, who he is for us, and who we are in him.

Jack’s Story. If the Enemy can deceive the human heart, if he can bind it with all sorts of shame and condemnation, then we are more likely to sin and reject the mercy of God.

I have seen this pattern play itself out many times in the course of my ministry, but never so clearly as in a man with whom I was praying on a regular basis. “Jack” struggled for many years with an addiction to pornography. He went to the Sacrament of Reconciliation over and over again, and although he received absolution and knew on an intellectual level that he was forgiven, he was convinced in his “heart” that God didn’t really love and forgive him.

Eventually, this conviction, based on a lie about who he was, caused Jack to stop going to Confession altogether. It wasn’t until Jack encountered the reality of Jesus’ love for him in a personal way and was able to receive a healing of his self-image that he returned to the sacraments and, through God’s grace, experienced freedom from his addiction.

What Do I Believe? The human person is an amazing creation. God has given us an intellect, a will, emotions, memory, and imagination. These gifts allow us to learn from our experiences, make sense of the world around us, and respond accordingly. Every day, we take what happens to us and process it, filtering it through a host of conclusions that we have drawn from our past experiences. This processing is heavily influenced by what we believe about ourselves, God, and the world around us.

The Enemy wants us to come to the wrong conclusions, and therefore he drops lie after lie around us, knowing that we may begin to internalize some of them. For example, someone who experiences a string of breakups may begin to think that they are unlovable. The Enemy may exploit that weakness through memories of past breakups—until eventually the individual starts to believe that they really are unlovable.

We may also “come into agreement” with a lie as a way of protecting ourselves from pain or further suffering. In other words, we internalize the lie and begin to believe that it reflects some truth about us. For example, individuals who grew up in highly dysfunctional homes and coped with judgment, manipulation, and abuse may come to believe that they don’t need love. Such a lie may keep them from opening their hearts to anyone.

Don’t Be Afraid! In order to be set free from this kind of bondage, we must understand that the Enemy truly does try to influence us. But the purpose of these articles is not to provoke fear. It’s to make us aware of the battle we are in. The consistent message of Jesus Christ was “Do not be afraid.” He knew that his obedience to the Father’s will had secured victory over the power of Satan.

At Baptism, God came to dwell in you through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Author of life—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—has drawn you into the divine life. That life cannot be overcome by any force or any opposition. “I am convinced,” Paul writes, “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Jesus has won the victory. To see the devil behind everything and live in fear is to buy into a lie. To dismiss the devil and believe that he isn’t real or is just a symbol of evil is also a lie. To recognize your enemy, all the while knowing who you are and whose you are, is wisdom. You are not defenseless. The Lord has made a way for you, and in his Church, you have received weapons for victory.