Ephesians 6:10-13

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. 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. [1]

The passage we just read would make the average American uneasy. Likely they would have at least a few objections to Paul’s statements. You would probably hear a person say something like this: “I don’t like this kind of nonsense about a literal devil. These are modern times and I’m an educated person. I believe in science, not superstition.” There might be a few typical Americans who would find Paul’s use of military language uncomfortable. Someone could say, “All this talk about drawing up sides and fighting the forces of evil is the sort of thinking that leads to religious extremism and terrorism.” [2]

I want you to BE a typical American this morning because typical Americans are willing to listen to almost any idea, no matter how strange it may be. Typical Americans like stories about the zombie apocalypse, they watch true crime murder porn shows, they love graphic horror movies and TV shows about evil. There is enough interest in things “spiritual-but-not-religious” that the mass media company Discovery, Inc. has programmed its Travel Channel with almost nothing but shows about ghosts and mediums and paranormal activities. They didn’t do that as a public service; they did it because it brings in big ratings and makes money. In fact, the Travel Channel has earned its best ratings in history this year with shows like Ghost Adventures, Beyond the Unknown, and Haunted Live.[3]

So, I would ask you to be a typical American as we begin a short series on spiritual things that go bump in the night. I want you to give Paul a hearing as if he were hosting a Travel Channel special and consider yourself one of the half-million prime time viewers eager to delve into the world of the unseen realm no matter how educated or “scientifically-minded” they claim to be. I’d like for you to hear Paul because he’s not just touching on the realm of the unseen. He’s taking up a subject every human being recognizes. He’s discussing evil. Why is it that people who don’t believe in such a thing as the devil or demons still have a recognition that some things and some people are just plain evil?

These three verses give us some answers. They don’t cover everything by any stretch. But they are a starting point for us in our study of the invisible war. Paul tells us three things about evil this morning. First, he tells us evil is transcendent. Next, he says evil is complex. And finally, he says evil can be defeated.


Paul begins, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood….”[4] Now, if you read Acts, you will find out Paul had some serious human opposition. He was whipped, beaten, stoned, marked for assassination, imprisoned, and ultimately beheaded by real, “flesh and blood” human beings. Paul obviously wrestled with “flesh and blood” difficulties. But what he means in this passage is that we wrestle with more than “flesh and blood” opposition. There is something that goes beyond the human realm, something that transcends what we can see with our eyes. There is something supernatural and cosmic – something transcendent.

Almost everyone in Western culture at one time believed in supernatural beings (good and evil) and in the biblical idea of original sin (innate spiritual evil in human beings). But ideas began to change in the Age of Enlightenment (or Age of Reason) in Europe beginning in the 18th century. By the beginning of the 20th century, ideas about evil and the supernatural had been turned upside down in the West. Now, the thinking had become that evil was always the result of something natural and observable and controllable. It could be the result of an unjust societal condition, bad brain chemistry, bad parenting, or any combination of biological, social, or psychological conditions that are completely natural and controllable.

Evil was a result of natural causes to be managed and fixed. That is, in our post-Enlightenment culture, we only wrestle against “flesh and blood.” Evil is now merely a product of a bad environment. And bad environments can be fixed and carefully managed. Bad influences can be removed. If we fight a war on drugs, people won’t be addicts. If we take away all weapons, people won’t kill each other. If everybody gets their fair share of everything, there will be no property crimes. We wrestle with only flesh and blood issues. There is nothing transcendent about evil. The Age of Enlightenment threw away all our intellectual resources available to deal with evil.

And the problem of evil, after over 200 years of attempts to improve all things social, biological, and psychological, is that things have not gotten better. There are still mass murders, ethnic cleansings, and wars large and small all over the world at any given time. There is still addiction, broken families, impoverished people, and social injustices. Homicide rates fluctuate, but they don’t disappear. The world may not be more evil today, but it’s certainly not less. Clearly, attempts to manage and control evil as a mere flesh and blood problem have not worked.

And yet, as a pastor I have people tell me – even in bible-believing church circles – they do not believe in all this supernatural demonic stuff. It’s just too anti-intellectual. It goes against over 200 years of Western culture. Even if it is kind of real, there’s no reason to talk about it in any more than some abstract, theologically intellectual way. Fine. But I’m curious what you say about the murder porn shows you watch on serial killers? Do you blame society. Do you ask what past incidents in his sociological, biological, psychological experience made someone like serial killer Ted Bundy the way he was? What do you say to the monster? What explanation do you have?

Paul has an explanation. It’s that evil is not only inside of us, but it’s also outside of us. Our problems are not only flesh and blood, they are transcendent. The Bible has an explanation for murder, and social injustices, and broken families, and psychological and biological ills. It takes all those flesh and blood realities into account as facts. But it also recognizes a transcendent evil that loves to use people’s brokenness to create more personal and societal chaos.

Let me bring it down to a personal level for you. Some of you know what it’s like to be shattered. Either someone has done things to you that you never thought another human being could be capable of doing, or you have done things you cannot believe, and for which you have no explanation. Maybe you married someone and watched them turn into another person entirely. Maybe you have raised a child and, though you were sure you did everything right, they turned out to lead a life you never would have wished or imagined for them. Do you know why you’re shattered? Because you assume that you only wrestle against flesh and blood. Your understanding for what’s out there is inadequate.

Our post-Enlightenment theories of the manageability of evil have left us defenseless. There’s a great canyon between our perception of evil and our ability to deal with it. We’ve neglected what the Bible has to say about the transcendence of evil. We wrestle not only with the physical and observable, we struggle against something otherworldly and quite complex.


Paul says we wrestle “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.[5] Here is where things get complex because few commentators can agree on what Paul is saying. Is he writing of worldly leaders and powerful humans who are controlled by evil forces? Or is he writing about only the unseen evil forces of the devil and in his demons? When we worked through Revelation last year, we saw the great dragon-serpent using earthly people and institutions to accomplish his destructive goals. So, it’s likely that Paul is referring to a combination of most earthly and demonic forces. And that makes wrestling against evil complex thing.

We’d like to think of evil and good as 2 completely distinct and perfectly recognizable things. The good guys wear white hats and the bad guys wear black hats. But Paul is not teaching that. Remember our studies in Genesis 3? The great serpent-dragon promised Adam and Eve they would know the difference between good and evil. But that was a half-truth. Their ideas of good and evil were completely upside down from God’s true knowledge of good and evil. Following their choice to sin, if they wanted something, then what they wanted was good. If they didn’t get something they wanted, then that was evil to them. That is what makes the spiritual forces of evil so difficult to recognize and deal with. Unless we immerse ourselves in God’s written revelation of what is truly good and truly evil, then we live our lives rationalizing away all the things we demand for our idea of a happy life.

The serpent-dragon was the craftiest beast in God’s garden-temple. So evil never comes looking like itself. Evil always approaches us personally as something we see as good. The fruit was beautiful and tasted good to Eve. So, we don’t wrestle with things that are openly and obviously evil to us. We wrestle with things that sound or look really good to us that God says are evil. This is why Paul says we must put on God’s armor of the truth of his word and our trust into him and fellowship with him in prayer.

But what kind of fighting is Paul telling us to do? First, he said we don’t merely wrestle with flesh and blood. So, we have a kind of metaphorical wrestling match going on. But he doesn’t really command us to enter a wrestling match. His language comes from several places in Isaiah were the prophet is writing about a Holy War – God’s people fighting against God’s enemies. A Holy War in the Old Testament meant Israel’s army would get geared up, march out to the battlefield and … STAND. God himself did the fighting. That’s why Paul says twice to stand (11, 13). We stand firm, trusting into God and his Word. God does the actual fighting.

If you’re not standing with trust into God and his Word, you have no chance of seeing evil coming because it’s always mixed with your version of good. This very moment, the sin that’s eating away at your soul is the one you don’t know about. Maybe someone is trying to talk to you about it, but you become angry and defensive; or you just blow them off. You told them that they don’t understand; or that it’s somebody else’s fault; or that they’re making a big deal about nothing. Evil is very complex because it’s always mixed with our faulty view of what is good. Evil has a complex approach.

It also has a complex composition. It often comes in the form of human power and the acceptance of the crowd. It comes with recognition and status and authority. The more of those things you get, the more you crave. Our idols never satisfy in the end because behind them are “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.[6] Considering evil requires a complex approach. Post-Enlightenment minds tend to completely discount the demonic realm. But many conservative Christians tend to put too much emphasis on it. Devils love the materialist and the magician both. Some Christians believe when they’re angry that they have a demonic spirit of anger that needs to be cast out. When they’re sick, they have some demonic spirit that is causing their physical illness. They are constantly looking for demons behind every tree. But Paul doesn’t tell us to do that. He simply tells us to put on our armor and stand.


There might be demons behind every tree. But we really don’t know what’s going on in the spiritual world. Can you imagine Job rebuking Satan, commanding God to restore his hedge of protection or to bind the enemy, or in any way trying to revoke the permissions God gave to Satan? No, instead when faced with these terrible trials Job’s response was to worship God. We need to seriously check our pride on this issue, and really look at what the Bible tells us we SHOULD be doing when dealing with spiritual warfare as far as we can discern it. Job put on the armor of God and stood (actually, he sat). Every week when you come to worship you receive the word preached, prayed, sung, and portrayed in the Lord’s supper. That is your free weekly exorcism. And YOU do none of it! God does it. You stand. He fights.

“The gospel is the only approach that truly is not simplistic, that looks at messed-up families, looks at messed-up hearts, looks at messed-up neighborhoods, and says, ‘There are biological problems. There are sociological problems. There are psychological problems. There are moral problems. There are spiritual problems. There are demonic problems. We’re going to look at all of those things. We’re going to deal with all of them. All of them.’”[7]

How do we deal with all these things? We proclaim the good news of salvation by grace through trust into the person and work of Christ. Paul closes out this section of Ephesians by saying just that. “…keep alert with all perseverance, making [prayer] for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.[8]

We are not to consider ourselves great and strong spiritual warriors with the magical power to cast out devils. Only Christ has that power. So, what do we do? Paul tells us in verse 10, “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.[9] When Paul writes the phrase “the Lord,” he’s not speaking of the Triune God generally but of the Lord Jesus Christ in particular. We become strong in the strength of Messiah Jesus by becoming weak in ourselves. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth in 2 Cor. 12:9-10, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.[10] The devil can do more damage inside a congregation with one self-confident “super Christian” than with an army of atheists. What keeps us humbly armored and standing? God’s truth in his Word, Christ’s righteousness set forth in the truth of the gospel, trust into Christ, and prayer. These are the things that protect us – the ordinary means of grace.

Paul wrote about his weakness and Christ’s power because in 2 Cor. 12:7 he had written, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger [angel] of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.[11] Whether Paul’s thorn was a demonically inspired person or group of people harassing him, or whether this was a literal angel of Satan, Paul doesn’t say. Did Paul pray a hedge of protection around himself? Did he pray to bind the enemy? No. Paul asked the God who ordains and sustains all things, at whose name evil forces flee, to send that thorn away. And God said no because God was using that angel of Satan for God’s glory and Paul’s blessing.

The point is this: spiritual warfare for believers involves no mysterious special knowledge of what goes on in the unseen realms. It requires no naming of spirits, no rituals, no special powers or incantations from you. You don’t have to pay for a seminar led by some modern-day self-proclaimed apostle that promises to teach you names and special tactics of various demons so you can protect yourself. Your warfare involves only the ordinary means of grace. John wrote: “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.[12] Jesus, not you, destroys the work of the evil one. Your job is to repent and trust.

This is the fundamental principle we need to understand this morning to protect us from the sensationalism and flimflam of paranormal television shows, and from the very real forces of darkness that wander about looking for opportunities to destroy lives. We are not to be post-Enlightenment deniers of the realm of evil. We are not to be Christian “magicians” casting spells or seeking any more special revelation than God has already given in his Word. The invisible war is a holy war. You stand in God’s armor and God himself does the fighting.

Paul, who has just acknowledged that all those who trust into Jesus are involved in a war against evil, nowhere prays for a “hedge of protection” or a “binding of Satan” in response to the fact of the invisible war. Rather, he prays in Ephesians 1:

that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. [13]

I say these things to you who are trusting into Christ this morning. If you are not trusting into the perfect law-keeping life and sacrificial death of the risen and ascended and glorified Lord Jesus Christ who has perfect rule over the forces of evil, then we beg you to flee to him this morning. On your own, you are powerless against powerful unseen forces whose job is to torture and destroy. But for the one trusting into Christ, he ordains and sustains all things for your good and his glory.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eph 6:10–13.

[2] The basic structure and content of this study (with a few additions by this author) is from the following: Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).

[3] http://www.thefutoncritic.com/ratings/2019/01/04/travel-channel-earns-best-year-in-network-history-440210/20190104travel01/

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eph 6:12.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eph 6:12.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eph 6:12.

[7] Keller, op. cit.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eph 6:18–20.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eph 6:10.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 12:9–10.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 12:7.

[12] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 3:8.

[13] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eph 1:17–23.