Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:11). This exhortation falls in a section where Paul is addressing the need for frontline engagement in spiritual warfare as a necessary and persistent feature of the normal Christian life. Life in union with Christ is one that encounters hostility and opposition from three directions—the world, the flesh, and the devil. Here, it is the devil that is view.
As a prisoner in “chains,” Paul was surrounded by Roman soldiers (Eph. 3:1; 4:1; 6:20). And the Ephesian Christians, living as they did in the Roman Empire, probably thought of Roman soldiers when Paul referenced the various aspects of armor and weaponry in this famous passage at the close of the epistle (6:11–20).
As Christians, we find ourselves at war with the devil, because he is at war with us. As the “adversary” (the meaning of Satan), he hates God and everything God is doing. Since we were once his children (see John 8:44, “you are of your father the devil”) and under his dominion, his rage boils now that we are delivered from the kingdom/domain of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13). The moment we believed, we were no longer his, and he is desperate to recapture us.
The fact is, he cannot snatch away those who are held in Jesus’ grip (John 10:28–29). But how do we know that we are in Jesus’ grip? The consistent answer of the New Testament is that we know through and not despite our perseverance. The electing purposes of God do not work themselves out “above our heads” but through our persistent persevering in the ways of godliness.
Satan or “the devil” has “wiles”—schemes and ploys to cause us to falter and halt our perseverance. One of these is to speak evil against us (as the label devil, which means “slanderer,” suggests), making us out to be worse than we think and therefore unworthy to be called Christians. This Satan does a great deal, but he overplays, as John Bunyan so brilliantly illustrates in The Pilgrim’s Progress. There, Apollyon (“destroyer,” another name for the devil; Rev. 9:11) mockingly berates Christian for the tardiness of his profession of faith. In short, he is a hypocrite. Christian responds:
All this is true, and much more which you have left out; but the Prince whom I serve and honour is merciful and ready to forgive. Besides, these sins possessed me in your own country; I have groaned under them, been sorry for them, but now have obtained pardon from my Prince.
We are much worse than we ever confess, but the gospel is for sinners. Christian, get to know this wily ploy of Satan’s—and stand firm in the gospel.