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I believe in the existence and activity of demonic spirits. I believe that spiritual warfare is all too real, that we must be discerning when it comes to "the schemes of the devil" (Eph. 6:11) and diligent in our efforts to "put on the whole armor of God" as we "stand firm" (Eph. 6:13) in the battle with principalities and powers.

We must take seriously Paul's reminder that our primary battle is not 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" (Eph. 6:12). What makes this statement all the more amazing is that in Colossians 2:15 the same apostle declares that these very enemies against whom we fight have been disarmed, displayed, and defeated by the cross of Christ!

These are not contradictory assertions, as if Paul himself were confused about the status of Satan and his minions. It's simply his way of reminding us that we fight a defeated foe! Our enemy has received a deadly blow, his judgment has come, his doom is sealed. Though still prowling about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8), his authority and power have been checked and his days are numbered.

Yes, we are engaged in a war, the outcome of which, however, has already been decided in our favor. We fight an enemy over whom we have complete authority and from whom we need fear nothing. He has been convicted, sentenced to death, and is but for a season out on bail.

I can't begin to imagine the incalculable spiritual harm that has come from failing to recognize the existence of the demonic realm. Ignorance of Satan's schemes and a reluctance to confront the enemy in biblically appropriate ways have opened the door to untold damage, oppression, and spiritual bondage. In the name of "cultural sophistication" and "intellectual respectability" (code words for pride!), the demonic has either been denied altogether or, at best, relegated to a pre-scientific medieval mentality that is beneath the dignity of forward thinking folk of the twenty-first century. In doing so, many in the professing church have opened wide the doors to demonic intrusion and are now suffering its debilitating and soul-numbing effects.

On the other hand, there is an equally unbiblical obsession with the demonic that virtually attributes to them a power reserved for God alone. For some believers it isn't the comforting assurance of Christ's gracious presence that thrills them, but the frightful prospect of "a demon behind every bush" that terrifies and paralyzes them (without for a moment denying that there are indeed multitudes of demons).

It isn't to the Lord Jesus Christ that they pray in times of trouble and distress, entrusting themselves to his promised and loving care, but the devil whom they proceed to bind and denounce (without for a moment denying that we are commanded to resist the enemy).

It isn't to the Holy Spirit that they turn to enable them to overcome the lusts of their own fallen, sinful flesh, but some demon on whom they are quick to blame every sin and catastrophe, and from whom they need to be delivered (without for a moment denying that deliverance is often precisely what is needed).

In Colossians Paul makes several important points that must guide our thinking and direct our behavior when it comes to this crucially important issue.

First, Satan and his demonic hosts are among those "thrones" and "dominions" and "rulers" and "authorities" that were created by the Son of God (Col. 1:16). Of course, he did not create them evil. He made all things good, but their rebellion is a well-documented biblical fact. My point is simply that Satan is "God's Devil." All demons are subject to the one who made them and even now upholds and sustains them in being (Col. 1:17).

Second, Satan and his hosts are indeed active and will continue to be until the coming of Christ. Paul warns the Colossians about "the elemental spirits of the world" (Col. 2:8) and elsewhere acknowledges the nefarious "designs" of Satan himself (2 Cor. 2:11).

Third, and most important of all, the forces of darkness have been dealt a fatal blow at the cross of Christ. This is Paul's point in the text before us: "He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him" (Col. 2:15). This glorious truth must govern our faith and undergird all encounters with the enemy.

You will never engage in spiritual warfare in a way that both honors Christ and encourages his people until you are energized by the truth that "he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4b). The words of Jesus to the seventy-two disciples are as true today of you and me as they were then to them: "Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you" (Luke 10:19).

One final comment is in order. What Paul describes in Colossians 2:15 was invisible to those standing at the foot of the cross. No one could see this remarkable phenomenon with their physical eyes. All they beheld at the moment of Christ's death was the crucifixion of a man on a Roman gibbet.

But the apostle assures us that in his death a great and glorious victory was achieved. In that cross the enemy of your soul was disrobed and disarmed. By means of that obscene instrument of execution the accuser of the brethren was put to open and public shame. It was at Calvary that our Lord triumphed over every demonic entity. Like those who witnessed this event two millennia ago, we also must accept it by faith, on the authority of Scripture. How this invisible victory was won through the visible agony of a man on a cross is the subject of our next meditation.

Standing firm in the strength of God,