1 Peter 5:8-9 “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of suffering.”
Peter’s description of the devil gives us an interesting picture of what we are up against. He uses a word for “enemy” that is not the soldier someone faces in a war. This is a courtroom adversary. I don’t mean to slander the legal profession, but lawyers can be shrewd when they are on the attack in court. They know how to turn a person’s words against himself. That is the kind of craftiness we expect from the devil. If you belong to a Biblically faithful church, then perhaps he tries to make you feel self-righteous and superior. If you have had to fight attempts to change Biblical teaching in your church, he may tempt you to elevate traditions (which may be wholesome in and of themselves) to the level of doctrine. If we realize that we have been falling into a trap of self-righteousness, he may lead us to consider approving behaviors we ought not accept. If we received an upbringing in a pious, godly home with pious, godly discipline, he tries to convince us that we have been deprived in some way. We needlessly missed out on some of the fun, and we have a right to bend God’s commandments. If he can’t turn us against our pious upbringing, he turns us into moralists and legalists, people more concerned with others’ external behavior than our own hearts.
One thing is obvious. He does not have our good in mind. He wants us, he wants all of us, but he doesn’t want to play with us or help us. He wants to satisfy his own appetite for souls. He wants to devour us whole, and he never stops prowling, circling, hunting, and looking. He is never far.
This enemy deserves our sober respect. He will try to turn every trouble into a wedge between us and God. He thrills to see us in misery, because he knows the kind of strain it puts on our faith. When our life is troubled, he is looking for just the opportunity to push us over the edge.
That is why Peter encourages us to be “self-controlled and alert.” We live in a society that places a high value on emotion. The more we “feel” something, the more real it seems to us. Even Christians are tempted to equate faith with a certain emotion or “feeling.” Sometimes it seems as if people consider it a good thing to be swept away by emotions.
When we deal with the devil, we have to place the emotions aside. Think of the bull fighter in the ring, calmly letting danger pass within inches as he plots his next move. He doesn’t run around the arena in a wild panic. When Satan stirs up trouble for us, we are tempted to panic, to lose our cool, and to do something radical or reactionary. To avoid one evil we thoughtlessly fall into something worse. But if we have gained a sober respect for the enemy, and understand his craftiness, then we will “be self-controlled and alert.”
If it were just us against the devil, there would be little hope for us. But we don’t face the enemy alone. The Lord urges us to stand firm in the faith. Our trust lies in someone else, another lion. “The Lion of the tribe of Judah…has triumphed” (Revelation 5:5). By his death on the cross and resurrection from the tomb Jesus has declawed the devil and broken his teeth. Even when the devil manages to get us to fall into temptation, he enjoys no lasting victory. By the forgiveness of our sins we slip through his paws. God’s grace picks us up, dusts us off, and strengthens our hearts against the next attack that comes our way.
Resist the enemy. Stand firm. But don’t do it alone. Stand firm in the faith, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.”