At Gateway Church in Austin, we concluded a series called God Likes You.
During this series, God Likes You, we’ve been working through a letter in the New Testament written to a church in an ancient city called Ephesus. Despite the passing of time, this church is much like Gateway. The people came from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. They had been involved in all sorts of struggles, addictions, and challenges, but they were learning that when your identity is rooted in Jesus we overcome. Our identity is that we are created for a loving relationship with the God. Yes, God loves you, but even more, He genuinely likes who you are, who He created you to be. He knows you, accepts you, wants to do life with you. But, there’s another part to the story that explains why it’s not so easy—evil hates you.
Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.
Message Notes from John Burke:
Cycles song lyrics:
“See the devil, he learns from your mistakes, Even if you don’t, That’s how he keeps you in cycles…”
But like that song says—you don’t have to stay there. In Christ—you can live free.
We’ve been working through Ephesians, a letter to a church much like ours.
• Full of people with struggles, addictions and challenges
• But they were learning that “In Christ”— with your Identity rooted in who your Creator says you are, we are connected to the Source of all Power
• We overcome.
We named this series God Likes You—because it’s true. You were created for relationship with God. He genuinely likes you—who He created you to be. Knows you, accepts you, wants to do life with you.
How Evil Works
But there’s another part to the story that explains why it’s not so easy—Evil Hates You. But before we dive into that, I want to tell you a story that illustrates how evil works:
Robert Hanssen grew up the son of an abusive Chicago Police officer who emotionally and physically beat Robert as a child.
• Little Robert was very smart, and longed for his dad’s approval, but what he received was derision and pain.
• One thing Robert learned to do well was to hide his emotion.
• Later in life Robert became an FBI agent. He wanted to be the best spy ever—to prove he was worth something—better than his dad.
• But he often got mocked by the other agents for his lack of social agility.
• He always felt on the outside.
• He was passed over for promotions, which left him feeling angry and resentful.
A former FBI agent wrote a book about Soviet spies working in Washington, commissioned by the Russian KGB to enlist FBI and CIA agents as sources. These Soviet spies followed a very consistent and methodical recruitment strategy.
1. Instead of approaching FBI and CIA agents on the street in a trench coat and sunglasses and asking them to lift sensitive documents, they would appear very innocently and make very innocuous requests.
2. They would start by asking for an office telephone directory for a nice monetary reward.
3. It would be easily rationalized by the American agent as something that anybody could get with a little work, as it was public information.
4. Still, this request created a thrill, and it put some extra spending money in the agent’s pocket.
5. The request also initiated the agent’s journey into a fallen life.
6. The next time, the Soviet spies would request an innocuous file (something that seemed harmless) for a little more money—soon the American agent would find the task easy and the money rewarding—he’d dream of bigger potential rewards.
7. Then, they would slowly advance to something that was confidential, then something top secret.
Maybe that’s how Robert Hanssen fell.
• In 2002 Hanssen was convicted of treason as the most devastating spy in U.S. history.
• The information he sold for over 1.4 million dollars over 15 years is probably what Osama Bin Laden used to avoid detection on Sept 11th.
• His deception caused the deaths of other spies, revealed the most devastating secrets about the FBI, CIA, Pentagon and White House and could have caused a nuclear war.
Yet all the while, Robert Hanssen felt justified in what he was doing. He was said to be a moralist—chastising his co-workers immoral behavior, attending weekly Mass and confession, thinking the money was securing his children’s future—therefore he was doing good.
This is exactly how evil works in the world—through the power of the lie—in fact the Primary power evil has in the world is the power of the lie:
Often as a result of evils done to us growing up (like abuse), we internalize lies about ourselves.
• Those lies often get reinforced by other painful triggers, and we live out of a void in the soul.
• As a result, we become prone to other lies about how we can prove our worth, or get our deep needs met, or be safe or secure, or be loved or accepted.
• It starts out very innocent, but step by step, we can become more and more deceived by the lie—believing all kinds of rationalizations—hurting ourselves and others along the way, but never really seeing it until it nearly destroys us or others.
See, Evil hates you—but it lies about its intentions, so we easily get sucked in.
A Spiritual Battle
But God likes you, and is with you to help you. That’s why Paul tells the Ephesians:
10 A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:10-12
Now, for some of you who are still skeptical about all this—you might be tempted to check out and write all this off. But stay open minded for just a minute, because what if the main problem is how deceptive evil can be?
In a book called Radical Evil and Power of Good in History by Jeffery Burton Russell, professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The leading historian in the world on Evil. And he chronicles the history of evil through nearly every culture and society – past to present.
There’s no denying it – Evil is a force that humanity has had to grapple with since the beginning.
But what is it? What causes it? And What will overcome it? How can we fight against it?
Evil is real, and it’s very disturbing.
We know it when we see it—don’t we?
A young woman is beaten, a child is raped, an old man is mugged, a terrorist rips a plane apart in mid-air; Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Colombine teenagers, school shootings, racially-motivated violence, corporate crime, sexual abuse, domestic violence.
Evil exists! Evil is not abstract, we all know intuitively what it is. When it happens to you, you instinctively know, that is just evil. Yet we rarely really think hard about what it is and where it really comes from.
Jesus said this of Satan:
“He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” John 8:44
The Existence of Evil
The lie/deception is the power of evil.
Maybe you’re conjuring up cartoon images of a red devil with pitch fork, but maybe that’s a clever deception aimed at getting us to ignore a deceptive enemy. Russell, as a historian says:
“The suggestion that Jesus’ belief in Satan was merely part of a primitive world view poses serious difficulties. The notion that the first century was a benighted age [not as enlightened as we are] compared with [our] century is mere ethnocentrism shifted to time.” – Russell
Russell notes that evil’s impact is greater now, not less, and whether one believes in a Satanic force bent on mass destruction or not, the realization that groups of normal humans can be led to the mass destruction of others, willing to risk the entire planet shows the extent of the Evil force at work in the world. Or how about the fact that the majority of 911 emergency calls are for domestic violence—in our own homes where love should rule, we do violence to those we supposed love—how? What’s behind it?
Well, it’s not just Satan. Scripture says:
Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power…For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:10-12
Rulers, authorities, powers of evil refers to a hierarchy, a government of evil.
Like we say “Adolph Hitler murdered millions”—but not really—His evil hierarchy and government did and the Nazis who perpetrated this evil.
Satan is not God’s equal opponent—he’s just an angel, ruling fallen angels who strategize to lie and deceive, enslave and destroy because they turned eternally from God, the only Source of Love, Life, Light.
But Satan is not the only source of evil. There are many kinds of evil in the world, poverty, injustice, corruption.
But at the root of all evil humans do is the same as angels–a personal decision to follow my ways instead of God’s.
As Jeffery Burton Russell points out, the problem of evil is the line between good and evil runs through every human heart.
Russell says: “As none of us has a life in which no evil befalls him, none of us has a life in which he does no evil…at least part of the answer to the question of evil lies within me.” –Russell
And that’s the tricky part—how then do you fight evil when we’ve all been deceived by it and done it? If we see that it really boils down to following lies rather than truth—it brings hope, with God’s help we can be forgiven, and live in the light of truth. We can overcome evil.
Our Struggle Is Not Against Each Other
Ephesians 6 says several important things:
First, our struggle is never against each other.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood… Eph 6:12
If we could only get this through our thick heads. We’re all fallen, hurting people who hurt people while trying to do our best. But in our pride, we think the other person’s the enemy—they mean to hurt me—if I could just change them, my problem would be gone! NO—your problem is not with others, it’s spiritual at the core.
If you find yourself in an argument with your boss, or your roommates, or your spouse, try saying this: “Wait a minute. We’re not enemies.” Depending on how you say it, that could help reframe the conversation. Instead of getting heated, frustrated, and loud, when we remember we aren’t enemies, we can work together to find a solution that may be best for all involved.
Our struggle is not against each other, it’s a spiritual struggle.
Who are you upset with in your life right now? Think of that person.
Maybe they go a job you didn’t think they deserved.
Maybe they did something that hurt you.
Maybe they take you for granted.
Maybe they annoy you.
Maybe they keep making decisions you dislike.
Got them in your mind?
Remember: they are not your enemy.
Bitterness is your enemy.
Rage is your enemy.
Gossip is your enemy.
Evil is your enemy.
Remember: hurt people hurt people. We do not have to become victims, but we can transcend our worst moments with God’s help.
The second thing to realize is that there are deceitful schemes going on, strategies and traps we can fall into. If you don’t believe Scripture on this, just consider the power of the lie.
Just consider what Evil can get you to do if you believe its lies.
• Just think, if Evil can get you to slowly believe that someone is not really a human being of equal value created in the image of God, if you slowly buy into that lie, you’ll be willing to put up with evil done against them or even participate in that evil.
• We’ve seen it happen too often in history – the Trail of Tears, the African slave trade, the Holocaust, unjust war, genocide.
• Before you think all of that is ancient history, have you bought into the lie that other people may be inferior to you?
• Do you look down on people who live on the streets?
• Do you look down on people with mental health issues?
• Do you look down on people who are poor?
• Do you despise people who vote differently than you do?
• Do you look down on people who are rich?
• Do you look down on people who make different moral choices than you’d prefer?
• Do you look down on people who look differently or grew up in a different part of town?
Evil makes a lie seem true, and our actions stem from that lie.
• If Evil could get you to believe the future is hopeless, even though you don’t know the future, and Evil whispered constantly that death is the only way out…Evil could get you to destroy yourself.
• If Evil could get you to believe your spouse was causing all your problems, obsessing on what they need to change, Evil could create deep bitterness and resentment, do the same with your spouse, until neither is willing to change but just blame the other person’s stubborn pride—Evil could destroy your family.
• If Evil could get you to believe that just one cigarette, just one drink, just one hit, just one look won’t hurt…Evil can keep you one seemingly unimportant decision at a time…enslaved destroying yourself and others.
Wow…that’s the power of Evil if you just believe it’s lies. These are the “schemes” or “strategies” of how evil works that Ephesians 6 is talking about.
We Are Not Powerless
But the third thing to realize is that we’re not powerless. That verse said “Be strong in the Lord and His mighty power.” Notice “In the Lord…in Christ.” Like we talked about last week, you don’t have to do it on your own…you’re not all alone in this struggle…you don’t even have to be strong…you can rely on His mighty power.
Ephesians 5 says: Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. 18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit…. Ephesians 5:17-18
That’s the way to fight evil. Not by struggling alone to be better, or good, or try, try again. But just like when someone gives their mind over to alcohol—leading them to do destructive things—give your mind over to God’s Spirit to confront the darkness of lies, by simply turning on the light—letting the light of God’s truth displace all the darkness of any lies, you’ll overcome evil.
Plato wrote about evil and said that it is not a “something” but the lack of something – it’s a privation.
Kind of like darkness – what is darkness? It’s nothing.
Darkness is the absence of light!
Just as a lie is not a thing, but the absence of truth.
Evil is not the opposite of God – not the equal and opposite opponent to God, but Evil is the absence of God and God’s ways.
Evil is the effect of created beings (angels or humans) going against God’s ways.
Jesus used the metaphor of light shining in the dark often to describe God’s ways versus evil’s ways:
“The light from heaven came into the world, but they loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.” John 3:19
“[Jesus] said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” John 8:12
Evil is metaphorically equated to darkness—it’s the absence of God’s light, God’s goodness, the light of God’s ways that lead us toward true life.
Because of this, Evil has nothing good to offer at all.
• Evil can only take something good God created and offer it in a twisted way or a way God didn’t intend–but it’s a deceptive lie that we often fall for, because it offers instant gratification for our lower instincts.
• But ultimately, it’s less pleasurable, more harmful, and terribly destructive.
• We are prone to evil’s lies when God is not the center motivating factor of our lives—if we’re trying to prove our worth, or get our deepest needs met by what the world says rather than what God says.
• Evil preys on our fears, our insecurities, our need to belong, to be valued, it preys on our instincts—for food or sex or drink or a thrill.
• And we can all get swept along in its current.
• It’s incredibly deceptive, that’s its power. And when you’re deceived, you don’t know it.
• It’s worth praying about—”Lord, is there anywhere I’m being deceived—show me.”
That’s why Paul spells out for the Ephesian church how some of the practices they’d fallen into are deceptions and schemes to rob them of life ultimately:
3 Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. 4 Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. 5 You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. 6 Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. 7 Don’t participate in the things these people do. 8 For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light!… 11 Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness. Eph 5:3-8, 11
See evil tries to deceive us into things that seem like “no big deal”—and that’s the lie.
Yet the farther down the rabbit hole you go, the darker it gets, and more destructive to you or the people around you—but the darker it gets, the less clearly you can see what’s wrong with what you’re doing.
That’s the problem of evil—no one sees it, yet it can raise it’s ugly head in the best of us.
Peter was one Jesus called the Rock—and Peter did end up leading the early church—yet at the high point of it all, Jesus says to Peter “Get behind me, Satan!… you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Matthew 16:23
Ouch—Jesus called his closest friend, Satan? That’s a terrible nickname! What’s with that? Well, this is convicting and insightful—Peter was probably the most faithful, zealous, devout of the disciples, and He still could be deceived (and he would still deny Jesus 3 times)—so the best of us can be deceived. We must stay humble, and aware, pride can blind us. We can think we’re doing the right thing, even for God, yet be deceived.
The Armor of God
So what do we do to fight evil?
Ephesians 6 paints the picture of a soldier going into battle, we need to put on armor to fight, but it’s spiritual armor we need:
Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:13-17
To fight evil, First, make sure you’re right with God. Even though it’s not listed in this order, it starts with the…
Helmet of Salvation
Salvation just means “right with God.” That’s the Helmet of Salvation—not what you do, but just accepting what He’s done for you. He overcomes evil for you.
When a person is confident of his salvation — and when he walks confidently in the powerful reality of all that salvation means for him — we are safe from the enemy’s head shots!
If the Roman soldier didn’t have a helmet on when he went out to fight, he could be absolutely sure that he would lose his head. Thus, the Roman helmet was not merely a beautiful piece of weaponry but a defensive weapon designed to save a man’s head.
According to Eph. 2:8-10, we are saved by grace through faith. That’s also how we should live our lives! Surrendering daily. Dying to self daily. Letting Him move through us daily.
Then Evil cannot ultimately win, you win, evil loses ultimately. But you can still be deceived into doing wrong.
So put on…
Belt of Truth
Jesus said, “IF you remain in my teachings, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
Confront the lie with the Truth—that’s how you resist evil and defeat it.
Like you’re trying to quit smoking, or drinking, or some other addiction.
• “Just one won’t hurt.” Is this the Truth? You can have just ONE more?
• If I have 1 more, will it be easier or harder to quit before the 2nd? Harder.
• So if I have 2nd, easier or harder to quit? 3rd? Harder. 4th? 40th? 400th?
• Can I really just have one more? NO! It’s a deceptive lie.
• The truth is to have One More is to decide I’m going to keep doing this until it kills me.
Take any sin, greed, lust, bitterness, gossip whatever…and when tempted by it, imagine yourself going all the way down that road for a lifetime—Is this really what I want for the long haul? Ask God to show you the truth of what will get you what you really want—He will give you the power to resist the lie and walk in truth.
Body Armor of God’s Righteousness
Evil tries to attack you with a 1-2 punch.
First it tempts you with a jab to go against God’s will, when you fail, evil hits you with the uppercut of condemnation, “God’s disgusted and wants nothing to do with you.” This is a total lie to keep us from growing.
When I was new to following Jesus, and I’d get tempted, do something wrong, wallow in guilt, thinking God doesn’t want anything to do with me. I’d either resolve to do better and try, try, try harder (often resulting in more guilt when I’d fail again), or I’d rationalize it and just lower my standards (but that doesn’t solve the problem of evil—does it).
Now, I just don’t do anything wrong!
No, I know I’m not condemned—so I can do what this verse says:
8If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth. 9But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. 1 John 1:8-9
This is putting on the body armor of God’s Righteousness.
I thank God that he’s already forgiven me, not because I’m righteous, but because God’s Righteousness paid for it 2000 years ago.
Why? So that we will rely on God’s love and power to grow us up. We can’t become who God created us to be apart from God. That’s the Body Armor of Righteousness.
Shoes of peace
The shoes of peace hat come from the Good News—you are at peace with God.
When evil tries to get you worried, fearful, anxious–You have nothing to be anxious about at all. God’s in control of the Universe, you’re at peace with the Creator of the Universe. Walk in those shoes.
Shield of Faith
Faith is just trust.
Evil shoots fiery arrows filled with lies about God’s goodness. “God’s not after your best—you know what’s best. Don’t follow God, he’ll ruin your fun, mess up your plans.”
And yet the opposite is true. But you must block those arrows with Trust in God’s goodness—the shield of faith.
Sword of the Spirit
The only offensive weapon listed is The Sword of the Spirit—which is God’s Word.
When Jesus was tempted 40 days—every temptation started with this accusation: “If you are God’s son… prove it by…” Evil tries to say “IF you’re worth anything…prove it by”–that’s why knowing your Identity In Christ is so important.
Every time he was tempted, Jesus quoted Scripture—what God says is true. And it defeated evil. We go on the offensive by knowing scripture—saying and resisting evil by what God says is true—true about God, about the path to love, joy, peace, and real life, AND true about you, about how much God Likes You.
As we win the battle against evil in our minds and bring light into our home, our neighborhood, where we work, and among our church family, darkness is defeated! We can bring light to our dark world. Jesus already defeated death, sin, and evil – dying on the cross and rising from the dead! Now we are His ambassadors, His messengers, His peacemakers bringing heaven to earth.
He doesn’t just love you—He genuinely likes you and wants to do life with you, so you can say like the Psalmist in Psalm 23: “I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”