Angels and Demons: Fighting Evil

We continued our series at Gateway in Austin called “Angels and Demons: Do You Believe in the Supernatural?”

Poverty, injustice, corruption, violence, racism, and sexism are just some of the ways that evil manifests in our world. At the root of all evil perpetrated by humans is people’s personal decision to follow a lie rather than the truth. The solution to the problem of evil isn’t in changing all those people out there, it starts within us. The line between good and evil runs through every human heart. With God’s help, we can live in the light of truth and fight against the evil within and the evil in our world.

Discussion Questions:

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.

Next Steps

Message Video from Gateway in South Austin:

Message Notes from John Burke (With One Story from Me):

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—the pain was too great.  Later in life Robert became an FBI agent.  He wanted to be the best spy ever—he wanted 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—his co-workers berated his ability. He always felt on the outside.  He was passed over for promotions due to social awkwardness, which left him feeling angry and resentful.

During the height of the Cold War, a former FBI agent wrote a book about Soviet spies working in Washington. These spies were commissioned by the Russian KGB to enlist FBI and CIA agents as sources. These Soviet spies followed a very consistent and methodical recruitment strategy. 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.  They would start by asking for an office telephone directory for a nice monetary reward. It would be easily rationalized by the American agent as something that anybody could get with a little work, as it was public information. Still, this request created a thrill, and it put some extra spending money in the agent’s pocket. The request also initiated the agent’s journey into a fallen life. 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—allowing himself to dream of bigger potential rewards. 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 against his country.  Said to be 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 agents, revealed the most devastating secrets of the FBI, CIA, Pentagon and White House and could have caused a nuclear war.  Yet all the while, Robert Hanssen felt justified.  He was said to be a moralist—chastising his co-workers immoral behavior, attending weekly Mass, rationalizing that it was for 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 ONLY power evil has over you is the power of the lie: lies telling us how we can prove our worth, or get our deep needs met, or be safe or secure, or loved or accepted. 

It starts out very innocent, but step by step, we can become more and more deceived—believing all kinds of rationalizations and justifications—hurting ourselves and others along the way, but never really seeing it until it nearly destroys us or others. 

But we can also fight Evil and Overcome when we understand how evil works.

Today we’re wrapping up this series by talking about how to Fight Evil personally. 

There are many kinds of evil in the world, poverty, injustice, corruption.

  • But at the root of all human evil is a personal decision to follow a lie rather than the truth.
  • Overcoming evil doesn’t start by changing all those people out there, it starts with me—the line between good and evil runs through every human heart.
  • But when you see that it really boils down to following lies rather than truth—it brings hope, with God’s help we can live in the light of truth. 
  • This makes fighting against evil and overcoming temptation very doable.

So let me give you an overview of Scripture’s teaching about fighting lies with the truth, then I want to show you how to apply it to different lies we often believe.

Scripture says: 

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 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 the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:10-12  

Now I know this verse may cause some of you to struggle because you don’t believe there’s a spiritual force of evil, but hang in there and see if this doesn’t make sense pragmatically. 

This says several things we must understand. 

First, our struggle is never against each other.  If we could only see what’s behind every marital struggle, every racial struggle, office struggle, middle school struggle, all trying to pit us against each other, are spiritual forces.  The truth is, we’re all fallen, hurting people who hurt people while trying our best.  But when hurt, we believe the other person’s the enemy—and we fight each other instead of the real enemy. 

Love is a battlefield – not against each other but it’s a couple back to back taking on the evil in our world that is trying to divide.

Bitterness in our hearts creates doubts in our mind.

The second thing to realize, is there are deceitful schemes going on, and we can fall into the trap. As this says, there are spiritual forces of evil at work in the world.

3 myths about the devil

First myth—there is no devil.

As we covered week 1, devil means divider. The best way to deceive is to remain undetected, so this myth is powerful as I showed week 1. But fallen angels are not the only source of evil—there are systemic evils and human evils. And when we say things like, “Satan is at work in the world” it’s almost never actually Lucifer—just like it wasn’t Hitler who killed 6 million Jewish people, but an organization of many. As this passage indicates, there’s a hierarchy, a government of rulers, authorities, powers. As we discussed in week 1, Lucifer and other angels are created beings like humans, not all-knowing, not all-powerful, not able to be in many places at once. But organized, and living in dimensions beyond ours. 

If that seems far-fetched—remember that our scientists almost all believe in unseen dimensions to reality because Quantum Physics and General Relativity.

Read the accounts of Jesus and he’s confronting demonic spirits at work in people, so he didn’t fall for myth 1. 

Second myth–demonic possession.

There’s no word in the bible for demonic possession—that’s an unfortunate English translation of Greek, combined with movies like the Exorcist.

These ideas give the demonic too much power, or make it so ridiculous, we deny any influence.

Both are dangerous.

The Greek word most used is “demonized.”  When we think of possession—we think of complete control, which is almost never the case even in Jesus’ ministry (except maybe the Gerasene man). 

So Christians often think since the Holy spirit lives in them, they cannot be possessed (which is true), but that doesn’t mean the demonic can’t gain strongholds in their minds. 

Paul tells us,   We do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 

Think about it like Cancer. 

The Holy Spirit can live in a believer, but if the body’s immune system gets weakened, cancer cells can still gain a stronghold in the body—we have to fight. 

In the same way, the demonic are like spiritual cancers looking for spiritually weak places to gain a foothold. 

Spiritual or emotional garbage in our lives feeds them—like bitterness, envy, lust, shame, greed, pride, unresolved anger.

So Scripture warns, In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. Ephesians 4:26-27

If this spiritual, emotional garbage is not cleaned out, they’re like rats feeding on the garbage, they get stronger and make our problems worse. They don’t cause your problems—the problem is the spiritual emotional garbage—they just exacerbate the problems.

But if we clean out the garbage, like with forgiveness, confession, making amends, they have nothing to feed on, or attach to, and so they leave—as scripture says

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:7

The Third myth–they have more power than you. 

That verse said, “Be strong in the Lord and His mighty power.” 

If you’ve accepted God’s forgiveness and leadership offered through what Jesus did for you, …you’re not all alone…you don’t even have to be strong. 

God is with you and you can rely on His mighty power which blows away their power.

Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority…to overcome all the power of the enemy….” Luke 10:18-19.

You don’t need to fear any evil because in Christ, you can overcome them.

Not by your power, but by God’s delegated authority. You have the right to tell them to leave in Jesus’ name, and they have to leave—they may try to bluff, lie, deceive, but hold your ground and they have to go if you tell them.

(A Story from My Life)

In our Seattle days, a mission group once came to town to perform a concert in one of the local parks. I had a chance to meet Sovann, a young man who had grown up in Southeast Asia. Sovann seemed intrigued by our group. He agreed to join me for coffee, and we had a great conversation about his life. The conversation naturally moved toward God as I asked him to tell me about his spiritual journey. He shared about his childhood in Southeast Asia, his move to the United States, and his awareness of God but his inability to know for sure whether God was real. Soon he was listening to my story as well. After sharing with him about how following Jesus had completely changed my life, I asked if he would be interested in connecting to God personally. With a completely serious look on his face, he looked me right in the eye as he said, “I want to, but the voices won’t let me.”

In conversations with those who follow other religions or who simply abandoned Christianity, I’ve generally found that most people need a life of meaning, significance, adventure, peace, and hope. “The removal of voices” had not cracked the top ten list of reasons why people wanted to connect to God. 

Having never done an exorcism and never wanting to do one, I found a pastor who had some experience in this. He happened to be the Seattle Seahawks chaplain so I was hoping after the exorcism he could hook me up with some tickets! Actually, I was freaked out by this whole thing! I was with Sovann when all sorts of evil sounds started coming out of his mouth! Ironically, that experience didn’t end his issues with the voices.

Within the next few months, Sovann chose to follow Christ, despite the voices. He continued taking his medication for schizophrenia, which seemed to help a bit, but Sovann truly found healing as he served others and began to ignore the voices. 

  • Treating the voices as a temptation such as worry or lust, he took captive every thought (see 2 Corinthians 10:5) and prayed to God whenever the voices got loud. 
  • He replaced the voices with Scriptures he had memorized. 
  • He replaced the behaviors he struggled with when lonely by investing in the lives of others. 

The last I heard from Sovann, he was a youth leader in a church, serving God and his doctor had taken him off the medication because he was no longer hearing strange voices.

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.  

But most importantly, understand that the only real Power evil has over you is the power of the lie.

Jesus said, [Satan] was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” John 8:44.

Maybe you don’t believe any of this, but think about the power of lies. 

If I can get you to slowly believe that a Jewish person is not really a human being of equal value, and you slowly buy into that lie, then who knows what you’ll be willing to put up with or participate in—it led to the slaughter of millions of Jewish people. 

If I could get you to believe that Black people are somehow sub-human or inferior to white people, I could manipulate a whole society of otherwise good, Christian white people to turn their backs on inhumane treatment of Black people—all because you believed a lie.

If I could get you to believe you were overweight, even though you were underweight for your height, I could slowly get you stop eating—and even to starve yourself to death. If I could get you to believe the future is hopeless, though you don’t know the future, and I could torment you with lies that the only way out is death…I could get you to destroy yourself. 

If I could get you to believe your spouse is causing all your problems, wake you up at night with lies about his/her motives, I could create deep bitterness and resentment, do the same with your spouse, until you both believed divorce is the only option. 

If I could get you to believe that just one drink, just one hit, just one look won’t hurt…I can keep you making little, seemingly unimportant decision after decision until you’re enslaved. 

Wow…think of the power I would have if I could get you to believe my lies.

But that’s also how we Fight Evil.

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. John 16:13

So fighting evil is really this simple—pay attention to your thoughts—that’s where it starts. Pay attention to thoughts that pass through your mind.

See, not every thought you have is your own. Some thoughts are schemes, temptations, subtle lies: “Take captive every thought, and Ask God for the light of His truth.”  

Even if you don’t believe the demonic are real or at work, you can still see that truth is the way to fight evil. Let’s look at some practical examples of lies we believe and how to fight with God’s truth.

Lies We Receive (others-inflicted)  

Some lies we didn’t consciously choose to believe, they were embedded in our minds due to a broken, fallen world.  Like Robert Hanssen, evil done to us as children can make us vulnerable. God intended adults to protect us, but if they were manipulated by evil’s lies to abuse us—those childhood wounds are fertile ground for other lies to build a stronghold.  

So an uncle believes porn is no big deal “looking never hurt anyone” right? [a lie]

And yet over the years it led to an addiction. When his little 4 year old niece was visiting, a lustful lie invaded his mind “she won’t remember…you’re not hurting her.” 

But she had to grow up intuitively knowing the sexual abuse was wrong, but evil lies told her “it’s your fault, you’re bad, dirty, you’re body is not your own” and out of that lie she used her sexuality as power over men.

In college she struggled working 2 jobs to become a nurse when she’s offered twice the money to work in a strip club, which she justifies because nursing will help people.

And so she’s slowly manipulated into becoming a pawn evil can use to create more lustful, deceived uncles who use and abuse. That’s how evil propagates wound by wound, lie by lie.

But the story above is about a woman who came to faith here at Gateway and went through wounded heart to heal the sexual abuse, and broke that cycle by following God’s truth.

Often lies find their way in through early childhood events. 

It often comes from a child trying to interpret what is happening, but children almost always misinterpret. 

This isn’t their fault.

God entrusted parents with the responsibility of helping a child interpret life according to God’s truth. 

But if a parent shirks that responsibility or doesn’t know truth themselves—the child often believes lies. 

Often physical or verbal abuse, sexual abuse, or even a painful message given over and over can embed lies in a child’s memory. These painful memories can hold us prisoners—all it takes is some trigger in the present, and we feel all the pain and lies of that unhealed memory.

I recently heard the story of a man who had chronic asthma as a child.

He also had a very perfectionistic, emotionally cold, alcoholic/workaholic father.  Because of the asthma, he felt weak—he interpreted his father’s emotional distance as rejection due to weakness.

He believed lies.  “If I want approval, I must prove that I’m not weak.” 

As a grown man, he always trying to prove how strong, capable, what a fighter he was. When someone in college called him a wimp, it triggered all the pain and rejection—he nearly killed the guy, and got kicked out of his University. 

Later he met the love of his life, married her, but drifted into alcoholism to escape the pain. 

When his wife begged him to get help, he heard “you’re weak”—it triggered that wound and lie, “If I’m weak, I’m unlovable.” 

It was all subconscious, but it caused such uncontrolled rage when triggered, his wife finally left him. 

Was it true according to God that my friend had to prove he was strong to be loved? 

No—and his wife tried to tell him that, but he couldn’t hear it.

Eventually, he came to faith in Jesus, went through recovery, and learned to take every thought captive, to ask “Is this what God says is true?” “Is this thought from You God, or do I need to reject this thought as a lie?”

And with forgiveness of his father and making amends, a moral inventory, learning how much God loved him, the wounds healed. The garbage was gone.

He’s been sober and remarried with a family over 2 decades now.

God wants to heal those wounds, show us the truth, clean out the lies, and lead us into freedom.

But it requires knowing God’s truth in the Bible, and choosing to take every thought captive, so we live by what God says is true, even when we feel otherwise.

And God is a healer—he wants to heal the deep emotional pains we feel today caused by evil wounding us in the past.  

Couples often complain of overreaction.

The nastiest fights are often because one triggered this unhealed emotional wound of the past.

All our Restore Ministries can help you.

Our Recovery ministry is a biblical practice that heals—it’s not just for addicts, for all of us. But you have to let God go there with you to heal it.

But often, we’d rather not face the pain of looking at the places evil wounded us or where we did things we’re ashamed of, but it’s how we fight evil.

I have a really strong sense of smell. It’s kind of like my super power. It’s not really the best super power though. I first discovered it when I smelled something that must have died when walking through the living room of our house in Bedford, TX. I told my Dad and even pointed towards the vaulted ceiling where I thought it was coming from. Sure enough, there was a dead rat in our attic right in that spot.

I am sure you can imagine the downside to this super power. I was a youth pastor for many years – in Waco, in Seattle, and in Los Angeles. Working with teenage boys led to moments of begging God to take away my supernatural ability to smell!

Another downside, getting on planes. So much funk and in such a confined space.

It comes in handy at home. I can tell when something has gone bad or the trash needs to be taken out before others may even notice.

Do you have a lingering emotional odor coming out of your life?

Shame that tells you, “I’m a stupid, ignorant, worthless idiot.”

Or “I have to be perfect?”

Or trust issues “I can’t trust anyone.”

Or fear issues “I’m never safe.”

They’re lies!

God says you are loved by your Creator, worth the ransom paid on the cross of Christ, you are not condemned, you are forgiven, you are blameless in his sight. You are not alone or powerless, in Christ, you have the power of God and authority to overcome all evil.

Resist the lies of evil, and it will flee.

Some lies are lies we receive, other-inflicted, but some lies are self-inflicted.

Lies We Believe (self-inflicted)

Because none of us would ever just choose something bad for ourselves, turning from God’s will must look attractive.

Jesus said, The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10

No one says, “I want the way of death and destruction”, so temptation lies about meeting our desires for something Good—something good that God wants for us, but evil gets us to go after it in a harmful way—or believe God’s ways will hurt us. 

Here’s how Jesus’ half-brother, James explains temptation. 

No one who wants to do wrong should ever say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else either. 14Temptation comes from the lure of our own evil desires. 15These evil desires lead to evil actions, and evil actions lead to death. 16So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters.17Whatever is good and perfect comes to us from God above.  James 1:13-17

This passage is very insightful.  It says we get misled when we think anything Good comes from any place other than God.  If we get misled into thinking God wants to destroy our lives, or rob us of a fulfilling life, we will seek to meet our deepest desires for love, validation, security, purpose—in ways that go against God’s will.

We get lied to about where fun, pleasure, relief, life, love, fame can be found—yet in the end they destroy us or those around us. 

We’ll hear lies like, “If I don’t have sex with him, he will reject me and I’ll be all alone.” That’s not God’s truth, and it doesn’t get you the love or security you really want.

OR “If I don’t cut ethical corners, I won’t have financial security.”

That’s not God’s truth!

OR “If I tell the truth, it will hurt me.”

No, the truth will set you free, you’re just intensifying your future pain.

But see, it always starts in the mind before it ever gets acted on—evil thoughts lead to evil actions lead to death–so guard your thoughts.

Ask God, “Is this the truth, or a lie?”

And pray, “God show me truth and give me power to walk in it.”

Take any sin, greed, lust, bitterness, gossip whatever…and when tempted by it, imagine going all the way down that road.

Say, “Okay, I’ll just keep giving in to this from here until the day I die.”

Then ask, “will that get me what I want, really?”

You are not choosing one or once. You are choosing a path for the rest of your life, each choice, each moment!

Often that helps you see the lie for what it is.

But the other truth is this:

God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out. 1 Corinthians 10:13.

He will always provide a way of escape. 

You won’t always take it—but if you rely on God’s power to help you, you can overcome evil’s temptations more and more. 

It’s not a sin to be tempted.

You think a lustful thought, a jealous thought, a spiteful thought—that’s not sin.  That’s temptation. The first thought is free.

Jesus was tempted—go read Matthew 4—you can be tempted and not sin. 

So catch that first thought, and submit it to God.

“God, if I follow this, where will it lead? What’s the good gift you want to give me that this is lying about?”

And you will learn by falling forward.

You will fail.

You might not catch the thought and you’ll sin. 

Don’t stay in that behavior. 

Jesus already died to forgive you.

There is now no condemnation at all for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1,

So turn back to God, and don’t let it keep you from God’s guidance.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9.  

So you fell morally, turn back to God, admit it.

“God, I believed lies, I turned from your way—thank you for forgiving me in Christ, now teach me so I don’t fall so easily next time.”

And you must forgive yourself.

If God forgives, don’t believe lies that keep you condemning yourself when God says there’s No Condemnation for you in Christ.

Follow God, and like a spiritual baby learning to walk, God will help you, and soon won’t fall all the time, with His guidance you’ll be walking and even running.

The only power evil has over you is the power of the lie.

So with every thought—take it captive, learn Jesus teachings, and fight with truth, use your authority–do that daily, and you will overcome all evil, experience freedom and an abundant life, and you will become a liberator of others!

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