Do you think Satan still asks for permission to wage spiritual war on saints? If so, can we know when we're under attack?
This is a question submitted to the Truth & Circumstances podcast, but as it is more of a straightforward theological question, I’ll tackle it here. It also goes well with what we discussed in our prayer meeting last night.
Does Satan still ask for permission? This question rightly assumes that at least at some point, the devil had to ask permission to carry out His activities. There are a couple of biblical references we tend to think about in this regard. First, there is the opening narrative of Job, where the Lord gives Satan broad latitude to attack his servant (Job 1:9-12; 2:1-6). It’s clear there that Satan couldn’t go beyond the boundaries given to him by God. Second, there is the conversation on the night of the Lord’s arrest, when the Lord Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat…” (Luke 22:31). This indicates two things: (1) Satan is disrespectful; but (2) he can’t just do whatever he wants.
So does Satan still ask permission to wage war against the people of God? I can find no biblical reason why this would have changed. God’s character has not changed. He’s still sovereign over all. There is no indication in Scripture that the Lord has given a blanket permission to the devil to do anything he wants. There is also no reason to think that God has taken away the devil’s ability to wage war. To the contrary, the New Testament is filled with warnings about this enemy and his desire to work us over.
1 Peter 5:8 reads, Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Ephesians 6:10-18 is a long passage dedicated to the reality of our warfare against evil spiritual forces and the resources given to us to wage this war. In that passage, Paul warns about “the schemes of the devil” and “the flaming darts of the evil one.” It must be the case that the devil is still under the sovereign control of God, and that God allows him to work when that work will accomplish God's ultimate ends. At the same time, the devil is a dangerous foe whom we should take seriously.
Can we know when we’re under attack? The devil is no moron. He disguises himself as an angel of light (2Cor 11:14). Deception is his wheelhouse (Gen 3:1-6; 2 Cor 11:3). He likely is not going to put out a billboard, making it obvious how he’s going after us. He will be subtle. But there are some indications in the NT about how he works and we can regard these things as warning signs:
When you’re your devotion to the Lord is growing cold (2 Cor 11:3).
When you are being bombarded with temptation (1 Chron 21:1; Matt 4:1-10; Acts 5:3; 1Cor7:5; 1Tim 5:13-16).
When your gospel work is being hindered (Mark 8:33; 1Th 2:18).
When you are struggling with ungodly anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness (2 Cor 2:11; Eph 4:26-27).
When we are experiencing relentless thoughts of accusation (Zec 3:1; Rev 12:10).
When we entertain blasphemous thoughts (Job 1:9-11; 2:4-5).
These would be the more overt signs that he is involved, but again, he is subtle. We know from the Scriptures that he is something like a field marshal, orchestrating attacks coordinated with our other two enemies, the world and our own flesh (Eph 2:1-3). It would be hard to imagine the world and the flesh working against us in ways where the evil one is not involved at all.
We are not called to flee from the evil one, but to resist him (James 4:7; Eph 6:10-11). As we discussed last night, we have two major offensive weapons in this fight: the sword of the Spirit and prayer (Eph 6:17-20). We can wield the first as Jesus and David did – memorizing it and using it in times of temptation (Matt 4:1-10; Psa 119:11). We can wield the second by praying against the enemy and his devices as he attacks the church and tries to prevent the spread of the gospel (Eph 6:18-20). Or we can combine the two, by praying offensively – praying the imprecatory psalms against the evil one, psalms like 3, 35, and 83.
Here is some wonderful news: when we resist in the ways prescribed in the NT, by resisting the devil, he flees. He flees not because he is afraid of us, but because we stand in the power of the risen Christ who defeated him.