One of the aspects of The Passion of the Christ that I appreciated as a film was its portrayal of Satan as a real, existing adversary to Christ’s mission. Of the films portraying Christ’s life and death that I grew up with, I can’t remember one of them that included Satan as a character in the plot.
Yet the opening scenes of The Passion clearly acknowledge this spiritual reality that Christ’s own battle was not a battle against flesh-and-blood. For all of the reactions of Judas and Peter, His family, Herod, Pilate, the rest of the disciples, the chief priests, and the crowd around Him, the entity Jesus came to oppose—the ruler of this world, our adversary Satan—is a spiritual enemy, one whose hold on the human race could only be broken through Christ’s redemption.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound”
– Isaiah 61:1
This importance of what Christ came to do and the intensity of the spiritual opposition to it cannot be understated. Jesus constantly faced attack after attack: criticism, hatred, betrayal, temptation, questioning, emotional and physical pain.
And there is much that we can learn from Christ’s handling of evil. He Himself told his disciples to be “as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16)—in other words, be more cunning than your enemy and learn his strategies for entrapment, while maintaining a life that lives in opposition to the enemy: a life that honors God, that brings life, that restores; life like Christ’s. This of course can only be done by relying on Christ, by drawing spiritual renewal and life from Him, and by following His spiritual leadership.
Before I continue, it is important to establish one other important fact: you and I do not fight the enemy ourselves. I am not about to promote a certain type of self-inflating war-mongering rhetoric that has been popularized in some circles. However, it is truth that our enemy—Satan and his angels—is real and our struggle is not against flesh and blood (2 Corinthians 10); and while every spiritual battle may not personally involve Satan, I think it is appropriate to refer to his name and his forces interchangeably—Satan and his forces are our enemy, and to fight the one is to fight the other.
As I said, it is not within our natural power to fight this enemy. It is simply that without God we have nothing of eternal value, and we can do nothing in that realm without His spiritual power. We have an armor (Eph 6:13-18) and we do often face the enemy in ways that cannot be seen or understood by natural means. And Scripture is very clear that our weapon in the offensive against evil is good (Rom. 12:21), by accomplishing God’s purposes for our lives (Eph. 2:10). More on that to come, but it is important that we differentiate between powerless chatter and true spiritual warfare against the enemy, which sometimes can only be differentiated by its fruit, by the value of its production (Matt. 7:15-19). What is definitely at stake is not one’s own personal ego but the hearts of others, whom God desperately loves and has tasked us to be in the business of drawing closer to Him.
In that opening scene of The Passion, one of the most powerful moments is strikingly one-sided. As Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, Satan appears to stand near Him, whispering thoughts of doubt and fear. Jesus’ response is both simple and powerful: He ignores Satan’s temptation to give up. He refuses to allow Himself to be drawn into those thoughts of doubt and become self-centered and self-focused. Instead, He continues to do what He came to do. He draws His strength from the Father. He doesn’t try to take off and fight that battle in His own strength—He instead draws the source of all His strength and all His courage and all His commitment from the Father, with whom He is one.
At first, this seems decidedly simple, and in many ways it is. That is what we are meant to do. And it could be tempting to wonder why most Christians have a very difficult time living this way in every area; yet often it is. Let me be clear at this point, though, that just because something is simple doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult—often learning the basics of anything worth doing is the hardest part. In the same way, simply because something may be difficult doesn’t mean that a person is weaker for the fact—remember Job’s example. As I stated in the previous article, there are a great many very strong and amazing people in God who do face great difficulty, and it isn’t because they’re lesser or weaker. It’s because the burden they carry and the battle they fight is different from yours, just as different as yours is from mine. We do no good by assuming we understand spiritual battles by looking at them from a temporal position. The enemy, in fact, would like nothing more than for us to take pride in our own well-being outside of God’s will while others fight hard battles as they fulfill His purpose.
So why then did it seem so easy for Christ to overcome the enemy? Because for whatever reason it only seems that way. Did you notice the drops of blood in Christ’s sweat? His rebuke to the disciples for sleeping instead of praying? The likely tremor in His voice, not for fear, but for the burden He carried? I don’t know about anyone else, but that seems anything but easy. Christ obviously fought for us a battle that we ourselves could not have fought, that we are not capable of fighting. And He gave us a freedom that only comes through partaking in His lifestyle, a lifestyle only possible because He accomplished what—at least for us—is the hardest part. He gave us forgiveness from sin and renewed hearts!
Our adversary may be greater than us, but Christ proved Himself greater than our adversary. In Him we have everything.
Christ came for us, to fight a battle we could not fight, to give us what we could not give ourselves. He provided a way out of the clutches of our very real enemy, and provided a way in to our created purpose.
However, the reality is that so often we give in to the enemy’s voice even before we struggle with purpose. And this is the devil’s dirty little secret: he wants to take us out at the beginning of any journey we take before the battle even begins, before we become the threat to Him that through Christ we become. So perhaps the question is not so much how Christ overcame at the end of His life’s purpose, but rather how He prevailed from the beginning.
Luke 4:1-13 describes the beginning of Jesus’ primary ministry, and it wasn’t in ease. He spent 40 days in the wilderness, fasting, praying, and—of all things—facing down the enemy’s traps right from the start.
Here then are three keys to overcoming the enemy in the wilderness, with Jesus as our example:
1. He followed the Spirit. Jesus didn’t just begin His ministry when He felt like it, nor did He confront the enemy without having the spiritual insight necessary to fight that battle. There was no macho rhetoric, no showy, “Hey, look at what I’m doing and how hard it is.” It was a humble following, unannounced but necessary for this point in His life. He didn’t walk into it alone or unarmed, but understood that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17)—not freedom to whatever He pleased, but freedom to submit to the Father’s best, freedom to do what was right.
2. He refuted the enemy’s lies with truth. The enemy seemed to have Jesus at every turn. Satan went after things that seemed to be points of possible weakness: the Lord’s strength, humility, and security. Satan used all of his usual tricks that work on the rest of mankind: “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (I John 2:16). But Jesus knew something about every statement that the enemy made, and that was that it was tainted with falsehood. It may not have been flat-out lies, but every statement contradicted truth on some level, and they were not consistent with Christ’s identity and unity with the Father. And He responded with the whole truth—that which was consistent with God’s character in Him.
3. He left the enemy with no authority and sent him away. Jesus knew that the only way to truly defeat the enemy is to establish the authority that—He has through the Father—over the situation. Jesus left no questions, no loose ends, no second thoughts.
Which of course leads us straight to the scene in Gethsemane. Jesus was capable of ignoring the enemy’s lies because He had already dealt with them, even though He was under intense temporal pressure. As far as Satan was concerned, he might have been opening his mouth but Jesus didn’t hear a thing. He was too focused on the Father, too intent on His purpose, too full of the Spirit and the eternal that nothing else could get in.
What I’ve noticed, then, is that usually when I am seriously struggling on an issue, it’s because I’m still in the wilderness, fighting the outcome of the battle at its beginning. It is always in some form of the question: “Will I do what is right and good or what is wrong?” When I fail, it’s because I miss out on one of those three keys. And unfortunately, I don’t always win—but you know what? Jesus does. Even when I fail I have His strength to get up and try again, and His love covers my lack and defeat with the encouragement to keep on, to fight that good fight!
I’m not at the same place in every area of my life, either. In some areas I’m still in the wilderness, though in others I have passed the initial testing. I’m certain there are other areas that I have yet to step into the wilderness for. But I don’t live in the wilderness—it’s just a temporary place of preparation. It’s boot camp for my character. Have you ever noticed that just before Jesus accomplished great things, opposition usually was waiting somewhere around the corner? It didn’t end in the wilderness. Luke 4:13 says that Satan “left him until an opportune time.” Opposition doesn’t go away, but it does become easier to recognize and fight through Christ’s power.
The enemy has an agenda with his desire to take me out from the very beginning of the living out of God’s purpose in my life, but God has a different agenda: to make me stronger through the struggle and fight. And when I emerge from the wilderness confrontation with victory, the real story’s only just beginning. The enemy is constantly opposed to our success in fulfilling our created purposes, but Jesus fought that battle and won it, then gave us the power to win it through Him. Like Jesus, my ability to minister in that area increases, and so does my confidence in Him to maintain integrity. He’s give me all of those things at all times, from the first step into the wilderness to the fulfillment of my life’s purpose—His Spirit, His truth, and His authority.
And my goal is to become like Christ in that respect: to become so focused on the Father, so intent on His purposes, so full of His Spirit and the eternal life that nothing else has room to get in—not the enemy’s voice, not the noise of this world, not my own selfish desires. Rather, “as for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness” (Psalm 17:15).