The devil attacks us to create doubts in our mind to lead us astray from God rather than a direct confrontation, which would be rare. In the Garden of Eden God did not curse Adam and Eve but informed them about the consequences of their sin of disobeying His command. Moses revealed the blessings that would follow obedience and curses on those who choose to go their own way. Through repeated attacks on our thinking process, Satan establishes strongholds in us to bring up evil thoughts, desires and intentions which then turn into our nature.
How do strongholds come up? At the time of creating man, God took dust of the earth for man was to have dominion over the earth and all that is in it, but he could do this only in the power of God (Genesis 2:7). God breathed into him to provide a link of communication with him, that is, the spirit of man. But since he had to have a communication with all on the earth through his body while also having the vertical link with God, he was also given a soul. His soul then defines his being for that becomes the processing centre of all that comes from God as well from the earth. The death due to sin was the ineffectiveness of his spirit causing separation from God. The forces of evil operating in the world have to influence the soul of an individual to make him follow their specific ways.
The second channel for man are his five senses through which he receives inputs that form the basis for his thoughts and desires. All this is processed by the mind to establish a set pattern of our beliefs and the formative first five years of a child’s life are crucial for that establish the behavior pattern for life, though later influences also bring in changes. We have the brain as the processing centre of all inputs from the body and we have a mind that then compares all of that with what is already in our conscience and soul. The devil targets our soul though the effects are seen in the body and behavior pattern.
Lucifer was created by God as a covering cherub and the worship leader in heaven and anointed with the required musical talents within him (Ezekiel 28:14-17). He was created perfect in all his ways but his uniqueness filled his mind with pride, causing a belief that he also deserved to be worshipped due to his excellence. Scripture then defines his state and the result, ‘Your heart was lifted up because of your inequity; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor’. Lord Jesus repeatedly said, ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear’ and this hearing was of the mind and thus of the soul though physical ears were mentioned (Matthew 11:15). Apostle Paul clarifies this further, ‘So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God’ (Romans 10:17). We get this hearing itself by the word of God and not in any other way.
The word of God ‘is living and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart’ (Hebrew 4:12). In like manner the evil spirits or agents of the devil afflict the mind through worldly inputs of fear, jealousy, hatred and self importance. What the devil thought about himself, that started defining his whole being and his behavior pattern. Since as a cherub he is filled with wisdom and power, he uses that to mislead others.
The events described in the Book of Revelation provide details of future happenings while connecting the past. The devil is seen as ‘a great and fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his head. His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth’ (Revelation 12:3-4). The seven heads identify his wisdom and ten horns his strength and the seven diadems a mark of royalty or importance. One third of all created angels in heaven who had rebelled with the devil were cast down from heaven with him. Both husband and wife get into a binding agreement in marriage and this then leads to conception in the womb resulting in birth of a child. The message of the serpent, the devil, to Eve was, ‘in the day you eat of it (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) your eyes will be opened’ (Genesis 3:5 & 7). The devil was right in what he said, ‘then the eyes of both of them were opened , and they knew that they were naked’. But at the time of creation Adam and Eve ‘were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed’ (Genesis 2:25). The experience of evil through agreement with the devil, gave birth to this new feeling of vulnerability, for the control was no longer in and with them but with the devil and mankind has been, in vain, trying since then to cover and hide itself from the devil and his tricks.
The birth of that new feeling is the stronghold in a person and that then defines his behavior for his life, till he decides to turn to an authority that can help him break those chains and help escape. The first stronghold that was made was in heaven in the devil when he tried to be equal to or be his own God. The temptation to Eve was the same to be ‘like God’ thus become their own gods (Genesis 3:7). Since then all of mankind has been trying to create God in their image and likeness rather than transforming themselves into the likeness of God. The gods that were created by mankind meet their own standards and ways.
The Ten Commandments given by God are to define the moral code by which God expects us to live, but we develop our own codes of living by our own standards as per what we perceive to be right. Even though the Israelites had seen all the ten plagues that were brought on the Egyptians by God, after being allowed to leave Egypt by Pharaoh, ‘God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, ‘Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt’ (Exodus 13:17). The Israelites had to get Egypt out of their minds by breaking the stronghold of the devil and they never fully succeeded in this despite God being with them throughout their journey to the Promised Land. In like manner we also must escape the clutches of evil by turning to God and the process of being born again is about developing a new thought and belief system within that keeps us focused on God and His righteousness.
How does the devil exercise control through strongholds? A stronghold is a belief system created in one’s mind through repeated inputs strengthening that which sets the pattern for one’s thoughts, affecting the heart by such desires and thus the soul to change the whole life of the person. The life of Job is a classic example of this and he was accepted and declared by God Himself ‘that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, the one who fears God and shuns evil’ (Job 1:5 & 8). In the entire narrative of the book, Job maintained his innocence against the accusations of some hidden sins in his life that were the cause of his suffering. Job’s seven sons and three daughters regularly met to feast in their houses and eat and drink together. However after the end of their feasting, Job ‘would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all’. The reason for this was Job’s thinking that his children might have ‘sinned and cursed God in their hearts’. Job himself being a righteous man would have taught his children the ways of the Lord and there was no apparent reason for them to sin habitually. The devil had placed this doubt in Job’s mind about his children’s faith and this act of his was the excuse for the devil to level a charge against him about the real motive of his worship and obedience to God.
What a family has been struggling in the past, they continue in that the devil never lets them escape that thinking easily which affects their lifestyle itself. It requires a major transformation to get them out of that thinking process and believe in the truth. Lord Jesus told the disciples, ‘Let us cross over to the other side’ and after getting into the boat, the Son of God went to sleep (Mark 4:35-40). The devil brought in a great storm to prevent their mission in the Gadarenes and the disciples, who were professional fishermen and had faced many storms, panicked. They woke the Lord saying, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ Before this, they were witness to many miracles performed by Lord Jesus but the stronghold of self dependence and their vulnerability caused the panic.
After His resurrection and spending forty days through various meetings with the disciples, Lord Jesus ascended into heaven to the place of glory. But before that, He cautioned the disciples to ‘tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high’ through fulfillment of the promise of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49). Only then were they to go out to make disciples. The Holy Spirit in us is ‘the Spirit of power, and of love and of a sound mind’ (2 Timothy 1:7) and His role is to ‘teach you all things and to bring to your remembrance all things that I (Lord Jesus) said to you’ (John 14:26).This reminding is to fill us with faith in His Word and to live accordingly.
The devil’s strongholds affect our thoughts, desires and the whole being and shifting our focus on the teachings of the Lord by remembering all His words, results in erosion of that evil belief and breaking the hold of these evil forces on us. The plan of the devil for everyone is to be in doubt, fearful and away from God and His Word. Apostle Paul has taught us to ‘rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you’ (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). This does not mean to ignore the pain of death of someone or not do any work but keep sitting in prayer. This rejoicing is in the Lord and such a person is neither likely to cause or take offence for His focus is on higher things of heaven (Philippians 4:4). This rejoicing is not based on positive thinking or optimism or positive mental attitude but in this confidence that God is in control and He loves us.
Again praying without ceasing is to be in constant communication with God while remaining focused on heavenly things, to make every moment a time for being fruitful. The third part is to develop an attitude of deep gratitude towards God for this life and all that we have, even this breath is a gift from God. We deserve nothing and our gratefulness is to acknowledge God’s hand in all that we have or seek. The temptation of Lord Jesus by the devil was to point Him towards self sufficiency and looking to other sources than God to accomplish His mission. He not only rejected all that but forcefully and solemnly declared, ‘Truly, truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing of Himself , He can do only what He sees His father doing’ (John 5:19). The real secret to defeating the plans of the devil for our lives is to be totally dependent on God as source of life, light in the darkness, new life of freedom and victory, filled with the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Destroying strongholds – The instructions from God and Moses to the new leader of Israel, Joshua, focused primarily first on ‘Do not fear, be strong and courageous’. Even the Israelite people also said this same thing to him for he was aware of the nature of the people, the magnitude of the task and the expected opposition in the Promised Land. But God provided him the way to avoid this stronghold taking root in him, ‘This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success’ (Joshua 1:8). Joshua did that, believed the promises of God and could change the natural course of sun and moon to stop them for sometime till the Israelites had defeated the enemy.
The source of each and every stronghold is only one, when I want to be my god and control my own destiny. This is what the devil does and wants us to do and be under his control. Apostle Paul has first warned us about the enemy forces of evil that are invisible and in the spiritual realm, though a human being may be used as the tool (Ephesians 6:12-18). We are then advised by the Apostle to ‘take up the whole armor of God’ to be effective and remain protected in this battle and remain standing to fight the devil and his forces of evil. The armor of God has both defensive/protective as well as weapons of attack. The first is the belt of truth to root and bind ourselves to God who is ‘the Truth’ and only source of that. The second is sandals to protect the feet in the walk of truth and its propagation to others and face and fight the lies of the enemy. The third is the breastplate that covers our heart, the source of all desires and the other vital organs of the body. The fourth is the helmet of salvation so that the control centre of our body and the essential senses connecting us to the earthly realm are protected. The fifth is the shield for in a battle the shield protects us from the arrows shot at us by the enemy. As per Scripture ‘The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart rejoices in Him and I am helped’ (Psalm 28:7). The sixth is the sword of the Spirit and is the weapon of attack. The indwelling Holy Spirit helps us to use the Sword of God as the sword to fight and defeat the lies of the devil. The devil tempted Him through lies by misquoting and wrong application of the Word of God and Lord Jesus challenged him by the truth of the Word during His temptation. The final weapon is prayer which helps in two ways, first in seeking help from God to strengthen and guide us and second in getting the heavenly forces to fight with and for us. Prayer also helps us overcome our fears and successfully remain focused on God and not on the situation around us. Using these weapons we show our dependence on God and are protected from the lies of Satan from gaining a foothold in us.
Like Joshua when our source of life and sustenance is the Lord, then we can face any situation, for God provides the way out and strength to bear the effect of the enemy attack. The devil gains a foothold in us only when we sin without repenting, stray away from God and lose His protection. God is merciful and ever ready to forgive and rescue us from the clutches of evil. But it is always our decision about who should be the master of our life, God or the devil. Our choice decides the way of life for us on earth as well for eternity after our sojourn here.