“Drew, I will never steer you wrong.” I knew it was a lie. They had told me it was a lie. He warned me it was a lie! Yet against all reason, the sheer sincerity of his voice compelled me to believe. So, when I removed my blindfold and found myself back at the starting line, I had only myself to blame.
I haven’t seen the game played in many years, nor could I tell you its proper name, but my one exposure to it left a lasting impression. At the start, each of us was paired with another student and given one simple instruction: “No matter what you hear, only listen to your partner’s voice.” In turns, we each lined up on opposing sides of a haphazardly arranged labyrinth of shin-splitting metallic chairs. One of us was then blindfolded and given the objective of navigating the maze by following the instructions of our partner. The task was further complicated by a cloud of hecklers shouting false instructions at us the whole time. As you might have guessed, my partner and I did not fare particularly well in the competition.
As with many of the games one plays at middle school Youth Camp, a theological message lay beneath the frivolity and humor of middle school boys repeatedly colliding into a mesh of chairs: in this life, only one voice will guide you to safety. Paul makes much the same point in 2 Corinthians 4:3–4:
But if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case, the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
In other words, Paul teaches us that among the reasons unbelievers fail to see the truth of the gospel stands the reality of demonic influence. Undoubtedly people fail to believe on account of their own sinful natures. But feeding the fire of our sinful blindness hides Satan and his host of demonic agents.
Often, this dimension of evangelism can go overlooked. We rightly spend time discussing the various conversational bridges we might use to share the gospel, or build relationships with our neighbors and co-workers. While this kind of training and strategizing is both necessary and fruitful, if we aren’t careful we can slip into the mindset of viewing evangelism in purely naturalistic terms, as if the whole reality of sharing the gospel boiled down to saying the right things in the right way at the right time. While all those things matter, Paul instructs us to see beyond merely the natural dimension of evangelism to the supernatural reality that stands behind it.
But, you may wonder, what are we supposed to do about these demonic influences? Here, again, I believe Paul has something instructive to say:
Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by his vast strength. Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens. For this reason take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand. (Ephesians 6:10–13)
In these verses, Paul outlines for us the scope and methods of spiritual warfare. The scope is found in verse 12, where Paul describes somewhat cryptically all the types of entities we do battle with in the spiritual realm. Regardless of what each of these terms refers to, the point remains: if anything is a demonic, supernatural entity, then we do battle with it. But how do we fight these demonic forces? We fight them with the armor of God. Turning back to evangelism, we can conclude that since people are blinded to the gospel by demonic forces, and since we fight demonic forces with the armor of God, the armor of God is a key part of our outreach to the lost. In particular, as we focus on reaching our ONE this year, I believe we can learn three things from Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 6.
First, the reality of the armor of God reminds us of what we struggle against. In reaching our ONE, we aren’t fighting the stubbornness or intellectual prowess of an unbeliever; we are fighting sin and Satan. Granted, sin manifests itself in how an unbeliever thinks, feels, and acts. Nevertheless, at the end of the day we are not fighting them. We are fighting against the sin that enslaves them.
Second, the armor of God reminds us of the power of God’s word. A little later on in the passage, Paul writes, “Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit—which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). The only offensive weapon we are given in our spiritual armory is the word of God. If we want to strike a blow against the demonic influences blinding our ONE, we must employ the supernaturally empowered words of Scripture. To do so means taking the time to learn—and dare I say memorize—the word of God.
Third, the armor of God reminds us to pray for our ONE. Paul concludes his description of the armor of God with these words, “Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints” (Ephesians 2:18). Ultimately, spiritual warfare is not something human beings can engage in directly. We are powerless in and of ourselves to impact that dimension of reality. All our power comes from God acting on our behalf. The armor of God is made up of God’s truth, God’s righteousness, God’s gospel, God’s strength, God’s salvation, and God’s words. Therefore, we make war against the forces of darkness by beseeching our heavenly Father to fight on our behalf.