A challenge to faith comes from the flaming arrows of the evil one. Every Christian faces an evil opponent, who is totally given over to sin and attacks without any thought of mercy. He is called Satan or the devil. We need to understand that evil or sin or rebellion against God is not something that simply happens. It is committed by persons, whether angels or humans. The spiritual forces of evil, Satan and the demons, are evil personal beings that enjoy attacking and destroying humans. They especially hate God and his people. When by grace we join God’s side, the powers of evil go to war against us. Our problem is not merely our own sin and the sins of other people. Alongside what humans may do, there are the powers of darkness—personal intelligent beings of spiritual ability that seek ways to ruin us. “We must get rid of the notion of abstract evil: there is no such thing” (Lloyd-Jones, The Christian Soldier, p. 300).
Satan and the other evil ones attack us with “flaming arrows”. What are these flaming arrows? I think we can group them into five categories:
- Horrible thoughts, such as ideas or imaginations about what is unholy, blasphemous, skeptical or malicious – The mark of a Christian is love (John 13:34-35). Yet have you ever become angry toward someone and then suddenly felt the urge, quite contrary toward your usual goodwill toward that person, to hurt him or her? You have been hit with a flaming arrow of malice. In Bunyan’s The Holy War, he pictures the evil one attacking Mansoul with a handpicked army of doubters, with each division led by a cruel commander.
- Pride and selfish ambition – how contrary both are to doing everything for the glory of God! Pride is never far from any of us, since sin tries to overthrow God as rule of our lives in any way possible.
- Discontent, lust and greed – all these seek to divert us from God (cf. Matthew 6:33). They whisper that there are other ways to satisfaction apart from what the Lord has graciously given us.
- False guilt feelings – they come to disrupt our fellowship with God. We might not have actually committed any sin, but the spiritual forces of evil like us to think that we have. This is why we must know the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16).
- Doubt and despair – the aim is to reduce us to inactivity and uselessness. Expect to be tempted to doubt election, calling, justification, adoption into God’s family, God’s love, grace, mercy and kindness, the events of the gospel, and even the existence of God himself.
We must be ready for these attacks, because they will come. They might be very severe. Let us remember the enemy’s objective is to keep us from declaring God’s praises and enjoying life with him.
Faith has victory over these attacks. We read a great promise: “with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one”. What Paul says here through an illustration is stated directly by John (1 John 5:4) and by Peter (1 Peter 5:8-9). The Lord is encouraging us to be confident in him. The Spirit does not minimize the problem, but he maximizes the all-sufficient resource that we have in Christ. Christian, you will be hit hard, even very hard. But do not despair or run. Stand firm. The shield of faith is impenetrable when used properly.
How does faith act as our shield that extinguishes the flaming arrows? “The answer is that faith never points to itself, it always points to its object” (Lloyd-Jones, p. 305). The object of true faith is the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 13:14). Satan has already tried his most desperate schemes on him and has met with complete failure. The all-powerful Lord easily overmatches the adversary at every point. Here we must again stress strongly that true faith is never faith in one’s faith, which is only self-confidence by another name. Instead, it is active reliance on the Lord. How did Abraham overcome in the face of impossibilities? He had faith in God (Romans 4:18-21). He relied on the promise of God that God was his shield and his very great reward (Genesis 15:1). You and I will go forward in that same spirit of faith (Romans 8:31-39)! Lord, give us grace to take the shield of faith today and always.
Grace and peace, David