The Illusion of Enemy-Less Christian Discipleship

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
January 18, 2019

This article is an excerpt from my book, The Prayer that Turns the World Upside Down: The Lord’s Prayer as a Manifesto for Revolution. This post is the seventh in an eight part series on the Lord’s Prayer.

When I was a child, I loved camping. For twelve-year-old boys, camping trips have many thrilling aspects, among them that you could spend an entire day outside without being chaperoned by your mom. I vividly remember how my father helped me get ready for camping trips. He would pack Vienna Sausages, canned baked beans, and oatmeal cookies. This was an ideal diet for a twelve-year-old boy.

On one particular trip, I remember playing with friends in an abandoned palmetto field. We ran ourselves into exhaustion, which I now realize was the scoutmaster’s plan. After a long day, we finally crawled into our tents and fell asleep. The next morning we were awakened by three gunshots. Racing out of our tents, we found Colonel Mack Geiger, one of the leading laymen of the church, draping three enormous diamondback rattlesnakes across the front of his jeep. When we asked where he had shot them, he pointed to the bushes–the very palmetto bushes we had been playing near the night before, blissfully unaware of the danger so near.

The Illusion of Enemy-Less Christian Discipleship 

We like to think the world is a safe place, but it is not. The world is a tremendously dangerous place. We like to imagine that evil is distant but, as the headlines reveal, evil is always lurking near. Even when we don’t see any enemies, invisible threats like germs, viruses, bacteria, and toxins surround us. If we are honest, we know that danger can crop up in any circumstance.

Christians should recognize this truth particularly when it comes to our spiritual lives. The Bible clearly teaches that the Devil and his demons are real and that these invisible enemies are bent on destroying our spiritual lives. Yet many evangelicals rarely, if ever, meditate on our lives in light of this truth. Some Christians avoid any discussion of demonic forces because they are overreacting to fanatics who obsess over evil spirits and see the Devil in everything. Still other Christians fear that if we start to talk too much about the Devil, we will inevitably undermine personal responsibility in our sin.

C.S. Lewis observed the same phenomenon in his classic work The Screwtape Letters. As Lewis explained, humanity is prone to two extremes when it comes to thinking about demonic forces:

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.” [1]

The aim of this chapter is to fall into neither of these ditches. Certainly the Devil and his demons are not behind every corner of our lives and responsible for every negative spiritual thing that happens. Yet at the same time, the Bible clearly warns us about demonic powers and encourages us to remain diligently opposed to their influence.

Regrettably, many Christians are blissfully complacent in matters of spiritual warfare. If Christians truly embraced biblical teaching on demonic powers, we would come to church with a tremendous sense of the fact that God has rescued us from the domain of darkness. As Søren Kierkegaard observed of the Danish church in his generation, most people sit in church, listen with their hands folded over their stomachs, and direct their sleepy eyes slightly upward [2]. Rather than celebrating their redemption from the domain of darkness and living in light of this truth, they are indifferent to the fight. Jesus’ final petition reminds us that we have a daily fight against principalities and powers: “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Why We Need This Petition

Jesus’ reminder to pray regularly against temptation reminds us just how prevalent and dangerous the appeal of sin can be in the Christian life. Once again the issue of kingdom and kingship is front and center. Sin and temptation are harsh masters. As the story of Cain reminds us, sin doesn’t just want to play a minor role in our lives; it wants to “rule over us (Gen. 4:7). Asking to be delivered from sin and temptation is a cry that emerges only from the heart of a citizen of God’s kingdom. We desire to submit to the rule and reign of God, not the dominion of sin. This petition is one of kingdom warfare, asking that God conquer the powers of sin, Satan, and the demons so that we might live for his heavenly kingdom.

Christians must recognize that temptations are a real and daily threat to communion with God and life with Christ. The most dangerous thing a Christian can ever do is believe that he is somehow immune to temptation. In fact, failing to account for the dangers of temptation betrays a severe misunderstanding of the gospel. In the gospel we come to recognize both the depravity of our hearts and the freedom of God’s grace in Christ. If we, at any point, think that we are somehow freed up from fighting temptation, then we have both overestimated our own spiritual state and grossly underestimated our need for God’s grace…

After that camping trip, I never went out into the Everglades the same way. I still played in the palmetto fields, of course, but I went with eyes opened to the dangers that were lurking in the bushes. In the same way, Christians should recognize that spiritual danger surrounds us.

Temptation comes to individuals, churches, and institutions. We know the power of temptation by looking in both history books and the mirror. If we are honest with ourselves, we are not up to the task. But Jesus teaches us that we have access to deliverance from sin and temptation by the grace and mercy of God, which is why we must repeatedly pray this prayer of deliverance.

We are frail in our flesh and must pray for God’s protection from evil. As the familiar hymn “O worship the King” reminds us: “Frail children of dust and feeble as frail, in thee do we trust, nor find thee to fail; thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end, our maker, defender, redeemer, and friend.”

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[1] C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (London: HarperCollins, 1942), ix

[2] Søren Kierkegaard’s Journals & Papers, eds. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, vol. 1, A – E (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1967), 90.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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