One of my favorite lines in all hymnody comes from the beloved hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, written by Martin Luther himself. The most popular translation of Luther’s German says this in the third verse:
And though this world, with devils filled should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God has willed His truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him . . .
Why is it that we don’t tremble for the prince of darkness? It’s not because we doubt his existence, nor is it because we undermine the real danger he poses to God’s people We don’t tremble because God’s Word gives us a clear strategy to resist him. Peter provides one iteration of that strategy in 1 Peter 5:8-9: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (9) Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. In two short verses Peter supplies believers with four strategies to resist the enemy.
A. Be Sober-Minded
First, Peter tells us to be sober-minded. This is the third time Peter’s given this command in his letter. Remember what it means? To be sober is to be free from intoxication. For your mind to be sober is to be free from anything that intoxicates your thinking, anything that clouds your grasp on truth.
I think this gives us a hint into how Satan and his demons normally attack God’s people. It’s a battlefield of the mind. In his book The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis imagines a veteran demon named Screwtape writing advice to his nephew, a rookie demon named Wormwood. In one of his letters Screwtape writes this: “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”[i]
So what is it that Satan wants to keep out of your mind? I believe that he wants to do anything and everything he can to intoxicate your mind so you don’t see and savor God’s love for you.
Sinclair Ferguson puts it this way: “Satan cannot ultimately destroy a Christian believer. But he is well able to destroy our assurance and our joy-our pleasure in the gospel. So we need to find in the grace of God a defense against those fiery darts of the Evil One…The most sinister thoughts Satan insinuates into our minds are not enticements to sin but suspicions about God himself…He seeks to distort our view of God and our understanding of His gracious character…Satan’s plan is to blind us to God’s grace and to diminish our trust in Him, crushing our love for Him and destroying all the pleasures of grace.”[ii]
Are you sober-minded, Christian? I believe the best way to be sober-minded is to have your heart and mind regularly immersed in God’s Word.
B. Be Watchful
Next Peter commands us to “be watchful.” This is exactly what Peter didn’t do on the night that Satan sifted him like wheat. After leaving the upper room, Jesus took Peter and the other disciples to a garden near the Mount of Olives called Gethsemane. Jesus told Peter and the others, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch (Mark 14:34).” Jesus didn’t say this because He needed them to watch for Him. He said this because they needed to watch because the enemy was prowling about seeking to devour them.
Of course, Jesus went away and prayed and then returned to find the disciples asleep. So Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (Mark 14:37-38).” And once again, Jesus went away to pray alone. And once again when He returned, He found Peter asleep.
I think to be watchful is to have our hearts and minds engaged in prayer. It’s to have our eyes open to our need for help. The enemy wants to devour us. Only with God’s help will we survive.
Why do lions prowl? It is not just for looks. It is because despite the lion’s equipment of speed, strength, and sharp claws and teeth, they have low stamina. Lions are sprinters, not long-distance runners. So they conserve their energy by prowling until just the right time to attack.
Despite the freedom that God has providentially granted Satan, the Bible teaches that we can outlast him when he sprints to attack. Peter says, “Resist him, firm in your faith.” James 4:7 puts it this way: Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. The devil is a sprinter who leaves those who resist him, looking for easier prey.
One Bible teacher puts it this way: “To cower before the devil is to invite sure defeat; resistance in faith procures his flight. Scripture urges believers to flee from various evils, but nowhere are they advised to flee from the devil. In their inner attitude, Christians should stand firm and unyielding like granite in resisting Satan.”[iii] Bible teacher Ed Clowney adds, “The danger to the Christian is not that he is helpless but that he will fail to resist.”[iv]
So how do we resist? By being “firm in your faith.” This is a call for strong theology, to know what God’s Word teaches and to cling to it. To hold on, knowing that in the end Satan cannot defeat us.
D. Stick Together
Peter concludes verse 9 by drawing our attention to one another: “knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” “You’re not alone,” Peter’s saying. But Peter’s original readers would have also picked up on this all along because the three imperatives are all plural in the original Greek. If Peter were a Southerner he’d have said, “y’all be sober-minded . . . y’all be watchful . . . y’all resist.” Exile warfare is not meant to be fought alone.
The easiest prey for a prowling lion is a sheep that has wandered from the flock. For this reason, Martin Luther warned “By all means flee solitude, for the devil watches and lies in wait for you most of all when you are alone.” We need each other. Screwtape said this to Wormwood: “If a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.”[v]
This is our strategy against our enemy: be sober-minded, be watchful, and resist together. But don’t worry, weary Christian. You’re not alone in this battle. Come back tomorrow to learn why.
[i] C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Revised Edition (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1982), 20. [ii] As quoted by Mahaney, Resist Your Adversary. [iii] Edmond Hiebert, As quoted by Mahaney. [iv] As quoted by Mahaney. [v] Lewis, Screwtape, 72.