Why the Enemy Seems Victorious

This article is by Andy Farmer and published by BCC


“Behold, My Servant whom I have chosen; My Beloved in whom My soul is well-pleased; I will put My Spirit upon Him, And He shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles. “He will not quarrel, nor cry out; Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. “A battered reed He will not break off, And a smoldering wick He will not put out, Until He leads justice to victory.

Written by a Puritan pastor-scholar whose “affectionate theology” (in the words of his biographer, Mark Dever) is saturated with the love of Christ, A Bruised Reed is a great resource for those who struggle with doubt. In this book, Sibbes openly addresses what should be a distinguishing characteristic of biblical counseling (though it is often ignored). The reality of Satan and his active role in confusing, discouraging, and tempting Christians[1] needs to be part of our ministry approach if we’re going to bring the full counsel of the Scriptures to our counselees.

Sibbes tackles a question that has always perplexed me regarding the activity of Satan in the lives of believers. If we are victorious in Christ over the Devil, why does he seem to have the upper hand in our lives so often? Sibbes’s answer is brief but very helpful because it displays the way God works true change in the heart of a believer. He gives four reasons why the battle is prolonged, which I state below and then comment on for application.

First, God’s children usually, in their troubles, overcome by suffering. A life in Christ will follow the way of Christ, who conquered through suffering. Jesus promised suffering to those who follow Him. He called us to take up our cross to follow Him. What makes the suffering of believers different from unbelievers is that it has been infused with purpose. The work of Christ in a believer is radiant when he defeats Satan in the arena of trial.

  • Counseling Implication: We will counsel well if we account for the added burden of the enemy’s work in the lives of suffering people.

Second, victory is by degrees. Sibbes warns against the natural temptation to believe that victory can be won by one great swipe at the enemy. God protects us from the superficial and spiritually dangerous temptation to believe the battle is easy or the foe is weak by keeping us engaged in the battle until sure victory is delivered.

  • Counseling Implication: We will counsel well if we allow for change to be gradual, knowing that God is after a more significant victory in a person’s life than they, or we, can imagine.

Third, God often works by contraries. By this, Sibbes is saying that there are numerous sins we battle at any one time. We are never delivered completely because our struggle with small iniquities will actually help us in the battle against bigger sins.

  • Counseling Implication: We will counsel well if we remember that presenting problems are just that—what brings a person to see us. The true battles, and therefore our best counsel, will take place as we view a person in totality and not just in terms of the presenting problem.

Fourth, Christ’s work, both in the church and in the hearts of Christians, often goes backward so that it may go forward. Failure in the battle compels us to look to Christ and flee from self-confidence. When we look to Christ, drawing near to Him by faith and obedience, we grow wise, bold, and courageous. Even our failures are used in Christ’s victory over the enemy!

  • Counseling Implication: We will counsel well when we keep our eye on the glory of Christ, attune our minds to the wisdom of Christ, never lose sight of the hope of Christ, and minister in the grace of the gospel of Christ.

Sibbes offers a wise perspective on the weakness we face not only in battling our sin but in fighting against the enemy of our souls.

Weakness, with acknowledgement of it, is the fittest seat and subject for God to perfect his strength in; for consciousness of our infirmities (i.e. fleshly tendencies) drives us out of ourselves to him in whom our strength lies… It matters not so much what ill is in us, as what good, not what corruptions, but how we regard them; not what our particular failings are so much as the thread and tenor of our lives are, for Christ’s dislike of that which is amiss in us turns not to the hatred of our persons but to the victorious subduing of all our infirmities.[2]

Isn’t it great to know that while Satan can only use our defeats to get his way, Christ can use both our defeats and His victories to accomplish His will?

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