Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. – 1 Peter 5:8-9
I don’t know why I feel like I have to persistently and consistently say this about what Peter says, but I’ll say it again. This is not pretend. This passage isn’t some metaphorical description describing the bad part of us that fights the good part of us. It’s far more substantial than an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. The passage is about our inner struggle, sure, but it’s about how a real, free, sentient, devious, and powerful spiritual being wants to devour us and our inner life.
Peter tells us to be watchful of the devil at the end of his letter. He tells as at the end not as an afterthought but as an explanation of much of what Peter says in the preceding portion of the letter. Why does Peter spend so much time exhorting obedience, clarifying truth of being God’s people, and encouraging perseverance? Because the devil is trying to lead into disobedience, distort truth, and discourage enduring. He is a promoter of suffering and sin in the lives of believers in Messiah Jesus.
I don’t know why, but people, including myself, sometimes like to dismiss this. It usually goes something like this, “Yeah, Satan is a bad being who is trying to hurt me, but it is my sinfulness that is the real problem.” I like that line of thinking because it fosters personal responsibility for one’s actions. And let’s do that. Let’s acknowledge our guilt and accountability for our choices. But we should probably heed Peter’s warning too. Let’s not ignore the lion about to devour us.
If we were in the jungle and knew there was a lion hiding in the brush waiting for any moment we look away so he can to pounce on us and devour us, we would be watchful. And in the spiritual realm, that is what is true. That’s how watchful we need to be, not of sin in us, but of the devil outside of us. Really, this warning of St. Peter is nothing new. And it shouldn’t be anything surprising. The serpent been trying to destroy God’s people since Genesis 3 and he has been roaring and prowling ever since.
Peter also tells us that God has dominion forever and ever, meaning that God is the reigning king and the devil is not. Jesus has already won and defeated Satan in a death blow that has sealed his fate. But just because Jesus wins doesn’t mean that you can’t lose. God doesn’t infringe upon our freedom to lose the battle. But victory is assured if we simply do what Peter tells us, be watchful, resist, and stand firm in faith.
Why is this relevant for me and my stuck friends? Part of the reason that we are stuck or sometimes get stuck is because we are ignoring the lion. We live as if the problems of our sins and addictions are found solely within us, completely ignorant of the inimical deceiver and devourer we are told to be watchful of. Sometimes the problem is on the outside of us, and the only way to deal with a temptation is to deal directly with the external source itself. Unawareness is foolish.