The Basics About Spiritual Warfare
What every believer should know
The Bible plainly describes our fight against the devil as warfare. Being so vivid in this imagery, we ought to understand that we are not talking about a game but a serious fight. There is a consistent use of vocabulary descriptive of war when the Bible makes references to the fight against evil hosts.
Most of us would be familiar with the descriptions of the fight against the forces of satan in Revelation where the reference to war is explicit (See Revelation 12:7). We are also told that one of the characters of our Lord is as Warrior (Isaiah 42:13). He is the rider of the white horse leading the armies of Heaven against the beast (Revelation 19:11-13). The Commander of the Army of the Lord appeared to Joshua with sword drawn to lead Israel into war (Joshua 5:13-15) and Bible scholars believe this to be a pre-incarnate personage of Christ Himself. Jesus speaks about the Kingdom of Heaven suffering violence and having to be taken by force (Matthew 11:12).
As for us, we are exhorted to put on "armour" to withstand the wiles of the evil one. We are armed with the sword of the Word (Ephesians 6:17) and we also know that the weapons of our warfare are mighty in God (2 Corinthians 10:4).
Who are we fighting?
We learn from the Apostle Paul that "though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh"
(2 Corinthians 10:3). The Apostle also says in Ephesians 6:12 that "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood”
. Taken together, these verses suggest that we neither war with human capabilities nor are we warring against human beings. As we complete the reading of the latter verse, we learn that we are actually fighting against evil ranks in the spiritual realm: "against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."
Paul was writing to the Ephesians who were no strangers to persecution. We can be certain that there was strive against that church as we know that a dangerous riot broke out at Ephesus during Paul’s ministry. The account in Acts 19:21-41 tells us that a silversmith named Demetrius was responsible for inciting a riot to jealously defend the worship of Artemis (Diana). It is probable the Ephesians were also struggling with discord and perhaps other negative circumstances as parts of Paul’s letter exhorts them towards unity and mutual love. In encouraging them in their circumstances, Paul explained that their enemy was not a person but rather something else going on behind the scenes. He clearly alluded that there are spiritual influences they should be battling against rather than the people opposing them.
There is a spiritual realm
There is a spiritual realm. God created this spiritual realm (Colossians 1:16). Lucifer rebelled, fell and became "satan", which means "adversary". When he fell, satan took one-third of the heavenly hosts with him (Isaiah 14:12; Revelation 12:3-4, 9) and as we delve into deeper study (in the next entry) we will find out that these same fallen angels are regarded as demonic spirits. Satan and his powers of darkness oppose God and God’s plans. They come against The Church, Christians and pre-Christians. The primary tactic of the enemy is deception – it is the devil’s native nature to deceive (John 8:44). We are not battling against human beings. We are battling against angels that have rebelled from within God’s Kingdom.
It is always tempting to paint a picture of two cosmic kingdoms battling for supremacy but that would be buying into a lie. There is only one Kingdom created by God and God is supreme. The spiritual powers under satan’s leadership do not have a "kingdom" but are more accurately regarded as insurgents within God’s Kingdom. Satan should never be regarded as God’s "equal and opposite". As a created being, Lucifer - whom we now refer to as satan - is neither an alternative god nor an alternative power and we should not recognise any alternative kingdom.
We need to apply Ephesians 6:12 to the present day
There are Christians who would attest to having experienced direct confrontations with a contrary spiritual force they could feel and/or see. Such instances are valid examples of spiritual warfare and they are not as uncommon as we may think. However, spiritual warfare is more commonly manifested against us through circumstances we encounter.
Christians are being killed in places such as Orissa, India and parts of the Middle-East. In many parts of the world, it is unlawful to preach the gospel or gather in the name of Christ (even in San Diego
). In modern western societies, there is an onslaught against the precepts of God in various forms under the cloak of liberties (e.g. same sex marriages, voluntary termination of pregnancy). We face opposition against the open expression of Christianity for fear of offending someone else’s religious sentiments. Even the use of Christian imagery is restricted. Religious persecution is experienced everywhere in the world and it has been since the ministry of Jesus. It can also be experienced personally from family and friends. If we look here in Christian Blog, we also occasionally encounter division over doctrinal detail or we may find someone’s denominational beliefs coming under persecution. Like at Ephesus during Paul’s time, might the meaning of Ephesians 6:12 apply to all of such situations today? I think it does in most instances. We need to be aware that we have an enemy behind the scenes.
Knowing this, we also need to remember that we fight in a war with weapons that are not carnal (2 Corinthians 10:4). I believe prayer ought to be our primary response to warfare. We need to be careful not to sin in anger or stumble in our response to what we believe to be wrong (just recently, a doctor who performed abortions was shot
while serving as an usher in church). We need to discern the onslaught of the enemy against us and if we discern it spiritually we need to respond Spiritually and resist carnal impulses.
We should be aware but not afraid
Spiritual warfare is ongoing around us and against us regardless of our awareness or willingness to acknowledge it. When I say this I am not trying to play-up concern. On the contrary, I hope to impress that there isn’t anything going on that hasn’t already been going on. So we should rest assured that we are no worse off for knowing that spiritual warfare happens. A useful analogy would be to liken it to germ warfare. Though we may not always take cognisance of it, our bodies are constantly at war against pathogens. Knowing germs exist should make us practice better hygiene (I hope) but it certainly shouldn’t cause panic as we are no worse off for having the knowledge. Yet, we can take the necessary precautions to better protect ourselves. Similarly in spiritual warfare, we can always be better protected against a prowling enemy (1 Peter 5:8) and we can also be less hindered in our journeys towards Christ-likeness.
We are all fighting personal wars
Some of us may be tempted to think that spiritual warfare is a war only the "qualified" should fight. But that would either give us a convenient excuse to bypass it or it might give us a false sense of being "spiritually advanced" if we do engage it in. This would be a very dangerous notion as it may lead to spiritual pride. Spiritual warfare is not an elitist Christian activity. "Fighting this good fight" (2 Timothy 4:7) is part and parcel of our spiritual growth. When the Apostle Paul told us to put on the whole armour of God to resist the enemy (Ephesians 6:10-11), he neither put any qualifications to it nor exclude any Christian. No one is exempt from it and there is no way anyone can hide from it.
We all have personal battles. We have struggles we have no choice but to plod through. We are right in the middle of a lifelong war. For this fight, qualification has nothing to do with it. The quicker we realise this, the more alert we will be in discerning the enemy’s assaults against us. For the sake of convenience, we will distinguish "personal warfare" as the battles we fight for ourselves in the course of our spiritual growth. It is critical that we understand this as believers and learn how to defend ourselves. We will definitely need a dedicated discussion about personal warfare as a future entry.
We are also fighting for our Church and The Kingdom
There are arenas of battle that are not personal. We are also praying for the body of Christ and the Kingdom. To distinguish this broad arena of spiritual warfare, we are going to use "Kingdom warfare" as an umbrella term to encompass our Commission, intercession, service and every engagement outside of our own personal arenas, including ministering deliverance to other Christians.
While we are defending ourselves and growing spiritually, we are also Commissioned for the Kingdom. There is an ongoing battle for the harvest of souls. The truth is, "we" are the object of the war and even pre-Christians are in the battle unwittingly as the "prince of this world" does everything to blind them to the Gospel (John 12:31; 2 Corinthians 4:4). Another way to look at it is that even as we fight to work out our own salvations (Philippians 2:12; 1 Timothy 6:12) we are also fighting to populate the Kingdom of God. The enemy does everything possible to thwart us from entering the Kingdom (Colossians 1:12-14) - and where that fails: to hinder our spiritual growth; prevent our service to others (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 2:18); and bring discord within the Body. Jesus is Head of The Church (Ephesians 5:23) and He is constantly praying for our oneness (John 17:20-23) but satan constantly attacks the unity of the church and seeks to soil the Bride. As we delve deeper into this study we will discuss Kingdom Warfare in greater detail and study our role as vessels of God.
Spiritual warfare is fought personally and corporately. Distinguishing between personal and kingdom warfare is not a doctrinal stance but simply a convenient way to help us organise our thoughts around the rather broad aspects of spiritual warfare.
We fight from a position of victory
Whether we fight individually or corporately, we are children of the Living God fighting from a position of victory against a foe that has already been defeated. We must also know that satan’s power is limited by God (Job 1:12; Job 2:6; Luke 22:31-32). As a created being (Colossians 1:16) satan is neither omnipotent, omniscient nor omnipresent and must still come under subjection to Jesus (Ephesians 1:20-22). We, as children of the Living God, can
resist the devil and cause him to flee (James 4:7).
In the next entry we need to lay down a biblical foundation about the spiritual realm as it will serve as a baseline for the continuation of our study.
Link to next blog in this series: God's Spiritual Realm, Angels and Demons
Link to previous blog in this series: Spiritual Warfare - An introduction to a tricky subject matter
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