The topic of spiritual warfare has brought cramps to the writing hand of saint, sinner, hero and heretic alike! Millions upon millions of pages have been spent writing commentary on this topic that could better function as a thinly sliced Italian lunch meat between two loaves of bread: a bunch of bologna. With the sheer amount of superstition, fantasy, nuttiness and nonsense, it is difficult to step in and add to the volume of material with something meaningful. However, regarding the topic of spiritual warfare, we must not avoid the conversation.
I think the church today (specifically the western church) avoids the topic because it sneers at the sector of so-called christian thought that promotes “spirit territories” by saying, “this demon/evil-spirit is over here and this one is over there.” To them, there is a spirit of death, a spirit of condemnation, a spirit of depression, a spirit of anger, etc… Have you ever heard people who blame everything on demons or evil spirits? Then you know what I am talking about. We have grown skeptical of the cosmic geocache demon-hunting endeavors that several proclaimed “hard-core” christians embark on. However, we must not allow that type of errant, radicalized and uninformed behavior to intimidate us from actually conversing about this topic, because spiritual warfare exists. Sometimes it is subtle, other times it is overt, but every time it is real.
DEFINING SPIRITUAL WARFARE
Fundamental to the Christian walk in the “here and not yet” of the kingdom is this idea of spiritual warfare. When Jesus taught his disciples and the crowds in The Sermon on the Mount, he taught them to pray, “Our Father… deliver us from evil.” Many translators have opted to translate it “the evil one.” As to why they have translated it that way, that conversation is for another day. Either way, Paul makes it abundantly clear in Ephesians 6 for us. Paul says,
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Ephesians 6:11-12 (ESV)
Paul tells us four things here. He tells us 1) that we fight, 2) who we fight, 3) what we fight and 4) how we fight. Simply speaking, we are in a rebellion against the rebellion. In a more specific sense, we are in a cosmic rebellion against the illegitimate rebellion of Satan and the spiritual forces of evil who have waged war against the good and perfect rule and reign of the sovereign King of Kings.
THAT WE FIGHT
This is the profound reality of every single Christian on the face of this planet. Now this is interesting to me, because Paul describes this as the reality of every Christian, but as I look out at the world, I am astounded by how many Christians look like 5-year old children picking flowers in the corner of a soccer match when the entire team is waring for the soccer ball. You’ve all seen it! Ridiculous as it sounds, we are just like those children. God calls us to fight in an ongoing battle against darkness. In this battle, He has given us a clear mission—to make disciples. Yet Christians can most typically be found twiddling their thumbs and skipping through life, ignoring the battle that rages around them. Why? We have made happy lives our mission, but this is not the mission that Jesus gave us. You are in a fight. You are in a war and the earth, because it is broken, has become the battleground.
WHO WE FIGHT
“Our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Spiritual warfare is neither first and foremost about believers nor about the response of believers to the world around them. Before it is the warfare of God’s people, spiritual warfare is the warfare of God himself. Satan, sin, and the world are all expressions of cosmic rebellion against the Creator and his will and purposes, and God himself addresses that opposition and brings it to nothing.
At this point, it is important to clarify something about this war. We don’t have two kings or two gods coming to duke-it-out on the earth. That is called dualism. In our quest to re-envision the world as a spiritual caged octagon so that the fight for Christ’s kingdom and glory might be more effective, we have in the same breath “deified the devil,” trying to warn people of the formidability of God’s enemy. Satan is not a “god.” There is only one sovereign God and even though there is this so-called battle of “good vs. evil,” it is important to recognize that there is only one king, the sovereign Lord of Lords.
Satan has rebelled against the sovereign God of the universe and so have we. As a matter of fact, at one point, we all joined the rebellion against the kingdom of heaven by nature and by choice. The clear implication is this… You volunteered to be an enemy of God. As a matter of fact, this is when spiritual warfare begins to take place. Many people think/believe that spiritual warfare begins the moment one places their faith, hope, and trust in Christ, but this is not true. The moment spiritual warfare begins is when we, as humanity by nature and by choice, rebelled against the rule and reign of God himself.
Thankfully, by grace upon grace, “[God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14). When Jesus came, he established his kingdom. His kingdom broke into this world and he re-established his rightful authority in a world that is in rebellion to the one and true God. In Matthew 28, he substantiates his reign in the great commission when he says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples…” God has ALL authority. He is sovereign and yet there is still a rebellion that we have been plucked out of, placed on the right side of, and now we live in “rebellion to the rebellion.”
This “rebellion against the rebellion” reminds me of the movie “The Free State of Jones,” with Matthew McConaughey. It tells the story of Newton Knight an abstemious, poor farmer from Jones County, Mississippi who willfully volunteered to serve in the Confederate Army as a battle medic. Newton joined the rebellion to the Union voluntarily. After learning about the “Twenty Negro Law,” which allowed southerners to avoid being drafted by the Confederate Army if they owned 20 or more slaves, Newton began to become disenchanted with the Confederacy. Tension reached its zenith when he found that the Confederacy allowed troops to confiscate crops and livestock from small-town farmers as a “tax” to fund the war. In response, Newton rises up in rebellion to the rebellion.
Like Newton Knight, by nature and by choice we have joined a shameful illegitimate rebellion. Newtons rebellion was to the Union, but ours was to the King of Kings and the Kingdom of Heaven. Unlike Newton, we had no ability to stand against the rebellion, until God by his grace gives us a new heart with a new allegiance, transferring us to the kingdom of his beloved son. Now we fight in a life long “rebellion against the rebellion” which will inevitably end with victory behind our captain, Jesus Christ, who will decisively and definitively defeat Satan, sin and death. Until the glorious day where we see our Captain face to face, we fight.
WHAT WE FIGHT
In Ephesians 6:11, Paul informs us that we are fighting the devil’s schemes. The devil is a cunning strategist who has an arsenal of weapons and methods he throws at us. Specifically, I believe there are two very distinct methods or schemes the devil employs in the battle against believers. The most common word for devil is the Greek word diabolos. The word diablos is a verb which literally means to lie and slander. The devil is literally a liar! Now there are two ways in which Satan lies to you. There is temptation and there is accusation.
Tim Keller says, “Temptation essentially gets you to have too high a view of yourself so you go and do things that you shouldn’t. Accusation is the devil’s way of trying to get you have too low a view of God’s love and so you believe that his Gospel is not enough for you.” Temptations and accusations are basically strategic lies that Satan employs to lead you to think in certain ways and move you to do certain things. One, through too high a view of yourself… an unbalanced and ignorant view of his love with too low a view of his holiness. Or the other… an unbalanced and ignorant view of God’s holiness with too low a view of God’s love.
John Newton once wrote a letter to a very depressed correspondent (“Am I worthy?”) that shows this concept well. In the midst of this mans spiritual warfare Newton writes,“You can’t be too aware of your inward and inbred evils, which you complain of, but you may be, yes in fact you are, improperly affected by them. You say you find it hard to believe it compatible with divine purity to embrace or employ such a monster as yourself. You express not only a low opinion of your self, which is right, but too low an opinion of the person, work, and promises of the Redeemer; which is certainly wrong.” I believe that Newton is trying to point out that if you think God cannot work with you, then that means you think your sins bear more weight than the work of the Redeemer. This leads to condemnation and surrender to the enemy. However, we must fight and how we fight is just as important as who we fight. If one fights temptation with self-righteousness, you will fail and if one fights accusation with positivity or avoidance, you will fail. We must fight with the gospel!
HOW WE FIGHT
Paul opens the armor of God discourse in Ephesians 6 by stating, “Be strong in the Lord and the strength of HIS might.” Without the help of our Captain, our Redeemer, our Savior and our Lord, all we will ever do is continue in willful rebellion, eating up the lies of the devil which are his battle cries to bind us to the rebellion. In spiritual warfare, the key is not to focus on our armory, our experience or our enemy but to fixate on our redeemer who is Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” On the cross, at that moment, Jesus took the sins of men and women upon himself. Then on the third day, God raised him from the grave so that he might have the victory. That is how he transfers us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of his beloved son (Colossians 1). Our works, our talents, our abilities, our strategies, our intellect… none of these things could change our allegiance. Only by his grace are we saved and transferred to the right side of the rebellion. We must believe the gospel, the ultimate truth of life, the belt of the armor of God. Satan is going to lie and tell you to start picking up your own armor (your own righteousness, your own faith, your own salvation, your own intellect), but this is NOT the gospel. Take a few moments and ask yourself these questions:
- Whose breastplate of righteousness are you putting on? God’s or your’s?
- Whose shoes are you putting on? God’s or your’s?
- Whose shield of faith are you carrying? God’s or your’s?
- Whose helmet of salvation are you wearing? God’s or your’s?
- Whose offensive weapon are you yielding in war? God’s word or your psychology, your opinions, your scientific explanations?
Do you not see that the Gospel is the very armor of God that enables us to stand in every moment of spiritual warfare? The battle belongs to the lord. The strength to fight is his strength. The armor with which to fight is his armor. We are guaranteed victory if we take hold of these vital truths. So with that said, what happens next time you feel trapped in a major spiritual battle (anxiety, depression, persistent sin, suffering, etc.)?
Don’t pray so much against Satan but to the holy God who loves you more than you could ever imagine! He is our captain, commander, redeemer, savior, and friend. Place your faith hope and trust in him, and by his strength (which is grace) stand in this “rebellion against the rebellion.”
Tips for how to rebel against the rebellion:
- Realize that the Creator God rules both heaven and earth.
- Find refuge in Jesus
- Walk in righteousness
- Mortify your sin
- Search the scriptures for true/ultimate wisdom rather than the broken worldly systems of psychology, sociology, government and politics.
- Cultivate a counter-cultural christian worldview
- When you’ve done everything to stand, stand.
- Stop fighting alone.