Saturday, July 9, 2011

Spiritual Warfare

Our enemy is spiritual and invisible. The apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Eph 6:12).

There's no question we are in a struggle, but how do we fight? Are we supposed to bind the principalities and powers? Are we supposed to tear down regional strongholds? I heard of one Christian leader, who climbed one of the world's highest mountains to do this. That's a valiant effort. But is this kind of behavior true spiritual warfare according to Scripture? Let's get our Bibles out and see.

Armor of God
Let's continue with the passage I've just cited, which is Paul's most explicit teaching on spiritual warfare. He went on to write, "Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (Eph 6:13-17). God has given us this armor of light as a highly effective protection from darkness when used properly. Now let's review each piece of armor.

There's the belt of truth. Jesus is the Truth (Jn 14:6). He said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." (Joh 14:6).

Then there's the breastplate of righteousness. Jesus is all our righteousness. We have His righteousness. (Eph 4:24; Phil 3:9). It's a gift from God that we receive by faith. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2Co 5:21). Because of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, we who know Him have become the righteousness of God. And the one who is righteous will practice righteousness (1 Jn 3:7).

Another piece of armor is the preparation of the gospel of peace. We need to always be prepared to share Jesus, who is our Peace (Eph 2:14). Peter instructed us to "sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence." (1Pe 3:15). Likewise, Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit comes upon us, we would be given power to be His witnesses (Ac 1:8).

Then there's the shield of faith. We trust in Jesus Christ alone. As Paul wrote: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." (Gal 2:20). We live by faith in the Son of God. Paul went on to write, "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus." (Gal 3:26)

Consider the helmet of salvation. "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." (Act 4:12). In Jesus we find salvation and deliverance in every situation – emotional, spiritual, physical. There is salvation in no other name but Jesus.

We've been given a sword, which is the Word of God. The apostle John wrote: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God." He continued, "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." (Joh 1:14) Jesus is the Word.

Lastly, Paul taught that with our armor on we should pray in the Spirit. He wrote: "With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints." (Eph 6:18). He clarified for the Corinthians, in his teaching about tongues, what it means to pray in the spirit. "Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also." (1Co 14:13-15). When you pray in an unknown language, your spirit prays.

Relationship with Jesus
Every piece of armor is an aspect of our relationship with Jesus. These are not imaginary things. This is not a game of mental gymnastics you must play, in which you pretend to put some invisible piece of armor on your body.

If your relationship with Jesus is intact in each of these areas I've just mentioned, then you are wearing your armor. That includes your salvation, your obedience to God's Word, living according to the Truth, your righteousness, your sharing Jesus, being His witness, and your faith in Him. Even praying in the spirit is an important aspect of your relationship with Him, especially praying for the saints.

If any aspect of your relationship with Jesus is not intact, then you are missing that part of your armor, and you are vulnerable to the enemy. When you are not in God's Word, not meditating upon it, obeying it, or proclaiming it, then you are missing a piece of armor. This applies to every piece of armor. It's all about Jesus.

Is warfare just casting out demons? That’s just one aspect. There is spiritual warfare on a personal level. But that's a narrow view of it.

Here's a broader viewpoint that I'd like to help you to see. The fact that Jesus Christ lives in you creates warfare. Take a moment to let that sink in.

The apostle Paul wrote that "The Spirit sets its desire against the flesh." (Gal 5:17). That literally means the Holy Spirit is set in battle opposition to the flesh. So if you are a disciple of Christ, the Holy Spirit in you is at war with the flesh in you, which is your sinful nature. In one sense, you could say that your whole relationship with Jesus is a spiritual warfare.

If we understand this, we will always walk in a quiet confidence -- a bold authority. We will not rely on emotional hype that some people call spiritual warfare.

Before you believe any teaching about spiritual warfare, you had better make sure it is based solely on Scripture. You will not find any Scriptural examples of people binding or casting out regional principalities and powers in the heavens.

Jesus did not do this. When the devil tempted Him in the wilderness, He responded with the Word by saying, “It is written…” (Lk 4:4,8,12). And when He was discouraged from going to the cross in obedience to the Father, he said, “Get behind Me, satan!” (Mt 16:23). That was personal spiritual warfare. When the evil day came for Him, He simply stood His ground. When they arrested Him, He did not tear down regional strongholds in prayer. Instead He said to His captors, “This hour and the power of darkness are yours." (Luk 22:53).

One aspect of our spiritual warfare I've already mentioned is to pray in the spirit with petition for all the saints (Eph 6:18). That’s what Jesus did. When Satan asked to sift Peter like wheat, Jesus knew about it. His response was to pray for Peter, so that His faith would not fail when Satan sifted him (Lk 22:31). What if every saint were doing that. Just think of the covering of protection we would have.

No place in Scripture are we commanded to tear down regional strongholds. When Paul said, “We tear down strongholds,” he was talking about strongholds in our minds and hearts. He wrote, "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ." (2Co 10:3-5).

The territory he fought for was within himself and others. If you read the whole passage, he was talking about things like thoughts that raise themselves up against the knowledge of God. He was talking about imaginations and other lofty things. He used the power God gave him to build people up, not to destroy them (2 Co 10:8). He did battle by praying for them. He struggled for them in prayer, and he also taught them the truth.

Yet he was prepared to punish every act of disobedience in the people he was responsible for, once their obedience was complete (2 Co 10:6). As Paul raised spiritual children, he understood that when they are immature, they have not yet learned obedience. I don't expect my little two-year old boy to behave with complete obedience. But as he matures, and we train him, he will learn. Just as children grow up and learn obedience, so should spiritual children. And when the obedience of Paul's children was complete, then he was prepared to punish every act of disobedience.

Just as Peter dealt boldly with Ananias and Saphira (Ac 5:1-3), Paul dealt severely with immorality in the church (1 Co 5:4,5,13). And at times, Paul dealt with individuals who sought to block his proclamation of the gospel. For example, when Elymas the sorcerer sought to hinder his testimony to the proconsul, Paul made him temporarily blind (Ac 13:8). When the slave girl kept on creating a disturbance with her repetitious chants, Paul cast the spirit out of her (Ac 16:16-18). Yet he did not try to tear down regional rulers and authorities in high places. Neither did Peter or any of the other apostles.

God’s Territory
In the Old Testament, God gave the Promised Land to the Israelites, but they had to possess the land. That required warfare. They had to kill their enemies, who were occupying the land, in order to take that territory away from them. They had to drive out their enemies. The only way they could do it victoriously was by faith in God. Look at David and Goliath.

Paul wrote to the Colossians, "And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach." (Col 1:21-22) Once you were enemies, but now God has reconciled you through death. Instead of God crushing you, He crushed His Son, who died for you. The Lord was pleased to crush Him for our iniquities (Is. 53:5,10).

When you gave your life to Jesus, you died to yourself. Jesus said you've got to take up your cross daily, deny yourself and follow Him, if you want to be His disciple. So you don't need to be afraid of the enemy taking you down, when you are already dead.

Now you are God's field, if you've become a disciple (1 Cor 3:9). You've been bought with a price. God owns you (1 Cor 6:20). Jesus lives in you (2 Cor 13:5). And as my late friend Harald Bredesen once said, “When the enemy attacks, he’s on God’s territory. We are God’s territory.”

Let me give you an illustration from physical warfare. In the natural, a good army occupies a fortified territory like a camp. It has walls, supplies, and soldiers standing guard, ready for anything. Enemy soldiers trying to attack it will have enormous difficulty to take that territory. It is usually impossible, except with a much larger and stronger force than the one occupying the territory. If they break into the camp, they will be completely crushed. They don’t stand a chance. But if some of the good soldiers try to break into the enemy’s territory, they will be surrounded with bad guys. This is very dangerous.

You are God’s territory. Jesus owns you, if you belong to Him. When the enemy attacks you, he is on God’s territory. He doesn’t stand a chance, if you are wearing your armor. Christ will slay him. It doesn’t matter where you are physically, because you are Christ’s territory wherever you go. You are protected with this divine protection, the armor of light.

Resisting the devil

One way to combat the enemy is to resist him. Paul wrote: "Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm." (Eph 6:13) When you take up the full armor, you are able to resist the devil.

James put it like this, "Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you." (Jam 4:7) To resist is to not back down. Don’t give up to the enemy. Don’t give yourself over to the enemy. Don’t give in to the enemy. No matter what tactics he uses, he will be unable to move you off your ground. Stand your ground. The devil will be unable to take control of any area of your life, which is God's territory.

One way to resist the devil is to act in the opposite spirit. This displaces the enemy. What do I mean by displace? When a ship is put into the water, it displaces water. Likewise, if you fill a tub with water all the way to the top, and then get into the tub, you will displace the water, and it will spill out. Where there is a stronghold of pride, walk in humility. This is real warfare. There may be pride all around you, yet in the place where you are standing there is only humility. Your life, which is God's territory, remains under the control of the Holy Spirit. When you act this way, you effectively displace the enemy. You don't have to worry about the enemy reducing you to nothing when you already know you are nothing apart from Christ. It's only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit, because only the Holy Spirit can bring forth this fruit in our lives. We cannot do it in our own strength.

Likewise, where there is a stronghold of envy, walk in kindness and share with others. In place of hatred, walk in love. As Jesus said, bless those who curse you. Love your enemies. This is much more effective than walking in pride or arrogance and swinging your spiritual fists at principalities and powers.

Putting it All Together
Spiritual warfare is not just casting out demons. It's not just confronting demonic entities that seek to harm, hinder, intimidate, deceive or tempt you. That's just one aspect of it.

Because of the fact that Christ in you, and you are walking in obedience to Him, this itself creates warfare. It's much more powerful than you realize!

Each piece of the armor of God is an aspect of your relationship with Jesus. You need to daily make sure that each one is intact and then walk in confidence. You need not be afraid of the enemy when you are wearing your armor. Pray in the spirit, especially for all the saints.

Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee. Don't back down. Stand your ground and don’t give in to the enemy.

Rather than trying to cast down regional strongholds, displace them. And as you multiply other disciples who do the same, you will be taking ground from the enemy. This will be a much more effective and Scriptural way to conduct your life than following other forms of so-called spiritual warfare.

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.

Author's note: If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the other posts in this blog available through the Home page for this blog, and you can also find my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."

Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus.  Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.

Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"

Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission.

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