Spiritual Warfare. It’s creepy. It could be potentially dangerous to think about too much, but it’s also dangerous to not think about at all. If there is a war against us, we must be aware of it so we can fight. More than that, if scripture tells us about this battle and how to fight it, then it’s helpful to consider these things.
God tells us there is a cosmic spiritual war at hand for the souls of men (Rev 12). The great news for Christians is that the outcome of this war has already been determined and accomplished by Jesus Christ’s finished work on the cross (Jn 16:33). The hard news for Christians is that the war, though ultimately won, persists in our current state. We are seated with Christ in eternity (Eph 2:6) unable to be snatched from God’s hand (Jn 10:29), but we are also still in the dominion of the prince of this world (Jn 14:23) who is full of fury and wages war against those who keep God’s commands, holding fast to their testimony about Jesus (Rev 12:12-17).
The war for territory rages – for new souls to be won for Christ through evangelism and missions, but also for the mind, affections and volition of those already won as our very flesh wars against the Spirit’s work of sanctification in us, that we might know God and be more like Jesus now (Gal 5:17; 1 Pet 2:11; Jn 17).
I have a four-month-old and have just crossed into the I-LOVE-YOU-SO-MUCH-I-WANT-TO-EAT-YOU phase of motherhood. In the sweetest moments of enjoying my baby I am often tempted to fear that God might take him from me. I counter that thought by imaging how I would attempt to find peace, comfort and strive to glorify him. I mean, we’re talking imagined eulogies here – that’s how bad I’m trying to turn potential lemons into lemonade. I try so hard to imagine a scenario where I could be OK if God were to take my child. I imagine it so vividly that in conjuring up how God could be glorified by my (imagined) faithfulness, I am suddenly terrified he actually will take my child because I imagined it would bring him so much glory. What!?
This is so unhelpful . . . and so sinful.
I attempt to comfort myself and control my emotions independently of God. My imaginings are not true (Phil 4:8). By engaging the arrows of temptation directly, I lose. I sin. More arrows fly in as I fight them with my own shield of untruth and I am left in deeper fear, maybe even eventually panic about untruths of God.
Part of spiritual warfare is being tempted to believe something that is not true about God. Temptations are not from God, though He does allow them for our good (Jas 1:13). Therefore, they must be from entities which are not God, but don’t want me to know that. These entities’ chief purpose is to bamboozle me – mind and spirit – to lie to me about who God is to draw me away from him.
The earliest incident of spiritual warfare told in scripture is Satan’s direct engagement of Eve before the Fall. She is caught off guard within the luxury and peace of the Garden. Satan approaches her with a question that elicits doubt about what God has said. Eve answers Satan directly, after which Satan moves to contradict what God has said calling into question God’s very character. Once Satan causes Eve to doubt God’s character, he successfully entices her to doubt God’s Word and then to disobey it resulting in rebellion against him. Having engaged one far craftier than any other, the very father of lies (Gen 3:1; Jn 8:44), Eve is deceived and chooses to sin. She is no match for Satan alone and scripture teaches us that direct engagement with the enemy in our own strength is not how we triumph but rather, how we are taken under by his schemes.
When Jesus Christ was tempted directly by Satan it was in the wilderness in total isolation in a state of intense physical weakness. However, he still managed to defeat Satan through affirming God’s truth. It protected his mind, affections and gave perfect faith and trust in the Father. Only Christ is able to do this flawlessly based on his perfect fellowship with the Father.
Since Jesus Christ has reconciled Christians to God so that the Holy Spirit dwells in us, we too can seek God’s protection. We do this by faith when assaulted by the lies of the enemy. We too can engage more deeply with the One who is able to vanquish our enemy and protect us from destruction. By God’s grace we can approach the mercy seat and rehearse his truth to find protection from the deceit of the enemy, his principalities and our very flesh.
Rather than fighting the temptations to doubt God’s Word and character with our own imaginings or scenarios, we should engage Christ more deeply in prayer, affirming God’s truth as Christ did. We are to put on the whole armor of God so that we are able to stand against the schemes of the devil in him (Eph 6).
Christians, we must understand that there is a raging war around us of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12). Recognizing this fact drives us to realize our vulnerability and need to be strong. Being strong can only happen by remembering God’s flawlessness, his faithfulness and his mighty power (Eph 6:10). There is a Savior who is knowable, who is ready and who is able to fight for you. He will slay the enemy at work in this world and in our very flesh. This knowledge is power – over our thoughts, our feelings, our choices . . . even our sin.
Dorsey Swindall is a biblical counselor with One-Eighty Counseling and Education in Louisville, Kentucky. She and her husband have two children.