In my previous article, I wrote about the implications for Christians and the church for those who believe in and practice spiritual warfare as it is commonly presented. In this follow-up article, I want to deal with what I understand as the real nature of spiritual warfare.
Although the term itself is not found in scripture, Paul does allude to some sort of conflict between the powers of darkness and the church. For instance, in Ephesians 6:12 he wrote, ‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’. Jesus also alluded to this conflict when He declared; “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). There is also Daniel’s account of a celestial being who appeared to him and told him that the ‘prince of the Persian Kingdom’ had detained him until Michael came to help him (Daniel 10:13).
There is a spiritual conflict between the forces of darkness and the church
There is no doubt that, according to the biblical testimony, demons exist, are opposed to the things of God, and take every opportunity to harass the church. Peter confirmed this when he warned us that ‘your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour’ (1 Peter 5:8). However, Jesus spoke about the forces of darkness attacking the church but not overcoming her, and Paul wrote of putting on the whole armour of God ‘so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes’. He concluded with the injunction to ‘stand your ground, and after you have done everything, (to) stand’ (Ephesians 6:11-13).
The devil attacks and we defend, not the other way around. Teaching that encourages us to go on the offensive with all sorts of imagined tactics does not stand on firm biblical ground.
‘Yes, but what about Jesus’s teaching on binding the strong man so we can plunder his house?’ Yes indeed, what about it – The reference is to Luke 11:21-22 (Matthew 12:29 and Mark 3:27), which reads; “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armour in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils”. Here, some Jewish teachers had just accused Jesus of being in league with the devil and driving out demons by the power of Beelzebub. Jesus’ rebuttal was that if He was part of the kingdom of darkness then why would He weaken that kingdom by driving out its citizens. To ILLUSTRATE this He used the example of a robber who would have to subdue the owner of a house before he could plunder his possessions. The point is clear; how could He, Jesus, drive out demons if He had not already overcome the householder (the devil). It is silly to use this illustration as a warrant for ‘binding strongmen’ through prayer warfare, and other extra-biblical ‘spiritual warfare’ techniques.
The real weapons we use
If we are not supposed to ‘fight the devil’ with binding strong men, breaking curses, spiritual mapping, and so on, then what are the weapons of our warfare? Well, Paul described how he fought the good fight as follows: ‘In purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left…’ (2 Corinthians 6:6-7). Then in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 he expanded with: ’For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ’. Now add to this the analogy he presented in Ephesians of the armour of God and we have quite a good description of the real weapons of spiritual warfare – truth, righteousness, the proclamation of the gospel, faith, salvation, and prayer. Of course, the Lord Jesus also included healing and deliverance in our arsenal.
So, we fight the devil by disciplining our minds to resist sin, by living pure lives, and by exhibiting understanding, patience, and kindness. We fight by loving, by speaking truthfully, by teaching the truth that demolishes all proud pretensions, and by proclaiming the good news of salvation in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. We wage war by exercising faith, by praying, by healing the sick, and by delivering the demonized. All of these in the power of the Holy Spirit.
This then is how I understand the nature of spiritual conflict and the real defensive weapons at our disposal.
So, the call is to go out into the world, wearing our full spiritual armour and:
- Refrain from sin (resist the devil and he will flee from you – James 4:7)
- Live a biblical life and with love
- Tell others about Jesus, and
- Exercise faith by healing sick and delivering the demonized.
All in the authority of the Lord Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit!