After dinner, the Bible study group sat down to discuss what topic they would take up next. Someone suggested they study spiritual warfare. “Why would we study that?” asked another member, “What does that have to do with us?” The group leader answered her question with questions: “What do you think is going on when you wrestle with sin? How about when you have doubts about the Bible’s teaching?”
Spiritual warfare is not about demon possession or some obscure topic tangential to the Christian life. It involves our walk with Christ and our work for His kingdom, both of which are carried out in the face of spiritual opposition. Every New Testament author addresses the subject. We are alerted to our enemy (1 Peter 5:8) and made aware of his schemes (2 Cor. 2:11), putting us on guard and calling us to arms.
Life in this fallen world is conducted in spiritual warfare by which we serve the living and true God (1 Thess. 1:9–10) instead of the idolatrous god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4) from whose kingdom and grip we have been rescued (Gal. 1:3–5). At its heart, spiritual warfare asks the question: Whom will we worship and follow? It belongs to the day-by-day direction and decisions we face as Christ’s disciples (Luke 9:23). It is essential that our battle be conducted from a biblically-grounded worldview and approach.
Basic to spiritual warfare is understanding the unique role of Jesus as the Messiah of God. Christ’s redemptive work is couched in terms of spiritual combat in which He as the promised seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15) waged war and brought the victory only He was equipped to bring. Jesus came to destroy the works of the Devil (1 John 3:8), to bind the strongman (Matt. 12:24–29) and liberate those under his control (1 John 5:19), bringing them into the freedom of the children of God (John 8:31–47), according to His purposes in election (1 Thess. 5:5–10).
We don’t want to get the idea that we fight as Jesus did in binding Satan. Christ’s work is not our example but our confidence as we contend with our enemy, the Devil. Christ alone broke the power of reigning sin, disarmed the Devil through the cross, brought victory through His resurrection, and delivers us from the bondage of this present, evil age.
The point is this: our victory is in Christ. Our strength is in Christ. Our position for spiritual warfare is union with Christ. We are to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” We are strong in Christ as we abide in Him, living in His victory and living it out by the Spirit of the risen Christ who unites us to Christ and empowers us to serve Him (Col. 1:9–14), walking in light rather than the darkness from which we have been delivered (Eph. 5:1–18).
Our Lord provides us with a wealth of information in His Word for the spiritual warfare He calls us to wage, providing us with a reconnaissance report on our enemy, alerting us to his intentions and tactics, and equipping us with strategies and weapons suitable for the task (2 Cor. 10:3–5). We can identify three such provisions of divine wisdom and power, all made effective by the Holy Spirit.
Our enemy the Devil is described as a deceiver, a counterfeiter, and a purveyor of lies, enticing us to spurn the counsel of God and inviting us to invest ourselves in his bogus offerings. We are cautioned to discern between truth and error (1 John 4:5), to ingest that which will bring life rather than ruin (Isa. 55:2–3). Spiritual warfare involves not being taken captive by the teachings of this world or distortions of God’s Word (Col. 2:6–8) but instead taking captive every thought to the obedience of our Lord Jesus (2 Cor. 10:3–5).
Prayer brings us to the throne of grace for Christ’s resources against our spiritual enemy. Through it God grants us wisdom to discern, strength to stand firm, protection from spiritual harm, and grace to press on. Prayer as a weapon of spiritual warfare seeks the face of our Lord against an enemy that is strong, crafty, subtle, resourceful, and relentless. Such prayer is wielded in faith — faith that knows, trusts, relies on, and serves God.
God has not left us alone to face the foe but has enfolded us into the company of His people where we find community in Spirit and camaraderie in mission. We need the fellowship of the brethren to watch our backs, to encourage us in battle, and to urge one another on to abide in Christ lest we grow weary and lose heart.
Employing the ways and wares of this world, our enemy the Devil appeals to the desires of our flesh, where there remains a receptivity to his seductions and a proclivity to stray from the God we love (James 1:12–15). Satan appeals to the vestige of sin that remains in us — the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. He plays to the lust of the eyes that yearns after the world’s trinkets. The latest technological innovations or the trendiest fashions captivate us, and we are drawn to want more, more, more. He plays to the lust of the flesh prone to anger and sexual impurity, where we look to protect our rights or indulge in impurity only a mouse click away. He plays to the pride of life that is more concerned for pleasing people than God, more dedicated to exalting self than Christ.
Satan’s tactics include accusation, temptation, and deception. Against his tactic of accusation, we preach the Gospel to ourselves and to one another in the fellowship of faith. Satan draws our attention to our sin to drive us inward to despair in our guilt. God directs our attention to our sin to drive us to Christ to delight in His grace. Our enemy’s accusations are groundless in Christ (Rom. 8:1, 31–38).
Against Satan’s tactic of temptation, we cry out to our God for His sustaining and enabling grace to stand against ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:11–14).
Against Satan’s tactic of deception, God gives us His Word and Spirit that we might discern between truth and error. By the light of that Word, the Devil’s lies are exposed and the path of righteousness discerned (2 Tim. 3:16–4:5).
Spiritual warfare is not something extraordinary, but ordinary to life in a fallen world and much deserving of study. It is conducted in weakness that seeks God’s strength, in wisdom that applies God’s truth, and in obedience that serves God’s kingdom. Through it, the Spirit matures us in Christ and advances Christ’s cause in this world.