Evangelism is spiritual warfare, and souls are worth the fight

By Joel Southerland

Any theology of evangelism that ignores spiritual warfare dooms evangelism from the beginning.

It would be the equivalent of a football coach who designs plays to advance the ball, while never taking into account the presence of an opposing team.

Scripture very often describes unsaved people specifically in terms of spiritual warfare. Take the Apostle Paul for example. He tells us that unbelievers follow the prince of power of the air (Eph. 2:2), that they are blinded by the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:3–4), that they are caught in Satan’s snare (2 Tim. 2:25–26), and that they are bound in darkness (Col. 1:13, Acts 26:18).

This further paints the gospel itself as a rescue effort. The gospel is essentially the mobilization of God’s on-earth forces to invade an enemy’s camp, for the purpose of setting captives free.

Since God’s primary earthly agenda is calling, equipping, and sending those who engage this gospel rescue effort, this automatically draws the satanic response of full-on, tactical, military-like opposition to that effort.

Satan will do anything to maintain ownership of “property” he considers his own (John 8:44, 1 John 3:10), especially considering what God does with those He rescues — namely, glorifying Himself and diminishing the territory of the enemy through more gospel advancement.

All this is why evangelism isn’t easy — and never will be.

There is no scenario where Satan will allow us to saunter in and take souls for the kingdom of God without a heavy fight. Neither is there a scenario where Satan will not launch pre-emptive strikes against the gospel mobilization efforts we undertake.

Scripture warns in great detail about what we’re up against. For instance, read Ephesians 6:10-18. Look at the lineup Paul says is coming against us in verse 12. Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest expands our understanding in Practical Word Studies in The New Testament:

  • The principalities (archas): “the first ones, pre-eminent ones, leaders.”
  • The powers (exousias): “the authorities, the demons of Satan in the lower atmosphere who constitute his kingdom in the air.”
  • The rulers of the darkness of this world (kosmokrator): Satan and his demons.
  • The spiritual wickedness in high places (pneumatika tes ponerias): Satan and all his demonic forces.

Wow. We’re looking at a highly organized, strategically deployed, hyper-focused demonic battalion.

And boots are already on the ground.

Let’s take it from the top:

  • Jesus’ agenda: seek and save the lost. (Luke 19:10)
  • Jesus’ primary modus operandi: commissioned ambassadors bearing the gospel (2 Cor. 5:20)
  • Satan’s agenda: Stop all of it… at any cost.

So Pastor, don’t be surprised when evangelism isn’t easy. Don’t be surprised when Christians are hard to motivate. Don’t be surprised when plans are hard to put together. Don’t be surprised when what used to work doesn’t work anymore. Don’t be surprised when people don’t want to listen.

You’re in a battle. The enemy is firing back.

That’s why Paul said:

  • “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” (Eph. 6: 10)
  • And to put on your armor. (Eph. 6:11-17)
  • And pray. (Eph. 6:18)

“Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world!” The gospel comes with God’s power (Rom. 1:16) and God’s promises (John 12:32; Matt. 28:20)!

Let’s remember these things, press on, and do evangelism, equipping others to do it as well. Let’s work on getting better and more effective at reaching people.

Stay a step ahead of the enemy. Bathe everything in prayer. “Fight the good fight of the faith.”

And do it not only because you’re commanded, but because souls are worth the fight.

Published May 5, 2018

Joel Southerland

Joel is the Executive Director of Evangelism at the North American Mission Board