Spiritual Warfare: Identifying it

Paul, while concluding his letter to the Christians in Ephesus, wrote “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12, NLT). This is quite a serious statement. Believers are not battling against flesh and blood, although sometimes, it very much feels like it. This is not like a bad leadership team meeting. This is not being around the person that functions as the cheese grater on your last nerve. We are battling against something much more sinister and foreboding. This is not something armies and navies and fighter jets can stop. This battle is much, much more serious. This is not your average fight. Half of the final chapter of Ephesians is dedicated to the idea of spiritual warfare and how to combat it. Obviously, this is something about which the Holy Spirit through Paul was concerned or he surely would not have spent so much ink on the issue. But, Ephesians isn’t the only place the Bible addresses warfare like this.

Peter addressed similar things in his first letter to the believers who were scattered across various Roman provinces. He wrote, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8, NLT). If we are indeed battling these evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, then Satan must surely be their leader. And that leader is, as Peter proclaims, prowling around like a lion, waiting for his prey to make the fatal decision.

Here’s the big question: how in the world, or how in the unseen world to be more precise, do we recognize spiritual warfare? It’s not like there’s a flashing red light to tell us, “Hey, trouble ahead!! Lions are on the loose!!!” Our battle as humans, and especially as believers, has been against Satan since Genesis 3, and the Bible is replete with warnings, admonitions and winning strategies against spiritual warfare.

Recognizing spiritual warfare is exceptionally easy, yet terribly difficult. Some systematic theologians have claimed spiritual warfare is taking place when an appliance in a home breaks, when a dog barks in an adjoining yard while someone is attempting to study or when cars are found to be in the way while bike commuting. Others say that is simply going too far and make the claim that spiritual warfare is much more serious than simple things like appliances, dogs and vehicle traffic. However, maybe both are right.

If a broken appliance or a barking dog or vehicle traffic causes you to stumble in your walk with Christ, then a couple things are probably true. First, you need to work through some personal issues. Second, Satan could very well be prowling around, waiting to strike when, as James says, “Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15, NLT). Our sinful actions are the result of being human and therefore sinful. However, Satan uses our sinful actions to push us further away from a holy God. That is nothing more and nothing less than spiritual warfare. Anything that pushes us away from the Holy One of Israel is sin and is likely to be used by Satan in his warfare against us. And, unfortunately for us, Satan knows which buttons to push to get us going and he does so as often as possible. This is one of the reasons Peter describes Satan as a prowling lion, sometimes in the cover of a thicket, sometimes in open meadows, waiting to pounce on and devour his prey.

We can only fight this warfare through what Paul calls the “armor of God.” Only then can we defeat the Enemy. C.S. Lewis could not have been more right than when, in The Screwtape Letters, he had Screwtape, a demon, proclaim, “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.” Paul exhorts us: “Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:14-17, NLT).

Published April 25, 2017