What is spiritual warfare?

By Chuck Lawless

The Bible speaks about the reality of a conflict we face as believers, and we popularly call that conflict “spiritual warfare.” Given the fascination of this topic, it’s easy to mystify the spiritual battle and miss the Bible’s basic teachings about this conflict:

  1. The Bible is a book about God, not about the devil. The Bible doesn’t answer every question about warfare, nor does it grant us permission to focus our attention on the devil. Any approach to warfare that magnifies the devil’s power does not reflect biblical spiritual warfare.
  2. Satan is not our biggest problem. We face three enemies: the world, our flesh and the devil (Ephesians 2:1-3). In some cases, the three are so interwoven, it’s difficult to tell them apart. Our primary problem is not Satan, though; we’re our biggest issue.
  3. God reigns, even over the enemy. We have strife between human beings and the serpent because God put that conflict there (Genesis 3:15). That strife would lead to the cross, where the death of Jesus would break the back of the powers (Colossians 2:15). Now, God sovereignly uses the battles to make us the followers He wants us to be.
  4. The enemy we face is a defeated foe. Satan has been bound through God’s judgment and the cross, is being bound through the preaching of the gospel and will be bound for eternity. We do genuinely wrestle against principalities and powers (Ephesians 6:12), but the devil and his forces have never been outside of God’s control.
  5. On one hand, warfare is the devil’s attempt to deceive and divide believers to keep us from glorifying God and carrying out the Great Commission. From the Garden of Eden, he has tried to bait us with false teaching, lure us into sin and turn us against each other. He seeks to devour us (1 Peter 5:8), so we can no longer be a light to a lost world. The summary I commonly use is that the enemy wants us to mess up (fall into sin), give up (get discouraged), get puffed up (live in arrogance), split up (divide) or shut up (quit evangelizing).
  6. Satan battles against us because we are God’s witnesses to the world. When the apostle Paul described lostness, he often framed it in terms of spiritual warfare. Non-believers follow the prince of the air (Ephesians 2:2). They are blinded by the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:3-4), bound in darkness (Colossians 1:13, Acts 26:18) and caught in Satan’s snare (2 Timothy 2:25-26). His goal is to keep us from proclaiming and living out the gospel that sets people free.
  7. On the other hand, we are not on the defensive in this battle. Yes, we’re to stand against Satan (Ephesians 6:11, 13, 14), but standing is not simply waiting and deflecting the arrows of the enemy. Even Paul, who called the Ephesians to stand, sought their prayer so he would keep proclaiming the gospel boldly even when he was imprisoned (Ephesians 6:18-20); his own “standing” meant that he would faithfully evangelize even if the war cost him his life. We put on the full armor of God not so that we can defend ourselves, but so we can march into the enemy’s kingdom to do the work of the Great Commission.
  8. The offensive nature of this battle demands that we do evangelism and discipleship. Evangelism requires intentionally taking the light into the darkness. Discipleship then requires teaching others to understand their position in Christ and to put on the full armor of God. If we don’t evangelize, lost people remain in Satan’s kingdom; if we don’t disciple, we send believers into the war unarmed. Either can result in tragedy.

The very task of church planting places the planter in the sights of the enemy. Because you are seeking to reach lost people, develop strong disciples, and plant healthy congregations who plant more congregations – all of which means that you are offensively engaging the enemy’s territory – you can rest assured that the enemy will fight back.

You needn’t fear, however. In the power of God, simply love Christ, and live and speak for Him in such a way that God is glorified and an already-defeated Satan is threatened (Acts 19:11-16).

Published April 24, 2017

P.S. Get our best content in your inbox

We send one email per week chock full of articles from a variety of Send Network voices.

Chuck Lawless

Chuck Lawless is a leading expert in spiritual consultation, discipleship and mentoring. As a former pastor, he understands the challenges ministry presents and works with “Church Answers” to provide advice and counsel for church leaders.