What is Spiritual Warfare?
Spiritual warfare is a daily battle or struggle brought on by the world and spiritual dark forces that causes Christ-following believers to focus their energies on the struggles rather than focusing on the one who can deliver us from these struggles.
The Bible proclaims that the Devil is a defeated foe, having lost the ultimate battle between good and evil. Yet even though Christ has won the victory over sin and death, Satan is still very active in our world today.
The truth is that the enemy refuses to accept this defeat, and his desire is to try and keep as many people as possible from experiencing the abundant life that Jesus offers through faith (John 10:10).
Satan will do whatever he can to keep Christians weak and insecure, using temptation, condemnation and fear to get the best of them. He knows that the more Christians he can confuse spiritually, robbing and stealing their joy and hope, the less effective they will be, and the less likely they are to spread the gospel to others.
Most Christians Are Not Aware
Many Christians fail to recognize the spiritual battles going on around them every day, preferring to focus their energies on their day-to-day physical struggles. After all, the material toils of life that are battled each moment visible.
Sickness, financial hardships, relational issues, and others are all concrete areas that Christians can see, feel, and become consumed with carrying.
The Devil knows that if he can focus a Christian’s vitality in spending time struggling against the physical, then most will completely ignore the second front, the one that is spiritual and unseen.
As any strategist in a conflict will tell you, often the key to winning a war is to get an opposing force to focus their entire resources on battling in one area, while you also attack on a second front. Often, using this tactic means that the war can more easily be won.
THE BIBLICAL BASIS FOR SPIRITUAL WARFARE
There are several passages of scripture that speak to the idea of spiritual warfare. The Bible clearly teaches that the enemy has access to our minds and thoughts and fears to use these as his tools to steal our joy, kill our faith and destroy our hope.
“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)
“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—[a]our faith.”(I John 5:4).
HOW THE DEVIL ATTACKS
The Battlefield is the Mind. The Devil Will Create Doubt.
Satan will often use the thoughts of a Christian to establish a presence and develop a stronghold in the life of a believer. His primary tactics are to plant seeds of doubt, condemnation, and fear to paralyze a child of God from doing any kind of Kingdom work.
For example, even though the Bible tells us that we live by faith, many believers have had doubts about the power of faith.
Paul writes that Christians, “have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Rom. 1:16).
In other passages, God declares that “the just shall live by faith.” (Hab.2:4). Even though this truth is trumpeted across the pages of the Bible, many followers of Christ question the power of God for salvation.
The Devil Uses Sin Against Believers
Another tactic that the enemy uses occurs when believers fall into sin. Even though Christ has placed His new nature into our hearts, and a child of God is being transformed, there are still times when our old sinful nature breaks through. When a Christian sins, the Devil is quick to point out the sin.
The book of Revelation tells us that Satan stands before God “accusing the brethren day and night.” (Rev. 12:4). Often after a believer recognizes the sin that they have just committed, the enemy will race into their thoughts, questioning whether they truly are of Christ. “You cannot be a Christian, if you do this” is one of the Devils favorite arguments.
However, the scripture tells us otherwise. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who[a] do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:1). Even though God prefers us to walk by faith, believing the wonderful truths He has given us, most Christians fail to do so.
The Devil Uses Fear as a Weapon
The Christian can sometimes find themselves facing what seems like an insurmountable obstacle. Fear paralyzes a believer, by controlling the mind and the heart.
Even though the Bible tells us that we are “more than conquerors” (Rom. 8:37) and that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7), we fail to grasp the scope of God’s gift. God’s desire is for every believer to live in the power of the Holy Spirit, joyfully fulfilling His plan and purpose for their lives.
The Devil Uses Temptation
The enemy will often appeal to our feelings by placing enticing things in our path to get us to fall into sinful behaviors. Just as the serpent tempted Eve in the garden of Eden, by lying to her and convincing her that eating the fruit would not result in her death, so the enemy works today.
He will set a trap with an appealing item, knowing that it will be hard to resist and then he will try to convince the believer that the temptation is deserved. Many a life and a marriage has been ruined because believers were unable to recognize the tactic of temptation and see it for what it truly was, a trap of the enemy.
DID JESUS EXPERIENCE SPIRITUAL WARFARE?
Yes. Perhaps the most illustrative example of the Devil’s tactics and how to resist them comes from Jesus’ encounter with the Satan that was recorded in in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. The Bible tells us that Jesus being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.” (Luke 4:1).
Through a series of encounters, Jesus is tempted by Satan, and told that if Jesus “will worship before me, all will be Yours.” (Luke 4:7). But, praise God, Jesus counters each attack by resisting the advance and filling his thoughts with the truth of scripture.
The Devil Tempted Jesus Using the Physical World
The first temptation the Devil employs to get Jesus to worship him is to meet a physical. The Devil knowing that Jesus has not eaten in forty days, tells the Savior to turn the stones into bread. Jesus responds to this command by quoting scripture. But Jesus answered him, saying, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.’” (Luke 4:4).
When the Devil appeals to meeting a need in our body; curing an illness, or filling our belly, we should be careful to determine the source of the offer. Certainly, God can speak to the heart of the believer regarding the physical. (He heals illness and provides sustenance all the time).
But because the Devil has been given authority over the physical world, we see he also has some power and will not hesitate to use it to advance his agenda.
The Devil Tempted Jesus With Material Things
The next temptation the adversary uses to tempt Jesus is to offer complete material abundance. Satan takes Jesus to a high mountain and shows him every kingdom in the world.
Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 And the devil said to Him, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. 7 Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.” (Luke 4:5-7).
Again, Jesus quotes scripture with an insistence for Satan to leave him alone.
“Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’” (Luke 4:8).
It should not surprise us that the Devil tries to appeal to greed and desire for wealth to turn the Savior from God’s plan. History is replete with men and women who have fallen for the vice of gluttony and greed, seeking to build vast fortunes. The trouble is that when they die, they cannot take their riches with them. As an old preacher said once, “I have never seen a hearse with a UHaul trailer hitched to it.”
The Devil Tempted Jesus With Power
Finally, Satan tries to challenge Jesus’ authority as the Son of God. He knows that if Jesus will surrender His place as the one and only Son of the Highest, then the plan of God for salvation of the world will fail to be completed.
“Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here. 10 For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you’ and ‘in their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your food against a stone.’” (Luke 4:9-11).
The enemy uses scripture as a way of temptation, but he misquotes it, twisting the meaning to suit his despicable purpose. Once again Jesus resists Satan’s advances by quoting scripture correctly with the right intent.
“ Jesus answered and said to him, “It has been said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:12-14).
It is important to remember that this is not a one-time encounter between Jesus and Satan. As Luke 4:14 states, the Devil and Jesus would battle again, and indeed they do, when Satan uses Peter to suggest that the Father would not want him to offer his life as a sacrifice, (Matt. 16:23). Then again in the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus struggles with the Father’s will, but ultimately proclaims by faith, “nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42).
HOW TO DEFEAT OUR ADVERSARY
Taking Every Thought Captive
If Christians follow the example of Jesus as he resisted the Devil, then we can and should employ the same tactics. Jesus used prayer and the Word of God to keep his mind engaged in the plan and purpose the Heavenly Father. Luke 5:16 tells us that Jesus “often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.”
In Mark 6:46, we find that Jesus sends the multitudes away, having preached to them, and “when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray.” If Jesus felt the need to retire to a quiet place and pray, then this should be an example Christians follow.
The goal in spiritual warfare is to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Daily prayer can provide an opportunity to do just that.
The Armor of God
In his description of the armor of God, the Apostle Paul writes to the believers in Ephesus;
“Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. ... (Eph. 6;10).
In this very instructive passage, Paul refers to several parts of armor that a soldier might wear. As he describes each piece of equipment, he relates it to a spiritual item that the believer can use to stand against the attacks of the Devil.
“Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which, you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints” (Eph. 6:14-18).
He mentions truth, righteousness, the preparation of the gospel of peace, faith, a knowledge of salvation, the Word of God and prayer. These are the weapons that God desires for His children to use to defeat the advances of the enemy.
The Belt of Truth
Paul refers to girding our waist with truth. In the days of Rome, the waist belt was a crucial piece of a Roman soldier’s armor. A sturdy belt held his sword, and other items holding everything in place. Without a belt, the soldier would not be able to work effectively.
The Breastplate of Righteousness
A breastplate would have been worn by a Roman solider to protect the heart. Often times in close battles, as the enemy was thrusting a sword or spear, trying to land a death blow, the breastplate could deflect the lunge of adversary.
So the righteousness of Christ guards our hearts. A believer knows that a heart filled with the Holy Spirit will often be the very protection he or she needs.
The Sandals of the Gospel
Just as a belt held everything together, good shoes help protect the feet. Often a Roman soldier was required to march long distances.
Without covering the feet and wrapping the ankles tightly so that the shoe did not slip, the warrior would stand on shaky ground, not ever able to trust his footing. Paul refers to evangelism, the gospel of peace as the item believers stand on.
The Shield of Faith
A Roman Soldier would carry a shield as protection against the blows of the enemy. Paul tells us that our faith is like a shield, enabling us to “be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.” (Eph.6:16).
Perhaps Paul was looking at the shield of the soldiers near him (since he wrote the book of Ephesians while a prisoner) and saw the burnt pockets of arrows from unknown enemies that had protected the life of the soldier. A believer’s faith can be the shield needed to guard and preserve our spiritual lives.
The Helmet of Salvation
Every soldier had to wear a helmet to protect the most fragile part of the body and that is the head. A firm knowledge of salvation can go a long way to helping the believer resist the enemy.
If we know whose we are, God uses our salvation experience to keep us steady even when the battle is raging all around us.
The Sword of the Spirit
Paul refers to the Word of God as a sword. We find this thought confirmed in scripture when we read, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12).
The scripture can be used as an offensive weapon to slay the advances of the enemy or as a defensive weapon to keep the blows of the Devil from striking us.
The Power of Prayer
Paul tells the believers to pray always in the Spirit, knowing that prayer is a key to defeating the Devils plans. Every believer should exercise a strong and robust prayer life, but many believers struggle in this area.
One day, Christians will gather in heaven, and many will be disappointed to see what miraculous events could have occurred in their lives and the lives of those they loved, because as the book of James says, “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2).
The Victory is Ours
It can seem daunting to realize that the Devil’s primary purpose is to ruin our Christian experience, and that he fights an unseen battle against us. But half of the battle is knowing that there is one.
A recognition of the ways of the enemy can make us more alert and vigilant against the times when the Devil seeks to hurt us. God has provided every resource a believer needs to win the victory.
Through a steadfast faith, and a constant renewing of our minds through scripture and prayer, the child of God can live a joyous and abundant life. The enemy cannot invade a heart and mind dedicated to the constant influence of our Most High God.
As God’s word reminds us, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” (I John 5:4).
James McMechan is a retired freelance writer with over 40 years of experience in ministry and management. His book The Inspired Salesperson, is a practical book of devotions told in a “down to earth” style. Aimed at helping people in sales and other professions draw closer to God, the desire is that each reader might deepen their walk with the Lord as they work each day. James makes his home in Mississippi with his wife, special needs son, and a dog named Quinn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org