The Disappointing Simplicity Of Spiritual Warfare

OpenBible John 1The vast majority of 21st Century evangelicals have been influenced by Charismatic teaching to think of spiritual warfare as taking authority over Satan and his demons in the same way that Jesus and the apostles did. Although I won’t delve into all the evidence that the apostolic era ended with the death of the apostle John in today’s blog post, I firmly believe that the spiritual warfare present-day Christians fight has almost nothing to do with casting demons out of each other or (as I once did in my Charismatic days) commanding unclean spirits  to leave houses.

Scripture gives us two interconnected patterns for engaging in spiritual warfare. Primarily we battle our own sin natures, as the apostle Paul describes most poignantly in Romans 7:7-25.We’ll spend many future blog posts discussing that aspect of warfare, I’m sure. For the purposes of this post, however, I want to briefly introduce the more fundamental concept of spiritual warfare as a battle against thoughts and ideas that contradict God’s Word. Until we grasp the knowledge that this battle lays the groundwork for all spiritual warfare, we fall prey to all sorts or misconceptions about this topic.

Paul provides excellent framework for understanding the nature of spiritual warfare in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6:

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, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. (ESV)

Verse 5 unlocks this passage by telling us what the weapons of spiritual warfare do and how they operate. With spiritual weapons we demolish arguments against “the knowledge of God.” Once we realize that the knowledge of God comes through the apostles’ teaching (and therefore through Scripture), it becomes clear that the warfare consists of using God’s Word to refute ideas that draw away from it. Ephesians 6:17 makes it clear that the one offensive weapon we have is the “sword of Spirit,” which Paul identifies as the Word of God.

So we see that spiritual warfare has more to do with correcting false teaching than it does with casting out demons. The battle revolves around errors in thinking. As we will see in later posts, erroneous thinking inevitably leads to sin (see James 1:14-15), which constitutes our primary battle. As a result, we cannot ignore our responsibility to fight against the doctrines that warp the Gospel and lead us into sinful thoughts, attitudes and behaviors.

In my last blog post, I tried to refute the habit of using feelings as a way to determine one’s own approach to truth. If spiritual warfare requires us to repudiate the worldly ideologies that lead to sin, subjective feelings only complicate matters–and perhaps fortify the very strongholds that we ought to rip apart. Consequently, we must lay aside our flawed human reasoning in favor of the Bible’s sound wisdom.

I do understand the allure of commanding evil spirits to submit to us “in the name of Jesus.” Although I started moving away from Charismatic thinking 25 years ago, I still remember the feelings of spiritual power I enjoyed when I’d “bind Satan” during my prayer times. So yeah, I totally get it that people prefer their spiritual warfare to be the guts and glory of head-to-head confrontation with the powers of darkness. The idea that 2 Corinthians 10:5 makes it about doctrine quite honestly disappoints us.

Yet the Lord has already defeated the enemy by His death on the cross (see Colossians 2:15). While there most certainly is warfare we must wage as Christians, Scripture shows us that we wage it by simply standing on God’s Word.

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 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. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. ~~Ephesians 6:10-20 (ESV)

Since spiritual warfare involves coming against doctrinal error by properly and accurately using God’s Word as the sword of the Spirit, our dependence on subjective beliefs, opinions and emotions leave us defenseless against Satan’s ploys. We can shout blistering rebukes at him all we want (through 2 Peter 2:10-13 and Jude 8-11 associate such behavior with false prophets), but so doing won’t do anything more than inflating our egos. As Bible-believing Christians, we need to put away human strategies that appeal to our sense of adventure and instead quietly resist Satan by obeying the Word of God.
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