Greg discusses what the Bible teaches about the true nature of spiritual warfare—truth encounters, rather than power encounters
My wife and I recently went to a garage sale where the woman who was hosting it asked me what I did for a living. We got into a very wide-ranging conversation about spiritual things. She announced to me later in the conversation that she was Jewish, but her basic goal in life was to be a good person—and that she would never try to change anybody’s religious view. When she found out that we had adopted children, she said, “Boy, you know, I’d think about being a foster parent because I could help kids,” which I thought was great. And she said, “I wouldn’t want to impose my religion on them, though. I wouldn’t make any imposition like that. Values, yes; religion, no.”
Based on reality as I understand it, there is God, and Jesus is Messiah and is the only source of redemption, through whom God seeks to redeem those who are estranged from Him. Success in life from this vantage point, which is the Truth, is reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ. There exists a spiritual battle then to move people toward or away from grasping this reality.
There is spiritual warfare where, as Paul says in Ephesians 6, “It is not just a battle between flesh and blood,” as it were. That is, it’s not just the things that are happening in our view, physically, but it is the things that are going on in the spiritual realm, behind the scenes where the battle is.
I think many Christians are sensitized properly to the broader issue of spiritual warfare, but what they might not be so aware of is what form the spiritual warfare takes. For many Christians, the form spiritual warfare takes is power encounters with Satan or demons, where you’re casting them out and binding their power through prayer to suppress the demonic activity. If that’s true, then I suspect some people are actually missing what spiritual warfare most often entails.
There we were at a garage sale, having a friendly conversation, and as far as I know, there were no demons sitting on the gutters or fluttering about in the background, but there was no question to me that there was a battle that was raging. And with this woman, at least, the devil was winning because of the false ideas she believed that keep her from reconciliation with God.
During the second session of “The Bible Fast Forward” teaching , I teach about the Fall of man. When man rebelled, a number of things happened that created huge barriers between man and God that need to be overcome for reconciliation to take place. These barriers include God’s anger and wrath towards rebellion, spiritual death, and the debt of sin. We owe God perfect obedience. Once we incur the debt of disobedience, what do we pay with? Certainly not our good deeds; we already owe Him that. The Fall plunged mankind into two kinds of slavery: slavery to sin and slavery to Satan.
In fact, fallen man willingly follows his new leader. In Ephesians 2:2, speaking of the Ephesian Gentiles who are now Christians, Paul says, “You formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” Even more, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “The God of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving.”
In Acts 26, Paul says he was sent by Jesus to the Gentiles to “open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light, and from the dominion of Satan to God.”
Paul writes Timothy at the end of his own life about the desire to influence non-Christians so that they might escape the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
John writes in 1 John 5:19, “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” You wonder why things are a mess? This is part of the reason.
Here is the insight that I wanted to offer about spiritual warfare. Given that the world walks according to the prince of the power of the air, that non-Christians, according to Paul, are blinded by the god of this world, under his dominion and live in darkness, these people are held captive by him to do his will. If the whole world lies in the power of the evil one, do you think the people in slavery realize they’re enslaved? Generally speaking, are they aware of their captivity to Satan? I think the answer is no.
There is something that is going on that keeps them enslaved, but they are not aware of it because what is being used to enslave them is not some dark, supernatural force that’s evident in their lives. They’re not demon-possessed. The forces of darkness do not hold them down, as if they lived in a horror movie. They’re just living they’re regular lives. Everything appears to be just fine.
They’re being held captive by the ideas they believe. Satan gained rulership originally by deception, and currently maintains it by craftiness, deceit, and subterfuge. This was the strategy in the Garden of Eden, and it is the strategy today. The devil does not stand in the Truth, Jesus said. There is no Truth in him. Whatever he speaks is a lie, and this dear woman at the garage sale believes that the religious details weren’t the issue. All that matters is that you live a basically good life. That’s why she wouldn’t instruct any foster children regarding a belief system, but only in values because she simply wants them to be good people and live a good life.
This presumes that anyone can live the kind of good life that is necessary to satisfy God. Is that possible? She thinks it is because she’s been persuaded, one way or another, of an idea called moralism. It is enough to keep her from humbling herself before God and begging for forgiveness because she probably thinks she’s basically a good person.
The M.O. of the Enemy is to fight the kind of spiritual warfare that will convince her of a lie. The battle exists because she is not held completely and totally captive. There’s no overt supernatural bondage.
The fundamental nature of spiritual warfare is not, in my view, power encounters with the devil, but rather Truth encounters opposing the lies and the deception of the Enemy.
With that in mind, think again about what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:3–5. “Though we walk in the flesh”—that is, in the human nature as physical beings—“we do not do our warfare according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.” Wow! That sounds powerful. But what is Paul talking about? The next sentence says we are destroying speculations, which are like theories. “We are destroying speculative theories and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”
You see, when Paul gets precise about spiritual battle, he says, the battle that is being waged is not just a battle between flesh and blood, it is a battle of ideas. Where the idea gains ground, Satan captures people by feeding them falsehoods that they believe, and that’s all he needs to delude them and enslave them.
We find the same emphasis in the longest passage that talks about spiritual warfare in detail, Ephesians 6:10–20. Here it doesn’t say, “Take up the full armor of God so that you may be able to resist in the evil day and having done everything to stand firm, therefore having girded your loins with prayers of spiritual power.” Instead it says, “...having girded your loins with Truth.”
Truth is the first element of our spiritual weaponry. And Paul goes on to tell more about the armor, but he doesn’t talk about how we pray at this point. He does get to it eventually, at the end of the passage, verses 18–20. But he doesn’t instruct the Ephesians to pray against the powers and principalities, but rather to pray for the saints to persevere, and to pray for Paul, that he might speak the Truth with boldness. Read it yourself.
So this persuades me, from the Scripture, of something that I see every day. The principle way that the devil captures and enslaves people in this culture is through false ideas. And since I’ve become more, in a sense, sensitized to that, I have become more aware of the false messages that are preached all around me that hold people in slavery to Satan.
They are “lofty things raised up against the knowledge of God.” They are speculations and they sound great. Be a good person; that’s really what matters. But, friends, that is a lie because the truth is nobody is a good person. Jesus said it Himself. “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”
Therefore, my commitment to making a difference for the cause of Christ has to do with this whole area of understanding the lies of the world, and trying to replace them in a gracious yet incisive manner with the Truth of God, so that people see reality as it actually is. That is the nature of the most common kind of spiritual warfare we all need to fight.