Spiritual Warfare Day 1: The Redefinition of Spiritual Warfare
You may have heard Christian teachers throw out the term “spiritual warfare” and wondered what they were talking about. It is not something we typically take great care to define. Some may think, Well, that’s obvious. Spiritual warfare is the battle between good and evil, or God and Satan. Both of these definitions are technically correct; but they are certainly not comprehensive, nor do they provide us with any practical insight regarding our participation in this spiritual struggle. One Christian writer attempts to fill in the gaps found in these assumed definitions in the following way:
“Spiritual warfare is the leveraging of everything that God promises against everything that opposes God’s purposes. God is a God of purposes and promises. Purposes to redeem the world and promises to judge wickedness. Purposes to grow his children into maturity and promises to unfailingly steward that process. Purposes to save us and glorify his name and promises about our lives and about his holy character. Satan and his spiritual forces oppose all of that. They oppose all of God’s purposes for salvation and redemption, as well as his every promise for accomplishing it.”Drew Larson, “What Spiritual Warfare Is (and What It Definitely Isn’t),” Intervarsity.org
In summary, spiritual warfare can be briefly described as the ongoing conflict between God, with His good plans, and everything and everyone seeking to destroy God’s good plans. Yet, while it is accurate to state that spiritual warfare is an ongoing opposition between good and evil, or God and the devil, let us not fall into the trap of thinking that Satan’s unseen forces and the Lord’s angel army are the only ones engaged in combat. It is far more comfortable for us to imagine two vast supernatural armies in battle far above the clouds—one clothed in bright white light, and the other shrouded in deep black darkness—than it is for us to recognize that we, as God’s people, are engaging in spiritual combat every single day against an enemy far stronger than us. Yet the latter is the reality presented in Scripture.
Ultimately, it is our responsibility to arm ourselves with the weapons God has given us to fight. In times of physical war on earth (whether or not we choose to acknowledge the severity of the situation is irrelevant), we will inevitably find ourselves defeated by our enemies if we ignore what is taking place. Spiritual war is no different. However, the Word of God continually reminds us that it is God’s will for us to conquer through His power (Isaiah 54:17; Romans 8:35-37). He does not want us to be naive to the tricks and tactics of our enemy (2 Corinthians 2:11) and has already done everything to secure our final victory. As Martin Luther writes in his catechism, reflecting on the third petition of the Lord’s prayer, “God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil counsel and will, which would not let us hallow His name nor let His kingdom come, such as the will of the devil, the world and our own flesh; but strengthens and keeps us steadfast in His Word and in faith until our end” (Luther, The Small Catechism, Accessed via Christian Classics Ethereal Library at ccel.org). The world, the flesh, and the devil are destructive anti-God forces that we are called to fight against through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We will take some time to discuss the roles of demons and angels specifically over the next two days, but we must not forget that ultimately spiritual war is a battle for human souls. We are the prize and, as such, must be on guard against our enemy. The devil is indeed more powerful than we could ever be on our own but God continually assures us that Satan is not more powerful than the Holy Spirit who lives within us. One day, brothers and sisters, the war will end and our Savior will be forever victorious.
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 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. 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. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. (Ephesians 6:11-18, ESV)