Spiritual Warfare, Pt. 1: The Nature of the Battle

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Faith Bible Church, NY

January 26, 1997

Spiritual Warfare, Part 1

The Nature of the Battle

This morning we begin a series on the last major section of the Book of Ephesians. The subject is Spiritual Warfare. We will be in this section for at least nine weeks for two major reasons. First, it is important that we understand what Paul is saying in this passage since it really does involve our daily lives. Second, there is much confusion and even nonsense given out about the subject, and it will take some time to clear things up so that you are settled in how God wants us to react in our involvement with Spiritual Warfare

In Ephesians 6:10 Paul begins this section saying, “Finally, be strong in the Lord, and n the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

Please understand from the outset that each one of us is involved in a spiritual battle and that this battle is more substantial than any other conflict on earth. The battles of men revolve around land, money or power. This often invisible battle is for the eternal souls of men. I want you to understand this war we are in and how it is to be fought so that you can have victory.

Our tendency is to think of this spiritual war in terms of the spectacular manifestations of overt occultism, like witches, spell casting, frightening creatures, apparitions, psychic phenomena and the like, but in reality most of our war with Satan and his hosts are fought in the ordinary mundane things of life. We must be careful that we are not lead astray, and there is much around us that would seek to lead us astray.

There are things that present this warfare in such a way as to overwhelm us and thus make us afraid to enter into the battle so that we be overcome by what we don’t understand. There are other things that go to the opposite extreme and downplay the reality of this war into fun and games. The end result being that we do not take this warfare seriously. These lies and distortions of the truth are a tactic of our enemy, because if we truly understand the nature of this Holy War, we will be both involved in fighting it and victorious.

One of my great frustrations as a pastor and one of the great tragedies in American Christianity is how much the theology of most people is based not on the Scriptures, but on some other book, magazine, movie or television show they have seen. This is particularly true in this area of spiritual warfare.

The secular entertainment media has portrayed the involvement of the supernatural in the lives of humans in most every way possible except biblically. It has tried to fill us with fear with its imaginative portrayal of the power and activity of Satan and his cohorts. It has also tried to belittle the reality of Satan and the demonic as either mythological or humorous. Let me give you a few examples of these.

Classic horror films revolve around some evil thing that is trying to harm the innocent. Think of the Mummy and his ancient evil curse, the Werewolf, a man who changes into a predatory beast, vampires that suck out the blood from terrorized victims, Frankenstein, a science experiment gone astray. These were meant to frighten the audience with things that were both evil and beyond understanding. The more recent horror films like Freddy Kruger, Alien and all the rest are really of the same genre, playing on the fear that something evil will “get” you.

There are also the stories that strike a little deeper and harder. These present evil creatures that are not physical, but are supernatural themselves or rely on supernatural powers. Ghosts, demonic creatures, witches and magical religions. The Exorcist, Nightmare on Elm Street, Rosemary’s Baby, Poltergeist and others of this genre leave you wondering how you’re going to protect yourself. These movies mix distortion of the real spiritual battle with imagination – truth mixed with error. And so they are all the more frightening. You either leave the theater not wanting to have any involvement with spiritual things, or, worse, you pick up the idea that your protection will from some magical formula or object used in the story, like an upheld cross or cloves of garlic around your neck to keep Dracula at bay.

Vampires, werewolves, living mummies and Freddy Kruger are not taken seriously by any reasonable adult, but many reasonable adults do take seriously a lot of the implications and superstitions that have become part of their lives. Beware as well that children can be strongly affected by any of this stuff, so you need to censor what your children watch.

At other times Hollywood goes the other way and pokes fun at occultic practices and at spiritual creatures. Sometimes they also portray the demonic in a positive manner. From the classics such as the Ghost and Mrs Muir to Ghost Busters. There was a popular TV Soap Opera in the 70’s – Dark Shadows. TV comedy; remember Bewitched? How many sitcoms and dramas use New Age thought and the directly occultic? Children’s cartoons are full of the occultic, from the relatively innocent “Casper, the Friendly Ghost,” to the occultic practices used in Masters of the Universe. Even the Smurfs and Care Bears rely on magical spells or objects. Hours could be spent describing just the occultic elements in children’s toys.

My point is that the secular media outlets present the spiritual battle to either extreme – something real to be afraid of, or something fabricated – to laugh at. In either case, the true nature of what is real is distorted. If we base our beliefs on something other than the Scriptures, then we will have a distorted vision of reality. We will not be able to be respond properly. We will be easy picking for the Devil, who goes about as a roaring lion seeking who he may devour (1 Pet. 5:8). If you are not prepared, then he will get you!

Have you been affected by the beliefs of our society? How many of you believe in ghosts? Are ghosts real? No, but demonic apparitions and manifestations are real. Do you believe in magic? No, but Demons do posses considerable power and can do supernatural things. Witches and other occultists can tap into demonic activity to cast so called “magic.” It is not magic, it is just demonic. And be aware that there is not “white” magic, and “black” magic. There is only demonic activity within magic (I am not referring to the slight of hand of “magic” shows). Formulas, special concoctions, and objects are not magical in themselves – either for evil or defense of evil. All of it is only powerful as it is empowered by demons. Do you believe in “lucky or unlucky items” – superstitions? How many people do you know that have a “lucky” rabbits foot (not so lucky for the rabbit), a lucky penny, a crucifix, “power” crystals, St. Christopher, etc., or they avoid black cats, Friday the 13th and graveyards after dark?

There are many professing Christians who are caught up in this type of stuff. Within the Evangelical camp, many people are caught up in sensationalism. Frank Peretti’s books, This Present Darkness, & Piercing the Darkness are a case in point. While I am grateful that these books have awakened the Christian community to the fact that there is a real spiritual battle going on around them, and many Christians have been stirred back to prayer, I am very concerned that people believe the theology his novels teach. Peretti was an Assemblies of God pastor before he was a fiction writer, and his theology of angels, demons and prayer is in keeping with his denomination, but it is not good Biblical Theology.

Peretti describes a demon as a “a bug, a bat, a black, bulb-eyed thing, its dark wings whirring, its breath pouring out like a long yellow ribbon. It just couldn’t fly fast enough, but clawed the air with its spidery arms, desperate for speed and shrieking in total panic.” Other demons are describes as: “a long, slithering spirit” another as “a loud-mouthed, boasting imp.” Angels are described as: “a brilliant comet with wings of fire tracing a glimmering trail and a sword of lightning outstretched in burly bronze hands.”

Perreti describes a battle between a demon and an angel: “The black thing and the comet shot into the sky over Bacon’s Corner, zigzagging, shooting this way and that like wild fireworks. Then the forest, like a row of cannons, spewed out more hideous creatures, at least twenty, each one fleeing in utter panic with a dazzling, flaming figure tenaciously on its tail, scattering in all directions like a crazy metro shower in reverse. The first demon was running out of tricks and maneuvers; he could feel the heat of the warrior’s blade right at his heels. He spit over his shoulder, ‘No, turn away, I am going!’ The fiery blade cut an arc through the air, the demon met it with his own and the blow sent him spinning. He corrected with his wings, turned and faced his assailant, shrieking, cursing, parrying blow after blow, looking into the fiery eyes of more power, more glory, more holiness than he’d ever feared before. And he could see it in those eyes – the warrior would never turn away. Never. The demon withered even before the blade struck its final blow; it slipped from the earth, from the world of mankind, into outer darkness, gone in a tumbling puff of red smoke.”

An exciting story, but not for teaching proper theology. Where in Scripture are demons described as ugly, grotesque creatures? Demons are fallen angels, Satan is described as appearing as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). Where in the Bible do you have Angels and Demons fighting in this manner? That the demon, when struck by a sword, is vanquished in a puff of red smoke. Angels are eternal creatures. What descriptions there are of their fighting seems to be wrestling – not sword play.

We also have to be very careful that we do not reduce our prayers to magical formulas, thinking that “if I pray this certain thing in this certain way, then this will happen.” Prayer is personal communication with the living God, not an incantation. Do you really think you are able to manipulate God to get what you want? Praying in the “name of Jesus” is not a magical formula that forces God to give to you what you want. It means to ask in accordance with what Jesus would want. God is not obligated by your ability to repeat certain words. I need to be careful from letting my prayers be reduced to formulas and magical incantations. I must instead remain in humble communication with the Living God.

I cannot stress enough that our ideas and beliefs about spiritual warfare must arise from the Bible itself, and not the sensationalism of fiction writers, Christian or not, or any of the material put out by the secular media. If we do not know the truth and live according to it, then we are easy prey for our adversary.

What then is real? What is false? What is the true nature of this Holy War? It is both sensational and subtle. There are aspects of it that are beyond us, and there are aspects that are around us attacking us quietly and unobtrusively. Over the next nine weeks we will get a clear picture of both. But first, let’s make sure of what Paul says here in Ephesians 6:10-12.

Verse 10 begins, “finally.” The sense here is not, “this is the last thing in my letter,” though it is the last major topic of the letter. It is with the sense, “as for what you still have to do in addition to the rest already mentioned.” What still has to be done? – “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.”

Think back through Ephesians and all that God has already done for us. It is not unreasonable for us to find our strength in Him, because after all, it is God that chose us before the foundation of the world for Salvation. He redeemed us through the bloody, sacrificial death of Jesus and extended forgiveness of our trespasses and sin through Christ. He also gave us the Holy Spirit as His pledge of His promises to us. Our very life is due to Him since we were dead in our sins, but He made us alive with Christ, and the Lord did so purely because of His gracious love toward us. Everything that God commands us to do is both reasonable and an avenue of being strengthened for our battle with our adversary, the devil and his demonic host. Using our spiritual gifts for the building up of one another, living righteous lives, being in submission to the Holy Spirit and singing God’s praises, as well as having proper relationships within the family and on our jobs all put us in a better position to wage the spiritual war we are in. These are all the things we should already be doing.

Being strong in the Lord and in the power of His might is preliminary to the preparation for battle. It will do you no good to put on armor and go into battle if you have no source of strength. Can you imagine some knight of old putting on all that heavy armor and trying to go into battle when he is sick and weak with the flu? You know what will happen. Despite his armor, he will be cut down by the enemy very quickly because he will have no strength to lift the shield, move out of harm’s way with his feet, or parry the enemies blows with his sword. The preliminary step in preparation for battle is to be strong. And in the spiritual battle that cannot be strength found in ourselves. If you think our knight was in trouble trying to fight while suffering from the flu, trying to go against the demonic in your own power is infinitely worse.

An example of this occurred in Ephesus in Acts 19:13f. There were seven sons who were Jewish exorcists who went from place to place attempting to cast out evil spirits. They would try to get the demons to leave an individual by invoking the name of Christ as an incantation saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Verse 15,16 record that the evil spirit responded, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued and overpowered them all, so that they fled out of the house naked and wounded. Such is the outcome of going into spiritual battle without being “strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.”

In order to be strong in the Lord we have to be abiding in Him (John 15) and drawing our life from Him. This requires trust and obedience to His will. Our ability to do anything for Christ is only because He has enabled us to accomplish it. Paul says in 2 Tim 1:7 “For God has not given to us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” That classic passage in Isaiah 40 reminds us, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, And to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.” Your strength for the battle comes from the Lord – not yourself.

Paul tells us next in verse 11 to “Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” We have to place upon ourselves the panoply – that is, all the armor of warfare which God provides for us. It is important to understand that the battle armor that we are to put on is given to us by God. Charles Hodge correctly warned “men have always been disposed to trust [the arms] which they provide for themselves or which have been prescribed by others. Seclusion from the world (i.e. flight rather than conflict), ascetic and ritual observances, invocation of saints and angels, and especially, celibacy, voluntary poverty, and monastic obedience..”. This is the armor of false religion, not the armor of God.

The reason for the armor is so that we may be able to “stand firm” against the “schemes” of the devil. The word here, “stand firm” is a military term meaning to “hold your position.” The word translated “schemes” or “wiles” is the Greek word we get our word “method” from. The slanderer, the Devil, has many methods by which he seeks to attack people. We are to hold our position against them.

We will talk about how to do this in specific ways in the weeks to come. But please note here who we are to stand firm against. One of his greatest schemes the devil uses against the Church was stated well by Warren Wiersbe, “We are wasting our time fighting people when we ought to be fighting the devil who seeks to control people and make them oppose the work of God.” – The devil wants our focus off the spiritual battle and onto personal conflict. This is brought out again in verse 12 in which Paul clarifies it again that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood…”. People are not the problem. Sin and the devil are the problem and if we lose that focus we end up not just wasting our time and energy, but also being obstructions to the gospel message.

We need the full compliment of the armor of God because the devil is scheming – methodical – in trying to find our weak areas so that he can attack. We also need it because Satan has a well organized horde of demonic followers. Verse 12 goes on to say that our struggle is “against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

The KJV translates here, “we wrestle,” and that is a good description of our struggle. The language here is that of is face to face combat. Hand to hand fighting. This is front line action. You cannot sit back somewhere and shoot objects at the enemy who is miles away. I fear that sometimes we think of prayer in that manner – shooting out a prayer to hold the enemy at bay who is miles away. The truth is we are being attacked on the personal level, and we had better be prepared to both defend ourselves and go on the offensive.

Paul divides the demonic host into ranks. Rev. 12:4 indicates that a third of the Angels fell and followed Satan. This is a vast army, and it is organized. Here this organization of this horde is described as 1. Principalities or rulers. 2. Powers or forces. 3. World-forces of this darkness. 4. Spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Some have tried to specify the abilities and duties of each of these ranks. Frankly, I don’t know and I not concerned about that. The Bible does not give detail on these matters. We know that a demon referred to as the “prince of the kingdom of Persia” with stood the angel sent to answer Daniel’s prayer for 21 days until the angel Michael, called one of “the chief princes” came to help (Daniel 10:13). Angles and demons are both ranked, but the ranking and ability of any demon is unimportant to us, what is important that these demonic ranks attack from the heavenlies to the personal level. I need to be prepared for whatever involvement God calls me too by standing firm in Him.

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