« continued from previous page
Engaging in “Spiritual Warfare”
Paul claims that all of us—not just a few involved in deliverance ministries—struggle against wicked spiritual forces of evil (Eph. 6:12). He urges us to recognize that the only way we can succeed in this struggle is by appropriating the power of God.
As Paul portrays it in Ephesians 6:10-20, spiritual warfare is primarily concerned with Christian conduct—not with exorcism or eradicating structural (institutional or societal) evil. It is practical instruction for the day-to-day lives of all Christians. Four times in the passage Paul uses the word “stand/withstand” (same root in Greek). This means that Paul does not want believers to “give a place to the devil” (Eph. 4:27) by lying, stealing, being excessively angry, or succumbing to any other temptation to moral impurity. Spiritual warfare is therefore resistance. It is a defensive posture. It involves recognizing the supernatural nature of temptation and being prepared to face it. It also implies appropriating the power of God to make progress in eradicating moral vices that already have a place in one’s life.
Spiritual warfare is not only defensive, it takes the offensive. Paul calls the soldiers of Christ to advance on enemy territory by proclaiming the gospel of peace. Many commentators have correctly observed that the only offensive weapon in the entire list of the armor of God is the sword: “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17). In a related sense, the footgear of the Christian needs to be “the readiness to announce the Good News of peace” (Eph. 6:15 GNB). A typical soldier would journey for miles as his army advanced to the battlefront, and would then pursue the enemy. According to Paul, the primary aggressive action the Christian is called to take in the world is to spread the gospel—the good news of salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ. John Stott notes that the gospel represents “God’s power to rescue people from [the devil’s] tyranny.” The whole course of Paul’s ministry is a model of this aggressive proclamation. The church should follow Paul’s lead.
If Paul were to summarize the primary way of gaining access to the power of God for waging successful spiritual warfare, he would unwaveringly affirm that it was prayer. On behalf of the Ephesian believers Paul asks God, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Eph. 3:16). Prayer is given much greater prominence in the spiritual warfare passage than any of the other implements. Prayer is closely related to faith and in many ways is the practical manifestation of faith.
The spiritual warfare passage is often viewed in individual terms, that is, each individual Christian should pray and ask God for strength to do battle. This is true, but it does not go far enough. Paul depicts the “arming” in corporate terms, with the whole church involved in the process. In fact, each believer is responsible for arming other believers. All of Paul’s admonitions in this passage are plural. More importantly, however, is the fact that Paul urges believers to pray “for all the saints” (Eph. 6:18). Paul, in fact, models this activity in his two prayers recorded in Ephesians 1 and 3. In essence, Paul prays that God would endow them with power so that they could successfully resist the temptations of Satan and be divinely enabled to proclaim the gospel fearlessly in spite of demonic hindrance and hostility.
Spiritual warfare, therefore, is more proactive than reactive. It is the preparation before the storm. It involves praying for individuals to resist temptation in their personal areas of vulnerability. It involves praying for the progress of the gospel, especially where there is localized and intense demonic opposition. It goes far beyond merely praying for the sick. This concept has the potential to rejuvenate prayer groups and prayer meetings in the church today—to unleash the power of God to accomplish great things.
What Does the Future Hold?
There is a message of hope for all who have come to know Christ. The grievous persistence of evil in the world, largely instigated by the devil and his powers, will soon meet its end. This will happen in spite of the fact that Satan will launch a powerful widespread rebellion against God just prior to Christ’s second coming (2 Thess. 2:1-12). Jesus promised to return “with great power and glory,” setting in motion a series of events that will include consigning the devil and all his angels to the torment of an eternal fire that is prepared for them (Matt. 25:41). The Apocalypse of John elaborates on this theme. The seer’s vision of the conclusion of the thousand-year reign of Christ includes an account of Satan’s doom. He will be thrown into a “lake of burning sulphur” (also called “the second death”) where he will face an eternal punishment (Rev. 20:10).
Paul also speaks of this future time when Christ will “destroy every rule and every authority and power” (1 Cor. 15:24). All of the evil spirits the church has struggled with throughout its existence will be finally and ultimately vanquished.
This vanquishing is still in the future. The church today is yet in the middle of the battle. God has given us access to his own power to be conquerors in every skirmish. It remains for us to discern the spiritual nature of our struggle as believers and to rely on the power of God. As God revealed to Elisha’s fearful servant the vast army of heavenly angels that fight for the people of God (2 Kings 6:17), perhaps it would be good for the contemporary church to have at least a momentary revelation of the opposite—the hordes of demonic spirits bent on its destruction. Perhaps we would take the spiritual nature of our struggle more seriously and, through prayer, appropriate the power of God to resist sin and proclaim our gospel of deliverance.
1. Rudolf Bultmann, “New Testament and Mythology,” Kerygma and Myth. A Theological Debate, vol. 1 (London: SPCK, 1964), 10.
2. See my essay, “Can We Still Believe in Demons,” in The Apologetics Study Bible (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2008), 1475.
3. See the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Health Related Problems (Second Edition; World Health Organization, 2004).