The Reality of Spiritual Warfare
Spiritual warfare. For some, the very mention of the term causes them to salivate like Pavlov’s dog. For others, terms like “kook”, “nutcase”, “whacko”, or “religious zealot” come to mind. Still others summon up images from movies such as The Exorcist or Rosemary’s Baby—perhaps not the best place to get your theology or demonology.
Even Christ-followers get confused about spiritual warfare, gravitating toward either denial or obsession. C.S. Lewis, in his book The Screwtape Letters, mentioned these two extremes, saying, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”
Now don’t get me wrong. I do not mean to minimize the existence of spiritual warfare or the dangers involved. Spiritual warfare is real, angels and demons do exist, and they do interact with this physical world. Nor do I wish to discredit people who specialize in this area, as many are doing some very important work. In seeking an understanding of spiritual warfare, then, consider these five truths:
1. There is a spiritual world, which includes forces of good and of evil
The handiwork of Satan and his demons is displayed around the world. In places like Haiti, for example, where Satanism is openly practiced, the effects are evident. In our society, however, there’s a push to deny anything spiritual. Almost any explanation for what goes on in our world is more acceptable than a spiritual explanation.
Such as with certain medical conditions. Bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia… these are almost invariably described as psychological conditions or the result of some traumatic event. And that may very well be the case. Physical issues and chemical imbalances may contribute to many if not most problems.
But is it possible, in at least some cases, that spiritual forces are at work? I think it’s more than possible; I think it’s probable. In fact, the Bible records an account of a demon-possessed man who today would have been diagnosed as schizophrenic.
Luke 8:27-28, 30 (NLT)
As Jesus was climbing out of the boat, a man who was possessed by demons came out to meet him. For a long time he had been homeless and naked, living in a cemetery outside the town.
As soon as he saw Jesus, he shrieked and fell down in front of him. …
Jesus demanded, “What is your name?”
“Legion,” he replied, for he was filled with many demons. …
Again, just because someone catches a cold doesn’t mean they have a demon. But if a spiritual realm does exist, it would be foolish to ignore the possibility that spiritual influences are at work in our world today. “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12, NLT).
In North America, these spiritual forces seem to be more covert. Demonic powers do show themselves on occasion, but most times they are more subtle. Instead, they work through the occult and the practices of the occult, such as astrology, fortune telling, horoscopes, Ouiji boards, séances, experiences in the paranormal, and religious aspects of yoga and eastern mysticism.
Demonic forces may be working in secret, but that does not mean they’re not real; they’re just hidden. Which is a pretty smart tactic, because when you don’t know they are there, they can infiltrate into your life a lot deeper.
Plus, Satan and his demons uses our own weaknesses and temptations against us, drawing us away from God. Pornography, gossip, slander, lust, greed, pride, jealousy, rage, adultery, and a whole array of other sins leave us vulnerable for evil forces to manipulate us.
Thankfully, God does not leave us to our own devices. Instead, He fights the battle on our behalf. He offers to shield us and protect us from demonic attacks. He frees us from bondage to oppression. He is the Almighty God who has no equal, and no forces of evil—no matter how crafty, subtle, or powerful—can oppose Him.
2. Even Christ-followers can be influenced by demonic forces
A common misconception is that believers are immune to the assault of Satanic forces. However, as pastor and author Jack Hayford has said, “Demons do trouble and torment believers—and sometimes oppress them with burdensome bondage. Clearly, it would be improper to describe this oppression as ‘possession,’ but with equal certainty it would be foolish to deny the reality of the bondage.”
The Apostle Paul hinted at this reality when he wrote to the Christ-followers in the city of Ephesus: “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27, NLT). It seems clear that, even for Christians, the forces of evil can gain influence and power in our lives.
It doesn’t have to start with much, as indicated by Paul’s use of the term “foothold”. If you’ve ever gone rock climbing (and I have not), then you know that you just need a small rock jutting out from the surface to help you progress toward your goal. Satan doesn’t need much; he just needs a foothold—a small area where you’re willing to compromise—and he starts to gain power.
Jesus Himself frequently encountered demons. He interacted with them, spoke with them, and cast them out. He was even subjected to an intense time of temptation by Satan, as recorded in Matthew 4. If Jesus could be besieged by demonic forces, certainly you and I can be, too.
Plus, the timing of the temptation of Jesus is critical, occurring right after He was baptized and right before He set out on His public ministry. Why is this important? Because it shows how, if we are living the way God wants us to live and we’re following Him wholeheartedly, that’s precisely when we can expect Satan (or his forces) to attack.
Not only is Satan he’s dangerous, but he might attack in unexpected ways. We often picture Satan as a red beast with horns, a pointy tail, and a pitch fork, but that’s not usually how he appears and interacts with humanity. More often, he’s in disguise. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 describes him as an angel of light. Other passages call him the Day Star or the Morning Star. In other words, Satan can come across as appealing. He can make his ways seem right. That’s why Peter warned, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil” (1 Peter 5:8, NLT).
Satan is at war with God and, as we align ourselves with God, we come under attack, too. Thankfully, God’s side is the winning side. God has no equal, and He is ultimately in control.
3. God empowers Christians to withstand and overcome any spiritual attack
In Scripture, Satan is identified by several names and descriptions. He’s called the Destroyer, the Accuser, the Adversary, the Deceiver, the Enemy, the Evil One, the Father of lies, the God of this World, the Great Dragon, and the Lawless One. He’s described as a liar, a murderer, a serpent, and a tempter. He’s the Ruler of this World and the Prince of the Power of the Air. He goes by lots of names and titles, each of which describe who he is and how he works. He is evil, and he’s out to destroy you.
Remember, however, that Satan is not equal-but-opposite to God. He was originally a created angel whose pride got the best of him, leading him to rebel against God. He was soundly defeated, and he along with those angels that we call demons were cast out of Heaven. (See Isaiah 14:12-14, Ezekiel 28:12-18, and Colossians 1:15-16.) God is the Creator; Satan is merely part of God’s creation. In no way is Satan equal to God.
In addition to being omnipotent (all-powerful), God is omnipresent, meaning He can be everywhere all at the same time. Satan does not have that ability. Instead, he is limited in time and space, so anytime you say Satan is attacking you, you’re probably wrong. More likely, you are facing opposition from one of his demons—those fallen angels who sided with Satan in his rebellion.
Furthermore, while God is all-knowing (omniscient), Satan and his demons are limited in their knowledge and understanding. They do, however, possess a keen insight into humanity. By studying us throughout the millennia, they have learned our tendencies and can make some pretty accurate judgments as to how we’ll respond to certain situations. But their knowledge is fallible, they cannot read our thoughts, and they cannot implant thoughts in our minds. All they can do is make educated guesses based on observations.
We are no match for Satan or his forces, but neither are they a match for God. On our own, we do not have the power or ability to resist the forces of evil. With the protection and power of God, we receive everything we need to prevail.
“Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
“Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion” (Ephesians 6:13-18, NLT).
4. The war was already won at the Cross, though skirmishes persist
In a war, there is often a decisive moment of victory—the war has been won, the outcome has been decided, nothing is going to change—but skirmishes continue for a period of time. A similar thing is happening in the spiritual realm.
The death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ broke the hold of Satan’s power, leaving Satan utterly defeated. In the moment Satan thought he had won, victory was snatched from his grasp. Jesus’ victory was assured and the war was over. Yet we still experience the results of this spiritual battle. The outcome is not in question, but conflicts still arise.
The Apostle Paul described how Christ’s victory was achieved on the Cross. “When [Jesus] died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God” (Romans 6:10, NLT). The power of sin is broken, no longer holding dominion over those of us who receive the life Christ offers. We may still face trials and hardship, but these are only temporary. We have eternity with God before us.
Horatio Spafford, a song writer who experienced his share of tragedy and spiritual warfare, famously penned these words in a hymn:
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
~ Horatio Spafford
Spafford knew that the war had already been won. Jesus had achieved the victory with His own blood, and He assured the victory with His Resurrection. Though we must still deal with spiritual conflicts for a time, we can live in victory because of Jesus.
5. Someday, Satan and all his followers will face their final judgment
Contrary to popular belief, Satan is not currently in Hell. Nor is Hell his domain. Hell is a place of punishment prepared for Satan and his followers, not as a place for him to rule. Rather, he will be imprisoned there for all eternity.
Plus, the Bible implies that Satan is not there yet, but is roaming the earth seeking out people that he can destroy. He is aggressively working against God in this world. He will someday be confined to Hell, but that day has not yet arrived.
The New Testament book of Revelation is understood to be a description of a vision that God gave to the apostle John about what will happen at the end of time. It talks about a coming judgment: “Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. … And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:10,15, NLT).
Jesus made a similar reference when referring to the Day of Judgment. He said, “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons’” (Matthew 25:41, NLT). That hasn’t happened yet; it’s still to come. All who choose to reject the authority of God will be sentenced to an eternity in Hell.
That’s why it’s so imperative that you and I be about the business of telling people about Jesus… about what He’s done, about what a difference He’s made in our lives, about His Crucifixion and Resurrection, and how He has given us the assurance of a future home in Heaven. We must help as many people as possible avoid the fate awaiting Satan and his followers.
Through His power and the work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has set us free from our bondage to sin and death. In fact, He sets us free from all demonic bondage. We may still encounter evil forces for the time being, but we have a guaranteed future when spiritual warfare will no longer be a factor we have to face. It will cease, leaving us free to enjoy everything Christ has waiting for us in Heaven.