Spiritual Warfare

By Ernie and Mary Kroeger

You may have often been surprised at the differences between the God we see in the Old Testament and the God we see in the New Testament. In the Old Testament the Israelites were told to kill all the inhabitants of the Promised Land - no mercy was to be shown. Inwardly we cringe at the heartlessness of God's commands. In the New Testament we are told to love our enemies, and to be filled with grace and mercy. From our perspective it seems as though we have two Gods: one of the Old Testament, and one of the New.

We know this is a false premise, for it says that God does not change. He is always the same! Once we understand the reason for God's harsh dealings with Israel's enemies in the Old Testament, a new perspective is formed. We need to understand that the physical journey and experiences of the Israelites, from their captivity and slavery in Egypt to the promised land, and in their invasion of that land, are a shadow of the spiritual journey of the ecclesia (God's called-out ones). Once our eyes are opened to God's marvelous ability to direct Israel in a way that foreshadows our spiritual walk with the Lord, we are filled with awe! Their failures symbolize the problem areas we face in our thought life, and their victories show us how we too can be victorious.

As we look at the scriptures we notice that God's instructions to Israel were very specific. They were only to kill the people who were trying to prevent them from entering their God-given land and from possessing their inheritance. He did not tell the Israelites to kill the Egyptians under whose dictatorship they had become slaves. God delivered them from their Egyptian bondage without a fight on their part. Their warfare consisted of driving out all the inhabitants residing in their land, for the land did not belong to them. God had given the land to Israel more than 400 years ago. These illegal inhabitants were not to receive any mercy - all were to be killed. No covenants of peace were allowed, and every invasion of the enemy was to be stopped.

Let's see how this symbolizes our spiritual warfare. God knows how difficult it is for us to understand spiritual realities, so He is very careful that the symbolism of the spiritual would not be broken. For example, Moses could not enter the Promised Land because he symbolized the Law, and the Law cannot enter God's rest. The Promised Land represents Jesus Christ. Just as the land was the supply for Israel's physical needs, so Christ is the supply for all our spiritual needs! The illegal inhabitants of the land symbolize the thoughts of unbelief, for they do not belong to the mind of Christ. Just as all the inhabitants of the land were to be eradicated, so all our natural thinking of spiritual realities need to be eradicated! We are not to make a covenant with them and let them live; if we do, they will cause problems for us in our Christian walk. They ALL have to go! We don't tolerate any thoughts that war against God, whether these thoughts are in their infancy or old age.

The warfare needed to rid the land of its illegal inhabitants symbolizes our warfare against the thoughts that oppose the Spirit. These thoughts are like illegal inhabitants in our new land. They think they have squatter's rights, and they put up a big fight and try every devious trick in the book to remain in the land. Even as the Israelites were always victorious when they followed God's directives, so we have to follow God's prescription for victory. Obedience is the key to victory.

The devil's lies come to us through the natural mind. Since humanity has inherited his mindset, it falls prey to these lies and accepts them as its truth. When we come into our new land (the Lord Jesus Christ), we receive a new mind - the mind of Christ. But the old thoughts of legalism, revenge, religiosity, condemnation, righteous judgment viewed from our natural perspective, unforgiveness, bitterness and hate, are hard to eradicate. In fact, we have become so used to them, that we fail to discern their source.

The Israelites had to listen and obey God's strategy to overcome their enemies; obedience always brought victory. Whenever they thought they could win the war by using their own cunning strategy and military might, they failed miserably. They were even tricked into making a covenant with an unknown tribe because they did not seek the Lord on this matter. These incidents are all pictures of our own attitude toward our old thoughts. As long as we let them live, they will work against us, and keep us from possessing the land.

Ephesians 6 addresses this difficulty, and as we take a closer look at it, we are surprised that we don't even have to fight. We only have to follow directions. Let's take a look at God's instructions. "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might." (v. 10) Finally! Finally, after what? The beginning of this chapter deals with family and work-related relationships, emphasizing humility and respect for those who are in authority over us or for those over whom we have jurisdiction, recognizing that there is no hierarchy in the Lord! After these relationships are in the right order, Paul addresses our spiritual relationship with the Lord, and tells us where our strength is. Our strength is in the Lord and in the power of His might. Remember that! Self-effort won't give us the victory - the odds against us are too great! Our strength is in the Lord! The fly that sat on the back of the horse that pulled the plow, recognized the source of its strength when it triumphantly exclaimed, "We're plowing."

Therefore the first step in victorious living is to recognize the source of our strength. This realization takes away all reliance on our own ability, and focuses on the limitless strength of our Lord. His ability is ours as we walk in the obedience of faith.

In our stand against the opposing forces that come through our mind, we don't need guns and bombs because our enemy exists in the unseen realm. In 2 Cor. 10:4-5 we read, "For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ."

This warfare is NOT fought with carnal weapons, The Lord's strength is vastly superior! It destroys all the religious strongholds in our thinking, all our worldly philosophies, and all our imaginations that pervert and oppose the true knowledge of God.

Knowing then, that "our warfare is not against flesh and blood," it is not too difficult to understand that our warfare is not against people. People are not our basic problem; there is a stronger spiritual force that is causing people to think and act contrary to the Spirit's teaching, and from our point of view, contrary to our desires. This causes people to become our problem, and we direct our attention and strategies against them instead of toward the basic problem.

Let's look at this from another angle. Maybe we are the ones who are causing problems for others. Why? Because we are being held captive by a world force instead of being led by God's Spirit. Our habits, addictions, absorption in self, anger, jealousy, bitterness, lack of courtesy and love, cause problems for others. How do we overcome these problems in ourselves, and how do we help others to overcome their problems?

Many "How to" books have been written, and many contain valuable advice, but many focus on self-effort. However self-effort is not strong enough to gain the victory over rulers and powers and the world forces of darkness and spiritual forces in heavenly places. God knows all about our ignorance and weaknesses, so He has given us a handbook that contains all the directives we need to be victorious and to be strong in the Lord. Ephesians 6:10-18 give us the answer.

In verse 11 we are admonished to put on the full armor of God. "Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil." Notice that the full armor of God is required to stand against the SCHEMES of the devil. It does NOT say against the POWER of the devil. The devil is a scheming foe and tries to make us think that he is powerful. He tries to gain power over us through deception. He even quotes scripture to us, using a deceptive application. In order to recognize these schemes and to stand against them, we need the full armor of God. To stand against something means that we do not bow to it; we don't let it influence us, and we don't accept it. Taking a stand against something that looks attractive to us often involves a struggle if we do not know the full truth.

"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." (Eph. 6:12) Our struggle is against rulers and powers and world forces of darkness. Our struggle is against the powers that rule darkness. Why does darkness appeal to us? These rulers don't want us to see the light, so they do everything in their power to lure us into darkness or to keep us in darkness by their empty promises. They promise to give us an easy exciting life by satisfying the lust of the flesh and of the eyes, and of the pride of life. Darkness is absence of light, so these rulers are void of light.

Darkness has no power over light, but light dispels darkness. God is light and He lives in unapproachable light, and since Jesus Christ is the light of the world, light is always present. Why then is there still so much darkness in this world? It's because something within people is blocking the entrance of light. This blockage is humanity's ignorance and unbelief. A belief system that is not rooted in Christ has usurped the truth, and this belief system has become their truth.

Jesus said that the truth will make us free. Truth frees us from our bondage to the lie! The only way we can walk in the light is by believing Jesus Christ. If the devil can get us to commune with him he will have a greater opportunity to present the lie, and he will present it in a way that has been designed to make it look attractive, appealing and enticing. Our spiritual warfare consists of standing against these enticements to obey a voice other than God's voice.

Jesus was tempted in all points just as we are, so we need to see how He overcame every temptation to embrace the lie. How did Jesus overcome when He was tempted in the wilderness? A careful look at Matthew 4 shows us that He never entered into a debate with Satan. Even when the devil boastfully proclaimed that the kingdoms of this world belonged to him, Jesus didn't argue with him. He could have told him that he did not have the title deed to the people in his kingdoms, because he had only obtained power over them through deception. Therefore the kingdoms did not rightfully belong to him. The devil's goal was to obtain worship, and Jesus only replied to that. "It is written, `you shall only worship God'." The devil wants our obedience and our worship, but we cannot serve two masters. We either obey God or the devil.

Jesus always discerned the lie. Sometimes the lie was presented to him by the devil, sometimes by people, and sometimes by his natural emotions and His distaste for suffering. Questions like, "Why should the Son of God suffer…Why should He go hungry…Didn't He deserve better treatment…Why should He be rejected when He only did good things?" will have surely entered His mind. Questions like these also enter our minds. Why were we criticized when we only wanted the best for others? Don't King's Kids deserve better treatment? These questions come from our natural mind, from our idea of fairness, and from legalistic religious thinking. They want to lodge in our minds, and we may feel a righteous anger sweeping over us. If we don't spot the lie, it will find a resting-place in us.

The lie was presented to Jesus in beautiful deceptive wrappings meant to deceive Him, but He always recognized the lie. Peter was protective of Jesus when he said that Jesus was not to suffer. Well-meaning people often offer the lie as a solution to our problem. They don't want us to suffer, so they recommend escapism instead of being victorious over our troubles and trials. The devil capitalizes on the fact that God's ways do not always look best to us. So he presents an alternative - a way that looks easier and more attractive to the flesh. But Jesus did not look at the bait; He looked at the SOURCE of the bait. He only received directives that came from God. He knew that God was in charge of everything that happened to Him, and He could trust His love and wisdom. We too can trust God, and overcome in the same way that Jesus did!

So what are we really battling? We're warring against the natural mind, the mind of the flesh, the mind that is ruled by the powers of darkness. This mind is always against the Spirit. Satan's attacks come to us through that mind, so it is a very strategic battle site. Many important battles are fought there - some are lost and some are won. In the Old Testament many important battles were fought at Armageddon, so the battle that takes place in our mind is called the battle of Armageddon. The mind is situated in the highest part of our body - and in pictorial language, it is therefore called a heavenly place. To be victorious in this battle we need the full armor of God!

"Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm." (v. 13) To stand against something means that we are not moved by it; we do not bow to it, nor do we let it influence us. Whenever we entertain the wrong thoughts that attack us, we are having an evil day. Entertaining them gives them power over us. Our fight consists of standing firm in our faith in Christ. Fixing our eyes on Jesus Christ causes us to see the power and authority we have in Him, and forces the opposing spirits to slink away into their caverns of darkness.

The important part is to recognize these wrong thoughts. Satan's lies are either camouflaged or adorned to make them look attractive. Adam and Eve looked at the fruit of the forbidden tree and it looked beautiful and delicious and nutritious to them. To discern the nature of our thoughts we need truth and a love for truth. Adam and Eve had truth; God had told them what would happen if they ate of that tree, but they lacked a love for truth. Eve entered into a conversation with the serpent, and was consequently taken in by Satan's deceptive scheme, and his lie became her truth, while Adam exchanged the lordship of the true God for the lordship of Satan. He knowingly disobeyed God, and obeyed Satan.

The full armor of God is needed in order to be victorious in this battle. Why is the word "full" used instead of "complete"? What is the difference? What is the difference between a full cup and a complete cup? A full cup indicates that the cup is filled with a liquid, and a complete one only emphasizes the fact that the cup itself is complete - nothing is missing. How does this apply to the armor of God? A complete armor of God indicates that all the parts are in place. Since God's armor symbolizes Christ, and He is the truth, it brings us the glorious understanding that it is not enough to give assent to truth, but we have to be filled or saturated with it! Truth has to become our life!

"Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breast plate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one, and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petitions pray at all times in the Spirit." (vv. 14 -18a)

Notice how every part of our armor emphasizes a certain aspect of who Christ is, and who He is to us! He is the truth; He is our righteousness; He is our peace, He is our salvation and He is the word of God! The shield of faith does not allow doubt to enter in. It is strong enough to ward off all the fiery darts (lies) of the evil one. The sword that we use is the word that God gives us for the occasion. The recognition of our dependence on God causes us to abide in the spirit of prayer continually, and to trust Him to lead and guide us at all times. The Lord is our strength and our protection! To Abraham God said, "I am a shield to you." (Gen. 15:1) God has equipped us with Himself to be victorious over every attack of the enemy! He who is far above all rule and power and authority has given us His promise to protect us from every deceptive scheme and attack of the enemy! What a privileged people we are!

Let's look at a few more scripture references that emphasize the importance of faith. Hebrews 11:6 tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God. Our spiritual walk takes place in the unseen realm, and this realm is foreign to us. Everything in this realm has to be revealed to us and received or obtained by faith! By faith we know that God exists, and that He is who He says He is; by faith we receive His promises; by faith we believe that we are the new spiritual creation who God says we are; by faith we have the victory in Christ Jesus! No wonder Paul exhorts us to stand firm in our faith!

Paul frequently emphasized the importance of faith. This is especially noticeable in his letter to Timothy, with whom he had a beautiful father-son relationship. In it Paul encourages Timothy to fight the good fight of faith. "This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith." (1 Tim. 1:18-19)

Peter had the same concern, especially for the believers who had been scattered abroad because of persecution. Would they get tired of all the suffering they had to endure, and abandon their faith? So Peter exhorts them to humble themselves (the key to having power with God), and to resist the devil by standing firm in their faith. "Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you." (1 Peter 5:6-10)

When we are assailed by difficulties, hardships and trials, it feels as though they will never end. Peter understood that, so he encourages us by assuring us that these trials won’t last forever. God has purpose for our trials and testing! They give us an opportunity to exercise our God-given faith, and to be blessed by the revelation of Himself and His power and might that we receive during the onslaught of the enemy. This is God's desire for us when we go through severe trials and testing! Spiritual rewards follow. What can be greater than being called into Christ's eternal glory, and to be perfected, confirmed, strengthened and established!

Another encouragement comes from James. He writes, "But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, `God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.' Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you." (James 4:6-7) God's grace is sufficient for every trial that we are called upon to endure! The prerequisites for getting the devil to flee from us are humility and submission to God. As we humbly submit to God's dealings in our lives, and refuse to receive the devil's lies, the devil will flee from us! Have you ever thought of the devil fleeing from you? He hates to be exposed. What a glorious revelation to know that the devil is afraid of those who humbly submit themselves to God!

Our bitter experiences in life become sweet when we receive them in God's grace, and see how God uses them to produce His likeness in us! These experiences give us opportunities to forgive and to bless those who mistreat us. This perfects us in love and produces a greater manifestation of Christ in our lives.

Being victorious in our spiritual warfare unmasks the lies of the devil, and reveals the truth that is ours in Christ. Fear and unbelief paralyze us and make us unfruitful in our Christian walk. Fear looks at the desires and ability that are rooted in self, while faith looks at the desire and unlimited ability of our Father God! Faith in the promises of God and the great salvation that is ours in Christ will remove our mountains of unbelief, and cause the devil to flee from us. We praise God for the full armor that He has provided for us!

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