Spiritual warfare is an abstract concept that goes easily unnoticed and ignored in our culture. The Bible tells us about the reality of an invisible battle raging around us, but it’s difficult to imagine what might actually be happening, and how often (if at all) it really impacts our everyday lives. The closest some of us might get to even considering this topic is seeing previews for horror movies that dramatize and sensationalize demonic activity.
But Ephesians 6:10-18 tells a different story. Paul does not speak about spiritual warfare as something that affects very few people, or something that we don’t really need to be concerned about unless we’re using Ouija boards and conducting seances. Read these words and try to absorb the gravity of what Paul is saying:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 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. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.
I find this passage to be very striking. It emphasizes the reality of a battle that we can’t see and may not be able to identify practically. What are we supposed to do?
Several things jump out at me as I read this. The physical, flesh-and-blood people that we interact with everyday, the ones we can see and talk to, aren’t our enemies. Paul gives multiple descriptions of our true enemies- superhuman spiritual forces of evil, whom we have no hope of defeating on our own. I mean, “cosmic powers over this present darkness” sounds pretty intimidating, like something from a sci-fi book. But scripture tells us this is REAL.
How exactly does Satan attack us? What are these “flaming darts of the evil one” that we must be prepared for? I think spiritual attacks can be highly individualized, depending on each person’s weaknesses and struggles with particular sins. We know that Satan is the Father of Lies, and a great deceiver. He accuses us before God. He tempts us to sin. He wants to keep people in spiritual darkness. He disguises himself as an angel of light. He encourages and delights in all forms of evil, conflict, and oppression. Knowing all of this, I think we can conclude that spiritual attack is mostly a battle of the mind, heart, and soul. It could include things such as: giving us doubts about our salvation, God’s character, and our value in God’s eyes; misinterpreting or twisting the truth of Scripture; temptation to sin; minimizing the seriousness of sin to keep us from repenting; perpetuating spiritual apathy about God’s Word and our responsibilities as believers; introducing and exacerbating negative emotions and thoughts within our minds, including anxiety, fear, and anger; the persecution of Christians; distraction from truly important matters; deceiving people to believe bad things are good and good things are bad; and many more.
Suddenly, we start to see how spiritual warfare actually does impact us on a regular basis. It’s often sneaky and subtle, not big displays of demonic possession. That would be too obvious. Satan needs to fly under the radar in order to go undetected by most people.
Of course, we must be careful not to let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction and blame everything solely on spiritual warfare. Negative or sinful thoughts, behaviors, and temptations are sometimes simply the products of our own sin nature, or a combination of our sin nature and spiritual attack. And we are ultimately responsible for our actions, no matter how much Satan tempts and deceives us. But it might be good to take a look at some of the ways in which we can open ourselves up to spiritual attack.
In his book, Playing With Fire, author Billy Hallowell explores the topic of demons and spiritual warfare through a Christian lens. While I can’t say I agree with the opinions of everyone he interviewed for the book, it was a fascinating read (as long as you can read it with a lot of discernment). One of the questions he asked was, “What, if anything, can open up a person to being [demonically] oppressed or possessed?” Answers included the following: a specific act or mindset yielding problematic behavior that offers evil a place of power in one’s life (such as allowing anger or hatred to rule over you, giving the emotions permission to manifest and grow); unrepentant and perpetual sin; past traumatic experiences that haven’t been appropriately dealt with; being spiritually unguarded so that we are not filling our minds with God’s truth and allowing ourselves to be inundated with lies; and untreated mental illness which results in a skewed perspective of reality or severe emotional distress. All of these things, as well as others, may make us more vulnerable to spiritual attack.
Fortunately, Scripture tells us how to stand against spiritual warfare. We need the whole armor of God in order to be well-equipped for this battle. Paul doesn’t just list one or two weapons… he gives us seven of them. This is a sobering thought. How many of us even think about spiritual warfare on a daily basis? I know I never used to think about it much at all. But here, we are urged to take this as seriously as possible. It needs to be at the forefront of our minds. When we let down our guard, we are vulnerable to attack. We need to stand firm, holding fast against Satan’s advances.
The weapons at our disposal include the truth, righteousness, the gospel, our faith, salvation, the Word of God, and prayer. The ESV study notes on this passage describe prayer as “the main weapon of spiritual warfare, the Christian’s most powerful resource.” Its significance cannot be overstated; Paul uses the word “all” four times in verse 18. We are to pray at all times, with all prayer and supplication, with all perseverance, for all the saints. We cannot fight this spiritual battle alone. We must rely on the Lord’s strength, which is done primarily through prayer.
There are two other passages that I think relate to this concept. They both have to do with prayer, and, interestingly, anxiety. I will be writing a follow-up post to more thoroughly explore these verses. For now, I would encourage you to meditate on the passage from Ephesians 6 and think about what kinds of ways you might be affected by spiritual warfare, as well as what you can do to put on the whole armor of God and stand against the devil’s schemes.