Our Spiritual Battle Part 1

Spanish (Valencian) tempera on wood painting of Michael slaying the dragon, ca 1405, artist unknown.
Artists have often depicted spiritual battles as literal fights, but the Bible even specifically points out that the battle between Michael and the devil was a disputation that ended with the words, “May the Lord rebuke you!” (Jude 9). This is a tempera on wood (ca. 1405) by an unknown Spanish (Valencian) artist. Source http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/437742.

In Ephesians 6:10, Paul tells his readers to “be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might,” which, in the next verse, he pictures as putting “on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” Paul is making an analogy between the Christian life and an armored soldier standing his ground in a battle. What the Christian must stand against are “the wiles of the devil.” The devil has methodeia—”clever ways,” “cunning schemes”—that we must stand up against.

Too often, Christians have misunderstood the believer’s struggle to be against sinners, but, in verse 12, Paul specifically excludes this view: “For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood.” We’re not fighting people, but false ideas. These are the devil’s “wiles,” and our work is to throw them down (“wrestling” here is related to the word meaning “to throw down”) using the weapons of Scripturally true teaching.

Spiritual Warfare

Our battle as fully armored soldiers of Christ is “against the principalities, against the powers, against the world’s rulers of the darkness of this age, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (verse 12). As Paul has said, these are not “flesh and blood” but spiritual rulers. Harry Potter’s battle against Voldemort was child’s play compared to the Christian’s clash with the high-ranking leaders of spiritual evil. We do not, however, simply point a wand and say magic words. Nor does our conflict require exorcisings, castings out, bindings, incantations, or “spiritual mapping” of “demonic hotspots” as some church leaders teach.

The English Standard Version captures the intent of Paul’s words when it translates that we wrestle “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” We are fighting high-ranking demons, not politicians or leaders of ideologies. We are fighting spiritual darkness expressed as ignorance and lies.

How Do You Fight Spiritual Darkness?

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). When Jesus commissioned Paul, He said He would send Paul to the Gentiles “that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18). The power of Satan is darkness, but we fight it with the truth of God. Paul also speaks of armor in Romans 13: “The night is far gone, and the day is near. Let’s therefore throw off the works of darkness, and let’s put on the armor of light” (verse 12). It is the armor of light that protects us and combats the dark power of Satan.

To fight spiritual darkness, we should know that our interaction with the spiritual world is largely in the form of concepts. For example, the Bible tells us, “No one has seen God at any time” (John 1:18). We relate to God, not by seeing Him with our eyes but by understanding who and what He is, by concepts: “God is light” (1 John 1:5), “God is love” (1 John 4:8), “God is faithful” (1 Corinthians 10:13), “God is true” (John 3:33), and so forth. Such concepts we often call doctrine. True concepts combat spiritual darkness. Spiritual darkness is the ignorance of God’s truth and the lies—wrong concepts—that are promoted to substitute for and cover up the truth. We can know the fundamental erroneous concepts of the evil we are fighting because they are the opposites of the armor and weapons God has given us.

Lies and Unrighteousness

The armor and weapons God gives us are not called the anti-demon belt or the Beelzebub-blocking breastplate or the Satan-cleaving sword. We are not to directly address or focus on the evil spirits, but on the truth.

Ephesians 6:14 tells us, “Stand therefore, having the utility belt of truth buckled around your waist, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness.” Truth counters the foundational weapon of spiritual evil—lies. Speaking of the devil, Jesus said, “When he speaks a lie, he speaks on his own; for he is a liar, and its father” (John 8:44). In the fight against Satan and his cohorts, we must have the truth with us at all times. When we hold fast to the truth, have it strapped onto us—know God’s Word, have it in our minds—we will not be duped and we can expose Satan’s lies.

The breastplate of righteousness is God’s provision to protect our “vital organs.” It is Christ’s righteousness that prevents the devil from ever effectively accusing us of unrighteousness (Revelation 12:10; Romans 8:31-34). With the breastplate of righteousness, we will be assured of our salvation, Satan will not be able to score a hit against us, and we will take no damage.

Ignorance, Enmity, and Unbelief

Paul next writes, “And having fitted your feet with the preparation of the Good News of peace; above all, taking up the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:15-16). What better picture to associate with the Gospel that we are to bring to the world than feet? Many commentators point out that hetoimasia, the word translated “preparation,” can also mean “firm foundation” or “firm footing,” and it should be translated that way here. The Gospel is our firm footing, our sturdy soldier’s sandal, as we go into the world: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Good News of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:15; see also Isaiah 52:7). What does the Gospel of peace combat? Ignorance of the Good News of Jesus’ atonement for sinners who will believe. Thus, it combats ignorance and enmity against God.

We are to take up the shield of faith. With the shield of faith, we “will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one.” The fiery darts are the opposite of faith—faithlessness, distrust, and unbelief. Faith is not something we work up; it is the shield that God gives us.

Eternal Death and Irrationality

Paul completes his description of the armor of God by saying, “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). The word “take” in this verse is dechomai, which means “receive.” There is no effort on our part. No Satanic spiritual powers can remove or penetrate the helmet of salvation. Our salvation is assured. We are to go forth in battle with total confidence in Christ’s completed work of salvation in us.

The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. Unlike the previous, passive items, the Sword is active (see Hebrews 4:12). God’s Word is truth (John 17:17), and God gives it to us graciously, but we actively use it. It is the active counterpart to the passive protection of the belt of truth. The belt of truth protects us from demonic attacks of lies. The Sword is a weapon we wield to show the truth, cut away lies, and expose liars. What agrees with the Word is truth; what disagrees is not the truth. Whoever contradicts the Word is a liar, a bad tree bearing bad fruit (see “What is the fruit by which we are to know people?“). While we may need to expose the liar, our job is not to make personal attacks. We are to show why his teachings are false.

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