“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Galatians 1:3–5)
What comes to mind when you think of spiritual warfare? Perhaps images of Linda Blair’s contorted face or spinning head from the movie, The Exorcist. Those more biblically-minded might think of Jesus casting out a legion of demons, sending them into a herd of pigs to plunge over a cliff. Or, maybe you can find no other explanation for some experience of dark oppression in your own life, so you start to consider something demonic.
But The Exorcist was fiction and Jesus casting out demons was an occurrence that happened back in a unique period of time. Your experience of dark oppression could just as easily be related to something else, something less sinister.
Why bother with spiritual warfare? The reason is two-fold. One, it is evident throughout the Bible, part of living in this fallen world, what Paul calls the “present evil age.” Two, we are called by God to wage spiritual warfare.
Spiritual opposition is part of a biblical worldview. Spiritual warfare is an aspect integral to Christian discipleship, for which believers must be equipped. It is neither extraneous nor extraordinary to the Christian life but fundamental and ordinary.
Jesus came “to destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil” (Heb. 2:14). John says that the reason for the appearing of the Son of God was to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:9). Spiritual opposition is a subject of our Lord’s priestly work. His prayer on the eve of the cross was not that His sheep would be removed from the world that is said to lie “in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19) but that they would be kept from the evil one (John 17:15).
Spiritual warfare is recognized by every New Testament writer. In his first letter to the persecuted and scattered exiles, Peter addresses an array of practical matters dealing with all sorts of common issues related to suffering. He concludes the epistle with a discussion of spiritual warfare, not as something tangential to the topic, but normal and integral. Peter remarks: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). James counsels us to “resist the devil” (Jas. 4:7), alerting us to wisdom “from above” and wisdom that is “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (Jas. 3:15). We are to be discerning.
But the preponderance of teaching on the subject of spiritual warfare is found in the writings of the apostle Paul, as core subject matter in the curriculum of Christian discipleship. The division, disorder, depravity, and dysfunction highlighted in the first letter to the church at Corinth are shown in Paul’s second letter to involve spiritual opposition (2 Cor. 2:11; 4:4; 10:3-6; 11:14; 12:7). It’s like being told of structural damage in a house, where the inspector’s report details termite damage.
It is in his letter to the Ephesians, however, that the apostle establishes a center for the study of spiritual warfare. Every chapter touches on the subject, as Paul describes the deliverance of Christ, the call of the Christian, and the dark world in which we live as children of light, contending with spiritual forces of evil.
Next installment: Deliverance
- Why is it important that spiritual warfare be part of our worldview?
- What does Jesus’ prayer in John 17:15-18 inform us about daily life in a fallen world?
O my Strength, I will watch for You, for You, O God, are my fortress. My God in His steadfast love will meet me; God will let me look in triumph on my enemies. Through Christ the Lord I pray. (Psalm 59:9-10)
Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Those marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.