Overcoming the Darkness

With Paul in the School of Spiritual Warfare (3 of 5)

This is the third installment of a five-part series on spiritual warfare. For further study see my two books on the subject: Warfare Witness: Contending with Spiritual Opposition in Everyday Evangelism (Christian Focus, 224 pages) and What is Spiritual Warfare? (P&R Basics of the Faith Series, 44 pages). Links to the previous installments can be found here and here

“At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.

Walk as children of light.” (Ephesians 5:8, ESV) 

In his letters Paul highlights an important principle for the conduct of spiritual warfare. Though implied in Ephesians, the apostle makes it explicit in his second letter to the church at Corinth:  “But [the Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9). 

Spiritual warfare is waged in weakness as we defer to Christ, rest in Christ, and draw strength from Christ. When we are weak, then we are strong (2 Cor. 12:10). The boast of weakness is Christ, and is expressed in humility, submission and dependence. James puts it this way:

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (James 4:6–8) 

For Paul our weakness is expressed through prayer and Christ’s power is accessed through prayer. The two prayers recorded in Ephesians are pleas for power. In Ephesians 1:19-20 Paul prays that we would know the “immeasurable greatness” of God’s power that raised Christ from the dead and exalted Him over any adversary. In Ephesians 3:16 and 20 Paul prays that we would be strengthened with the power of Christ at work within us. 

In addition, as ones alive in Christ and freed from sin’s power, we are to walk in a manner worthy of the name of Christ (4:1).  We are to no longer walk as the Gentiles do, those still in Satan’s grip (4:17-19). 

Though we are no longer of the world, we remain in it, on guard, at work. The church has the job of training us in sound doctrine (4:12-16) to defend us against our spiritual foe and to equip us to advance against the kingdom of darkness, as Christ builds His church through us as His instruments. 

Ephesians 5 continues God’s call to us to conduct our lives in keeping with Christ’s deliverance of us from the power of sin.  Those things that characterized us under the dominion of darkness, such as sexual immorality and impurity, are to characterize us no more.  We are no longer “sons of disobedience” upon whom the wrath of God will come but are now “beloved children of God” from whom the wrath of God has been turned aside.  

Paul reminds us that our identity is in Christ.  We are children of light, who, as John puts it, are to walk in the light at He is in the light (1 Jn. 1:5-7). Paul tells us what that means.

[F]or at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord (Eph. 5:8–10).

Instead of participating in deeds of darkness we are to oppose them and expose them (5:11). We are to filter thought and deed through the corrective lens of God’s revealed will. 

The world we live in is filled with spiritual pitfalls and perils.  We must be alert and discerning, our wits sharp and not dulled, knowing the days are evil (5:15-16), that our enemy the devil prowls about seeking to devour.  The Word of God must be the light to our path, defining for us the way our God would have us walk (5:10, 17).  We need the camaraderie of Christian community to help one another and to keep one another from spiritual harm (5:19-21; cf. Heb. 3:12-14; 10:23-25). 

Each chapter in Paul's letter to Ephesus provides us with foundational coursework to the practical internship of Ephesians 6, to which we turn next. 

Next installment: Spiritual Warfare (1) 

Digging Deeper

  1. How does Eph. 4:26 parallel with Gen. 4:7 and 1 Pet. 5:8?
  2. What is characteristic of light and darkness in Eph. 5:8-13? 

Father in heaven, I am well acquainted with the undertow of evil that remains in my flesh. It requires my watchfulness. I beseech you, O Lord, not to let my heart incline to any evil, nor to partake of the delicacies of darkness that delight my sinful appetites. (adapted from Psalm 141:3-4)

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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.

Stan Gale

Stanley D. Gale (MDiv Westminster, DMin Covenant) has pastored churches in Maryland and Pennsylvania for over 30 years. He is the author of several books, including A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in Christ and The Christian’s Creed: Embracing the Apostolic Faith. He has been married to his wife, Linda, since 1975. They have four children and nine grandchildren. He lives in West Chester, Pa.

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