Spiritual Warfare (1)

With Paul in the School of Spiritual Warfare (4 of 5)

This is the fourth 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, here, and here

“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:4–5, ESV) 

Now at letter’s end, the stream of thought that has wound its way through the epistle to the Ephesians opens up to explicit matters of spiritual warfare. Chapter 6 deals with our enemy, our battle plan, our weapons and our strategies. 

Paul reminds us of our enemy. 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” (6:12).  Our attention is directed to a spiritual foe (v. 11) which we fight by standing firm in Christ, who has been given all authority (Eph. 1:21), and by finding our strength in that Lord (v. 10). 

Paul goes on to lay out the armor of God for us.  While it is true that most of the armor listed is defensive, in no way does that suggest passivity in spiritual warfare.  Armor is donned for protection in the waging of battle. Awareness of Satan’s schemes (cf. Eph. 4:14; 2 Cor. 2:11) helps us to understand the nature of the armor for the conduct of the battle through the exercise of faith, truth, and righteousness. 

All the panoply provided by God has to do with what Christ has accomplished in the power of God that is received by grace through faith. To engage in spiritual warfare is to walk in the reality of the gospel of the kingdom Paul has been driving home throughout his letter.  That’s why Paul speaks so pointedly of “standing” as the strategy for waging spiritual warfare in the course of everyday life (6:13-14).  

What does it mean to stand? It is helpful to recognize that “stand” is to Paul what “abide” is to John, recognizing that apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5). In view is union with Christ and the outworking of that union. That explains the language of Paul throughout Ephesians that speaks of every blessing of salvation being bound up in Christ and the strength needed being found in Christ

How do we go about standing in Christ?  How do we wage war with spiritual weapons?  If standing is our strategy, how do we combat Satan’s schemes? Satan has three primary tactics he employs: accusation, deception and temptation. We combat each of these through standing in Christ, in the exercise of the gospel. 

First, Satan is the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:9-10). He is the adversary.  In verb form his name means to accuse.  But Jesus bore our sins. They were nailed to the cross.  We bear them no more. Christ triumphed in our stead. He disarmed the devil (cf. Col. 2:13-15). 

Against Satan’s tactic of accusation, we stand firm in Christ’s righteousness.  We preach the gospel to ourselves, reminding ourselves that in Christ there is no condemnation. We stand cleansed by His blood and clothed in His righteousness.  Satan points out our sin to drive us to despair. The Spirit convicts us of our sin to drive us to the cross. 

Second, Satan is a deceiver.  When he lies he speaks his native language. He is the ruler of this world. His lies are proffered by the likes of false religious teachers, pundits of pop culture, and educational establishments offering a secular worldview and empty hope. Satan employs those still subject to him (cf. 2 Thess. 3:2-3; 1 Tim. 4:1-2; 1 John 4:1-6), and even those believers who oppose the will of God (Mt. 16:23). 

But God has given us His truth. His Word is truth. God has appointed shepherd-teachers to communicate this truth. Paul describes this safeguard in Ephesians 4.

…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (Eph. 4:14).

In Ephesians 5:6-10 Paul cautions us against deception and calls us to discernment (cf. Col. 2:6-8). This weapon is not only defensive as a helmet to our minds; it is offensive as we wield the sword of the Spirit against false teaching (Eph. 6:17; 2 Cor. 10:4-5). 

Against Satan’s tactic of deception, we are to stand firm in Christ’s truth. We are to follow Christ the truth and the truth of Christ. We are to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ as the way to destroy strongholds and arguments that would oppose the truth of God. We are to bring the word of Christ to dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16), that we might walk in truth against the adversary’s lies (Col. 2:6-8). 

Accusation – met by the gospel of justification. Deception – met by the revealed truth of God’s Word. Our enemy the devil has one other prominent tactic that we are equipped to combat in Christ. 

Next installment: Spiritual Warfare (2) 

Digging Deeper

  1. What has Paul expressed in Ephesians 1 that leads us to Christ as the place to stand?
  2. How is standing God’s strategy for the conduct of spiritual warfare? 

Lord of hosts, You are our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble, our strength and shield against the assaults of the evil one. Though the nations rage and kingdoms falter, You are with us – immovable and unchanging. Nothing in all creation can separate us from Your love for us in Christ Jesus. (adapted from Psalm 141:1-2)

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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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