‘Spiritual Warfare’ is a classic example of ‘Christian Jargon’ – language which makes perfect sense to someone who has grown up in or around the church, but to anyone else it is ambiguous (and not to mention a little weird). Spiritual warfare is often used to describe a spiritual attack, moments of temptation, discouragement, fear and anxiety – anything that affects us in a spiritual way that is clearly not of or from God. These things are in fact against God, attempting to draw us away from pursuing our relationship with God and living out our lives in likeness to Christ. The attack comes from Satan, which distinguishes it from suffering due to our faith or consequences of our own sinfulness. It is an attack of our faith, typically experienced through our thoughts and emotions.
C.S. Lewis once said, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
As Christians I think we can easily fall into either of these categories, or at least sit too far one way or the other. We either exhibit a lack of awareness, or unhealthy interest in the spiritual realms and spiritual warfare. In light of this, it is imperative that we look to and hold firm to the Bible to shape our understanding of these things, knowing that what God provides on this topic is sufficient, but written for a reason.
To do this, I want to spend some time looking at Ephesians and the ‘Armour of God’. This definitely seems to be the passage that most addresses this topic of spiritual warfare, and in fact seems to be where the term ‘spiritual warfare’ originated from in the first place: “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” (Eph. 6:12). I think it is a very appropriate passage to find the balance of gaining understanding of spiritual warfare, whilst also preventing us from obsessing about the greater details of the evil spiritual realms by knowing how through the gospel we are protected from it. And in addition, if you have grown up as a Christian, or have been so for a long time, it is probably a passage that you would have read many times, potentially looking at it in Sunday school, youth group and Bible studies. However, I often think that these well known passages can need reviewing and studying just as much as the hardly known, as there is the risk that familiarity can lead to complacency in understanding meaning and application.
So let’s start by taking a look at the passage!
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 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. 13 Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 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, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6: 10-20).
I was intentional in choosing to call this series of posts ‘Stand Firm’. When reading the passage, we see that the purpose of putting on this armour is that ‘we might be able to stand against the schemes of the devil’ (6:10), and that in wearing it, we have done all we can to ‘stand firm’ (6:13). There is a clear emphasis throughout the passage on ‘standing.’ Not fighting, not marching into battle, not fleeing, but standing firm. There is a sense of holding ground, not wavering in our position.
However, what is also made clear is that we are not fighting our battle alone; we are to be strong in The Lord in the strength of His might. (v 10). The term ‘be strong’ is actually best understood to mean ‘be made strong’ – we can not simply be strong by ourselves; we need to be empowered by the Lord Jesus. This occurs by putting on the whole armour of God (v 11). As we explore each aspect of this, we will come to see how this armour is truly God’s, in the sense that it is the same armour that He himself has worn in battle against the forces of evil, and has already proven its effectiveness in battle in victory over Satan. This armour is now provided for us as God’s people as we engage in spiritual battle.
In the coming posts we will discuss each piece of armour and what it means, and most importantly what wearing it looks like in our day-to-day life.