Fighting and Winning the Spiritual Battle
I. The Reality of Spiritual Warfare
Doctors are trained to diagnose symptoms. When a patient complains of sneezing, runny nose, scratchy throat and itching eyes; an experienced doctor knows that there is a strong possibility of a cold or allergy. Mechanics diagnose symptoms in our automobiles. When there is no response to turning on the ignition, it indicates a dead battery or starter-motor problem. Like medical and automotive problems, the symptoms of spiritual warfare are just as apparent to the Biblically trained analyst.
Spiritual apathy plagues many believers and many local congregations. Gossip and criticism seem to be the Christian’s favorite indoor sport. Sexual impropriety appears to be the norm for many influential Christian leaders. Guilt and shame cripple many from productive service in Christ’s Kingdom. Legalism, vain imaginations and false doctrine are widespread throughout the church. Like John alluded to in 1 John 2:15-17; the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life continue to defeat believers day after day. These and other symptoms, reveal to the spiritual diagnostician, the reality of spiritual warfare. We are no longer in the Garden!
1. What signs do you see in the visible church and in the lives of believers today that there is a spiritual battle?
2. What is the usual explanation for our culture’s spiritual devolution? Why do you think that many professed Christians don’t live any differently than their unsaved neighbors?
The Bible describes the Christian life as a spiritual battle. In Gal. 5:17 it says, “The flesh sets its desire against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh, these are in opposition to one another so that you may not do as you please.” Rom. 8:6 says, “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.” 1 Peter 5:8 warns, “Be of sober spirit, be on alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.” 2 Cor. 10:3-4 counsels us that, “…though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.” Ephesians 6:10-13 exhorts us:
Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
These scriptures conclusively prove that the Christian is involved in a spiritual struggle. The world, the flesh and the devil are constantly in conflict with the new man in Christ. Spiritual growth and victory can only be achieved as we correctly perceive the spiritual context in which we live.
3. How does it make you feel that you are in a battle? Do you see the reality of spiritual struggle in your own life?
This spiritual context involves a battle for both the believer and the unbeliever. According to Ephesians 2:1-3, unbelievers are spiritually dead in trespasses and sins. As well they are “…walking according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” In Mark 4:13-15 it says,
13Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14The farmer sows the word. 15Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.”
Jesus illustrates the fact that the devil steals the Word of God so that unbelievers may not receive the gospel. Paul amplifies on this in 2 Cor. 4:3-4, where he states, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving…” Unbelievers are under the influence of Satan and are blinded to the gospel by his deceptive hardening.
4. Look up Ephesians 2:1-3 and 2 Corinthians 4:3-4. Based on these Scriptures, what values and perspectives should we expect from people who do not know God?
Believers are not immune to satanic influences and attack. In the Old Testament Job is an example of a believer who is harassed by Satan. In Job 1:6-12, Satan receives permission from God to attack Job. Job 1:6-12 sates,
6 One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. 7 The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”
Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.” 8 Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” 9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has and he will surely curse you to your face.” 12 The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.
While this passage shows us that Satan must have God’s permission to attack believers, it also makes it clear that even godly followers are not insulated from the devil’s schemes.
In the New Testament Peter is presented as an example of one who succumbed to satanic deception. Matt. 16: 21-23 says:
From that time Jesus Christ began to show His disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying “God forbid it Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But He turned and said to Peter, Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”
In Ephesians 6:10-18, a critical passage explaining the armor of God, we are exhorted to be strong in the Lord and to take up God’s resources for spiritual victory. Ephesians 6:10-18 reads,
10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
These passages are clear that believers can be attacked, influenced and defeated by Satan and his demons.
5. “…believers can be attacked, influenced and defeated by Satan…” What do you think about this statement? How is the spiritual battle similar and different for believers versus unbelievers?
6. How have you seen the spiritual battle in your own life?
Spiritual warfare is not a fringe issue in biblical theology, but at the core of God’s revelation. Certainly this is illustrated in the life and ministry of Jesus. In Luke 4:1-16 and Matthew 4: 1-11, the gospel writers record Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness. Directed by the Spirit and using the Word of God, Jesus rejects each of the devil’s temptations. This was an outright frontal assault on the Son of God. Luke 4:13 says, “And when the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.” Throughout Jesus’ ministry Satan sought “opportune” times to tempt Jesus.
Jesus’ battle and victory over Satan was so apparent that His enemies charged in Mark 3:22, “And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, He is possessed by Beelzebub and He casts out the demons by the ruler of demons.” Spiritual warfare characterized Jesus’ ministry to such a degree that His critics accused Him of being demon empowered. This accusation came in response to the numerous power encounters where the truth of Jesus defeated the lie of Satan.
7. Jesus encountered satanic attack because He was the Son of God and came to do the work of God. What do you think believers in Jesus Christ who are seeking to serve God can expect in spiritual warfare?
This warfare dynamic in Jesus’ ministry was also passed on to His Apostles. In Mark 3:13-15 it states:
“And He went up to the mountain and summoned those whom He Himself wanted, and they came to Him. And He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him, and that He might send them out to preach, and to have authority to cast out demons.”
The authority to cast out demons was demonstrated in a short-term mission recorded in Luke10: 17-19 read:
And the seventy returned with joy saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from Heaven like lightening. Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon the serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall injure you.”
It appears that as Jesus encountered demonic strongholds, He anticipated the same opposition toward the apostolic ministry. Preparing for this, Jesus gave to the Apostles authority to cast out demons. This they did in Christ’s authority while advancing God’s Kingdom.
8. Why do you think the reality of spiritual conflict is so apparent in the Gospels? If Jesus is our perfect example, what should we learn from Him about encountering and defeating Satan and His demons?
Spiritual warfare was also a hallmark of the early church. In Acts 5:1-6, it is recorded that Ananias lied about the price of a plot of land. Peter says in verse 3, “…Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit…” While the salvation of Ananias can be debated, it is clear that Peter recognized the source of his lying; Satan had filled his heart. In Acts 16, Paul rebukes a slave girl who had a spirit of divination. Paul’s action reveals his insight into her spiritual struggle, “…but Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!’ And it came out at that very moment.” Paul understood that she was in demonic bondage. In Acts 26:15-20, Paul defends his faith before King Agrippa. Explaining his apostolic mission, Paul says in verse 18, “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the domain of Satan to God…” Turning people from satanic bondage to freedom in Christ was at the heart of Paul’s ministry.
In addition to these references, the New Testament letters abound with teachings and warnings about Satan and his demonic strategy. Here is a sampling of the Scriptures,
2 Cor. 11:13-15
13For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.
1 Thessalonians 2:18
18For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan stopped us.
2 Timothy 2:24-26
24And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
7Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
1 Peter 5:8
8Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
When you look at the totality of the Biblical references, it becomes quite evident that the early church was aware of and engaged in spiritual warfare.
9. How would you summarize in your own words the previous instruction on the reality spiritual warfare and the keys to spiritual victory?
Not only is spiritual warfare a reality to the Biblical world but it is a reality and norm for believers today. Only an imbalanced theology or Biblical ignorance could escape this fact. In scriptures dealing specifically with Satan’s strategy, we are warned: don’t be ignorant of his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11); be on the alert (1 Pet 5:8); stand firm (Ephesians 6:10-13); and resist him (James 4:7-8). These exhortations apply to believers today and reveal that Christians are involved in spiritual conflict.
10. The following commands are given in the context of spiritual battle: don’t be ignorant of his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11); be on the alert (1 Peter 5:8); stand firm (Ephesians 6:10-13); and resist him (James 4:7-8). How do you think believers should put these commands into practice?
11. How are you going to obey these commands so that you are a winner in the spiritual battle?
Spiritual conflict is being waged on three fronts: with the world, the flesh and the devil. The world is the present system in which we live. It is the culture of fallen mankind. Both Ephesians 2:2 and 2 Corinthians 4:3 assert,
2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient…3Andeven if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
Speaking about the believer’s relationship to the world, Galatians 6:14 states that we have been crucified to the world and the world to us. In Rom. 12:2, Paul commands us not to be squeezed into the world’s mold. John warns us in 1 John 2:15-17, not to love the world or the things of this world. The world is characterized by the lust of flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life. These are in antithesis to God and His will for our lives.
12. How do you see the world and its value system being represented in the media, Hollywood, music industry and pop-culture?
13. In John 17, Jesus prayed that the Father would not take us out of the world but protect us in the world. How do you think a believer can live in the world without being squeezed into its mold?
In addition to this world, the Bible explains that every believer has a sin principle within them called the “flesh”. The flesh is continually at odds with our new identity in Christ. The Bible describes the flesh as that part of our fallen humanity that is inseparably connected to our bodies. Paul refers to it as: the body of sin, sin in my members, evil within me, the body of death and the flesh. It is that unregenerate part of our humanity that is bent on sinning. The flesh responds to the stimuli of the world and the devil pulls us toward sin. This struggle is described by Paul in Galatians 5:16-20,
16So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. 19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
The sin nature, while no longer our master, is still present within every believer. It is where our lusts respond to the world’s temptations and enticements.
14. When we receive Christ we become new creations. While every believer is indwelt with the Spirit and has a new nature, there is still a sin principle in every believer. While in these bodies, there is a part of us that is vulnerable and receptive to sin. Look up Galatians 5:24-25, Romans 8:12-13, Colossians 3:5-10 an Romans 13:14. What is our responsibility to prevent the flesh from the master of our lives?
The believer continually struggles with the world and the flesh. As well, the believer must contend with the devil and his demons in the spiritual battle. Ephesians 6:11-12 says:
Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against the flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Satan is neither omnipresent nor omniscient. He is a finite being but he has a network of fallen angels who do his bidding. The believer is in a spiritual struggle against this demonic host. Peter tells us, “be of sober spirit, and be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” The devil is clearly identified as our adversary.
Spiritual warfare is a reality. The Bible clearly defines it and human experiences back it up. Both outside and inside the church spiritual conflict is raging. The first step to victory is recognizing we are in a battle.
15. We are in a spiritual battle with the devil and his demons. The good news is that Jesus is stronger and Jesus has already won the victory. Look up the following verses and write down what we need to believe and what we need to do in order to walk in Christ’s victory: Hebrews 2:14-15, Colossians 2:13-15, Ephesians 1:17-2:7, Ephesians 6:10-18, Matthew 16:18-19