The topic of spiritual warfare has typically been relegated to that slightly odd brand of pastors who see angels and demons behind every common occurrence. We have been conditioned to think nothing more of it than a fairy tale we once read as children, yet even at this moment an intense battle is being waged. Are you equipped to handle whatever Satan throws your way?
In his book The Adversary, Mark Bubeck says that “the believer who does not become familiar with spiritual warfare will indeed be a poor soldier of Jesus Christ.” Similarly, Scripture warns that we must be prepared for the spiritual journey ahead of us.
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 2 Corinthians 10:3-4
Think of all the supernatural occurrences in the Bible. Jesus and His disciples had to confront and cast out demons on multiple occasions. There is the argument that these incidents can be explained away by some scientific phenomena, but that’s not how Jesus explained them in His Word. If we are to claim belief in Christ’s divine nature as God manifest in the flesh, we cannot rightfully then say He didn’t know what He was talking about when He reacted as though it were demonic. Let us not become fools ourselves while claiming to be wise in our own reckoning (Rom 1:22).
Acknowledgment of the supernatural does require balance and discretion. Many things we try to explain by attributing them to natural phenomena are likely spiritual in nature. However it is neither wise nor healthy to go looking for a demon around every corner. C.S. Lewis wrote this in his Screwtape Letters:
“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.”
Many ignore the reality of the spiritual realm due to fear. However, God has given us “a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:7). Superstition, fear of the unknown, or even past experience with the demonic causes many Christians to neglect this aspect of their spiritual journey rather than claiming the courage that is rightfully theirs.
Some also attempt to discredit the belief in the supernatural because it seems too far-fetched to fit into our understanding of the natural world. What we must grasp is that spiritual battles do not always rage in the paranormal experiences or dramatic encounters with demons; they are waged in the heart every single day.
Another misconception is that if we openly espouse a theology that allows for the existence of angelic and demonic influences, we open doors for anyone and everyone to blame all their sin and mistakes on the devil, thereby abnegating responsibility. This is never what was intended in Scripture.
Consider how the serpent tempted Eve. He appealed to the lusts of her flesh, tempting her with God-like knowledge. Being previously sinless, and created only with the capability (not the certainty) of sinning, I doubt Eve would have had conceived the thought on her own. Nevertheless, she and Adam were both ultimately to blame for their own disobedience. The existence of the demonic is never an excuse for our own sinful acts, though it can influence us in ways we may not expect.
For example, many people with severe mental health disorders often exhibit symptoms surprisingly similar to that of those suffering from demonic oppression or possession. Often our first reaction when confronted with such symptoms is to seek the help of a therapist or another expert in psychology, when our first step should always be prayer. The Holy Spirit may reveal an underlying spiritual cause to something that may appear mundane or common on the surface. This is not to say all cases of mental health disorders are caused by the supernatural, but it would be safer to examine all cases keeping in mind such a possibility.
Disbelief may seem like a shield against the supernatural, it is actually a liability. Those who don’t believe in supernatural influence will be substantially more vulnerable to spiritual attack in subtle ways. Destructive thoughts can easily become habitual, developing into more serious behaviors. Negative life circumstances can become oppressive and difficult to escape, and may not always be coincidental in nature. It can require serious spiritual intervention to remove ourselves from such circumstances, thoughts, or behaviors.
If there is not a belief in the supernatural affecting us here on this earth, there is no recognition of the tangible consequences of sin in this life. Bubeck states, “fleshly living means we are entering Satan’s territory.” Every time we participate in sinful thoughts or actions, we create a foothold for the devil to create a stronghold. A stronghold might appear in different forms, but it always drags us deeper into sin. It might be an adulterous affair, an addiction to pornography or drugs, homosexual relations, an eating disorder, or self-destructive acts such as cutting. If you have personally dealt with or experienced any of these, you know how difficult and complex and process it is to untangle someone from such heavy emotional and psychological chains. Not every instance of such oppression is directly caused by the sin of the one suffering, but these instances always involve lies that draw us further from God’s grace.
There is a bright side. God does not leave His children defenseless against the attacks of the enemy. Christians have His Word as their ultimate defense and weapon, and are instructed to put on the armor of God daily.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 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. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 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. (Ephesians 6:10-18)
He does not leave us to fight the battle alone, but has left us with our Guide and Comforter, the Holy Spirit, and endowed us with Spiritual gifts to protect and arm ourselves against Satan’s assaults. The reality of spiritual warfare should not alarm believers, but rather empower those in whom Christ dwells. There is no fear for the Christian who trusts fully in God’s protection and deliverance.