Why do certain cities and nations and even families seem susceptible to specific problems that never go away, generation after generation, despite implementing the resources of the education system and even the government? Why do certain churches have such difficulty establishing congregations or keeping pastors? Why are racial tensions in the United States still just a step away from the boiling point after fifty years of pressing hard for civil rights and harmony?
Unless one understands the nature of spiritual warfare, and its components and tactics, there is no explanation for the chaos and dysfunction in the world around us. Worse, there is no hope. (The term “spiritual warfare” will be used here and in this series as an umbrella for all matters relating to the overthrow of Satan’s kingdom on earth and the establishment of Christ’s government on earth).
The world has no rational for the staggering sociopolitical problems of our generation, much less a solution for them. As Ray Stedman once said, “The world [defined here as the arena of humanity apart from Christ] cannot solve these problems; the world can only rearrange them.” Modern science and modern medicine deal in quantitative measures – at best they can calculate and diagnose and seek to control breakdown wherever it occurs in the natural world, be it an individual or society. But there is much in our lives and in the world at large for which science and medicine simply have no answers. Nor can science or medicine regenerate or create where calamity has already struck (a good friend of mine who is a physician recently pointed this out, which in turn reminded me of another person who told me earlier this year that her doctors don’t want to see her any more, because she has “too many problems” and they don’t even know how to diagnose her, much less treat her). It is the responsibility of the church to tackle these otherwise insurmountable troubles that plague individuals and societies as a whole.
The tragedy is when the church is as ignorant and powerless as the world because it fails to study and engage in spiritual warfare. Many Christians see their faith as simply a subscription for a particular brand of morality. They have a vague idea that there are some statutes they’re to live out, some behaviors they’re not to engage in – they can quote odds and ends from the Sermon on the Mount or the Ten Commandments. And one day (if they get it right, perhaps) they’ll escape this world and the fires of Hell to dwell in Heaven – and what that looks like is usually equally vague in their minds.
There are also those believers – including pastors and seminary professors – who understand doctrines and apologetics. They can talk about sanctification and predestination and grace-based salvation, and they strive to live godly lives. However, they still have little to differentiate their daily dramas from their secular neighbors. They have no practical answers nor recourse in the problems that slam their lives. They see the state of the world and shake their heads and wring their hands with a solemnity that suggests they’re holding on to whatever they have until Christ comes back, hoping they and theirs get by as “one who escapes through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:15). They often bleat out the political messages of the world, and they seem powerless against the same problems that their unbelieving neighbors suffer from, be it illness or financial stress or marital strife.
The reality of the Christian’s role on this planet can really be likened to that of a military officer or member of a special forces unit (see 2 Timothy 2:4) operating in a hostile territory that is occupied by evil forces. These “agents” are on a mission, and are receiving continual training, as well as transmissions from their General on strategies to take out the enemy and to establish His Kingdom in its place (Matthew 6:10).
Warfare is a constant theme throughout scripture, which might surprise some people. (I grew up in a church that exalted peace and historically promoted pacifism; our hymnals excluded certain songs or stanzas that spoke of battle). Yet in the Bible, God’s people often found themselves on the brink of being invaded by hostile forces, and time and again, God revealed Himself as deliverer. As Dr. E. Daniel Martin once pointed out, “Israel never lost a battle because of military reasons, but because of spiritual reasons.” Under the New Covenant, Paul says “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). Our enemies therefore are not human beings – they’re spiritual beings.
Isn’t spiritual warfare only for certain “elite” Christians – clergy or evangelists, perhaps? The truth is that every disciple of Christ is “God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). As my friend and Bible teacher Allan Chambers once said, “It is as though God had us don our ‘earth suits’ and come in the flesh to take on tasks that He foresaw before the foundation of the earth.” How exciting! What an adventure we’re on as believers! (Did you ever stop to think how terribly dull life would be if you weren’t a Christian and didn’t have the daily adventures and opportunities to partner in the supernatural with the God of the universe? What a drab existence God has saved us from!)
So what is the point of studying spiritual warfare? Here are three reasons:
To understand our lives. Many people mistakenly think that God is to blame for various problems in their lives and in the world at large, discounting entirely the fact that we have a terrible enemy who would kill us all outright given the opportunity (i.e. People ask “How could God take my brother so early?” or “How could God allow that typhoon to wipe out so many people?” and mistakenly attribute all kinds of tragedies to a loving heavenly Father).
To set ourselves and others free from the works of the devil. Jesus said “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Instead of striking at the branches, when one understands the nature of spiritual warfare, the roots are exposed and can be eliminated. Instead of trying to control the symptoms, the disease itself can be eradicated.
To transform our world. Understanding spiritual warfare enables us to engage in it, thereby advancing the kingdom of Heaven. We are equipped to impact our own lives and the world around us. When we understand the nature of the battle and begin to participate in it, we have tremendous power to shape history itself!
When you study the scriptures and gain an understanding into the nature of the war, the tactics of the two dominions represented on earth, as well as the natures of their Commanders-in-chief, everything in history to the point we’re at now suddenly begins to come into focus. Best of all, you will have the thrilling revelation that there is a role in all of it that is designated especially for you!