This edition of Pastor’s Roundtable focuses on the topic of spiritual warfare
· What it is, how we might perceive it and how we might defend ourselves against it. Participants in this roundtable discussion include Father Brad Cunningham of St. Timothy’s Anglican Church, Dr. Johnny Hutchison of Highland Drive Baptist Church and Rev. Ray Scales of New Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church
1. When we think about “spiritual warfare,” it’s a difficult idea for us to comprehend. What is the reality of spiritual warfare, and why do we call it “war?”
Cunningham: “Spiritual warfare” is a strong term used to describe a frighteningly powerful concept. Human beings are locked in a life and death struggle with spiritual forces that are both external and internal.
Externally, there is Satan and his fallen angels, tempting us, pushing us to rebel against God. The world itself, fallen as it is, tempts us to abandon God for temporal pleasures. Internally, our own sin-sick hearts produce lusts and longings which, if undisciplined, will lead us away from God. Together, these three enemies (the world, the flesh, and
the Devil) assault us in a dizzying daily battle. To lose this battle is to die eternally. It is war.
If we modern Americans have a
difficult time comprehending spiritual warfare, it is because we are so slow to desire war at all. We close our eyes and pretend that the war isn’t happening if we refuse to fight. But the enemy has already attacked - the war is on. And all humans must fight or die.
Understanding spiritual warfare begins with understanding that there is a reality that goes beyond what we can experience with the five senses. The Bible is referring to this unseen reality when it mentions angels, demons, spiritual forces in heavenly places, and a real creature named Satan. For the most part these remain unseen by human eyes.
Yet the Bible makes it clear that they are very real. Simply put, Satan is a fallen angel. Demons are fallen angels who followed Satan in his rebellion against God. The Bible portrays Satan as a liar, deceiver, and destroyer. His goal is to distort and/or destroy everything that God loves. And that includes people.
Just as there are demons in the spirit realm, there are also angels. These are spirit beings created by God to serve Him and His people. Just as Satan and demons desire to destroy God’s people, angels desire to protect God’s people. The Bible has not given us a clear picture of all the interaction between demons and angels, but has given us a few glimpses. And when it has, the image is of warfare; angels fighting against demons.
Scales: Good vs Evil: Holy Spirit vs. Evil Spirit(s). We are by nature sinful beings. The war? Good and Evil–Evil wishes to control, thus causing war in our inner being. Romans 7:14-25. We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do but what I hate I do. If I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I, myself who do it, but is is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do –this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who does it, but the sin living in me that does it, so I find this law at work: when I want to do good, evil is righ there with me. For in my inner being, I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.
2. When are we the most susceptible to spiritual warfare and how might we experience
Cunningham: St. Paul said, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” 1 Cor. 10:12. We are often most vulnerable when we allow ourselves to think that we are strong in the faith and able to withstand temptation. Just then, Satan shows up with a completely new temptation, one we never thought of before, and one which we are completely untrained to defend ourselves against. Or perhaps the world attacks with an expected opportunity to go fishing one Sunday morning (What could that hurt?). For effective spiritual warfare we must learn the maxim, “never let your guard down.” We are always vulnerable. Hutchison: Great question. We may be most susceptible to spiritual warfare when things are going great, or after some spiritually significant experience. Spiritual warfare occurs on at least two fields of battle. There is the warfare between angels and demons. The Bible offers small glimpses of this. But there is also a kind of spiritual warfare between the forces of evil, Satan and his demons, and believers. Satan and demons will try to hurt people by using anything at their disposal. I believe some of their most potent weapons are discouragement, confusion, temptation, and pride.
Scales: We are most susceptible to spiritual warfare when we are: (1) Babes in Christ (new converts); (2) Living unholy not worshipping regularly and not practicing our faith.
3. Can we know the difference between being under attack, and just having a bad day?
Cunningham: There is no difference between spiritual attack and a bad day. If there were no sin in the world, there would be no such thing as a bad day, for all that God made is good. But we can and should know what front we are fighting on. Are we fighting the world, the flesh or the devil?
The Devil attacks us outwardly with temptations to rebel openly against God and his word. For example, an unsolicited opportunity to commit adultery. This is outward (you did not cause the temptation) and it is a clear violation of God’s word.
The World presents us with obstacles to effectiveness through distracting cares and concerns and also distracting pleasures and comforts. For example, your company downsizes, presenting you with the temptation to doubt God’s providence. Or you get a raise, buy a weekend retreat, and the temptation arises to skip worship and sit on your new lakeside porch.
But the most dangerous of all is our own hearts which defeat us through destructive desires and longings. We desire to be loved and appreciated. Maybe a new wife would satisfy that longing? We desire to be respected so we are tempted to reject or mistreat that sassy teen-aged daughter. Bad days are spiritual warfare. Which front are you fighting today?
Hutchison: Sometimes this is difficult. Balance is a great word when it comes to one’s perspective on spiritual warfare. Not every bad thing that happens is the direct result of spiritual warfare. There are natural ups and downs in life.
However, the more a believer grows not only in his/her knowledge of God, but in his/her influence for God, the more Satan is agitated and works against that believer. A person who is doing little for the kingdom of God is probably no threat to Satan and may experience little if any spiritual warfare. If is when a person is serious about his relationship with Christ and his call to service, evangelism, ministry and missions that Satan takes notice. That is when the spiritual warfare increases.
Scales: Being under attack...it is spiritual...yes...evil wishes to destroy...steal, kill,...destroy your peace of mind, steal your joy and totally take everything that is good. A bad day is earthly.
4. What is the role of prayer in spiritual warfare?
Cunningham: Prayer and fasting are indispensable to affect spiritual warfare. Thus, when the Apostles asked Jesus why they were ineffective at battling Satan and his demons, Jesus responded, “You will only be effective against this kind of spirit through much prayer and fasting.” And when St. Paul had finished teaching the Ephesians about spiritual warfare, he concluded by saying, “pray 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, and also for me.”
Hutchison: At the very least, prayer keeps our spiritual senses sharp through spending time with God. In prayer we are yielding our weakness to God’s strength, and acknowledging that we are powerless apart from Him. In prayer, along with reading God’s Word, we discover the will of God. In prayer we gain strength and courage. To a great degree, the battles we fight in this spiritual war are won or lost in prayer. Satan would have us look at him, at our problems, at the circumstances. In prayer, we look to God, who is the source of wisdom, strength, power, and everything that we need.
Scales: Prayer is the key to the kingdom of God. Conversing with our Lord and savior keep in close contact with our savior and in his presence. There is safety, comfort, joy, understanding, love and peace.
5. Ephesians 6 refers to putting on the “full armor of God” in times of spiritual warfare.
Cunningham: Putting on the full armor of God is a beautiful and rich metaphorical call to truly believe the Gospel. We are “dressed” in the armor of God when we abandon our own resources, trusting in Jesus Christ alone and always. Then we are ready to hit the battle field. It is that simple! Don’t trust yourself, trust Jesus crucified, dead, buried, raised, ascended and returning. Don’t follow yourself, follow Jesus into battle. The victory is his, not ours. Trust Jesus and the Gospel He is.
Hutchison: God has provided everything we need to be victorious in spiritual warfare. Six items are mentioned in that passage. Paul, the writer of Ephesians, was using the various pieces of equipment that a Roman soldier had, as pictures of the spiritual provisions provided to us by God. Two things jump out at me in the particular verse mentioned.
First, we are to “put on the full armor.” I believe this refers to a conscious decision to take the various pieces of our spiritual armor and live them. For example, the passage mentions the “breastplate of righteousness.” This is a reminder that I must choose to live a righteous life. Second, it says we are to “put on the full armor.” In other words, we are not to incorporate only a few of the six items in our lives, but all of them.
Scales: Satan uses every weapon in his arsenal to trick us...lies...hatred... sexual desires all unrighteousness in this spiritual warfare. We too must be ready, using our tools, our weapons.
6. If a person has received Christ’s salvation and the promise of eternal life, what purpose would Satan have to use this tactic against the person?
Cunningham: The writer of Hebrews answers this far more frightfully and eloquently than I could. “For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” Heb. 6:4-6 ESV Hutchison: Satan knows that a person who is truly saved is untouchable, in the sense that he has no ability to keep him from ultimately going to Heaven.
However, he knows that each believer has influence over many people who have not put their faith in Christ.
One of the greatest obstacles that some people have in trusting Christ, is hypocrisy among those who already profess to know Jesus. In other words, if Satan can make a professing Christian a poor witness, he may be able to influence others to reject Christ.
Scales: Satan is a tricker not a treater.
7. If we could actually “see” this warfare going on around us, how do you think it mightappear to us?
Cunningham: If we would see spiritual warfare, it would look like families devastated by divorce, men addicted to Internet porn, women abandoning their children for careers, husbands beating their wives, teenagers choking to death on their own drug-induced vomit, preachers preaching principles, gay pride parades, Neo Nazi marches, Twin Towers falling, an intensive care unit at St. Bernards, and a happy couple sitting blissfully next to the Spring river, drinking coffee on a sunny Sunday morning.
Or, spiritual warfare could look like men kneeling in prayer, whole congregations fasting together for a common cause, families that work, preachers preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a mother home-schooling her children, a teenager just saying no to drugs, a homosexual repenting, a Neo-Nazi finding love, a careful nurse tending her patient, and a happy couple worshipping together with all God’s saints on a bright Sunday morning.
The point: The war is on. Fight to win!
Hutchison: Wow, I can only imagine. In my mind I see spiritual creatures involved in all kinds of activities ranging from direct battle with each other, to using all kinds of tools to influence people.
I picture demons working feverishly to destroy, and angles working to defend and protect. If our eyes could be opened even for a few seconds to the spirit world around us, I believe we would be frightened and amazed.Scales: Like the movie The Matrix, but more so.