Spiritual warfare is a basic reality of life in Christ, yet a reality many Christians are daunted by, and even in some degree – in denial about. I will not attempt to sugar-coat this heavy aspect of the Faith, but I will endeavor to display how we may be genuinely victorious in our spiritual battles; and who better to learn from than the greatest spiritual warrior of all – Jesus Christ.
When the saints are equipped and built-up unto maturity in Christ, then we shift from being confused and dismayed -to- being grounded and triumphant (Ephesians 4:11-16). Coming to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ will give us the upper-hand to overcome our adversary, while gaining greater integrity of faith in God.
So lets first survey the two fundamental fronts of spiritual warfare – with the various tenants:
- Knowing God & applying disciplines of the Faith – prayer, fasting, righteousness, truth & discernment, faith, fellowship, vigilance, sobriety, etc. ~ Ephesians 6:11-18, 4:11-16, 4:26-27, 5:11 ~ 2nd Corinthians 6:3-10, 10:4 ~ Matthew 4:1-11, 10:16, 17:21 ~ Romans 13:12, 16:17 ~ 1st Thessalonians 5:8 ~ Hebrews 10:25, 3:13 ~ James 4:7
- Knowing our enemy and the strategies used against us – various temptations, insidious forms of deception, agitation, discord, and sophisticated techniques such as Hegelian Dialectics and Fifth Column Tactics. ~ Matthew 7:15, 7:22-23, 24:5, 24:11, 24:24, ~ Acts 20:29 ~ 2nd Corinthians 2:11, 11:13-15 ~ Galatians 1:6-9, 2:4 ~ 1st Peter 5:8 ~ 2nd Peter 2 ~ Jude
The second front listed seems to be the most neglected, as many tend to believe that all they really need to know is God. However, while knowing God is of paramount importance, we see many warnings and instructions from Christ & the Apostles about the schemes of Satan, and a major part of The Revelation of Jesus Christ is the revelation of antichrist.
Now as Jesus was preparing His disciples to be sent out, he gave many instructions, and much of it pertaining to the persecution they would need to endure (Matthew 10:5-42). Perhaps the most interesting line of these instructions is when Jesus says, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves…” –Matthew 10:16
We know that Jesus often made illustrations which likened His people as sheep – and the enemy as wolves; and we know that defenseless sheep are no match for the fierceness of wolves. But the real clincher of this line is when he says, “.. so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” –Matthew 10:16
The words Jesus chose here are very insightful; He could have said, “wise as an owl” or “sly as a fox” – yet He calls his disciples to the same degree of wisdom as the cunning of serpents. It is no mystery what Jesus is referring to “…that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” –Rev 12:9
“… his angels were cast out with him.” – those angels being of the same rebellion as that cunning serpent of old – would logically be also likened to serpents. The cunning of those rebel angels is obviously what Jesus was referring to.
In other words, to be as cunning as devils. And not just having comparable wisdom as such (which we can only obtain from God), but to know their game; to know their strategies, to know the nature of our opponent. ‘To know thy enemy’ is fundamental to warfare, and with such intel, we are equipped to be much more formidable disciples of Christ.
“… but innocent as doves.” – Matthew 10:16
While we are to rival the cunning of devils with the resources we have in Christ, our integrity is to be kept in tact. “The end justify’s the means” philosophy has no place in the strategy of a Christian, rather, our innocence is to be likened to a dove. Again the choice of symbolism here is revealing, as the dove is representative of the Spirit of God (Luke 3:22), so we are to manifest the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – (Galatians 5:22) all while being as cunning as devels.
While I am glad to see many Christians who exude the fruit of the Spirit, I am yet quite disappointed to see such a widespread lack of the level of of wisdom and discernment Jesus and the Apostles teach of. Without being equipped with the degree of wisdom Jesus calls us to, we cannot adequately minister and build-up the Church to maturity – a maturity level which progresses unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we should no longer be children tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting… – Epesians 4:11-16
Learning from the Greatest Spiritual Warrior
The Gospel accounts of Messiah’s ministry documents various encounters Jesus had with demonic spirits (Luke 4:33-34 & 41, 8:26-28). In these types of instances, we see Jesus in a position of power and authority in which the demons were at His mercy. Yet there were two incidents that actually presented a real challenge for Christ – one at the beginning of His ministry, and especially the other at the end.
Matthew 4:1-11 accounts the incident when Jesus, having just commenced His ministry, went out to the wilderness to fast for 40 days, then at His weakest point, Satan approached Him. First Satan attempts to persuade the Son of God to turn stones to bread. Secondly, Satan took Jesus to the top of the Temple to tempt Him to throw Himself down – on the premise of misquoted scripture and misapplied faith. Thirdly, Satan took Jesus to a very high vantage point to behold the glory of the kingdoms of the world, and said to Jesus, “All these things I will transfer to you if You will fall down and worship me.”
Jesus successfully combated this encounter with the following principles:
- Each time, He leveraged the written Word of God to thwart His opponent
- He did not compromise, but maintained His integrity and held His ground
- He was already abiding in the leading of the Spirit and submission to the Father
- His loyalty to God the Father never wavered
- His faithfulness left Satan with nothing else to do but leave
These principles we can also apply during our own encounters with opposing spirits. Now look at what we can learn about our enemy from this incident:
- He took advantage of Jesus at a moment of weakness
- He twisted scripture and appealed to a skewed application of faith
- Though his attempts had failed, he was actually able to take Jesus for a ride
- Satan has such narcissistic delusions of grandeur that he actually thought he could get the Son of God to worship him
The greater challenge was at the end of Christ’s ministry in the garden of Gethsemane, which was His last chance to opt out from His mortal mission to the cross. I believe this is where the greatest spiritual battle in all of redemptive history took place, and Revelation 12:7-9 gives insight of the ensuing war taking place in heaven at about this time.
There are many details which indicate how critical this moment was, which was recorded in all four Gospel accounts ~ Matthew 26:36-47 ~ Mark 14:32-43 ~ Luke 22:40-47 ~ John 18:1-3. In these accounts, there is no explicit details of demonic entities, but the main emphasis pertains to the weakness of the flesh, which is another element of spiritual warfare that works in conjunction with our adversary.
This is where we can see a clear example of the human nature of Jesus, and knowing He is approaching the final stretch to the cross, is deeply troubled of His imminent suffering,
“…and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death. Stay here and watch with me” –Matthew 26:37-38
We see Jesus experiencing the weakness of His flesh tested by the gravity of the battle, as He requests the support of His disciples.
“He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” –Matthew 26:39
In distress of His impending tribulation, Jesus honestly reckons with the looming affliction and contemplates if there could possibly be another way to reconcile God and man – without having to drink of the cup of suffering at his doorstep. He is torn between the weakness of His flesh and obedience to the Father. No one in their right mind wants to suffer, not even the Son of God; yet He is willing to abide in the Fathers will to satiate justice.
This obedience did not come easy, as he prayed the same plea three times; and to make matters worse, His disciples kept falling asleep on Him in His most trying hour
“Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation; The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” –Matthew 26:40-41
No doubt physical fatigue can be very overpowering, but obviously the disciples were also in a spiritual stupor as well. If they had truly realized the spiritual ramifications of this critical hour, a sense of urgency would have jolted them out of their fatigue. This may be easy for us to observe in this story, but O how, in our own circumstances, we often fail to recognize all the spiritual implications, and thus fall asleep.
It is not always easy to stay awake and watch, but it’s all part of spiritual warfare. Following Christ is not a walk in the park, but a trek through the battle field, where much is at stake. It can be very disorienting and grievous to be in the heat of spiritual opposition which often involves great affliction either mentally, emotionally, physically or all the above. Even the Son of God was exasperated to the point of actually sweating blood –Luke 22:44
Yet we can learn from Jesus, the Greatest Spiritual Warrior, who remained steadfast in His mission even unto death! And we have the greatest resources in Christ, Who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ ~ Ephesians 1:3
Conquering the Dragon with the Mindset of Christ
Suffering through spiritual warfare with its various forms of persecution is not pleasant, and indeed it can be horrible, yet we may count it all joy when encountering various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance take hold, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. –James 1:2-4
Sometimes a little extra insight and understanding can really give us that edge we need to not only endure, but overcome. So with the insight we get from Revelation 12, we may understand why the rage and wrath of Satan is so fierce on this side of the cross, since he was defeated and cast out of heaven upon the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. Yet with such a daunting prospect of being subject to the Devil’s wrath, Jesus & the Apostles teach us how to conquer the dragon:
“Therefore, since Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mindset, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he should no longer live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” –1st Peter 4:1-2
Not only does this passage reveal the refining effect of suffering, but also tells how such a Christ-like attitude equips us for battle by arming ourselves with the sacrificial mind of Christ. Matthew 10:28 records how Jesus groomed His original disciples with such a mindset to achieve decisive victory:
“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Embracing this concept will empower all of His disciples us to conquer our adversary, and indeed the dragon is continually conquered by those who arm themselves with the same mindset as Christ:
“And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives, even unto death” –Revelation 12:11
Three points listed here explaining how they conquered him:
- by the blood of the Lamb – Christ, having come in the flesh of man to live the perfect life, qualified His blood to be deemed a perfect sacrifice. Thus, John the baptist, pointing to Jesus Christ, properly proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). So it is by the redemptive strength of His blood which takes away sin, that the accuser no longer has anything to accuse us of, as such accomplishment of Christ lays legitimate claim to ultimate power & authority of both heaven & earth by which the saints draw their strength to perpetuate the same victory throughout the New Testament era.
- by the word of their testimony – by testifying of such powerful truth, they asserted the power & authority reclaimed by the blood of Christ to disarm the spirits of darkness and tear down their strongholds.
- they did not love their lives to the death – in concert with their Savior, they denied themselves, and many even sealed their testimony with their own blood, resulting in ultimate victory for the saints of God.
So even when Satan had destroyed their bodies, they were yet conquering him with the same mindset of Christ, who would be willing to suffer, even unto death! It has been this exact Christ-like attitude which has empowered the martyrs of Christ to be so bold and courageous in the face of death. Such an attitude creates nothing but a losing game for Satan and ultimate victory for the saints of God!
Not that every Christian must die a martyrs death, but to adopt a mindset that is willing to suffer like Christ, with loyalty to God that will hold up even in the face of death – if that’s what it ever comes to. (I pray God strengthens me to keep the same attitude even in the most daunting circumstances)
This concept is as existential as it gets, being a principle which Christ followers live and die by. The Apostles perfectly harmonize to the same tune of Christ when declaring,
“Just as it is written, “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us!” –Romans 8:36-37
“Beloved, do not be surprised by the fiery trial which tests you, as if some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share in Christ’s suffering, so you may rejoice in the revelation of His glory. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” –1st Peter 4:12-14
“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” –Romans 8:16-18
See the second part Knowing Our Enemy | Spiritual Warrior