If you’ve spent much time in the church, you’ve probably heard the term “spiritual warfare.” Perhaps you’ve wondered if it’s something you should be concerned about, or maybe you’ve asked yourself: Is spiritual warfare even real? Today we’re going to answer that question.
As humans, we are spiritual beings housed in physical bodies. Since everything we do is housed in the material realm, it can be easy to forget our spiritual nature is just as real as the things we touch and see. The spiritual realm is just as real as the material world in which we operate, which means there are spiritual forces at work around us—both for good and for evil.
Initially the only spirit in this world was one of perfection. God designed the world for perfect communion between God and man. But evil entered when Adam succumbed to Satan’s temptation, and since then, Satan has not ceased trying to separate man from God. Since sin prevents man from a perfect relationship with Christ, Satan does everything he can to cause man to embrace sin instead of embracing God. This spiritual battle manifests itself in the physical realm, where we see war, pain, suffering and heartbreak in our lives and in the lives of others. The battle between good and evil is being waged around us each day—and we are a part of it.
Our impulse will be to fight for what is good. But while we can fight for good in the material world, it will not be effective unless we get to the spiritual root of the problem. We must fight both spiritually and materially. The Apostle Paul talked about this in his letter to the Ephesian church, warning us that the battle we fight is more than meets the eye:
For 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. (Ephesians 6:12)
But how can we, as physical beings, fight a battle in the spiritual realm? Paul offered further instructions on this topic:
Therefore 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. (Ephesians 6:12)
The armor of God, described in the rest of Ephesians 6, equips us to fight this spiritual battle. Our salvation, our righteousness and our gospel give us the weapons to fight against the forces of evil. This means that each decision we make for holiness—no matter how trivial it seems—is one step toward victory in Christ. Every time we choose to honor God with our words, deeds and decisions, we are pushing back the enemy’s forces and defeating what he hopes to accomplish in this world.
Be alert and aware of the battle, then. Our minds and hearts are Satan’s targets, because if he can control them, he can control every action we take. Stay devoted to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3) and your mind will be protected from the enemy’s schemes.
Be active in the battle. James writes:
Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. (James 4:7-8)
All the verbs in this verse are action verbs: submit, resist, draw near. The nature of spiritual warfare requires that we take action. If we stand still, we can be swept away by distraction, temptation or apathy. We have to actively choose God’s way, actively resist the devil’s way and actively draw close to God, who is our protector and defense.
The existence of spiritual warfare might be frightening at first, but we have a glorious hope. When Jesus died, He broke Satan’s power and overcame death and sin:
The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8)
While Satan is still allowed to work in this world (his time is limited—Matthew 8:29), every evil effort he makes is transformed by God’s holy purpose. God allows him to continue in this world because God’s plan is not yet complete, but in the end, Satan will be defeated once and for all:
And the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. (Romans 16:20)
There is a war being waged around us, and we are part of it. But we are the overcomers, and that is our hope.
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)