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Spiritual Warfare

Because the New Testament writers assumed that most readers were already familiar with spiritual warfare, only occasional exhortations are given to encourage the churches in it. Today we can make no such assumption, so a brief summary of some of the main principles of spiritual victory and freedom may be helpful.

1. Know your enemy. Speaking of Satan, Paul said, “We are not ignorant of his designs.” We should be well acquainted with the character and strategy of the Evil One, neither dwelling on it too much nor ignoring his active and destructive work: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation,” said Jesus to his sleepy disciples; and in the Lord’s Prayer we say, “Deliver us from evil” or from the Evil One.

2. Keep yourself in the love of God. Jude, writing about worldly people devoid of the Spirit who in the last days would scoff and divide the church, went on to assure his readers that God “is able to keep you from falling”; on their part they were to build themselves up in their faith, pray in the Holy Spirit, and keep themselves in the love of God. It is sometimes said that the Christian who sins is a fool because, if he abides in Christ, he need not sin. In the same way, although we must recognize Satan’s power, we are not to be frightened of it. If we walk in the light with Christ, we have nothing to fear from the powers of darkness. Paul knew that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers...”absolutely nothing, could separate a Christian from the love of God in Jesus Christ. Therefore if we keep ourselves in that love, we are perfectly and eternally safe. The Evil One will not touch us.

3. Be strong in Christ. Paul instructed the Ephesian church: “Be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might.” Christ is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named...all things [are] under his feet” and “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” In particular, our victory over Satan is to be seen in the cross of Christ, for it was there that God “disarmed the principalities and powers,” and it is “by the blood of the Lamb” that we are able to conquer the accuser of the brethren.

The power of the cross can dramatically release people from satanic bondage. Reading verses and passages about the cross are powerful weapons in spiritual warfare, especially in the most severe expressions of it. Generally speaking, a prayerful and confident trust in God’s power over Satan through the cross of Christ is all that is required. We should exercise caution about “deliverance ministries” and indiscriminate exorcisms. Not every malaise can be ascribed to satanic oppression or possession and to do so may create serious disorder. The less sensational principles described in this section will be effective in the vast majority of cases. Christ has won the victory for us. We are to stand firm in it, proclaim it and rejoice in it. That is the way to resist Satan.

4. Be filled with the Spirit. Paul, having warned the Ephesians about “the unfruitful works of darkness” and the days “that are evil,” urged them to continue to be filled with the Spirit. All the gifts of the Spirit were needed to equip them for effective warfare. He told Timothy to be inspired by the “prophetic utterances which pointed to you,” so that “you may wage the good warfare.” Repeatedly, and perhaps painfully, God will remind us of our own utter weakness without him. Pride, seen in self-confidence and self-reliance, so easily dominates our thinking. Like Simon Peter, we think we can do it ourselves: others may fail, but we shall stand firm. We are shocked by the sin of another Christian, but blind to our own weakness. We need to come to that point, in every area of our lives, where we have to depend on the Holy Spirit. Unless we are daily cleansed from our sin by the blood of Jesus, and daily filled with the Spirit as we yield to him, we shall never overcome the Evil One.

5. Be active in Christian witness and service. In the same context of being filled with the Spirit, Paul urged his readers to “make the most of the time” and to wake out of sleep. Jude, too, exhorts Christians to convince those who doubt and to snatch others out of the fire. In other words, in view of the cosmic struggle in which we are engaged, there is not a moment to lose. Every day we need to know what the will of the Lord is, and do it. Isaac Watts was right when he said that “Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do,” which must be balanced with Carl Jung’s comment, noted earlier, that “ the Devil.” In the Gospels we see Jesus maintaining this balance—working to the point of exhaustion, yet calm and at peace in his spirit, busy but not rushed, alert but not tense. He perfectly accomplished the work that God had given him to do, and Satan had no foothold in his life.

6. Be quick to put right your wrong relationships. Every church is a fellowship of sinners. Inevitably we shall hurt others and feel hurt ourselves. Jesus knew the need for an emphasis on forgiveness, seventy times seven, if need be. Paul knew that we would at times be angry, justly or unjustly. But unless we deal immediately—before the sun goes down—with our anger, and with the problem that prompted it, we will give “opportunity to the devil.” If we go to bed angry, we may be sleepless; and find ourselves both depressed and irritable in the morning. If there is any break in fellowship between two Christians, the Devil will be quick to exploit it.

We also need to keep our lives constantly open to one another in love and thus help each other in the spiritual battle. If I don’t know what is happening in your life,. and you don’t know what is happening in my life, how can we help when either of us is in trouble? However, if we are genuinely sharing our lives, when you are down I may be able to lift you up, and when I am down you may do the same for me. “Two are better than one...For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up...And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him. A threefold cord is not easily broken.” Paul’s instructions about the battle were written to a church, not just to individual Christians, and they could stand together, pray together, lift each other up only as they were genuinely united in love.

7. Put on the whole armour of God. God gives us all the protection that we need. But we must make sure that we are walking with the Lord, that our lives are right (“righteous”) with God and with one another, that we make peace wherever we go, that we lift up that shield of faith together to quench all the flaming darts of the Evil One, that we protect our minds from fears that easily assail, and that we use God’s Word to good effect in the power of the Spirit. Remember, it was by the repeated sword thrusts of God’s Word that Jesus overcame his adversary in the wilderness.

8. Be constant in prayer. “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.” If, through prayerlessness, we lose our close contact with God, we can never stand firm in the battle. We need daily his “marching orders.” We must come to him, wait upon him, renew our strength in him, listen to him, trust in him, and then go out into the world to face the enemy. If Jesus knew the constant need of this for his own ministry, how much more should we acknowledge our weakness by humble, persistent prayer'

9. Use the festal shout. “Blessed are the people who know the festal shout,” sang the psalmist. Through the centuries, God’s people were often encouraged to shout praises to God, particularly in battle. Joshua told the people: “Shout; for the Lord has given you the city...So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people raised a great shout, and the wall fell down flat...and they took the city.” When Jehoshaphat faced a powerful enemy, he called God’s people to prayer and fasting. The Lord spoke to them through prophecy, promising them victory in the battle. They fell down to worship, and the singers stood up to praise the Lord “in a very loud voice.” As they went into battle, the singers went ahead of the soldiers, singing praises to God. And the Lord gave the victory. “Shout to God with loud songs of joy!” sang the psalmist. “God has gone up with a shout.” In Acts 4 when the believers were faced with a powerful conflict against the rulers who had murdered their Master, they raised their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord...” and they praised him with a loud voice that he was in control of everything, and asked merely for boldness to speak his Word. No wonder they were filled afresh with the Holy Spirit; and no wonder the powers of darkness were driven back!

In Festivals of Praise around the world, I have encouraged many thousands of Christians to give the festal shout, “The Lord reigns!” As large congregations have joined together in “loud shouts of joy,” many have told me afterwards what an encouragement this simple act had been. We need to strengthen each other’s hands in the Lord. When people all over the world are stirring up each other with shouts of hated, shouts of violence, shouts supporting this political candidate or that football team, surely we ought to follow this biblical principle and shout praise to God. After all, “if God is for us, who is against us?” Let us proclaim together that Jesus Christ is the Lord who reigns.

David Watson, Called & Committed: World-Changing Discipleship, (Harold Shaw Publishers, Wheaton, IL; 1982), pp. 134-138

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