What is Spiritual Warfare?
Spiritual warfare is essentially a believer’s fight of faith against the spiritual forces of our adversary, Satan. The Devil is always attempting to hinder, distract, or instigate temptations or trials, hoping to exploit possible spiritual weaknesses to undermine our faith. And the believer prepares and responds to such assaults with spiritual weaponry... the exercise of prayer, faith, spiritual authority, and such things that strengthen our faith and relationship to God.
Although much of Satan’s mischief is easily recognized, most of his activity is clandestine, hidden in the shadows, as he uses subtlety, deceit and manipulation behind the scenes. He attempts to disguise his sabotage with subtle whispers into our thoughts, or by seductive temptations to entice our flesh, or through the actions of other people.
For example, we may remember the incident when Peter challenged Christ’s prediction of His approaching sufferings and death, and Jesus rebuked him, saying “Get behind Me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:23). Peter was not possessed by the Devil, but Satan definitely inspired his thoughts and words, bringing a sharp rebuff from the Lord.
Because the Devil often seeks to exploit the careless words or behavior of people around us, even those of fellow Christians or members of our family, Paul warns us to be especially on guard against such ploys, and to remember who our real enemy is. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
And since such struggles come from spiritual sources, they must also be fought by spiritual means. The devil’s mischief cannot be overcome with conventional weapons, nor can we end his resistance by sparring with the people or vessels that he exploits. Satan can only be defeated by the spiritual arsenal that God makes available to believers. “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
The Apostle Paul explained that our greatest defense against Satan, is to “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10). And he used the description of a soldier’s battle gear, as a metaphor of God’s armor that believers should put on and wear.
He said, “...put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere” (Ephesians 6:13-18 NLT).
These items, along with all resources that strengthen our faith and spiritual life, are essential to our arsenal, and can be summarized into three essential phases of spiritual warfare:
(1) Submission to the Lord – The necessity of our submission to God is obvious, as His Holy Spirit is the source from which we draw our strength, as Jesus said, “...without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Such submission, however, also involves surrendering “self” to Him... that is our “fleshly nature,” that tends to struggle against God’s desires, and which Satan targets with his temptations and manipulations. “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts...” (James 4:7-9 NLT).
Humbling ourselves before the Lord, confessing and forsaking sin(1 John 1:9), and maintaining a repentant heart of obedience toward righteousness, is the way to resist the Devil. When Satan can find nothing in us that will pay attention or cooperate with him, he’ll withdraw at least for a temporary season. (See also 2 Timothy 2:3-4, and 1 John 2:15-16).
(2) Faith in God’s Word– Equally indispensable to our warfare, is the application of faith in God’s Word, as Paul said to “Fight the good fight of faith...” (1 Timothy 6:12 NKJV). You may recall how Jesus used the written Word of God in His defense against the Devil’s temptations in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). In each instance, Jesus squashed the assault by quoting scripture. For instance, when tempted to turn stones to bread at the conclusion of His 40-day fast, he responded by quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
God’s Word, the sword of the Spirit, is both a defensive and offensive weapon against Satan, that proclaims our authority and victory over the Devil. Among other assurances, Jesus explained that God’s indwelling Spirit in His followers, made them greater than the influence of Satan in the world. “...He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Jesus also made a declaration of the believer’s authority over the Devil... not only to serve as a defense, but to enable His followers to take the offensive... to remove and expel his evil works through faith in His name. “Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you” (Luke 10:19).
(3) Prayer and Intercession– When we speak of spiritual warfare, it’s with the understanding that there are many important spiritual aspects involved, but nothing any more essential than prayer.... praying not only for our own lives, but also interceding for other believers. Prayer and faith are the primary means by which believers wage war against the Devil. Prayer is the application of faith that leads the way... the component that God needs in order to intervene and act on our behalf. And while we engage the spiritual battle on our knees in prayer, God is able to dispatch His angels to confront and push back the forces of darkness in our behalf.
(4) Spiritual Authority– When Jesus was confronted by Satan’s ploys and temptations, He countered with stern rebukes and the Word of God. “Jesus answered and said to him, Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve” (Luke 4:8). This same authority over the Devil, has been given to all followers of Christ, to repel and rebuff his evil influence from our lives and ministry. “Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you” (Luke 10:19).
When you perceive Satan’s involvement in such assaults or persistent problems, by faith exercise your authority over him and his wicked forces. Stand your ground, declare the authority of God’s Word, and demand him to depart... and he will ultimately yield to your persistence and faith. But don’t make the mistake of focusing on the Devil’s distractions. Command him and his demons to leave, but rely on the Lord’s unseen angelic army to enforce the authority of your faith, and wage victory over the enemy’s conflicts. In the meantime, keep praying and maintain your attention on the Lord, from whom comes your faith and spiritual strength, and whose very presence repels the forces of darkness.
Combat in the Spiritual Realm
While we are unable to see such things with our natural eye, scripture indicates that when we pray, the forces of God actually wage war in our behalf against the forces of Satan in the unseen spiritual realm. An example of this is revealed from the story of Daniel’s prophetic visions and his prolonged prayers for their meaning. After praying for twenty-one days, an angelic visitor made a surprise visit to Daniel.
The angel not only brought the interpretation that Daniel had been praying for... but also explained that he had been delayed due to resistance from the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia. And in order to prevail in this conflict, he had to call for the help of the mighty archangel, Michael. “Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer. But for twenty-one days the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked my way. Then Michael, one of the archangels, came to help me...” (Daniel 10:12-13 NLT).
Another example is shown during the time that the king of Syria was at war with Israel and plotted to capture of Elisha. His servant rose one morning and panicked when he saw the shocking scene of enemy troops, horses, and chariots gathered around them. But Elisha reassured him that God’s unseen forces with them, outnumbered those against them. “Don’t be afraid!’ Elisha told him. ‘For there are more on our side than on theirs!’ Then Elisha prayed, ‘O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!’ The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire” (2 Kings 6:16-17 NLT).
Even though we may not see anything when we pray, understand that God responds to our faith and engages the powers of darkness in our behalf. And our continued prayers of faith are vital for His angelic forces to continue waging their battle against our enemy. Don’t give up, don’t quit praying or believing... but continue with confidence that the answer is on its way!