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What does the Bible say about spiritual warfare?

Question: "What does the Bible say about spiritual warfare?"

There are two primary errors when it comes to spiritual warfare: over-emphasis and under-emphasis. Some blame every sin, every conflict, and every problem on demons that need to be cast out. Others completely ignore the spiritual realm and the fact that the Bible instructs us that our battle is against spiritual powers. The key to successful spiritual warfare is finding the Biblical balance. Jesus sometimes cast demons out of people, and sometimes healed people with no mention of the demonic. The Apostle Paul instructs Christians to wage war against the sin in themselves (Romans 6), and to wage war against the evil one (Ephesians 6:10-18).

Ephesians 6:10-12 declares, “A final word: Be strong with the Lord’s mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies and tricks of the Devil. For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms." This text teaches us some crucial truths: (1) We can only be strong in the Lord’s power, (2) It is God’s armor that protects us, (3) Our battle is against spiritual forces of evil in the world.

(1) A powerful example of this is Michael the archangel in Jude verse 9. Michael, likely the most powerful of all of God’s angels, did not rebuke Satan in his own power, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” Revelation 12:7-8 records that in the end times, Michael will defeat Satan. Still, when it came to his conflict with Satan, Michael rebuked Satan in God’s name and authority, not his own. It is only through our relationship with Jesus Christ that we, as Christians, have any authority over Satan and his demons. It is only in His Name that our rebuke has any power.

(2) Ephesians 6:13-18 gives us a description of the spiritual armor God gives us. We are to stand firm with (a) the belt of truth, (b) the breastplate of righteousness, (c) the gospel of peace, (d) the shield of faith, (e) the helmet of salvation, (f) the sword of the Spirit, and (g) by praying in the Spirit. What do these pieces of spiritual armor represent for us in our spiritual warfare? We are to speak the truth against Satan’s lies. We are to rest in the fact that we are declared righteous because of Christ’s sacrifice for us. We are to proclaim the Gospel no matter how much resistance we receive. We are not to waver in our faith, no matter how strongly we are attacked. Our ultimate defense is the assurance we have of our salvation, and the fact that spiritual forces cannot take that away. Our offensive weapon is to be the Word of God, not our own opinions and feelings. We are to follow Jesus’ example in recognizing that some spiritual victories are only possible through prayer.

(3) Jesus is our ultimate example for spiritual warfare. Observe how Jesus handled direct attacks from Satan: "Then Jesus was led out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted there by the Devil. For forty days and forty nights he ate nothing and became very hungry. Then the Devil came and said to him, 'If you are the Son of God, change these stones into loaves of bread.' But Jesus told him, 'No! The Scriptures say, "People need more than bread for their life; they must feed on every word of God."' Then the Devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, 'If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, "He orders his angels to protect you. And they will hold you with their hands to keep you from striking your foot on a stone."' Jesus responded, 'The Scriptures also say, "Do not test the Lord your God."' Next the Devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him the nations of the world and all their glory. 'I will give it all to you,' he said, 'if you will only kneel down and worship me.' 'Get out of here, Satan,' Jesus told him. 'For the Scriptures say, "You must worship the Lord your God; serve only him."' Then the Devil went away, and angels came and cared for Jesus" (Matthew 4:1-11). The best way to combat Satan is the way Jesus showed us, and that was to quote Scripture because the devil cannot handle the sword of the Spirit, the Word of the Living God.

The ultimate example of how not to engage in spiritual warfare is the seven sons of Sceva: "A team of Jews who were traveling from town to town casting out evil spirits tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus. The incantation they used was this: 'I command you by Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!' Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this. But when they tried it on a man possessed by an evil spirit, the spirit replied, 'I know Jesus, and I know Paul. But who are you?' And he leaped on them and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and badly injured." (Acts 19:13-16). What was the problem? The seven sons of Sceva were using Jesus’ Name. That is not enough. The seven sons of Sceva did not have a relationship with Jesus; therefore, their words were void of any power or authority. The seven sons of Sceva were relying on a methodology. They were not relying on Jesus, and were not employing the Word of God in their spiritual warfare. As a result, they received a humiliating beating. May we learn from their bad example and conduct spiritual warfare as the Bible describes.

In summary, what are the keys to success in spiritual warfare? First, we rely on God’s power, not our own. Second, we rebuke in Jesus’ Name, not our own. Third, we protect ourselves with the full armor of God. Fourth, we wage warfare with the sword of the Spirit – the Word of God. Last, we remember that while we wage spiritual warfare against Satan and his demons, not every sin or problem is a demon that needs to be rebuked. “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

Recommended Resource: The Handbook for Spiritual Warfare (Revised & Updated) by Ed Murphy.

Related Topics:

What is the full armor of God?

Do Christians have the authority to rebuke the devil?

Can a Christian be demon possessed?

Is there activity of demonic spirits in the world today?

Spiritual strongholds - what is the Biblical view?

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What does the Bible say about spiritual warfare?