Should Christians Do Spiritual Warfare?

Metaphors and analogies can be helpful for understanding spiritual concepts. Jesus used parables to communicate ideas, and the Bible is full of metaphors. So it’s not unusual that Christians sometimes rely on colourful comparisons to understand our walk in the Lord. A common one is to see the Christian life as a war. As in the old song, “Onward Christian Soldiers,” Christians are imagined as ground troops, battling an unseen enemy. The term “Spiritual Warfare” has become popular. Some go out on the streets commanding victory over our cities. Some establish “war rooms” in their homes for prayer battles against the enemy. Where does this concept of spiritual warfare come from? And, is it helpful for Christians?

Are Christians at War?

The term spiritual warfare doesn’t occur in the Bible. This scripture is perhaps the most commonly used to justify spiritual warfare:

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)

Then we could look at this one:

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12)

Digging back further into the Old Testament we find these sorts of scriptures:

Through You we will push back our adversaries, through Your name we will trample down those who rise up against us. (Psalm 44:5)

For You have girded me with strength for battle; You have subdued under me those who rose up against me. (Psalm 18:39)

These scriptures are commonly used to convey the idea that Christians should be actively attacking the enemy. Unfortunately, many Christians get on the wrong track in attempting to fight in the spiritual world. While we can gather together scriptures to make a concept for spiritual warfare, it is very important to see the limitations of that concept. While it is true that we do have an unseen enemy who actively works against us, we need to understand several important truths about the conflict between the Godly realm and the evil one.

A War Implies Equally Balanced Sides

When two nations go to war, if one is overwhelmingly superior in strength the war usually ends quickly. When the US invaded Grenada in 1983 the fighting was over in several days. That was a battle between the world’s richest nation, one of hundreds of millions of people and a vast army, and a small handful on a tiny island. Many Christians seem defeated and feel the enemy’s power more than they do God’s. They perceive their lives as a life and death battle between good and evil, and live in fear that the enemy will harm them or their families.

The truth is that Jesus has already won the war in a decisive battle over the enemy. When Jesus defeated sin and death, he did so for all time. The legal charge of the enemy is cancelled, the right to condemn is removed.

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:13-15)

Jesus completely disarmed the enemy without lifting a weapon.

Scriptures such as the ones in Psalms 18 and 44 are from a time when the God-instituted nation of Israel did actually go to war. Their war was a national one, and was against flesh and blood. We should not apply these scriptures today in the context of Christian life. To do so creates a mistaken idea that Christians must be at war in life. The opposite is true. Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace, and those who are his must live the way of peace that he lived. We are told that if He abides in us, we will live as he lived (1 John 2:6). Jesus’ decisive victory over the enemy means we have absolute assurance that we are on the winning side, and that should give us freedom to focus on our relationship with God, not with the enemy.

Our Battle Is Not in the World

Another passage used to justify a lifestyle of Christian warfare is Ephesians 6, which talks about putting on the armour of God. The helmet of salvation, the shield of faith, and all the other parts of our spiritual armour, are not for fighting against the enemy “out there.” In fact, all the armour of Ephesians 6, except the sword of truth, are defensive. And of course the footwear is “whatever makes us ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.”(verse 15.) But what about this verse?

For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Isn’t this saying that we are fighting against the forces of evil?

Please note the word “struggle.” Some translations have “wrestle” and others say “battle.” To get this into perspective read the whole passage and look out for use of the verbs “to stand” and “withstand”. These words are used four times in eight verses. The reason we are standing is that the battle, or more accurately, struggle, is taking place where we are. We are not fighting against forces in the world, we are doing what Paul called “fighting the good fight of faith”(1 Timothy 6:12).

In 2 Peter 1:10 we are told to make make every effort to make sure our calling and walk with God is well-established. This is the struggle mentioned, the fight of faith that Paul talks about. If we are warring on the outside, we are missing the point. The struggle is taking place on the ground each individual Christian is standing on. If we are looking around for an enemy to fight, we don’t understand what a Christian’s life is about.

If we are to stand, as we are told in Ephesians 6, we have to “fight” on three arenas.

Colossians 3 and the Three Arenas of Christian Battle

How about this for a scripture on warfare?

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator… Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (Colossians 3:5-10, 15-16)

When we become Christians, we must indeed fight a good fight, of faith. This is a battle that is spiritual in nature, but it is fought in the realm of the self, and not in the external environment. It has three stages:

Flesh: Our bodies crave all kinds of physical things. This is the beginning stage of being sanctified. These external sins are often so dominant in Christian’s lives, they aren’t even a struggle! Often people feel “I did it without thinking” or “I feel so guilty when I do that but I can’t seem to stop.” We need to surrender all sins to Jesus for cleansing (verse 5.) Jesus took victory over sin, and that victory should be available for all Christians. Without victory in the arena of the flesh, Christians will make little or no headway in the other arenas of godly life.

Soul: The enemy does influence and affect our walk with God, that is certain. What should we do about it? 1 Peter 5:8-9 says we should be “self-controlled and alert.” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 says Paul took “every thought captive to obey Christ.” This is the battlefield of the mind, the emotions and will. Deliberate decisions are made to choose God, to reject wrong thoughts and to refuse to be dominated by emotion. This allows Christians to overcome the self by the renewing of the mind under the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 6 is a model for dealing with the issues of the soul.

Spirit: This arena is the one where we are actively living Godly lives of love and service. As it says in Ephesians 6:15, “As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.” These are choices we make, to walk as Christ walked, to think as he thought, and to live as he lived. As we see victory in the other arenas, this one is where we see joy and peace become part of our every day lives. We will grow in love for others until we are truly Christ-like.

This is not a war of human on spirit beings. Jesus already won that battle. The fight, the race, the struggle that we face, is around our own willingness to submit to the rule of Jesus Christ as our Saviour. 1 John 1:9 says that Jesus forgives our sins when we confess, and he cleanses us from unrighteousness. That means, if we sin, we must immediately take it to the Lord and confess. Once cleansed, we are free of sin. If the same sins persist, we may need help in ministry to identify why these sins are entrenched. That may mean deliverance ministry. Though this may sound like a form of spiritual warfare, that is not the case.

At Perth Healing Ministries we do all commanded forms of ministry, including teaching, healing, deliverance and cleansing (Matthew 10:7-8). When we do deliverance, however, we are not battling against spiritual forces of darkness. That battle has already been won by Jesus Christ. Our struggle is always one to bring the Christian needing help to receive the truth of their situation. Sins must be understood and confessed. To be healed, delivered, cleansed, the Christian must receive revelation. Once the human soul submits to Jesus, obstacles to healing are removed. The moment of revelation is always a supernatural event, the moment of the tide turning. Spiritual victory is won, the good fight of faith ends in victory every time.

God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:15-19)

Fighting the good fight is part of our lives as Christians. But abiding in God is the point of that fight. We are not fighting against an enemy, but taking a stand for our faith. We choose to believe in God, and that Jesus has the victory. God abides in us, and that means we have full assurance that we are safe, and enabled to live lives of outreaching love and service!

This message is from a sermon given by Karen Dixon at Victoria Park Christian Centre on 17 July, 2016. For more information about Perth Healing Ministries, or the Victoria Park Christian Centre Church, please use the contact form below. Bless you!