“I think my house is haunted; there’s an evil Spirit present. Will you come and do an exorcism?” How would you respond to this request? Or what do you do when someone confidently announces that the reason that the evangelism team are struggling is because of territorial spirits? They suggest a prayer march through the town to reclaim the ground.
Once again, if we are going to respond to these issues correctly, then we want to respond by finding out what God’s Word reveals about these things. This may mean leaving behind a lot of traditions, assumptions and sadly, even within evangelical Christianity, blatant superstition about Spiritual Warfare.
A good place to start
Ephesians 6:10-18 is an obvious starting point for discussion & teaching on Spiritual Warfare and rightly so because it gives a detailed account about how to face it. Paul says, “We are not fighting flesh and blood enemies …” – a reminder, because we get terribly personal and see other humans as our enemies, that they are not the enemy. We are asked to look at the bigger picture of what is going on, rather than the quarrel or tussle in front of our face (this theme is also picked up in Job).
To get the bigger picture, it is helpful to put Ephesians 6 in the context of the whole book.
A quick tour through Ephesians
The letter starts with Paul’s affirmation of God’s sovereignty. God is the one who chooses us to be in Christ. His purpose is to bring everything together for, through and under Christ (1:10). In Ephesians 1:20, we see that Christ is raised and seated in the heavenly realms” above all other spiritual powers. If we are in Christ, then we are with him where he is. If he is above the spiritual powers, then we have no need to fear them or to try to appease them.
Ephesians 3:10 tells us that God displays His wisdom through the church to spiritual authorities. God’s display of the church is a spiritual warfare motif. God shows those authorities which seek to deny or challenge his authority that his purpose was right and has succeeded in Christ.
This doctrine leads to practice:
In Chapter 4, we see that we have a calling and are to live lives worthy of it. Key to this calling is the unity of the Church; note that there is a Trinitarian dimension to this (4:3-5)
Church leaders have a specific responsibility to equip the church. Teaching leads to gifting for the sake of unity (4:11-13.) This also results in maturity and so the church is guarded from deception. It is firmly rooted and anchored.
Rooted and anchored Christians live Godly lives in the light (4:17-5:14). In the Bible, light is associated with life and truth from God in opposition to works of evil that are carried out in the darkness. Alert lives in the light require that we are “filled with the Spirit” (5:19. This is contrasted with drunkenness. In other words, we should not be under the control or influence of alcohol; rather, God should control and influence the whole of our lives.
This leads to a number of things in church life, including singing, giving thanks and submitting to one another (note this is all part of the same sentence) (5:19-21).
Then we are given some specific contexts where submission happens (5:22-6:9)
Husbands and Wives
Parents and Children
Masters and slaves
There is order and there are roles but it is not about status or hierarchy. Wives, children and slaves are to submit, but husbands are to sacrificially love their wives, fathers are not to exasperate their children and masters are to treat their slaves in the same way. For husbands and wives, the theme of “unity” developed in the letter is carried through into their specific circumstances. They are “one flesh.” So Christian life takes place in the church, home and workplace.
Ephesians 6 and armour for warfare
We are told to put on the whole armour of God (Ephesians 6:13) but notice the words used to describe it: truth, righteousness, peace, faith. In other words:
- It means putting on the gospel
- It means putting on or being in Christ
The context of Spiritual warfare is everyday life. I am inclined to suggest that it is not primarily about detecting demons, carrying out exorcisms or conducting prayer walks.
I note the two extremes of denying demonic activity and seeing demons everywhere. Demon possession is possible, though based on what Scripture says, I would argue that:
- It is about people, not buildings and places
- Only unbelievers are at risk of possession– because believers are indwelt by the Spirit of Christ
- Whilst it does happen, I think it is probably rarer than assumed. Biblically, there seem to be clusters of these sorts of incidents so there seems to be a specific concentration of this activity around the time of Christ because of what was uniquely going on there. So my inclination is to check for other explanations first including
- The need for people to take responsibility for their own habitual sin
- Characteristic traits and temperament
- Ill health
- We should be particularly aware of issues where people have engaged in occulting practices, Ouija boards, invocations etc.
The devil’s strategy is to tempt us into sin, to isolate people from God’s community, to discourage us, to get us away from God’s Word and to cause disunity. Once again, it’s about everyday life.
So Spiritual warfare primarily will mean
- Preaching the gospel so that those who were God’s enemies are brought into the Kingdom (Ephesians 2:1)
- Continue to preach the Gospel to believers, reminding them that they are in Christ so that they are “armed,” having Christ’s righteousness, knowing the truth and being shielded by faith
- Teaching God’s Word faithfully. This is back to Ephesians 4 again. It is the revelation of God’s Word that will equip us and protect us.
- Praying constantly
This may not sound as exciting or romantic or even as spiritual as some of the things we are encouraged to do in some books or when we attend some conferences about Spiritual Warfare. However, when it comes to going into action, I’d rather follow the clear instructions of the commanding officer who can see the whole battlefield in space and time than rely on the speculation and imaginations of others in the trenches.