The War We Wage
The Bible makes it clear that christians are involved in a struggle that is waged about us. This struggle takes place at the level of the spirit realm and involves spirit beings trying to control the destiny of humanity. For example Ephesians 6:12 (NLT)warns us:
For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
As many have noted in the past, there are two errors we can make regarding this warfare, and both are equally dangerous.
At one extreme we can ignore the spiritual reality that surrounds us as if it doesn't exist. This tends to be the practice in western culture, even amongst christians. We have reduced much of life to what can be explained by science. This negates the entire spiritual realm entirely. Interestingly there has been a reaction to that with an unhealthy preoccupation with fortune telling, crystals, ghosts, eastern meditation and UFOs rising in western culture to fill the void.
The other extreme is to become obsessed with the spirit realm, seeing demons under every rock. Every set-back in life is seen as demonic influence or witchcraft while every good blessing is seen as direct intervention from God or ministering angels.
The truth, as always, lies in between the extremes and needs wisdom and discernment to see.
In the 1999 science fiction movie “The Matrix” human beings are depicted as being held in captivity by alien beings who feed off their energy. The humans are deceived into having a perception in which they believe they are free and living normal lives.
“The Matrix” is remarkable close to reality as depicted in the Bible.
The world created by God has been ruined by the ongoing rebellion by human beings who are meant to live in partnership with God in tending the world.
Satan, originally a chief amongst the angels, is the instigator of the rebellion. Satan's aim is to destroy God by destroying the image bearers of God, namely human beings. While God is engaged in a project of redeeming the whole of creation from the effects of sin, Satan is aiming to subvert the project by ultimately proving grace is weak and only violence and selfishness carry any power.
Satan heads up an army of demons who are, according to the Scriptures, angelic beings who joined in Satan's rebellion against God.
Then there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels. And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven. This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels. (Revelation 12:7-9, NLT)
This army remains loyal to Satan and is dedicated to binding, destroying and stealing all that is good.
When people decide to follow Jesus they in effect sign up agents in this military conflict. Most people are blissfully unaware that there is a conflict and are therefore lost to Satan. When a person says “Yes” to God and is baptised, they are declaring a loyalty and engaging in active service to advance God's project of salvation.
We take ground in various ways, depending on the calling that we have- service for others, prayer, evangelism, mission and all the other way sin which we might choose to make known the love of God. The enemy will not let this activity go unchallenged. As in any conflict, as one side seeks to gain territory the other side will retaliate in order to regain the ground. In the christian life we see this retaliation take a number of forms all of which are designed to remove us from actively engaging the enemy- discouragement and depression, defeats in our personal life or seemingly unanswered prayer, death and sickness, confusion and despair. Another favourite weapon is that of severe temptation to do something that has never been a desire in the past or seems out of character.
In our situation at New life, we have had a number of advancements over recent months. This started in 2009 when we marched through the town with banners proclaiming Jesus is Lord over Narrabri. We have engaged in regular weekends of prayer and cell groups are becoming more intentional in engaging in evangelism. We have for a number of years planted crosses around the town at Easter time to remind people of the story of Easter.
In that same period of time we have also experienced significant set-backs. We have had people leave, experienced profound discouragement at times and I've seen attacks against my family. I have experienced occasional episodes of illness that seem to have no physical cause and which are cured rapidly through prayer and rebuking of evil spirits.
How We Are Attacked- Human Vulnerabilities
It has been said that every sin begins with a thought. When we read the account of the beginning of sin in the human race we see that Satan just made suggestions to influence the thinking of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3). He didn't come right out and say “You need to rebel against your creator.” Rather he subtly planted doubts in their minds which they unfortunately listened to.
In the old cartoons there would be occasions when characters would be depicted as having a devil on their shoulder whispering into their ear some evil deed which they should commit. This is not too far from reality.
Demons are constantly whispering ungodly thoughts into our heads. We have to choose to listen or to ignore them.
These thoughts may take a number of different forms
Negative thoughts such as “You are no good”, “Give up”
Gossip thoughts or judgemental thoughts against others"They are no good", “They look terrible”, “What right has he got to...”
Temptations such as “Why don't you?”, “What harm can it do?”
Destructive thoughts “Just end it all”, “I wish they were dead.”
2. Belief patterns
We all have belief patterns that have been absorbed into our brains since we were children. Some of these are individual and stem from our experiences of life. We absorb family sayings and habits, ways of doing things and so on. We don't think about these things because they've always been a part of our life. As we mingle with other people these belief patterns may be challenged or confirmed.
We may believe for example that life is essentially good or bad. We might have taken on board wrong beliefs about God (“God helps those who help themselves”). We may believe that life is all about family or work.
Our culture teaches us a lot about life. Western culture has definite teachings about individual responsibilities, the things we should aspire to etc. The role of religion in public discourse in one such area that often arises. As with personal belief patterns we rarely think about these “normal” values until we encounter someone from another culture or with other values. In the West we find it hard to understand things like arranged marriages and suicide bombers.
Whether belief patterns are individual or cultural in origin they have the benefit of allowing us to run on a kind of auto-pilot, Satan doesn't have to whisper to us about greed or lust because it's all around us in Western cultures. He doesn't have to worry about people who believe in a self-help God ever falling into the gospel of grace. If a whole culture rejects the existence of God or spiritual realities then it is so much easier to keep people in captivity.
In one sense all sickness is down to sin and originates with Satan. We live in a broken world and share in the limitations of fallen human beings. Being a christian does not guarantee freedom from all illnesses for ever.
Some illnesses are the direct result of demonic activities. There are spirits which bring various ailments and afflictions to people. Jesus' ministry involved removal of evil spirits from many people. An example of this is found in Mark 9:14-29 where a spirit caused a boy to have convulsions.
It is still true that some illnesses are directly caused by spiritual oppression. People involved in healing ministry often exercise the spiritual gift of discernment to establish whether a particular illness is caused by natural physical processes or by demonic influence.
Some sickness can come through witchcraft, cursing or voodoo. A person who has faith in these things can bring severe illness against another by giving authority to a demon over another person.
It is easy to see that by keeping christians in sickness, Satan reduces their effectiveness.
There are many forms of addiction in our community. Wealth and technology have given many people access to drugs, pornography, alcohol and other harmful things. In their worst forms they can dominate the thinking and the lifestyle of people and keep their behaviour and thinking in bondage.
Satan is the author of all forms of addiction. They make it difficult for people to let the truth of the gospel of grace into their life.
Overcoming the Evil One
Christians have been given all authority over Satan and his demons. (see Luke 10:17-20) We have the ability to tell Satan to take his hands off a situation and to expect to see people set free. This authority needs to be received and expressed otherwise we will remain at the mercy of the enemy of our souls.
Here are six steps to taking our authority.
The first step is to realise that this war is happening around us right now. This is not a theoretical war or a theological construct. It is not happening in some foreign country called “the mission field.” We are in the thick of it.
We need the spiritual gift of discernment of spirits (1 Corinthians 12:10). We need to gain a revelation of the source of the oppression whether it is through witchcraft, cursing or other sources.
2. Renounce sin
Sin is the ultimate cause of all demonic influence. It is sin that separates us from God. It is sin that gives Satan the right to infiltrate our lives.
Many of us take sin far too lightly and the grace of God lightly. Confession is often a glib request for forgiveness and repentance a vague hope that we don't get caught.
To renounce sin is to recognise the awfulness of sin and to have the desire to not do it again. We renounce sin when we determine in our hearts to flee from it.
If there is a particular sin that opens us up to bondage then we need to renounce that one in particular.
3. Rebuke the demons
When we are in fellowship with God, we are in a position to exercise our authority as Christians.
It is important to address the demon and tell it to leave. This is the example given to us by Jesus and followed by the early disciples (see, for example, Matthew 8:28-34, Luke 9:42-43, Acts 16:16-18).
A useful expression might be something like this: “Spirit of anger, in the name of Jesus leave this person alone. Take your hands off them and go away.”
Praise God for his victory over this evil spirit and for the change that is already happening.
In Galatians 5 there is a list of “works of the flesh” and another list of “fruit of the Spirit”. By faith claim an opposite quality to that which has been removed. If it is lust pray for faithfulness and self-control, if anger pray for peace and patience.
Above all place the blessing of peace on the person you are praying for. “I place the peace of the Lord Jesus on this person, the shalom of Christ.”
Sometimes deliverance is not immediate, or the problems are so severe that it might take several prayer times, several revelations of the root cause, to gain a victory. A person struggling with sin might relapse into the sin and give the demons authority to reassert their power. There might be multiple layers of sin, curse, demonic afflictions that need to be removed layer by layer.
It's possible in extreme cases that a person may need prayer several times a day over an extended period of time to really break free of their problems. Don't assume that one prayer will fix the problem for good.
Jesus' death on the cross won the victory over Satan and all his hordes. The extent to which we believe in that victory and receive the power of the name of Jesus, that is the extent of the freedom we will experience.
All christians must recognise the nature of the war we wage and take up the weapons that God has given us. Those weapons can be taken up on our own behalf as well as for others.
Let's gain a realistic view of the war and fight the good fight.