Spiritual Warfare 101
What is it and how to deal with it?
This content is available in Spanish here.
I remember the first time I saw this episode. At first, I didn’t understand why they were exaggerating so much, then I saw the devil and it gave me goosebumps. It was an exact representation of a spiritual war, in a cartoon no less! Yet, incredibly accurate.
The word says:
“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 (NKJV)
A Constant Struggle
Satan has been very successful in convincing us that our fight is with those closest to us. By doing this he has managed to go unnoticed, destroying all our relationships and our spiritual lives in the process. He has faithfully followed the rule of “Divide and conquer.” Not only in our homes, but also in the church. He knows that a kingdom divided against itself falls (Mt.12:25), so he has been diligent in sowing division, and we haven’t noticed!
The Word exhorts us:
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”- 1 Peter 5:8 (NKJV)
The enemy does not sleep, he doesn’t get tired, he doesn’t get distracted or unfocused … but we do. Our flesh gets tired, our minds get distracted, and our hearts lose focus; in that state, we are easy prey. That is why Peter asks us to be vigilant, because we are not fighting against a novice soldier, but against an expert general. We need all of our focus to face him. Peter had experienced this; he knew what he was talking about.
The Voice of Experience
Peter slept in Gethsemane when he was supposed to be watching, and in his confusion upon awakening, he attacked a soldier, even though it was in God’s will that Jesus was taken. He walked on the waters, but his mind was distracted and he began to sink. He remained vigilant in the city after Jesus’ arrest, but he allowed his heart to be filled with fear and he denied his master.
Peter lost three battles, he knew what he was talking about. Christians lose battles for not being vigilant. Our mind is drowned with eagerness instead of being attentive to the Spirit. We are taken by surprise; we don’t even realize that the battle is in our own mind. This is why the Bible gives us so many instructions about our minds. Read the following verse, for example:
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. 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 10:3–5 (NKJV)
Monitoring Our Thoughts
When was the last time you brought a thought into captivity to obedience in Christ? Taking thoughts captive means that when a thought invades our mind, we evaluate whether it’s in accordance with the Word and with the nature of God, and if it is not, we do not let it in. The reality is that thousands of thoughts enter our minds every day, and we don’t evaluate any of them.
Our mind is like a border with no guards in it. The truth is that we should stand there to ask for a passport; any thought that does not have the seal of the Holy Spirit shouldn’t be allowed to enter. Do you know what the problem is with that? That our minds are lazy. We don’t like to work. However, the Bible also talks about this:
“not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;”- Romans 12:11 (NKJV)
The Word invites us to be diligent, not lazy. The Lord is a God of work; we see this from creation. Laziness is not a lifestyle that he blesses, and it is obvious why. The enemy gains ground in a lazy mind. But he doesn’t have many opportunities with an active and diligent mind that captures its thoughts to Christ. Keeping control of what enters our mind all the time is not an easy task, but God also gave us the secret for this:
“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”- Joshua 1:8 (NKJV)
Fueling Up for The Upcoming Battle
Can we say that the Word of God fills our minds 24 hours a day? Not really, but according to this verse, we should try. If our mind is full of God’s truth and His promises, if we are constantly in communication with Him waiting to hear a new word if our thoughts are those of constant praise, it will be much easier to detect an intrusive thought.
It will stand out from the others, it will contrast because it is different from all the others. It will be like spotting a peppercorn in a jar of salt, it will get your attention. All the alerts in your mind will go on and say, “Hey, something’s not right here.” Also, the Holy Spirit will warn you, then you can work with it.
But if your mind is full of thoughts of the flesh, how will you notice the difference? Yes, the Spirit will try to warn you, but you probably won’t hear him. So meditating on the Word is very important for us in order to win this war. But identifying a bad thought is not the end of the process, just the beginning. See the following verses:
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”- Proverbs 15:1 (NKJV)
“If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. (…) Therefore if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”- Romans 12:18, 20–21 (NKJV)
A disciplined soldier
Do you notice all of the verbs (actions) that indicate that this is our responsibility? Many Christians expect God to control their emotions as if using a magic wand, but it doesn’t work like that. If we acquired the character of Christ automatically at the time of salvation, where would the process be? It is up to us, so we are asked to be diligent.
Also, do these verses remind you of the video? Of course, if the panther had been alert (and if he were a Christian) he would have realized that those thoughts full of anger and selfishness were not acceptable. He would have decided that it didn’t bother him that his neighbor hadn’t returned his machine to him because he obviously needed it. And maybe he would have gone for some lemonade for his neighbor to cool off.
On the other hand, the neighbor might have realized that those thoughts were not in accordance with the Word and that they were not fair, because the machine did not belong to him and it was fair to return it. In the meantime, the panther would have come up with a couple of glasses of lemonade and the neighbor would feel guilty for being so unfair to a neighbor as considerate as the panther. He would have accepted the lemonade, then apologized for not delivering the machine earlier, and promised to clean it and return it as soon as he was done.
The picture would have been very different. And Satan? Surely instead of appearing clapping with joy, he would have appeared kicking the floor with fire coming through his ears. But it was not so, and most of the time it is not. Do you know why? Because our emotions are out of control and dominate us. A thought of anger enters and we identify it, but many times it doesn’t matter if we identify it, we get angry anyway.
Because our flesh likes to be angry, we have a mind that loves to complain and criticize and be in strife. It is the fruit of our flesh. We are addicted to our emotions. The spirit doesn’t like it, we know that, but we still want to argue with the other person to show that we are right. So identifying a thought is only the first step, we must also be willing to reject it, and the emotions associated with it. This requires not only diligence, but discipline, and much help from the Spirit, but the reward is worth it. Look at how the following verse describes it:
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”- Romans 12:1–2 (NKJV)
The Final Goal
A living sacrifice, a daily, continuous sacrifice. Spiritual warfare is difficult because it requires self-control and total dependence on God and His Word, and our flesh doesn’t like either of those. Even Jesus had to fight the battle (Matthew 4: 1–11), but his character was already formed. After 40 days of fasting, his self-control was unquestionable; his submission to the Father, undisputed; and his knowledge of the Word, perfect.
But we lack the character of Christ for the most part. Yet here’s the wonderful thing, every time we fight the good fight in obedience, his character is forged in us. Have you ever wondered why we should fight a spiritual war that has already been won? The war is won, the enemy is defeated and victory is guaranteed, but we are still in training.
God did everything He had to do on the cross, it is up to us to do our part. If we obey God in everything, if we remain alert to every battle that is fought in our mind, if we exercise dominion over our minds and our emotions, if we are not lazy but diligent, if we are filled with Him, each attack of the enemy will forge in us the character of Christ. Each battle will make us stronger. The enemy can destroy us if we are not alert, or he can be the resource that God uses to fulfill his purpose in our life. God gave us everything we needed to win. It all depends on our level of obedience and surrender to God. That is the real battle, choosing God every day over our flesh.
“Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”- James 4:7 (NKJV)