NB: I’m yet to resume regular posting on this site since my relocation to commence my Master of Divinity program at the West African Theological Seminary. But I thought it would be interesting and worthwhile to share my first paper at the seminary with you. Coming to think of it, the subject and content of the article are closely kindred to the primary interest of this site. Blessed reading to you.
Spiritual warfare is a subject in Christian discourse that evokes a variety of emotions. The attitudes and ideas that it generates are as diverse as those of Christianity itself. As with all Christian questions, however, the Bible should be our recourse in any attempt at an objective examination.
A Contextual Definition
To my mind, spiritual warfare is the conflict and duel with evil spiritual powers into which a person enters by virtue of his salvation experience, which is redemption from the power of sin and death by the Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Although we tag it “spiritual,” the manifestations of this conflict transcend the Christian’s spiritual experience, reaching into every other aspect of his life, including his emotions, physical body, relationships, and his general interaction with the world. It is only spiritual to the extent that it directly or indirectly stems from the operation of spiritual powers.
The Big Picture: An Age Long Conflict
God created man to live in harmony with Him and the rest of His creation, which he was given dominion over (Gen 1:26-31, 2:7-25). This was the life Adam and Eve enjoyed in the Garden of Eden until they fell to the serpent’s subtlety and violated the divine contract, which forbade their eating of the fruit of the garden’s tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 3).
But the serpent was only a tool in the hands of a malevolent power, the devil, an erstwhile archangel of immense power that once enjoyed high privilege in a heavenly realm that preceded Adam. He fell from that esteemed position when he presumed to become equal with the Creator who had so exalted him (Isa 14:12-15, Rev 12:9). Consequently, the devil and the band of angels that rebelled with him were cast out from that heavenly estate. Thus they went a-roaming the cosmos, seeking a hold for their sullied feet.
They found an extremely promising one in the terrestrial realm that God had created and given man dominion over. To obtain legal access to this formidable estate, the devil instigated Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God. As a result, the couple lost their position and the devil assumed rulership over the affairs of this world (John 14:30, Matt 4:8-9). Having broken the hedge that God set around him, man came under the devil’s direct influence and was exposed to his evil manipulation and exploitation (Eph 2:2, Eccl 10:8). The kingdom of darkness and its malevolent power had come upon the earth.
Redemption and the Onset of the Christian’s Spiritual Conflict
Adam’s disobedience notwithstanding, the eternal purpose of God to establish a kingdom of Light on the earth through the agency of man (Matt 25:34, Eph 1:4-6) could not possibly be defeated by the devil’s incursion (cf. Isa 46:11). God was going to redeem man and restore him to dominion. In Christ was the requirement of that redemption met. He came and died; shedding His Blood He atoned for the sins of mankind (Eph 1:7).With Him came the re-emergence of the kingdom of Light (Luke 11:20) and a way for the deliverance of men from the kingdom of darkness and their restoration to their true position as kings and priests on the earth (Matt 6:9-10, John 1:12, Col 1:12-13, Rev 5:9-10).
But the devil wasn’t going to give up the lucrative dominion he had assumed over the earth without a fight (Luke 11:21-22, Eph 6:10-11, 1 Pet 5:8). Having failed in thwarting the work of redemption, he turned his arsenal on those who bore the mark of the redeeming Blood (Matt 4:1-11, Rev 12), thus initiating the present spiritual warfare in which every Christian is engaged.
The Nature of the Conflict
As we can see, the spiritual warfare of the believer is a fallout of the age-long conflict between God the Creator and the devil. Incorporated into the framework are the angels that retained their allegiance to God and those who rebelled with the devil, later known as demons. Further down the chain are two categories of men. On the side of God and His righteous angels are those who have been redeemed by the Blood of the Lord Jesus (the believers, or Christians; Acts 11:26, Phil 2:13), and under the continued manipulation and exploitation by the devil and his demons are the unredeemed (unbelievers; Eph 2:2, 2 Thess 2:11-12). Thus we have the emerging kingdom of Light on one hand and the kingdom of darkness – which must of a necessity decline – on the other
The believer must, however, recognize that his real struggle is not with unredeemed men but with the devil and his demons that manipulate and exploit them. This is imperative, for failure to do so may get in the way of his propagating the Gospel of salvation to the unredeemed, which is itself part of the conflict.
The purpose of the evil attacks that the believer suffers in the course of this warfare is essentially threefold (John 10:10):
1. To steal.
2. To kill.
3. To destroy.
Included in this framework are:
1. Temptation to sin (Matt 4:1, Heb 2:18).
2. Creation of fear, doubt and loss of true identity (2 Tim 1:6-8).
3. Stifling of spiritual growth and exploits (1 Thess 2:18).
4. Deception, perversion of Truth and veering into error (2 Cor 11:3).
5. Oppression and opposition of personal activities, aspirations and relationships (Rom 8:35-36, 2 Cor 11:24-28).
6. Affliction with sicknesses and diseases (2 Cor 12:7).
Now, inasmuch as salvation is a personal experience, this spiritual warfare into which the believer enters through redemption is a primarily personal reality. In other words, while all believers together constitute a unified body of diverse parts that complement and uphold each other (Rom 12:4-10, 1 Cor 12,4-12), the question of whether each part would survive the duel with the powers of darkness largely depends on the individual competence (Mark 9:49, John 15:1-2).
Moreover, as discernible from the evil attacks enumerated above, the mind of the believer is a major doorway through which the devil and his demons operate. That’s why the Bible exhorts us to guard your minds “with all diligence” (Prov 4:23). This truth is underscored in one of the most lucid Bible passages on our spiritual warfare: “(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of STRONG HOLDS;) Casting down IMAGINATIONS, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the KNOWLEDGE OF GOD, and bringing into captivity every THOUGHT to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:4-5).
Weapons of Our Warfare
As implied in the foregoing Scripture, the believer has been equipped with some potent weapons for his spiritual warfare against the malevolent powers of darkness. The apostle Paul expatiates on this in the closing remarks of his epistle to the Christians at Ephesus (Eph 6:10-18). In this passage he uses the various parts of the armor of a medieval warrior to remarkably capture the diverse weapons that the believer has been equipped with. Interestingly, a close examination reveals that no protection is provided for the back of the warrior. This reveals that ours is a conflict from which we dare not turn back (cf. Luke 9:62, Heb 6:4-6).
Tying It Up: The Cessation of Spiritual Warfare
As we can see, spiritual warfare, in the context of this paper, is something that the believer is automatically engaged in through his salvation experience. It is a life-long affair.
In the big picture, however, the conflict between the kingdom of Light and the kingdom of darkness would rage until the Second Coming of the Lord, when the epic battle takes on a literal, physical expression (2 Thess 2:1-10, Rev 19: 11-21). The predicted defeat and suppression of the forces of darkness at this great showdown will usher in the glorious thousand years of the Lord’s personal and literal reign, in conjunction with all the redeemed, over the affairs of this world (Rev 20:1-4, 5:9-10, Dan7:21-22,27). That is when “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ” (Rev 11:15). The kingdom of Light would thus be fully established.
After the thousand years, the devil would be released for “a little season” to try his deceptive hands on the awesome world that results from the Lord’s millennial reign (Rev 20:3). He would once again attempt to overthrow the throne of the Lord, but that would only trigger his final defeat and everlasting consignment to the place of torment prepared for him and his angels (Rev 20:7-10, Matt 25:41). With the ensuing judgment of all men, those who rejected redemption by the Blood of the Lord would be likewise consigned to the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:11-15).
With all evil and evil doers eradicated from the earth, man is eternally restored to the harmonious life with God and all of Creation that Adam fell from. With the thousand years over, time count ceases and the kingdom of Light enters the originally purposed eternal dispensation. Farewell to spiritual warfare.