Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand (Ephesians 6:13).
In his classic and imaginatively creative body of correspondence entitled The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis observed, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”
How are we as 21st century Christians contemplating the reality of spiritual warfare, to avoid either extreme?
I suggest it begins with understanding our role.
Almost every team sport teaches the value of each player undertaking a role; of recognizing different abilities across the spectrum of talents coming together in an inter-complimentary framework. And in most sports, roles are labelled as offensive (scoring points) or defensive (preventing points from being scored by the opponent).
In the biblical discipline of spiritual warfare, it appears that the every Christ-follower is called to engage in battle – to be in the game – but in a decidedly defensive role.
You’ve maybe encountered someone who sees every daily inconvenience as a result of demonic activity to be addressed, constantly ignoring our natural human potential to interrupt life.
And others forcefully declare their ability to “bind Satan”, encouraging Christians to advance aggressively against the forces of evil.
Clearly the apostles were given that power; but they didn’t call on other saints to do what they had done in advancing against spiritual forces. Therefore, I don’t see in Scripture where believers are called to do anything, but play vigilant defense.
Notice the language of defense in the New Testament.
When encouraging believers living in conflict with their culture and experiencing spiritual oppression the Apostle Peter in the years immediately before his own crucifixion cautioned the Christians of the early church, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…” (1 Peter 5:8,9).
And the Apostle Paul too, encouraged a deliberate defensive posture. Could he have been any more emphatic on our responsibility to stand our ground, field our position, defend our turf individually and corporately as empowered by the Spirit and protected by God’s armor?
Paul calls out to us like a military commander or a head coach: “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes…Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:11,13).
Our spiritual enemy is sometimes overt, often subtle. When distilled to its essence, his purpose is ultimately to challenge and diminish the glory of God.
Our world is in illegitimate rebellion against the rightful, sovereign rule of God and His Son, our Cosmic King. Therefore, humanity is damaged, broken, deceived – and has become a cosmic battleground with eternal consequences.
In biblical imagery, we have been liberated by the victorious Cosmic King, resulting in a change of loyalty. Notice the dramatic biblical language: “For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13,14).
In a sense, we are now rebelling against him who leads the rebellion against God.
I think the Scripture is clear: the offensive role of attacking the enemy forces is one the Lord reserves primarily for Himself. In the Bible’s final chapters, the Apostle John predicts an incident – sure to occur, but still future – when Satan’s army will be “like the sand of the seashore”, advancing against the Kingdom of God. Here’s John’s description: “They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city He loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur…“ (Revelation 20:9,10).
However, our defensive role is not one that is passive. We are to be vigilant, sober minded, alert, watchful, disciplined, cautious, discerning…and prayerful!
After instructing the spiritual soldiers at Ephesus to prepare for battle by putting on their full armor, Paul explains that the whole battle needs to be conducted in an environment of prayer.
I wonder if this may be our greatest weakness today?
How many of us are experiencing spiritual defeat, relational damage within our families, and spiritual frustration within the local Body of Christ because we are unaware and unprepared, frail – even pathetic – in our prayer life?
This is Paul’s admonition in the context of spiritual battle-readiness: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:18).
Takeaway: Spiritual warfare is real, dangerous, and difficult. It inflicts real pain and loss. But we take great comfort in the fact that the outcome is certain. There is nothing in all reality more assured than Christ’s ultimate victory which has been won at Calvary. “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 1:15).
Every being in the universe will one day submit – either by choice, or by force – to Christ’s sovereign authority: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).