Spiritual Warfare

 
 

Spiritual Warfare IX: Introduction to the Sword of the Spirit

“{A}nd take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…” (Ephesians 6:17; all verses ESV unless otherwise specified).

immaculate_conception_catholic_church_28knoxville2c_tennessee29_-_stained_glass2c_sword_of_the_spirit

“Sword of the Spirit” stained glass from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Knoxville, TN. Photo by Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As we have seen earlier in this series, most of the Christian’s armor is defensive. However, we now come to a vital offensive element: The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Many preachers will claim that this is the only offensive weapon we have. However, as we will see in forthcoming posts, Paul immediately discusses intercessory prayer right afterward (as part of the same sentence). We can view the sword of the Spirit as the divine weapon for close combat, whereas intercessory prayer is our weapon for long-distance combat. If the word of God is our sword, then intercessory prayer is our arrow, catapult, cannon, or intercontinental ballistic missile. Although Paul did not continue the imagery to associate prayer with a specific part of the centurion’s armor, the intent is present. We will come back to this thought later in this series.

I will lead off by pointing out a mistake many Christians make with the sword of the Spirit. Although it is an offensive weapon, many use it only defensively. Early in my Christian walk, I had a pocket New Testament which I would carry with me almost everywhere. In the back, it had an index of verses addressing different needs: When you face this problem, turn to this verse. If you are being tempted, read this passage. It was helpful, but it can make somebody think that the sword of the Spirit is merely for self-defense: If Satan tempts you this way, quote this verse to him. However, for an army to triumph, it must advance. You do not fight to “not lose;” you fight to win. Jesus tells us that the gates of hell will not stand against the church (Matthew 16:18). Is Satan throwing gates at us? Of course not; the Kingdom of God should be advancing against the forces of darkness. Satan should be cowering behind the gates, while we smash them down, set the captives free, and occupy until Christ returns.

We do not wield the sword of the Spirit only to defend ourselves: we brandish it against our enemy as we march forth to claim victory. We should be on the offensive, not the defensive, when we draw our sword from its sheath.

The Bible describes the word of God as a weapon several times. Paul learned this image from the Old Testament. Like several other elements of the armor of God, we find a hint of it in the writings of Isaiah the prophet:

“He made my mouth like a sharp sword;
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow;
in his quiver he hid me away” (Isaiah 49:2).

This verse begins the “Servant Songs” of Isaiah, where the prophet occasionally speaks in the first person (as if he is talking about himself), but his words prophesy the future ministry of Jesus (reaching a climax around Isaiah 53). The Word of God is a double-edged sword eternally coming forth from the mouth of Jesus:

“In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength” (Revelation 1:16).

Make no mistake: The word of God that flows from the mouth of the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ (John 1:1–3, 14), is a weapon of spiritual warfare. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. He did not come to coexist with or tolerate Satan; He came to boot his butt to the abyss. Jesus is merciful and compassionate to all who call upon Him for salvation, but He is ruthless to the thief who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy those whom He has redeemed (John 10:10). The sword of the Spirit strikes at the root of sin to bring Christ’s judgment against wickedness and rebellion:

“What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes early away.
Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets;
I have slain them by the words of my mouth,
and my judgment goes forth as the light.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:4–6).

God sends His prophetic word to strike against false religion, worldliness, carnality, and all forms of sin. He slays by the words of His mouth. He sends forth judgment.

Take note: you cannot conduct spiritual warfare if you are afraid to confront sin and warn about God’s judgment against sin. Yes, God is love. He is holy. That means He is absolutely opposed to hatred, sin, unholiness, impurity, wickedness, etc. The sword of the Spirit is a sword of judgment. It is a sword that we use to strike at Satan.

“Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29)

Indeed, God’s word is a weapon. We do not trifle with it. It is not a toy. We must not manipulate or misuse it, but we must use it boldly in battle. We should expect it to powerfully accomplish its purpose, either to build up or to tear down. It is a vital tool in our battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare VIII: The Helmet of Salvation

“… {A}nd take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…” (Ephesians 6:17).

Elmo_da_parata,_bronzo,_da_Theilenhofen_(Iciniacum),_150-200_ca_02

A Roman soldier’s helmet. Photo by Sailko, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, via Wikimedia Commons.

Sports fans know how important helmets can be. They are required at all levels of American football. Baseball players wear a helmet when batting, just in case a pitcher’s off-target throw hits them in the head. A few professional soccer players wear lightweight helmets (goalkeeper Petr Cech is a familiar example). Nowadays, all professional hockey players wear helmets, although they did not become mandatory until 1979. However, a single body check in January 1968 helped pave the way for helmets to go from rarities (usually worn by players who were recovering from major injuries) to a requirement.

Bauer BHH2100L ice hockey helmet

Modern hockey players protect their heads with a helmet. Photo by Santeri Viinamäki [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Bill Masterton was a center on the Minnesota North Stars during their first season in the National Hockey League. During a game against the Oakland Seals in January 1968, he was checked by two opposing defensemen. It was a clean check, but still proved to be lethal. While it was originally assumed that he suffered the fatal concussion when his head hit the ice, it was more likely the result of a head injury from a previous game; the body check exacerbated that injury, knocking him unconscious before he fell. Seals defenseman Ron Harris, who delivered the hit, claimed that Masterton briefly regained consciousness while on the ice and said, “Never again”: possibly suggesting that he refused to play another game without a helmet (since these were probably his last words, we can only guess what he meant). He is the only NHL player ever to die as a direct result of an on-ice injury.

In the years following Masterton’s death, many players rejected the macho mentality that rejected helmets, deciding personal safety took priority. After several years of gradually increasing usage, the NHL made them mandatory for all new players.

As Masterton said, “Never again”: Let none of us ever play the game of life without a helmet. Head injuries are among the most lethal things that can happen to the human body, so athletes protect it. Spiritually, we must protect ourselves with the “helmet of salvation.”

Athletes, of course, are not the only people who wear helmets. Whether in sports, building construction, or military service, head protection can be vital. Most helmets cover the vulnerable top, back, and sides of the head. Roman soldiers’ helmets would also provide protection for the cheekbones.

In the Christian’s spiritual battle, the thoughts, will, and emotions are a major target. If Satan can hit us there, he can take us out of the battle. However, from the moment of salvation, we have protection available.

Many Christians mistakenly assume that salvation is a one-time experience. We think “I got saved when I said this prayer.” However, the Bible usually speaks of salvation as a continuing state for believers. However it begins, “salvation” brings us into a state of eternal life that begins in this world:

“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Salvation is eternal life, and eternal life is fellowship with God the Father and Jesus Christ, through the indwelling Holy Spirit:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:20–23).

If we want to remain under God’s protective covering, we need to stay connected to the Lord and His people. Fellowship with God’s people, study of His Word, and prayer ensure our connection to God so that we may be sanctified in His truth (John 17:17–19).

If Satan can distract us away from God’s truth, he can lure us into sin and out of submission and service to God. Many of his attacks will be subtle. Notice that when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness, Satan tempted Him to turn stones into bread; he did not tempt Him to rob a bagel shop or visit a prostitute. Likewise, Satan will probably try a more subtle attack against your heart and mind. Some of his weapons that he will launch at your head include:

  • Negative thinking: Do you believe God can bring any good out of your circumstances, or do you assume nothing can work out? The negative thinker expects bad things to happen; he does not expect God to act. True biblical thinking will look for God in any situation, believe He can act, and trust that He will bring His glory in any circumstance if we are willing to seek it.
  • False ideas about sin: Are you willing to believe what God’s Word says about sin, or do you allow pop psychology and modern social commentators to determine your ideas about right or wrong? Do you acknowledge that something is sin even if the entire culture decides morality is obsolete? Too many Christians accept the mainstream media’s views about sexuality, marriage, money, and other ethical and moral questions. If Satan can convince you that “Everybody is doing it,” “It’s not really that bad,” “At least I am not doing …,” etc., he will have you under his influence.
  • False ideas about your identity in Christ: Most Christians do not really their identity in Christ. We think, “I am a wretched sinner.” However, the Bible tells us that this is the Christian’s past identity, not his current status. After listing a litany of heinous sins that many of the Corinthians had committed in their lifetimes, Paul said, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11, emphasis added). Whatever you were before you came to Christ, you are now a child of God. Even if you still struggle with that sin, it is no longer your identity. Claim your status as God’s child. Do not let the lies of the enemy drag you away from God.

Guard your head. Guard your thoughts and mind. Bring every thought captive to obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). As long as we remain under God’s protection, wearing His armor, we can remain in the battle. We will not merely survive; we will triumph. Victory comes when we can withstand the onslaught and counterattack with a spiritual assault.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

 

Categories: Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare VII: The Shield of Faith

“In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one…” (Ephesians 6:16).

scutum_in_kelin_28129

A replica of a Roman shield. Photo by Dorieo [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

When we engage in spiritual warfare, we will usually either be responding to an attack or we will face a counter-attack by our enemy. We must be prepared to fight, but we must also be prepared to defend ourselves.

The enemy’s counter-attack may be subtle, but sometimes it will be an all-out barrage. Satan may blast us from multiple directions. In Ephesians 6:16, Paul compares the Christian to a Roman soldier who is facing a barrage of flaming arrows. A direct hit can be deadly. You need full-body protection.

thueros_affresco

Depiction of a 3rd-century BC Macedonian soldier holding a thyreos shield. From Istanbul Archaeology Museums [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) or public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

For a Roman soldier, that protection would include a shield. The Roman shield was similar to one developed centuries earlier by the Greeks, called a thyreos, whose name was derived from the word for “door.” It was large, shaped like a door, and provided ample coverage when an enemy would launch a barrage of arrows or javelins towards them.

The Christian may not face literal arrows. The “flaming darts of the evil one” (some translations say “arrows” instead of “darts”) are not physical flying sticks with sharp pointy ends to puncture the skin. Satan’s arrows take other forms. Instead of darts and arrows, Satan and his demons may fire temptations at us. They may entice others to discourage us or drag us into depression. They may find our greatest weakness and turn it against us. Sometimes, his attacks may be constant, steady, but moderate. At other times, a period of relative peace may be interrupted by a sudden barrage of multiple attacks from diverse directions (imagine a person whose marriage breaks up within weeks of a job loss and a house fire, while struggling to overcome a drug addiction).

Spiritual warfare is ugly. Do not assume that you are too unimportant to be a target in the battle. Even the newest believer is involved in spiritual warfare. Whether Satan can rob you of your salvation or not, he will do whatever he can to keep you from bearing fruit for the kingdom. Some of his tactics, according to Matthew 13:19–22, are the following:

  • To steal the word of God from our hearts. If he can convince us to doubt God’s Word or His promises to us through Jesus Christ, Satan can keep us from following the Lord, experiencing the full blessings of the Christian life, and advancing the kingdom of God.
  • To bring persecution into our lives. If we have not produced deep roots in our faith, trials and temptations will convince us to give up. The antidote to this is to know, believe, and obey the Word of God (Matthew 7:24–27). Hearing the Word of the Lord and living by it produces the firm foundation and deep roots we need when the winds of trial and temptation blow.
  • To distract us with the cares of this world. “The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches” can choke the Word of God. If we are too busy trying to make money, to attain prestige and popularity in this world, or have fun and comfort, we may not find time to do God’s will. If we put the cares of this world first, we will not take a stand for God’s kingdom.

Faith is the shield that protects us. It is more than the gateway to salvation. It is also much more than knowledge about the Bible or correct beliefs [even the demons believe, but they tremble in fear (James 2:19)]. Faith is the spiritual power within us that continually brings us under God’s covering protection. Faith draws us to God’s Word and then nourishes itself and our souls with greater faith: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Faith equips our hearts and minds to trust God and lean on Him when life becomes difficult.

Faith looks beyond our current circumstances to see the reward of our spiritual battles. After the beloved “Hall of Faith” chapter in Hebrews 11, the biblical author writes how Jesus triumphed on the cross by looking beyond His present circumstances:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1–2).

As we walk by faith, we emulate Jesus. The heroes of the Old Testament looked forward to the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel, which Christ accomplished. Jesus looked beyond the agony and shame of the cross to “the joy that was set before Him” (which included our eternal fellowship with Him) to triumph over sin, hell, and death. We emulate Jesus as we run with endurance, looking beyond our present battle to the ultimate victory we will enjoy forever.

When Satan attacks, we can wield a shield that protects us under the assurance that we are already fighting from a position of victory. As we remain faithful to Him even in hard times, we gain a victory in spiritual warfare. It is not even a close battle. Scripture tells us that we are more than conquerors through Christ (Romans 8:37). Faith does not give us a tiny victory; it empowers us to kick the devil’s butt!

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (I John 5:4–5).

Through faith, we are triumphant. When Satan attacks, we do not run away in fear. We raise our shield of faith and continue advancing. Jesus told Peter that the gates of hell will not prevail against His body. Think about that for a second: Do you think demons are throwing gates at us? No, gates (like shields) are for hiding and protection. God’s children are called to advance His kingdom. We do not do so cowardly. We raise our shields and continue to advance. As we continue the battle, the demons flee behind their gates! However, those gates will not stand against us. We will overwhelmingly triumph over them as we march by faith and raise the sword of the Spirit in victory.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare VI: The Shoes of Peace

“Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:14–15, ESV).

800px-Caligae_from_side

A Roman soldier’s boot. Photo by Matthias Kabel, via Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.

According to an article on a shoe company’s website, the average man owns 12 pairs of shoes, whereas the average woman owns 27. Both numbers seem extravagant to me: I own about seven pairs (if you count two pairs of winter boots and a very old pair of sneakers that I only wear while at home). Yet, most people can see the purpose of owning multiple pairs. Both fashion and functionality matter with footwear. I may wear a pair of black dress shoes to church or other occasions where more formal wear is expected. Sneakers or athletic shoes are acceptable for more casual settings; they are essential for athletic activity. If you participate in several sports, you may need different kinds of footwear for different activities: track shoes, tennis shoes, soccer cleats, basketball shoes, etc. We can probably count ice skates as “shoes” for playing hockey.

A Roman soldier’s boots (“caligae”) were, in some ways, similar to a modern cleat. They were designed to provide traction and stability while allowing the soldier to walk, run, or march comfortably and quickly. His shoes or boots were designed for warfare. They were intended to help him stand firmly in battle. As Christians serve in the army of God and engage in spiritual warfare, we need to wear the shoes or boots that provide “the readiness given by the gospel of peace.”

We wage war to advance that gospel of peace. We should be viewed as a threat in the spiritual realm, overthrowing the powers of darkness, confident that the gates of hell will not stand against us (Matthew 16:18). However, as we wage our warfare, we should treat the people around us like prisoners of war, to whom we have come as a liberating army that has overpowered their oppressors. Certainly, many we encounter will view us as the enemy; as the father of lies, Satan has deceived them into thinking that they are free when he really has them in chains of deception. We have come to break those chains with the truth of the gospel of peace.

“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (Ephesians 2:14–17).

The gospel is a message of peace and reconciliation. Paul says that Jesus Himself is our peace. He is the one who has broken down the wall of hostility between us and God. Through Christ, we have peace with God.

Jesus also brings peace to people of all nations, races, and tongues who will call upon His name for salvation. The Old Testament Law is broken down so that it no longer divides Jews from Gentiles. The love of God should tear down the walls that separate us along racial and ethnic lines; the fact that Sunday morning can still be called “the most segregated time of the week in America” should give us cause for concern. It should propel us to our knees in prayer and repentance so that we are fit to march forth in victory. When addressing the temptation to seek revenge, Paul writes:

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).

We are called to pursue peace even with those who have hurt or offended us. How much more should we live at peace with those who are merely different from us?

We are called to show the peace of God in our relationships with others and to march forth with the good news of deliverance in Jesus Christ. Quoting Isaiah 52:7, Paul writes:

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Romans 10:14–15).

God has given us our marching orders. The gospel we believe is also the pair of boots we wear as we march forth to proclaim liberty to the captives. Christ has already won the war. We march forth against a defeated foe (Satan and his demons) as they maintain their final futile effort at resistance. We have received the gospel of peace, with which we can join Jesus in His mission of destroying the works of the devil and advancing the kingdom of God in the hearts of people. Let us march forth today to let people know that freedom and life are available to them in Christ Jesus. Like cleats on a soccer field, the gospel of peace will keep us standing securely as we march forth.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare V: The Breastplate of Righteousness

“Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness…” (Ephesians 6:14).

Greek_PhalanxA Roman soldier’s breastplate was essential. Some of the most important organs in the body are located in the chest. Wounds to the heart and lung could cause rapid death. Other vital organs, including the liver, stomach, and pancreas, are in the same general area. The chest and abdominal region of the body are vulnerable. Along with the head, they are some of the most important body areas to protect from injury.

The soul needs protection as well. The ancient Israelites would think of the heart in two ways, much like we do now. Both they and we acknowledge the physical organ. The Israelites thought of the heart as having a function for the soul as well, as the seat of the will. If you want to do good, it is because your heart is drawing you to do so. If you desire evil, it is because you have a bad heart. Incidentally, they associated some other internal organs with other elements of the inward part of people. The intestines were the seat of compassion: The Greek word for “to have compassion” could literally be translated “to have bowels for someone or something.” The kidneys were viewed as the seat of emotion. Nowadays, we symbolize all of these with the heart. When we have compassion for someone, we do not say, “I am bowelized over this.” Instead, we say something like, “My heart breaks for him.”

Whether it is the heart, the lungs, the liver, the small intestines, or any of the other organs behind the breastplate, it needs protection. Likewise, every element of our souls needs protection. This is why we need the breastplate of righteousness.

Paul was not the first biblical author to associate righteousness with a breastplate. Centuries earlier, Isaiah wrote in one of his Messianic prophecies

“Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins” (Isaiah 11:5).

One can readily see the connection between the first line and the breastplate of righteousness, with a belt that protects the lower abdomen. Likewise, “the belt of his loins” is faithfulness, which the Hebrew writers frequently use as a synonym for truth. Thus, this verse prefigures the first two pieces of the whole armor of God. It also reminds us that the whole armor is found entirely in our connection with Jesus.

Later, Isaiah describes the Lord God’s response to injustice. When He could find no man who was willing or able to accomplish His righteous will:

“He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak” (Isaiah 59:17).

The Lord God did this as He took on human flesh as the Son, Jesus Christ. As mentioned in the previous article in this series, putting on the whole armor of God is akin to clothing ourselves in Christ (Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27). Thus, we do not clothe ourselves in our own righteousness. The Word of God tells us that our own attempts at righteousness are like filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6). We need to clothe ourselves in the righteousness of Christ, to allow His righteousness to cover us and emanate from us.

Elsewhere, Paul describes it as a breastplate of faith and love:

“But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (I Thessalonians 5:8).

Faith, hope, and love are essential elements of relationship with Christ. Faith and love are intertwined with the righteousness of God. We protect our hearts—our will, emotions, desires, and entire souls, so to speak—by covering them with the righteousness, faith, and love of God in Christ Jesus.

We cannot ignore the opportunity to clothe ourselves in the breastplate of righteousness. This is not a take-it-or-leave-it option. It is a choice between being clothed in the righteousness of Christ as a slave to righteousness or being a slave to sin:

“What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
“For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (Romans 6:15–22).

Each of us must make a decision. Do I want to be a slave to sin or a slave to the righteousness of God? “None of the above” is not an option. As Bob Dylan sang, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody / Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord / But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

Will you remain in the army of the Lord, or will you be taken captive as a prisoner? Will Satan hold you captive and bound in sin, or will the Lord release you with His power to serve Him with the gifts and talents He has given you?

As we clothe ourselves in Christ, He empowers us to walk by faith in Him and display His love to those around us. This is the breastplate of righteousness in action, guiding us to walk as He walked. Most importantly, this breastplate guards our hearts by guiding our wills to remain in sync with His will. As long as we keep our hearts guarded by Jesus, He will protect us from the temptations to turn our hearts to the lures of Satan that bind us in slavery to sin. Even when we do sin, the righteousness of Christ is available to us:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (I John 2:1).

This verse appears after John reminds us that Jesus is merciful and just to forgive and cleanse us if we confess our sins (I John 1:9). As we follow Jesus, trust in His sacrifice on the cross for our salvation, and turn to Him in regular confession and repentance, He will guard our hearts and protect us from the attacks of the enemy. Jesus will be our breastplate of righteousness.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare IV: The Belt of Truth

“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth…” (Ephesians 6:13–14).

pugio_de_centurion_arverniales_2011

A Roman soldier’s belt, holding a dagger for battle. Photo by Elliott Sadourny [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons.

When describing the whole armor of God, Paul begins by speaking of the “belt of truth.” This seems like an odd place to begin a description of battle armor. We barely think of belts as clothing, let alone armor. In most people’s wardrobes, they are considered “accessories.” Their main purpose is to keep our pants up, although some people wear a belt as a fashion statement (if it has a decorative buckle).

However, belts are not merely for modesty or fashion. In liturgical church traditions, priests, deacons, or monks (along with people in other vocations) wear loose-fitting robes while performing their ministries. A belt or cincture (a rope tied around the waist) enables the man of God to walk comfortably, by securing the robe so that it does not hang too loosely. It is too easy to trip over the hem when wearing a liturgical robe without a belt or cincture.

As Paul describes the armor of God, he associates each spiritual virtue or weapon with a natural military piece of Roman armor. Thus, he associates “truth” with a belt. A Roman soldier’s belt not only held his clothing in place. It also held some weapons, such as a dagger, much like a Wild-West gunslinger would hold his pistol in a holster connected to his belt. In Ephesians 6, the “belt of truth” secures the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Truth and God’s Word belong together. The belt that enables us to march into battle holds the weapon that enables us to fight.

So, a belt can help a soldier to advance safely in battle. Most of the armor that Paul mentions in Ephesians 6:13–17 is primarily defensive. Some (especially the sword of the Spirit) is primarily offensive. The belt and shoes are primarily designed to allow us to advance into battle easily and safely.

The prominence of defensive features in the armor of God is significant. Our primary focus when engaging in spiritual warfare should be defensive. Some Christians, in the name of spiritual warfare, spend too much time on the offensive, seeking demons to attack. On a 1982 song entitled “Judas’ Kiss,” Christian rock band Petra included the following introduction, recorded backward (as a satiric response to preachers who claimed that all Christian rock music is satanic): “What are you looking for the devil for, when you ought to be looking for the Lord?” The message is clear; our focus should be on Jesus, not Satan:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1–2).

However, when demons attack, we should be ready to stand firm and fight. We cannot afford to be caught unprepared for battle. We must be ready to stand our ground, defend when necessary, and advance offensively when the time is right. Our goal in spiritual warfare is not merely to survive, but to overcome. As the body of Christ and army of God, we must advance the Kingdom of God and reclaim territory that Satan has usurped.

The spiritual virtue depicted by this belt is truth. Truth holds the rest of the armor in place. It enables us to stand comfortably and to advance unhindered. It holds the sword of the Spirit that enables us to fight. What is this truth?

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6).

Jesus tells us that He is the Truth. All truth finds its fulfillment in Him. The Bible itself relies on Jesus Himself to ensure its faithfulness. If we miss Jesus, we miss truth:

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39–40).

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” (Hebrews 1:1–3).

So, as we seek to put on the whole armor of God, we are clothing ourselves in the very life of Christ:

“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14).

“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).

Clothe yourself in Jesus Christ. By faith, acknowledge Him as your Lord and Savior. Commit yourself to Him, that He may live in you and guide your life. Allow His Holy Spirit to baptize and fill you, so that the life of Christ may abide within you. As you clothe yourself in Christ, you will have the foundation of the whole armor of God upon you. To stand against the world, the flesh, and the devil, you must be clothed in Christ by His Spirit.

As we come to know Jesus as the Truth, we will be eager to learn the truth as it is found in His Word:

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (John 8:31–32).

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13–14).

Jesus Christ is the truth. He is the one who girds our loins for battle. He holds and empowers the sword that enables us to fight. All of our strength is in Him. We must never make the mistake of going out to face the temptations and trials of life without His truth to hold us together.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare III: Standing Firm

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:10–13).

centurion_2_boulogne_luc_viatour

An actor dressed like a Roman soldier in full armor. Photo by Luc Viatour (https://Lucnix.be) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

No study about spiritual warfare would be complete without an examination of Ephesians 6:10–20. This passage includes the “whole armor of God,” a set of virtues which Christians wear (in a spiritual sense) to battle Satan. The armor includes the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. Each of these will be discussed in a forthcoming article. I will also include a discussion about intercessory prayer as a spiritual weapon: Paul mentions this immediately after the whole armor of God (as if it is part thereof), yet most pastors and writers overlook this connection.

It is worthwhile to note, not only what follows the discussion about the armor of God, but what precedes it. Paul is in the “application” part of Ephesians (most of his letters begin with an abstract or theological discussion before he proceeds into a series of practical instructions for living out the Christian life). He was urging his readers to “walk in love” (Ephesians 5:1) and in the Holy Spirit, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). This led to an extensive discussion of personal relationships: marriage (Ephesians 5:22–33), parent/child relationships (6:1–4), and master/slave relationships (6:5–9).

It is within this context, of how to apply Jesus’ teaching to interpersonal relationships, that Paul introduces the whole armor of God. Many Christians seek to engage in spiritual warfare by ourselves. We might think that we can resist Satan’s attacks and temptation on our own. We might assume that “I have a personal relationship with Christ so I can go solo.” That is probably one of Satan’s favorite lying strongholds. If he can keep us fighting as Lone Rangers, he can isolate us. If he can isolate us, he can keep us from living a victorious Christian life.

Greek_Phalanx

Illustration of an ancient (Greek) army marching in formation. From Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Most of the verbs in Ephesians 6 are plural: All Christians are supposed to do them, and we are supposed to do them together. Every Christian is individually responsible to stand firm, but he or she must do so with other believers. The imagery of war calls us into a spiritual army. Our success requires us to engage in battle alongside our fellow spiritual soldiers. Ancient armies usually marched in formation, side by side. They would at times join their shields together so they could protect each other as they advanced.

How do we stand with other believers in spiritual warfare? We must be honest, transparent, trusting, and trustworthy in our fellowship with other Christians. We must share our burdens with each other. If you do not have a few prayer and accountability partners, find them. Find a few mature Christians, whom you can trust. Share your battles with one another. Be honest about your victories, failures, and temptations. Encourage them when they fail; do not gossip nor condemn. When you are able to unite as a spiritual phalanx, you will be able to walk side-by-side to victory over the forces of darkness.

Our first response when Satan attacks is to stand. We must resist him. To do so, we must follow our Commander’s orders:

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

If we are standing firm, there are some things we cannot do: We cannot surrender to our enemy. We cannot give in. We cannot quit. We cannot flee like defeated cowards. We cannot yield to temptation. Soldiers win by fighting, not by quitting. Among other things, spiritual warfare demands perseverance.

The battle may be spiritual, but it is real. Our victory is assured as we remain in the Lord’s army, but we must remain strong and resilient if we hope to reap the benefits of that victory:

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (I Peter 5:8–11).

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare II: Destroying Strongholds with the Sword of the Spirit

“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (Second Corinthians 10:4–6).

immaculate_conception_catholic_church_28knoxville2c_tennessee29_-_stained_glass2c_sword_of_the_spirit

“The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). By Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Since we are dealing with a spiritual enemy, our weapons are spiritual. In Ephesians 6, Paul refers to the Word of God as the “sword of the Spirit.” He then urges us to pray. Scripture and prayer are our two primary weapons. The sword of the Spirit is particularly useful for destroying strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4).

Many Christians assume that “strongholds” are sins or temptations that are particularly troublesome to a particular individual. They mistakenly believe that it is something that has a “strong hold” on a person, thereby being something that forces them into bondage. However, this is not what Paul is saying.

A “stronghold” (ὀχύρωμα in Greek) is a fortress or place of refuge. This word appears only once in the New Testament but appears elsewhere in ancient literature. While most ancient authors used it to refer to a fortress, some used it to describe a prison (in which case, Paul is engaging in a play on words when he proposes that we destroy strongholds so that we can take every thought captive). A word study on Biblehub.com observes that, in this verse, the word:

… is used figuratively of a false argument in which a person seeks “shelter” (“a safe place”) to escape reality…. In its use here there may lie a reminiscence of the rock-forts on the coast of Paul’s native Cilicia, which were pulled down by the Romans in their attacks on the Cilician pirates. Pompey inflicted a crushing defeat upon their navy off the rocky stronghold of Coracesium on the confines of Cilicia and Pisidia.

People seek refuge in all sorts of lies to justify sin or rebellion against God. It was true in Paul’s day; it remains true in ours. Much of what Paul wrote was in response to lies people chose to believe. First and Second Corinthians contain extended illustrations confronting false ideas and values regarding sexuality, the role of the ministry, suffering, family relationships, giving, etc. People would hide behind excuses to live a life that was not consistent with the will of God. Today, we continue to do so. We find clever excuses, including arguments and lofty opinions, for our sins (often secular worldviews baptized into biblical-sounding jargon). We may justify sexual sin because a pop-psychologist offered an excuse, or because we view ourselves as mere animals, the product of random evolution in a godless universe. We may justify greed or financial dishonesty because it seems like good business sense. The Christian must demolish these strongholds. They are castles built of lies, and they must come down. The strongholds of rebellion must come down so that we can bring every thought and action into obedience to Christ.

The battle must begin in our own minds. We must bring our own thoughts captive to obedience to Christ before we can expect to tear down strongholds in anybody else’s mind. As we study the Bible, we must confront our own thinking, recognize where we are not in obedience to God, and submit our thinking to His. If Scripture reveals sin in our lives, we must tear down the strongholds we have accepted and confess, “You are correct, Lord, and I am wrong. Forgive me and strengthen me to do Your will.”

Christians also have an obligation to tear down strongholds in the lives of other believers:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1–2).

Many people (including some Christians) think we should never suggest that another person is doing something wrong. They claim that is “judgmental.” This is, in fact, just another demonic stronghold. When Jesus told us not to judge others, He was not telling us we can never correct those who are in sin or claim that certain acts are sinful. The modern secular abuse of Matthew 7:1 is purely a demonic stronghold. The church must repent and tear down that stronghold if we expect to advance the kingdom of God. That is especially true in our dealings with other Christians.

Our weapon and enemy remain the same when tearing down the strongholds of non-Christians, but the strategy may be a little different. Church discipline or reproof of believers is very different from evangelism. In evangelism, our goal is to invite a person into a relationship with Jesus Christ, so that the Holy Spirit can begin to clean them up. We focus less on specific areas of sin and more on the fact that everybody needs a Savior. We point to Jesus. We wield the sword of the Spirit to bring a person to a proper understanding of who He is and what He has done for our salvation. However, we must still be ready to attack strongholds. Nonbelievers may hide in strongholds that keep a person from following Christ: “I am a good person. I do not need a Savior. I can go to heaven by doing good things, or at least by not doing anything that is too bad.” Or “Everybody will go to heaven anyway.”

The committed Christian must be a good student of the Bible. He must be diligent to attack the strongholds that have been built in his own heart and mind, and then fearless yet gracious in attacking those in other people’s lives. The enemy of God and of our souls is building strongholds to destroy millions. It is our job to tear them down so that we may build a holy edifice on a firm foundation:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:24–27).

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Renewing the Mind Reflections, Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare I: The Battle Is Real

“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (Second Corinthians 10:4–6).

guido_reni_031

The archangel Michael battling Satan. We may not use natural swords, but we still fight a real enemy. Guido Reni [1575–1642, public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Spiritual warfare is a popular topic in many churches. At times, it can be over-emphasized. Some Christians will blame and rebuke the devil for everything! If they sin, they blame the devil (even though James 1:14–15 suggest we are to blame for our sins). If they run out of money, it must be the devil’s fault (even if they were financially irresponsible). To them, everything from their own sin to the consequences of their ill-advised choices becomes the devil’s fault. Instead of confessing their sins and choosing to walk in obedience to God, they blame the devil and simply rebuke him in an attempt to solve their problems.

The Christian life cannot be reduced to yelling at the devil. Some believers go overboard with a false notion of spiritual warfare, reducing it to a habit of rebuking Satan. However, this does not mean Christians should avoid spiritual warfare entirely. It is mentioned throughout Scripture: biblical writers frequently use battle imagery to describe our conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil. However, we must approach this topic with a balanced view, recognizing its relationship to the rest of Scripture.

It seems particularly appropriate to me that this subject would come up in the midst of an extended series about “renewal of the mind” and immediately after writing an article that addresses the lies of the prosperity gospel. Many of the people who endorse the false teachings that claim great earthly blessings for Christians will also usually “rebuke Satan” when they do not get what they want. A false view of the blessings of the Gospel seems to coincide with an extremely unbalanced view about spiritual warfare.

Over the next few posts, I will share a few thoughts on this subject. I hope to address what it is, what it is not, and how we engage in such a battle.

Second Corinthians 10:4–6 seems to be an ideal place to begin our study. It reminds us of several key facts: First, that the weapons of our warfare are spiritual because the real battle is spiritual. Second, that spiritual warfare is integrated with the renewal of the mind, since much of the spiritual battle is emotional and intellectual. Third, spiritual warfare should lead us to obedience to Christ. Spiritual warriors will immediately recognize that some of these points overlap with Ephesians 6:10–18, where Paul introduces us to the whole armor of God.

First, we must remember that spiritual warfare is exactly what it claims to be: Spiritual warfare. We use spiritual weapons against a spiritual enemy. We do not use the weapons of our world. They are not “of the flesh,” because our real enemy is not a physical being. Ephesians 6:12 says that our enemies are spiritual: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” When Christians say that our real enemies are the world, the flesh, and the devil, we are not talking about natural physical entities. The “world,” in this sense, is a cultural (or inter-cultural) way of thinking and living that is contrary to God. The “flesh” is that part of ourselves that seeks self-gratification, without regard to the will of God. The devil, of course, is a personal spiritual entity in rebellion against God.

These are our enemies. Our enemies are not that political party that we did not vote for in the last election, nor the politician we do not like. They are not even members of non-Christian religions (although, I believe most people who have not accepted Christ are deceived by the devil, but that makes them victims in the spiritual battle). Our greatest enemies are Satan and his demons. Our greatest threats are their lies and deception, because Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44). We need to recognize who our enemy is so that we can maintain our focus. Far too many Christians are fighting the wrong battles, using the wrong weapons.

In Part II of this series, we will look at the sword of the Spirit, which is our primary weapon in waging war against the enemy. We will also see what it means to “destroy strongholds.”

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

%d bloggers like this: