|HOME - Spiritual Warfare and the Ordinary Christian|
|ARTICLE:||SPIRITUAL WARFARE & THE ORDINARY CHRISTIAN|
|OUTLINE:||PART I - Introduction|
|PART II - Our Attitude To Evil|
|PART III - What The Scriptures Say|
|PART IV - The Christian Soldier|
|PART V - Lifestyle Changes|
|PART VI - Keeping Things In Perspective|
|PART VII - Conclusion|
|PART I - Introduction||(back to top)|
Much of my writing is to 'fill gaps', and this is particularly so of this article. There is a lot of teaching for the
specialist Christian minister on deliverance from evil and exorcism, but hardly anything available for the Ordinary
Christian on how 'Spiritual Warfare' touches our ordinary everyday living. Yet when folk open their lives to the Holy
Spirit it inevitably follows that they find themselves right in the 'spiritual life'. Often there is no understanding
of the 'spiritual warfare' which is so much part of it.
What follows has, therefore, nothing whatsoever to do with deliverance and exorcism, but it does help us understand the 'pressures' we find ourselves under, and sets us on the road to victory over them.
There are two opposite errors that Christians fall into. A few get preoccupied with evil and seem to talk of nothing else! Others - the majority, I suspect - have a healthy disregard for evil, but this has resulted into such woolly thinking about it that they fail to recognise it and really do not know how to fight it.
For the last three hundred years it has been demanded of the majority of Christians at their Baptism, that they renounce the devil and all his works, the pomp and vain glory of the world, and the carnal desires of the flesh so that [they would] not follow nor be led by them. This is obviously important stuff as far as being a Christian is concerned, yet I suspect that the majority of Christians would be hard-pressed to
|PART II - Our Attitude To Evil||(back to top)|
I recall once at a conference that a speaker began in prayer with the words: 'Satan! I want a word with you!' The
person next to me said in a 'stage whisper' for all to hear: 'You talk to your friends, and I'll talk to
mine!' We, his listeners, also acknowledged the reality of evil, but squirmed at the place he gave it. We would have
started with God!
Churchill instinctively knew how to react healthily to evil. When asked what he had to say about Hitler, he replied: 'How can I have anything to say about one with whom I am not on speaking terms?!' This is a fine and clear example to us.
Churchill's attitude was due neither to ignorance of Hitler nor to minimising the evil he personified. It was precisely because Churchill grasped the full nature of the evil that he knew the only way to be victorious over it was not to minimise or magnify it, but to be contemptuous of it. This placed him in a position of superiority over it.
If we minimise evil we put ourselves under it, if we maximise it we promote its growth! Contempt allows us fully to acknowledge evil for what it is, but enables us to remain free of its clutches.
Disarming or Re-arming?
Here are two true stories of would-be bank-robbers which have much to teach us -
In the second story the fear of those present, and their unfounded assumptions about evil armed the robber.
These stories show a fundamental principle that many Christians have not grasped. When we attribute power to evil we can easily re-arm evil, but our calling is to confirm Christ's victory over it. Paul in Colossians tells us how Christ by his Cross, disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them. We must not rearm them!
Theology - yes; demonology - no!
An '-ology' is an ordered analysis of a subject; its logical exposition.
We can have an '-ology' of God, and of Jesus (theology and Christology) because God is a God of order, and Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever .
But there are some things e.g. a raging storm, madness, anarchy, confusion, deception, chaos, which by their disorderly nature cannot be ordered without changing them into something else! Demon-ology is therefore, in my view, a contradiction-in-terms! Evil is chaotic, as Jesus said '...if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.' My point is that if you want to know more about evil, beware of tidy demonologies which may say more about the tidy minds of their authors than they reveal about the nature of evil!
No belief in
We make the distinction between believing that God exists, and believing in him. The same distinction is useful regarding evil. We may - and should - believe that evil exists, but we do not believe in it. Scripture reveals God, not the devil. Evil has never formed part of Christian belief or part of the Christian Creeds. We are not called to affirm evil but renounce it. To demand, as some do, that other Christians share their precise beliefs about evil runs contrary to Scripture and Christian history.
|PART III - What The Scriptures Say||(back to top)|
Evil is only mentioned in Scripture, it is not revealed. There is no systematic teaching about evil, its source, its
composition, or its nature. The following verse puts it neatly: The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to
destroy the works of the devil.
If, in Scripture, the devil is mentioned in passing, the references fall into three main groups -
If contempt of evil is the right attitude we should expect to find it
Four examples of Christ's attitude to Evil
Exposure of evil
Those who are frightened of evil, and allow themselves to feel dwarfed by its power and size, do not expose it. Evil is only exposed by those who know they stand above it.
It is no surprise, therefore, to find that so may New Testament writers ruthlessly expose the true nature of evil, for in Christ they stand above it.
Here are some examples:
Most New Testament authors refer to God's defeat of evil; for example: Matthew 25:41, Mark 3:26, Luke 10:18, John 12:31, 16:11, Colossians 1:13, 2:15, Hebrews 2:14, James 4:7, 2 Peter 2:4, 1 John 3:8, Jude 6.
There is one theme on the defeat of evil that is particularly interesting because it has always had such a secure place in Christian devotions.
In the story of the Garden of Eden, human disobedience of God results in the curse of the serpent, and enmity between its own later stock and the children of Eve . The Lord says to the serpent:
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.
The head and heel distinction is important. The battle of good and evil is not between equals! From Eve will eventually come the one who will fatally bruise the serpent's head, while only the heel of Eve's victorious descendant will be hurt. The one will be defeated, the other only wounded.
Christians have always related this to Christ and Satan.
In the temptations of Jesus, the devil attempts to reverse this by enticing Jesus to fall at his feet . Jesus - to use a highly appropriate phrase - 'gave him the boot'!
St. Paul concludes his letter to the Roman Christians with a reference to the Final Coming of Christ - The God of all peace will shortly crush Satan under your feet .
The place of evil is that place of contempt - under foot!
There is a seventh century evening prayer that is still widely used and includes the verse:
From all ill dreams defend our eyes,
From nightly fears and fantasies:
Tread under foot our ghostly [i.e. spiritual] foe,
That no pollution we may know.
|Charles Wesley's well-known hymn, based on Ephesians 6, has a verse -|
From strength to strength go on,
Wrestle and fight and pray;
Tread all the powers of darkness down,
And win the well fought day.
The Epstein statue at the entrance to Coventry Cathedral depicts evil in chains and under foot of God's Angel.
|PART IV - The Christian Soldier||(back to top)|
For most Christians, if they think about spiritual warfare at all, it is when the reading comes up from Ephesians about
putting on the whole armour of God.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.
Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh,
but against the rulers, against the authorities,
against the cosmic powers of this present darkness,
against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Therefore take up the whole armour of God...
...the belt of truth...
...the breastplate of righteousness...
...shoes of...the gospel of peace...
...shield of faith...
...helmet of salvation...
...sword of the Spirit...
Some Christians prayerfully apply each piece of armour and I commend them for their diligence. But it is possible that in
so doing they are applying the armour of Ephesians chapter 6 but ignoring the military training of chapters 1-5! Paul's
injunction to put on armour for the spiritual fight begins with the word finally. What then should precede
Military equipment is no use whatever to a soldier who is not already disciplined, trained and obedient. At school a friend of mine dropped a pencil down a rifle barrel and fired a 'blank' cartridge. The pencil didn't shoot off like a rocket as he imagined. It stayed still while the rifle blew up and injured him! My friend was armed, but his military equipment did not make a soldier of him! He should have learned to be a soldier first.
This is true for the Christian soldier. There's no point considering the spiritual weapons available in Ephesians chapter 6 unless he/she first has been thoroughly trained according to Ephesians chapters 1-5.
Here, therefore, in briefest outline are some of the main points that for Paul should characterise us as Christians.
Paul's teaching all hangs together. Because evil is distorted and chaotic, it is overcome by discipline and order, just as darkness is overcome by light.
The individual who ignored Ephesians 1-5 would be so evil-dominated and vulnerable to it, that there would be no point in giving him weapons to fight it!
As the picture unfolds we see that ORDER is the antidote to EVIL, because order is the opposite of chaos. Every distortion in our lives provides the devil with a foothold.
What do I mean by a foothold?
The Devil 'has no power over me'.
That is what Jesus once said to his disciples. '...for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the father has commanded me,...'
The phrase 'has no power over me' gets variously translated as -
How can he get a hold on us? In my local sports centre there is a brick wall used for climbing. It is not completely smooth, it has the occasional 'misplaced' brick. What would ordinarily be impregnable can without much difficulty be conquered, because of these few distortions. This helps us to see how the devil can get a hold/foot hold/grip on a Christian life, and how it is not the massive size of the distortions in our lives that render us vulnerable, but the fact that they are there at all.
Paul's teaching that I have outlined in Ephesians is designed to help us deal with distortions in our beliefs, in our behaviour and in our relationships.
For defence or attack?
It has often been pointed out that Paul mentions no armour for the back. This indicates that our spiritual armour and weapons are primarily for us to attack evil. We are not in retreat before an all-powerful enemy. We are called to advance God's Kingdom. The Victory has already been won. What we endure for a time are the mopping-up operations and the erratic violence of our mortally-wounded foe.
Wholeness and holiness
We can now begin to see that if the 'ordinary Christian' wants to be a good 'soldier of Jesus Christ', this does not mean looking closely at devils and demons, but closely at himself/herself.
The main battles of 'spiritual warfare' lie deep within the ordinary rather than the extra-ordinary. Our victory lies in our willingness to let the Holy Spirit make us more holy and more whole. It is the Christ-ness of Christians that terrifies the hosts of evil. Evil finds holiness horrific! The chaotic forces of evil are combated by the right-ordering of our lives by the Holy Spirit.
Unfortunately we live in a society where one's right to be disordered and distorted is almost regarded as a virtue, and is a sure-fire way of getting publicity for those who seek it. The right-ordering of our society (and thus of us and our families) is undermined by the intolerance of authority, and by the massive promotion of 'alternatives' to the traditional values and virtues of public and family life. Christians should question the wide-spread assumption: 'If it is shocking it must be good!'
Often a complete inversion of morality is reached. This happens when the promoters of evil brand themselves as blameless, while they ensure that the protester against evil gets branded as the only 'evil' party because of his/her alleged 'intolerance'! Very nasty, that!
To insist in a barrack room in Aldershot on a soldier's unquestionable obedience over shining brass or boots must feel irksome and irrelevant to international warfare. Yet we know that on the obedience about boots and buttons will be built the obedience on which the soldier's safety and victory will depend.
So too in the spiritual life a great deal of our training for spiritual warfare is tiresome and irksome, because it concerns the nitty-gritty areas of our lives.
|PART V - Lifestyle Changes||(back to top)|
The Christian Experience of Wilderness
After a particular Blessing in/by the Holy Spirit he is likely to throw us out into the Wilderness. The Wilderness-experience is where the moulding, making and breaking occur for which we pray. It begins our military training. (See my article on Wilderness: the Christian Experience - available soon.)
Every Christian is personally trained and thus differs in his experience from his neighbour. The following, however, are some of the typical changes that folk experience who really open themselves to the Holy Spirit's training for service.
St. Paul teaches that -
For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh,
but against the rulers, against the authorities,
against the cosmic powers of this present darkness,...
What are these 'powers'?
They are the great impersonal forces in creation and society. They are the pressures and forces which God has created which make individual and social life possible, e.g. community spirit, race, sex, religion, communication, finance, etc. These are the forces that make society 'tick' and enable us to live together.
Why then, do you ask, are we fighting them?
The reason is that while they were made to serve us, if we fail to dominate them, they dominate us. If we do not make them our servants they rise up and enslave us. They are not 'evil' as such, but, like horses: harnessed by us they can be useful, but in runaway mode they can be destructive.
The Epistle to the Colossians teaches of Christ that in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers... . They were disarmed by Christ on the Cross . Just as a first century Roman General would return to the capital city in Triumph with his captives in chains behind him, so Christ made a public spectacle of these powers, dragging them in chains behind him when he celebrated his Triumph procession - this is the meaning of Colossians 2:15.
Other references to these 'powers' in the New Testament teach us that
The task of Christians, individually and corporately, is three-fold:
Many powerful things can be undermined by laughter. Racism is dethroned more effectively by coloured comedians than by Leftist councils banning the use of the word 'blackboard'!
Sometimes the reality of these powers is almost tangible. The London Underground has an appalling spirit of heaviness and depersonalisation. It was in an attempt to break these that Spike Milligan once took a piano down to an Underground station! He was doing by instinct what Christians should be doing by prayer.
I suspect that drop-outs and anarchists are not always negative aspects of society, but include those who do really sense how sick and enslaved society is, and who wish to avoid it or challenge it. (The opposite response is apathy!)
Poverty, Chastity and Obedience
These are not fashionable nowadays, but these traditional Christian virtues (and life-promises of those living in monastic orders) are of immense importance, and of the utmost relevance to our spiritual warfare today.
I have said that the powers are neutral, but that they will enslave us if we do not conquer them. This is where poverty, chastity and obedience come in!
Christian poverty is the major way in which to break the power of possessions and materialism. Things cannot dominate your life if you do not have them! There is a real sense in which renouncing possessions gives you a freedom which is denied to most of us.
Chastity is a similar way in which to break the domination of sex over us. So many in our society are sex-dominated, that the existence of those who are chaste (and we should include faithful marriages within chastity) demonstrates that it is not all-powerful, and can serve us and enrich us rather than enslave us and degrade us.
Obedience. The supposed 'right' of the individual to do whatever he/she wishes and to satisfy every urge, dominates many lives. A type of self-fulfilment, which puts self first, is widely assumed to be normal and necessary for survival. Many assume that they are diminished if they serve another. The Christian way shows that this is not true.
Christ said 'For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.' The channelling of one's will to serve others rather than serve self is the highest form of behaviour. Obedience to God and response to the needs of others frees us from the domination of self-will, and perhaps also from self-destruction.
There are other well-tried ways of breaking the power of the powers over us, fasting is one. An increasing number of Christians are fasting nowadays, and it is a simple but effective way to dethrone the power of appetite. It helps to have a broad understanding of the term. If our lives are dominated by an insatiable appetite for, say, computer games, T.V., coffee, or some sport, then the discipline of fasting from it, can break its domination over us. Fasting breaks addiction.
Regular Tithing is another traditional and very positive way of breaking the domination of money over us. I have stressed 'regular' since the powers are all like Jack-in-the-boxes - they'll pop back up again unless we stay firmly seated on the lid!
Increasingly Christians are hearing the Holy Spirit speak to them about these principles, and calling them to simpler life-styles and the celebration of discipline.
Unfortunately a failure by many Christians to understand these things has led them to assume that rules and discipline are the opposite of grace and freedom. In using such disciplines we are not seeking to merit favour with God in order to earn our salvation! We use such disciplines because we are called to be soldiers of Jesus Christ in his fight and triumph over evil.
|PART VI - Keeping Things In Perspective||(back to top)|
I have deliberately written of the domination of the powers over us.
The word 'dominate' comes from the Latin 'dominus', which means 'Lord'. You will immediately realise that that which dominates us 'lords itself over us', and thus, for Christians, usurps the role of Christ in our lives.
There are many things which rightly have a great part in our lives: our homes, relations, job, family responsibilities, hobbies, and so on. There is a real and important difference between something/someone having a large place in our lives, and something that distorts our life by dictating to us so that we are enslaved to it. This kind of domination removes our freedom and choice, and we do things because we are manipulated from outside.
It is the rightly big things in our lives that are most likely to become the wrongly big things in our lives! We need to keep a careful eye on them lest they are slowly moving to enslave us.
The word 'TOO' provides a useful warning concerning the devil's work. TOO much or TOO little indicate distortion of some sort. It follows that the devil not only works against us, but encourages us if, in so doing, he can introduce the TOO MUCH by which our enthusiasm becomes fanaticism, and beliefs become heresy.
Religion is a major power.
Christ's 'Cleansing of the Temple' needs to have its modern and regular counterpart if religion and the things of God are not to dominate us. We can, and do, make idols of anything Christian, eg. Scripture, experience, tradition, ministries, charisms, groupings, structures, movements, saints, tradition, past events, doctrine, leaders, etc. Their goodness and godliness do not prevent our enthroning them in the place of Christ. Idolatry, after all, springs from love.
We probably hate them, but sometimes they can see our distortions and dominations clearer than we can. We need to be given the grace to ponder and listen to what God might be saying through them.
From the point of view of God's Kingdom we may find ourselves at odds with the 'world', even when it is at its most reasonable.
It was natural and reasonable enough for Simon Peter to protest when Christ foretold his Passion , but because Peter was not [in Phillip's translation] 'looking at things from God's point of view', Jesus rounds on him as the agent of Satan!
It is a difficult lesson to learn that what is acceptable to the world may be quite contrary to God's will . The Church is in grave danger when it hopes to serve society by 'adapting' to it, for it soon places itself under the same powers. Why the church is strongest when it is persecuted and weakest when it is socially acceptable is because persecution sets it apart from the social powers that usually dominate it, and sets it free!
We are happy and blessed, therefore, when we are persecuted . In the same way the earlier Beatitudes can promise happiness to the poor, the grievers, the humble, the spiritual, the merciful, the pure, and the peace-makers because the attitude/experience of such folk sets them free from the powers of wealth, relationships, status, materialism, greed, pleasure and rights - which dominate so many of us.
|PART VII - Conclusion||(back to top)|
The Place of Victory
Is it possible fully to experience the rebellious powers in submission? Emphatically YES. We all do so regularly. When we Pray as Christ himself taught us (rather than as we want to!) the powers of status, work, self-will, arrogance, sin, influence and evil are all put in their place . But it is above all as we worship and break the Bread together that we proclaim the Lord's death, i.e. his victory over the powers, and experience freedom from the domination of wealth, race, status, politics, sex, class and power.
Worship is the place of Victory, and the Cross of Jesus at its centre is our proof that the Victory has been won.
We've travelled together some way since the start of this article!
It has not been possible to cover every aspect of 'Spiritual Warfare' in so brief a space. I hope you will not feel that the subject has been 'done' once you have finished reading this, but that it is about the whole context in which we live our lives. Its issues, its tensions and its victories will be with us until we die. You are not alone, all other Christians are in this with you. Try to get some group study on the subject with discussion and sharing. Consider downloading this article so that it can help get the ball rolling.
|Copyright John Richards 2004, but waived for users of www.helpforchristians.co.uk|