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Though we are dependent-upon-God creatures in the physical world, we are even more so in the spiritual realm because there are a host of unseen beings all around us, tempting, antagonizing, and hoping to annihilate us. Most certainly, some spiritual beings are for our good, but there is a host whose aim is to destroy us (John 10:10). A biblical worldview about the spiritual world is not the stuff from the imagination of the sci-fi fan but from the Bible.
And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD (Job 1:12).
The good news is that the leader of this world, Satan, is not God’s evil equal. His forays into our space cannot happen without the permission of the Almighty. His ability is limited in power, scope, and effect because he’s under the authority of the ultimate higher power. We see his limitations in the Book of Job, where God was the One giving orders and setting the boundaries to what Satan could and could not do. Knowing the limitations of Satan and his demons brings confidence and hope for God’s children, though it’s still foolish to presume about his activity in our lives.
As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are in the middle of a tremendous cosmic battle at every moment, a different battle from anything we have ever imagined or could imagine. This struggle is a cosmic conflict waged in the invisible spiritual realm, though the effect of this war can be seen and felt in our real-world lives and relationships. If God gave us spiritual eyes to peer into the unseen world, we would be left quivering in our boots.
Though our demonic adversaries have a limited time to operate and are subservient to the Lord, they do have a battle strategy—to keep us living in our self-made worlds, preoccupied with what we can see, not giving much thought to their world or satanic strategies. The proper response must begin with a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ. Of course, Satan’s number one strategy is to keep the message of Christ hidden from us, blinding the eyes of those who need the gospel’s message.
The demons know the battle is over, ultimately speaking, if anyone becomes a believer, though they will never give up or relent. They will pivot to an alternate aim to keep us living busy natural lives. Similar to unbelievers, they want us to live as “unbelieving believers.” This alternate strategy uses the art of deception to keep us off-balance while trusting in ourselves. Demons are master magicians whose sleight of hand is more than a parlor trick. Heaven and hell are at stake, and our spiritual maturity and personal relationships are at stake too. For example, here are a few of the enemy’s tactical deceptions:
As we realize these tactics about the spiritual world, the temptation might be to throw in the towel. How can we win with such formidable foes? The answer begins with requoting the well-worn cliche, we must preach the gospel to ourselves daily; the truth is that we have already won. The fact and effect of the gospel are what guard, fortify, and nourish our hearts. The war is already over, and the victory is secure. It’s the already but not yet of the gospel.
It’s not about winning the war but learning how to fight the ongoing battles that make up our spiritual warfare—until we make our triumphant crossing to our homeland, where our victorious King is waiting to receive us. If we don’t learn how to do battle in the spiritual realm, the enemy will distract us and will minimize our usefulness to God. We will be defeated and tempted to live discouraged and distracted lives. We will be pitiful victors. Imagine going into a game knowing we have already won but acting as if our opponents have defeated us.
It does not make God’s name great or put His Son on display when we behave like spiritual lightweights. Some of us tend to live defeated and distracted lives, partly due to the distractive influences of an enemy we are not discerning or actively engaging. Demons are deceptive and formidable, and we can be spiritual lightweights by comparison. A lack of theological precision and practical application can elevate these devilish beings to where it mutes the work of the Lord in our lives.
Being a spiritual lightweight is what some of the believers in Corinth were accusing Paul of being. They did not see his qualities as significant, robust, dynamic, or powerful enough for the false teachers. It reminds me of what the Israelites wanted in Samuel’s day—a king who was head and shoulders above the rest. The Corinthians saw Paul as a weak man, not a great and powerful apostle who could blow away the opposition. These false teachers accused him of walking in the flesh—human weakness because he had an unimpressive leadership style.
Paul had an “unspiritual sense” or a substandard way of modeling spirituality according to how the world views and displays great leaders. They said he carried out his ministry more pragmatically rather than dynamically. In some circles, these personality types are the only ones who are said to be called by God to lead others. Paul was not your stereotypical alpha male. This “alpha worldview” is a trumpeted sense of spiritual superiority that others can see.
The Corinthian false teachers took their cues from what they could see in their culture. Effective spiritual leadership looks like (fill in the blank). Paul did not fit their “filled-in-blank” expectations. They claimed they were better than him because they had more visions and demonstrations of power. They were dynamic, alpha males. All Paul had was the meekness and gentleness of Christ. Notice how Paul saw himself, which was the problem if you viewed him through an “alpha lens.”
I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you (2 Corinthians 10:1).
It was Christ they did not understand. If we base true spirituality on personality qualities or individual dynamic styles, we will undoubtedly have to devalue the cross. If we value strengths, personality, charisma, or preferences more than character-driven, competent, courageous, and compassionate leaders, it will not be long before we steer the church into a ditch. Personality evaluations and strengths are good, and on one level, there is nothing wrong with them; we want to commend them.
But it is easy to interpret the gospel through what we value in our culture’s assumed leadership qualities rather than explaining the culture through how we understand the gospel. If these strengths do not put the gospel on display, practically speaking, it is nothing more than personal power, a horrendously weak virtue for the spiritual realm. When gospel-less values become the criteria for making decisions, rather than the gospel being the centralized criteria, we will make many blunders in the name of good intentions.
Many evangelical leaders have substantial leadership strengths, and we applaud them for their gifts. The problem with a few of them is how the gospel is not the filter through which we should evaluate men and women. Perhaps a little less personality would be better for the spiritual battle we’re waging. Jesus and Paul are two examples of unimpressive-looking people who did incomprehensible things because they relied on someone far greater than their native exhibitions of human strengths (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).
For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Corinthians 1:25).
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us (2 Corinthians 4:7).
The gospel provides a counterintuitive way to think about wisdom and power. We see it in Christ as He died on Adam’s tree. Paul talked about it when he noted how the magnification of wisdom and power happens in the humble soil of Adamic clay pots. Maybe weakness would be the order of the day because our spiritual enemies will squash us if we trot out our native abilities to fight in the spiritual realm. Satan is formidable.
We need surpassing power, as Paul called it. We need to tap into something that does not belong to us. This vital understanding should encourage weaker brothers and sisters everywhere. We don’t have to be like our pastors or whomever we may envy, wishing we had an ounce of what they have. We don’t need their strengths to fight this war. We’re looking for weakness, the fertile ground from which God sprouts His wisdom and power—the very things the world perceives as weak and foolish.
Though we are humans, we do not fight like humans. “Worldly weapons” will not do us any good in the spiritual realm. If they did, we would get the glory, and we would not need our Big Brother. Perhaps it would help you at this juncture to think about some of the “worldly weapons” you may employ to win your battles. Let’s begin with a couple of questions.
Some “worldly weapons” could include excusing, blaming, bitterness, unforgiveness, lying, partial truths, relying on human ingenuity, justifying, anger, pouting, silent treatment, threats, intimidation, control, and other manipulative tactics. When you go into battle with the weapons of the flesh, you may get your way and even win the skirmish with a combatant who does not have your human-powered prowess. The problem is that you will not make any progress in your spiritual growth, develop deep spiritual relationships, or build God’s fabulous name.
This way of fighting was actually how some of the people in Corinth fought. They relied on human ingenuity, personal preferences, pet peeves, and innate strengths to persuade the masses while building their reputations. I understand why they picked those weapons because I experience similar temptations when it’s time to go toe-to-toe with someone. It makes sense to choose from the arsenals of worldly strengths, even though the real battle is not in the physical world. Imagine Job using his ingenuity to go against Satan.
Human weapons cannot effectively fight against the warfare we must engage in. It’s like a child beating off a robber with a water pistol. He can use his best plastic weapon, but his best is not good enough. The real battle is not what he sees but what he cannot see. Our campaigns are not against flesh and blood, and the weapons of our warfare cannot be flesh and blood but the arsenal from the divine domain. God’s arsenals are manifestations of the work of the Spirit in our lives. For example, rather than reacting in sinful anger—the weapons of human reasoning, we can respond with humility—the weakness of Christ. When we live out the weakness of Christ, we manifest the work of the Holy Spirit.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20).
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1).
Though many people perceive humility to be foolish, according to our world’s way of thinking and reacting, it is the power of God for our salvation and sanctification. The nature of the conflict determines the kind of weapons we use. Worldly weapons can get you your way at the moment, but you will lose spiritually and relationally. When in a war, you are doing battle from a position of strength if you want to win.
When it comes to spiritual warfare, be sure it is not your strength you are taking into battle. The power you need is the mighty hand of God. For example, the fruit of the Spirit presents us with nine manifestations that enable us to fight a good fight in the spiritual realm: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
Here are a few more questions to help you think through spiritual warfare:
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).