People tend to talk about spiritual warfare in one of two ways:
- Not at all because it feels weird to talk about demons and the Devil and unseen realms. Plus, we believe God is sovereign and that he restrains Satan and that making oil crosses above doorways isn’t necessary.
- Constantly because Satan is everywhere and if you’re not constantly vigilant something could go seriously wrong. After all, he’s prowling about like a lion, looking for people to devour.
It seems to me that neither of these extremes is quite right.
After all, the Bible does talk about spiritual warfare. To ignore it entirely is to ignore part of scripture. But it also doesn’t talk about it that much, and to give it too much airplay isn’t biblical or healthy.
So what’s the deal with spiritual warfare? How do we wage war effectively without being weird or hyper-spiritual? Let’s look at the Bible.
Spiritual Warfare Is Primarily Internal
95% of the time, the Bible talks about spiritual warfare in terms of what happens within, not in terms of exorcising demons or fighting evil spirits but in fighting against the world, the flesh, and the Devil’s temptations.
For example, 1 John 3:8 says:
Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
What are the works of the devil? Sin. When we sin, we are living as if we haven’t been transferred into the kingdom of God. We’re living as if we’re still dead in our sins and alive to Satan.
James 4:7 puts it this way:
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
James writes this as part of a bigger discussion about pride and humility. He’s not talking about claiming territories for God or praying walls of spiritual protection around people. He’s saying that spiritual warfare against Satan involves fighting against the demonic temptation of pride.
When we fight against the sin that so often rages within, we are doing spiritual warfare. We are resisting the devil. We are taking up the shield of faith and standing firm against the temptations and accusations of the enemy. We are declaring the old us is dead and that we are no longer part of the kingdom of Satan.
Focusing heavily on the external trappings of spiritual warfare – casting demons out, praying against the forces of hell, etc. – can actually distract us from the battle within. We can give the devil undue attention while simultaneously sinning, which is the exact opposite of what God calls us to.
Spiritual Warfare Occasionally Involves External Things
There are times when it may be necessary to engage in warfare in some external way. We see this throughout the ministry of Jesus. He regularly cast demons out of people and told his disciples that there would be times when demons could only be driven out by prayer.
Frankly, I’ve never had direct involvement in something like casting a demon out, but I don’t believe it’s outside the realm of possibility. I have encountered people that I’ve wondered about – people who seemed truly and deeply disturbed.
I also know that in countries where animism and spiritualism are rampant, evangelists do come face to face with people who willingly participate in demonic activities.
There have been times when I’ve prayed that God would deliver someone from spiritual attack – when temptation or wickedness seemed to be pressing particularly hard on them in ways I don’t usually see.
In our secularized, Western culture, I believe that most Satanic activity comes in the form of him convincing people that they are radically autonomous – that they can choose their own truth and be whoever they want to be. That God himself endorses their lifestyle and encourages them to brave their own path.
When we share the gospel with and pray for these individuals, we are participating in spiritual warfare. We are taking a stand against the works of darkness and, in a sense, fighting for the souls of men and women.
In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis wrote:
The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices.
Lewis understood that in our polite, post-modern society, Satan tends to prowl about stealthily, dragging people to hell with their sin rather than their ritual sacrifices. That the influence of evil is seen primarily in websites and sitcoms and workplace affairs, not in blatant demonic rituals.
When we boldly proclaim the gospel and take a stand against wickedness, we are certainly waging spiritual warfare.
We Can Stop Casting Demons Out Of Cats
In my dad’s early Christian years, when he was part of the Charismatic movement, a friend of his was convinced that a cat was actually demon possessed. Wanting to take a stand against evil, this friend cast the “demon” out of the cat.
While it’s certainly not impossible that the cat was possessed (Jesus cast demons into pigs), we don’t need to be looking for demons around every corner.
Most of our spiritual warfare takes place in our own hearts and by taking a stand for Christ in a broken and dark world.
Of course, cats are evil.