Given that the spiritual world is real, and that there is a Spiritual War at hand, Christians must therefore know how to engage in Spiritual warfare. Spiritual warfare concerns the entirety of our lives, that is, our sin struggles, our faith, and advancing the gospel. Therefore, Christians are unable to walk out a faith journey completely ignorant to the warfare all around us. As we live actively on mission, devoting ourselves to making disciples, we are actively placing ourselves on the “front lines” of spiritual warfare. In this session of Secret Church 7, Pastor David Platt uses Scripture to provide an explanation of how Christians should engage in and fight Spiritual Warfare.
- Spiritual Warfare in the Old Testament
- Christ and Spiritual Warfare in the New Testament
- The Church and Spiritual Warfare
- How Do We Fight Spiritual Warfare?
We have many things left to study. I had wanted us to be able to read through all these texts, but I do not think we are going to have time to do that. So, I want to encourage you to go back and look at these texts. They will challenge you in a variety of different ways. I am going to try and summarize these different Old Testament texts as we finish out these glimpses of spiritual warfare in the Old Testament, and then we are going to begin analyzing how the idea of spiritual warfare transitions with Christ in the Gospels, and then into the church in the next section we have together.
So, 1 Kings 22:6–28. Basically, this is a story about how God sends lying spirits into the mouths of prophets to lead King Ahab to his destruction. So, that is the summary; God sending lying spirits into the mouths of prophets who will then lead King Ahab to his destruction. So, what is that about? Here, yet again, I want you to notice, that in the Old Testament, we see a story of a holy God, who uses an evil spirit as an agent of His judgment. This is very important.
The spirit is an agent of the judgment of God, and ultimately, a holy God using an evil spirit to accomplish His purposes, to bring about what He had said. Now, this is going back to Ahab’s sin. If you go back to 1 Kings 16:33, you find out that Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all of the kings of Israel before him. He was rampant in sin. Just like we saw in the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18, God is using false prophets here to bring about judgment on a pagan king. So, that is the depiction: a holy God actually using an evil spirit as an agent of His judgment to accomplish His purposes.
Now, Job 1:6–2:10. If you are familiar with Job, you know this is a story of God’s conversation with Satan in heaven preceding what happens to Job. It tells of what happens to Job when catastrophic things begin to happen, when the Chaldeans begin to attack. It tells how Job’s crops, his land, his property, and his children are completely destroyed. Then, in Job 2, after Satan comes back and talks with God, Job is afflicted with boils, and that is where Job 2 ends. What do we learn about spiritual warfare in this conversation between God and Satan?
The primary truth, yet again, is God’s sovereignty. Do not miss the primary truth. In Job 1 and 2, Satan speaks when spoken to, and Satan acts within God’s permission. Satan is not doing anything that God has not allowed him to do, and God has not already allowed him to do. He is acting within God’s permission and acting to fulfill God’s purpose. God’s purpose is, in the end, to bring Job to the place where he would say, “My ears had heard, but now my eyes have seen you.” Job came to a deeper knowledge of the greatness of God because of the work of Satan in his life. This is very important. Job came to a deeper knowledge of the greatness of God because of the work of Satan in his life. Satan was acting within divine permission and, ultimately, fulfilling divine purpose. So, one important truth from this passage is God’s sovereignty.
The primary victory is Job’s morality. The question that the book of Job gives us is, “Is Job going to curse God?” Obviously, he was tempted, and Satan said he would curse God. Instead, Job glorifies God. That is interesting. You will notice in Job 1 and 2, Job does not mention Satan. He does not mention the raiders and thieves who plundered his property and killed his family. He does not even talk about and focus on the painful sores all over his body or the rejection he was receiving from his wife. Instead, the whole drama in the book of Job is Job wrestling with God, because he knows God is the ultimate cause here. Shall we accept good from God, comfort from God, and not trouble from God? This is a very God-centered perspective of spiritual warfare and suffering. Job glorifies God, and Job humiliates Satan.
I am sure that there are a variety of different circumstances represented among people doing this study where you might find yourself in a confusing time, in a time where you were walking through suffering or hardship of some sort. Especially now, if you find yourself in that place or in preparation for a time when you might find yourself in that place, I want to remind you that suffering can only rightly be understood from the sovereign perspective of heaven. This is a part of Job glorifying God and humiliating Satan. Job had no idea that there was a conversation that had occurred in heaven between God and Satan. We know that for ourselves from reading this book. Job did not know that as he walked through this in his life. As a result, he had a very limited perspective on his suffering.
The suffering makes sense to us because we know that this is a test and Job is passing the test, but do not miss the sovereign perspective. Just imagine this perspective; Satan approaches God, God is surrounded by 100,000 angels, and Satan says to God, “He does not really trust you, love you, worship you. It is only because you give him prosperity.” Then, God says, “Take away his prosperity, and he will still praise me. Take his health, he will still praise me.” Job does not know that is happening, and so Job loses all of his property; it is plundered. His children and his family are destroyed. He has boils all over his body, and you can envision the hosts of heaven, angels and demons, peering over, waiting for what was going to happen. Was Job going to curse God? Then, Job rises from the middle of his suffering, and he says, “God gives and God takes away. May the name of the Lord be praised,” and unknown to Job, at that instant, 200,000 arms from angels rise into the air and cry out, “Worthy is the God of Job.” 100,000 voices sing His praises as Satan runs in humiliation. This is a very different perspective on suffering from heaven than we sometimes have on earth. Job glorifies God, and he humiliates Satan.
Two more texts; one here, and then I am going to add one more after it. Zechariah 3, the next-to-the-last book in the Old Testament. What happens there is Joshua, the high priest, is envisioned as standing before God as a representative of the people of Judah, and Satan is the accuser, standing there accusing Joshua, the high priest of sin. What happens is that this is a depiction of God cleansing His people, removing their guilt, and giving them His righteousness. At the end of this passage, you see one of the most beautiful promises of Christ, the Messiah, who is going to come; the servant of God; the branch of David; the stone; the promised Messiah, and Satan is limited. Satan is limited. If you look at Zechariah 3, Satan is not even allowed to talk. He is there to accuse, but he does not get the chance. Again, he speaks when spoken to. He is limited. Sin is the problem. The people of Judah had sinned, and they needed to be cleansed. They were responsible for their sin. They needed God to remove their guilt, and by His grace He did, and He promised that a Savior is coming. It is an incredible text.
Now, I do want you to turn to this last passage. Write out something to the side of your notes. Turn in your Bibles to Daniel 10. I have mentioned it on a couple of different occasions, but you have to get a small glimpse of this. I want us to read Daniel 10:12–14. The entire book of Daniel really gives much insight into angels and demons. We see this insight throughout the book. What happened was Daniel had set his heart on understanding why the people of God had not returned to Israel, and he was fasting and praying for an extended length of time for God to restore His people. After he had been fasting and praying for a long time, an angel appeared to him. It is one of the descriptions we saw earlier in our study of an angel, but I want you to hear what the angel said to him, so we will skip to that.
Daniel 10:12, “He continued,” this is the angel speaking to Daniel: “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard.” The first day you started praying and fasting your words were heard, “and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes,” Archangel Michael, “came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”
He goes on to talk about more of what is happening. The angel is saying, “Your prayers were heard on day one and each day for 21 days. The description is not just wrestling with a king, the prince of Persia; the implication here in this passage is that this is an evil angel, and the truth is that, when Daniel began praying on day one, his prayers were heard on day one, and for 21 days there was a war raging in the heavenlies between this angel and the evil spirit of Persia. Michael is brought in, and a breakthrough happens. Then, the angel goes on to talk about how this is going to affect Greece in the days to come. It is really an astounding passage of war.
Just think about this: as we are praying and fasting and seeking God and calling out, the account in Daniel 10 is that there is war, literally, raging in the heavenlies. Now, Daniel did not know this. Daniel is not saying, “Angel, do this. Angel, do that.” He is praying to God, and unknown to him, there is a war raging in the heavenlies in response to his prayers, and he perseveres in praying. He does not stop; he perseveres and victory breaks through. That is the account in Daniel 10. If you study that text, it will drive you to your knees in prayer and help you to get a glimpse into what is happening when we get serious about going to God in prayer.
So, these are seven Old Testament passages. I want us to look at them together, and I want to give you two observations, three conclusions, and then one question.
First, two very interesting observations that I want to point out to you that are really surprising, especially when you think about the fact that the culture surrounding Israel in the Old Testament had demonic explanations for everything. It was normal to talk about demons/evil spirits, but when you get to the Old Testament, what you find is that the Old Testament minimizes Satan and demons. You do not see the Old Testament talking everywhere about Satan and demons and evil spirits. As God inspired His Word among His people, that was not prevalent. The reality is the Old Testament does not endorse the occultic worldview of the surrounding nations; it does not accommodate all their demonic explanations. In other words, the Old Testament is giving a totally different view of the devil, evil spirits and God. The focus in the Old Testament is not where it is in the pagan cultures surrounding Israel.
Now, it is not that demons were not at work, but the focus in the Old Testament is on minimizing Satan and demons, and instead on maximizing human responsibility. This is very important. You do not see a focus in the Old Testament on a problem in inhabiting demons. You do not see the Old Testament say Noah struggled with a demon of drunkenness, and David struggled with a demon of adultery, or Moses struggled with a demon of unbelief, or Israel struggled with a demon of idolatry. You do not see the work of Satan and demons talked about like that. Instead, the focus, the problem, is in the human heart, not in inhabiting demons, but in the human heart. This is a maximizing of human responsibility. The focus of evil in the Old Testament and sin is not in demonic explanations, but in the human heart. You see this in Genesis 6 in regards to the wickedness of the earth. You see how great man’s wickedness had become. Ecclesiastes 9 is an apt description of the evil in our hearts. Jeremiah 17, “The heart is deceitful above all things beyond cure. Who can understand it?” This is an important truth. Hold onto this truth, because we are going to come back to this later in our study. The Old Testament minimizes Satan and demons and maximizes human responsibility for sin. The problem is not with inhabiting demons; the problem is with the human heart.
Three Old Testament conclusions. Number one, God is sovereign over Satan. We have seen this over and over again. Here is the point, Satan possesses unlimited malice. He is a liar. He is a destroyer. He is an accuser and a murderer. That is the bad news. The good news is Satan possesses limited power. I love what one writer said. He said, “The one who utterly enslaves the nations in the darkness of evil and death is a predictable supporting actor in the larger story of God’s holy love and holy wrath.” That is great. He is a predictable supporting actor in a larger story of redemption. Satan possesses unlimited malice, limited power. God is sovereign, not Satan. God is sovereign over nature, nations, life, death, disease; He is sovereign over all things. Satan is not sovereign over nations. Satan is not sovereign over disease. Satan is not sovereign over cancer. Satan is not sovereign over whether or not we live or die. James says, “If the Lord wills we will live, if not we will die.” God is sovereign over all these things, not Satan.
Second conclusion, sin is the primary human problem. We are responsible for our sin. The Old Testament does not put blame or responsibility for evil on Satan. People are responsible for their evil. Who is responsible for sin in Genesis 3? Adam and Eve. Who is responsible for sin in the story of Saul? Saul is responsible for it. Ahab is responsible for his sin. Men and women are responsible for their sin.
The Old Testament teaches that we, as a result, must respond to God in light of our sin. If we are responsible, then we are responsible for responding to God. The description we see over and over throughout the Old Testament is either we repent of our sin, or we die in our sin, and that is God’s message to His people over and over again. How do you confront idolatry? How do you confront sexual perversion? How do you confront lying and cheating and stealing? The answer the Old Testament gives every time is repent. Repent. Turn from your sin and turn to God. Trust in God. Follow God. Obey God.
Notice the conspicuous absence of demons in the Old Testament. We are not seeing demons cast out of people in the Old Testament. We are seeing people struggling with sin being told to repent and trust in God. That is how spiritual warfare is happening in the Old Testament. Make sure you remember that. Spiritual warfare, in this way, is God-centered, not demon-centered. God is center of attention. Demons are not central in the story; they are in the background. The devil is on a short chain in the Old Testament.
Now, this entire thing does bring a question: “If God is sovereign over evil, and He is even using evil spirits as agents of His judgment to accomplish His purpose, then how can a holy God relate to evil? That is a very important question. That is the question I want us to begin to examine: how does God relate to sin? How does God relate to evil? The challenge for you during the next five minutes is to stay try and understand everything I am about to teach you, because we are about to get into some really intense Old Testament doctrine and theology. So, just try to understand me over the next five minutes.
God relates to sin variably. That means he relates to sin in different ways at different times. Sometimes in the Old Testament, God prevents sin. We are not going to examine all of these examples, but that is what Genesis 20:6 shows us there. Sometimes God prevents sin. At other times, God permits sin. He allows sin. The Old Testament teaches that sometimes He gives us over to our sin. Other times, we see God directs sin. He takes sin, and He directs it for good. This is the story of Joseph’s brothers. We will come back to that story in just a moment. Sometimes God limits sin. Maybe He does not prevent evil completely in a situation, but He does restrain the extent or the effect of sin.
So, God relates to sin in all these ways, but do not miss this truth: God never directly causes sin. This is very important. God never directly causes sin. God never sins in Scripture, and God is never blamed for sin in Scripture. Scripture nowhere shows God as directly doing anything evil. Do not miss this truth. God is never a personal agent tempting us to evil. Even in His sovereignty over evil, He is still able to maintain His perfect holiness. His holiness and His goodness are never at one moment impugned or questioned as He relates to sin.
This is so important because, if we are not careful, we will begin to believe a couple of different errors. If we say that God Himself does evil, then we deny that He is the good and righteous God who is worthy of all our worship, so we do not want to believe that. Scripture does not teach that. At the same time, if we say that God is not sovereign over everything, that there are parts of evil out here that He is not sovereign over, then that means there are some things that are out of His control, which also is not taught in Scripture. We want to make sure we do not believe either one of these errors. God never directly causes sin. So how do we reconcile God and evil?
What we just studied is how God relates to sin. Now, think about evil. God relates to good and evil asymmetrically, meaning in different ways. He relates to good in a way that is different than the way He relates to evil. Make sure you understand what I just said. I know it is difficult, but try and understand it. God and good, all that is good is under His sovereignty. God is completely and totally good, and He is in control of everything that is good. I would expound on that truth and say all that is good is morally chargeable to God. All that is good flows from God. We do not see anywhere in Scripture where good is morally chargeable, ultimately, to a creature. It is always attributed to the Creator. This is the entire point.
When you get to the New Testament, look at Romans 3:9–20,
What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? No, we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. There is no one who does righteous. No one is righteous, not even one. No one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away. They have together become worthless. There is no one who does good. Not even one.
So, we do not bring about good. God is the one who is credited with bringing about good. Everything that is good comes from God. He is primary, and we are secondary in anything good. Do you understand that?
All that is good is morally chargeable to Him. Make sure that stays fresh in your mind, because when it comes to God and evil, all that is evil is under His sovereignty, just like all that is good. Just what we have seen with good, all that is evil is under His sovereignty. Lamentations 3, at the end of that passage, “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?” For example, in studying the passage in Exodus involving the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, you will notice that God is hardening Pharaoh’s heart, and also, Pharaoh is hardening his own heart. You will see examples of this all throughout Scripture. The fact that everything that is evil is under His sovereignty is evident in all of these texts.
However, here is where this is different. Whereas all that is good is morally chargeable to God in Scripture, all that is evil is not morally chargeable to Him. Plainly put, all of Scripture never charges God with evil. It always attributes evil to other agents, other causes. Scripture, rightfully and continually, blames moral creatures for the evil they do, and we see this in Isaiah 66. The end of that passage is a prime example, but the blame for evil, the responsibility for evil is always on the creature, whether man or demon who does it, and not on the Creator.
This is where we come face-to-face with one of the core truths in the gospel. God is totally and wholly and completely good, and we have sinned and turned from Him and rebelled against Him. There is nothing good in us, Paul says. Therefore, we need the goodness of God to even begin to turn towards Him. All that is good is morally chargeable to Him. All that is evil is morally chargeable to us whether creatures, man, evil spirits, or demons.
Now, how does all this work together? I just want to remind you, and this is what we talked about in the Who is God Secret Church. Remember the compatible plan of God. How does this work together? How the following two truths come together is a mystery, but here are the two truths. Number one, God is in control. God is totally in control. Number two, we make choices. God is in control, and we make choices. Both of those statements are true. Let me give you two examples. Look at the story of Joseph’s brothers in Genesis 50. Let me ask you a question. Were Joseph’s brothers guilty of sin when they sold their brother into slavery and lied to cover it up? Were they guilty of sin? Were they responsible for that sin? Absolutely. Was God in control of it? Of course. He was in control of every single detail, and He was using it to bring about the redemption and salvation of His people in a famine that was coming. God is in control, yet we are making choices.
This idea is even more beautifully described in Acts 2,
Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth is a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.
Were Jesus’ accusers, tormentors, and killers responsible for murdering Him on a cross? Absolutely. They were responsible for the sin of murder here. Did they choose to murder Him? Absolutely. “You put him to death.” Was God sovereign over these events? Yes, every detail. God was not sitting back, simply hoping something like this would happen to bring about the salvation of His people. This was God’s set purpose and foreknowledge, to use the most gruesome demonstration of evil in all of history to provide salvation for all of us.
So, these come together in a mysterious way. God is in control, and we are making choices. As a result, it helps us to think through how God is sovereign over everything, good and evil both, but He never sins. He is never blamed for sin. This is the description of spiritual warfare in the Old Testament. God is totally sovereign. Man is completely responsible. The focus is not on Satan or casting demons out. The focus is on repentance and turning to God, and you are responsible for doing that. Everything that is happening is under the sovereignty of God, and He is ultimately even using evil to bring about good. There is the Old Testament and spiritual warfare. You can meditate on that for weeks.
Now, we will look at Christ. We turn the pages of Scripture into the New Testament, and we see a very different scene. It appears that Jesus is casting out demons and evil spirits all the time, particularly, in comparison to the Old Testament. Why do we see such a different understanding of spiritual warfare?
I want you to think about the description of Christ in the Gospels. Spiritual warfare is a thorough battle. At the beginning of His life, there is an attempt to kill Christ when King Herod issues this decree to find children and slay them. This happened at the beginning of His life, and then at the beginning of His ministry in Matthew 4 and Luke 4, we see Jesus’ ministry inaugurated by His temptation in the wilderness with the devil.
The beginning of His life, the beginning of His ministry, and as we move on in the Gospels, we see spiritual warfare in the middle of His life and ministry. He is casting out demons. Luke 9 is one picture, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams.” Later, the passage said, “Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.”
He is casting out demons, and He is asserting His dominion. He is asserting His dominion over demonic forces in a definite and very controversial way. If you look at the end of this passage in Matthew 12, the Pharisees are accusing Him of casting out demons by the prince of demons. Jesus is responding to them, and He says, “If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” That is the point here. He is showing that the kingdom of God is here. “Or again,” Jesus says, “How can anyone enter a strongman’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strongman? Then he can rob his house.” Now, the end of this passage is very important, because in this imagery here, the strongman is Satan. His possessions and plunder are not his personal property or effects. They are people whom he has blinded to the plan of salvation. What Christ is doing as He carries out His ministry is He is showing that He has power to bind up the strongman, tie him up. That is the ultimate purpose in the cross. What Christ is doing is He is binding the strongman, binding the one who held them captive. Jesus’ ministry on earth is showing us that Satan has been bound. Satan has been bound by Christ, and Jesus’ promise for eternity is that Satan will be destroyed. There is an eternal fire prepared for devil and his angels.
So, Satan has been bound, and Satan will be destroyed. All of that leads to the end of his life, where the cross is the ultimate exorcism. The prince of this world will now be driven out. The cross is the ultimate exorcism, and the resurrection is the ultimate victory. Jesus, the beginning of His life and ministry and middle of His life and ministry, comes to the cross, and His resurrection. Then, at the end of His ministry, before ascending into heaven, He says boldly, “All authority in heaven and on earth is mine.” (Matthew 28:18) I put Daniel 7 in your notes because that is the fulfillment of the prophecy in Daniel 7. Then, “he would have everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
So, the description is that He is asserting His dominion all throughout his life and ministry. What I want you to see, though, is that Jesus’ involvement in spiritual warfare focused on a two-sided battlefront. Make sure you understand me here. Jesus wars against both moral evil and natural evil. Spiritual warfare in Christ is that He is warring against moral evil and natural evil.
I want to show you the difference between the two. Moral evil primarily includes sin. Moral evil is wickedness, inequity, transgression, and sin. It is the evil that we believe, and the evil that we do. Satan tempts us to sin. Moral evil includes sin, but that is not the only description of evil that we see. We also see in all the Scriptures and in the Gospels natural evil, which primarily includes suffering. This is not necessarily things that we do, but things that may happen to us. Maybe this takes on the form of natural disasters or sickness that is brought on. It is different. It is evil, but it is not moral evil in the same way that sin is. It is different. Natural evil includes suffering.
Now, obviously they are connected; moral evil is ultimately the cause of natural evil. It goes all the way back to the beginning. We have catastrophic things that happen such as natural disasters, tornadoes, and hurricanes as a result of sin’s entrance into the world in Genesis 3. We have sickness. Now, simply because we get sick does not mean we had a sin that directly caused that, however, ultimately moral evil is the cause of natural evil. There are two different types of evil here. Now, the question is, “How does Satan relate to both of these?”
Satan is a liar who provokes moral evil. He provokes us to sin, but he is also a murderer who applies natural evil; he applies suffering. I want you to think with me for a minute about how Jesus confronts both moral and natural evil, and I want you to think about how He confronts them in important, but slightly different ways. Jesus wars against moral evil and natural evil differently, differently. How did He fight moral evil? He fought moral evil through one primary means. Make sure you understand this. Jesus used declaration of truth to fight moral evil. We see this from the very beginning. As He is tempted by Satan in the wilderness, He quotes Scripture. He confronts temptation to sin with truth. Then, when we see at the very beginning of His ministry, the very first message that is coming from His mouth is “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:12–17)
In many conversations with people, what Jesus is doing is He is exposing sin. Obviously, this was very prevalent in his interaction with religious leaders, hypocrites, Pharisees. He is exposing their sin, and He is calling for repentance. Jesus exposed sin, and He called for repentance. Think about it. When Jesus was addressing the sins of the religious hypocrites, the Pharisees, did He ever cast demons out of them? No. He did not say, “You have a demon of pride. Be gone. Demon of hypocrisy, be gone. Demon of idolatry, be gone. Demon of self-sufficiency or your demon of money, be gone.” No. Whenever He was addressing moral evil, He simply exposed their sin with truth and called for them to repent. That is how He fought moral evil, through declaration of truth, exposing sin, and calling for repentance.
However, although Jesus always used declaration of truth to fight moral evil, he also used a demonstration of power to fight natural evil. How would Jesus respond to natural evil like sickness and suffering? Certainly He would still declare the truth of God, but he also demonstrated the power of God by showing His power over sickness and suffering, and I want you to notice with me that in the passages where we see Jesus driving out demons, it is in the context where Jesus is confronting natural evil, not moral evil.
Look at Mark 3, “He had healed many, so that those with the diseases were pushing forward to touch him. When the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God.’ But he gave them strict orders not to tell who he was.” Then, you get to Matthew 4, and He is healing every disease and sickness among the people. “News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed.” Do you see where the demon-possessed are mentioned? They are mentioned in the same context as those who have diseases, with pain, with seizures, who are paralyzed. That is where the demon-possessed are mentioned. This is the description we see of sicknesses and evil spirits in Luke 7.
So, here is the point. Come down to the bottom of this section in your notes, below Luke 13 there. Here is the description we have of spiritual warfare in Christ. Jesus does not cast out demons in cases of moral evil, dealing primarily with sin. Instead, Jesus is casting out demons in cases of natural evil, dealing primarily with suffering. Do you understand that? This is very important. Jesus approaches those who were demon-possessed primarily as sufferers who were needing relief, not sinners needing repentance.
Now, obviously, there were some times when He would address both. Two examples of this are when you have the lame men in Mark 2 or John 5, and Jesus healed them, but then also proclaimed His authority to forgive their sins, but it is not the same thing here. Mark 5 is really the quintessential example of Jesus approaching a demon-possessed man, and the passage does not tell us this man had demons of sin that were controlling him. Now, obviously, he was acting in crazy ways, and certainly he was a sinner, but the emphasis is on his suffering as a result of this demon possession, and Jesus is delivering him from that possession.
So, the passage involves Jesus dealing with moral evil and natural evil in very different ways. In regards to moral evil, He is saying, “Here is the truth of God. Repent.” That is spiritual warfare against moral evil in the ministry of Christ. When it comes to evil spirits being cast out, this is spiritual warfare dealing with natural evil in Christ, and this is when He is casting out demons. We do not see Him casting out demons of sin. We see Him casting out demons of suffering.
Now hold onto that truth. It is a very important truth. Now, we are coming to the church and spiritual warfare. Again, we looked at the Old Testament and spiritual warfare. Then, we looked at Christ, and now we will observe the New Testament church. What is different and what is similar. This is where we need to ask the fundamental question, “Do we fight spiritual warfare exactly as Christ fought spiritual warfare?” That is an important question. What I am convinced that the New Testament teaches on this and a variety of other issues is that we address issues that are similar to what Jesus was addressing. They are similar issues. However, we address those issues in different ways. Oftentimes, we address those in very distinctly different ways.
I want to expand your thinking for just a moment. You are going to wonder, “Where in the world this is going, and what does this have to do with spiritual warfare?” I just want you to think for a moment about how Jesus addresses similar issues, and then how we are supposed to address the same issues but in totally different ways. There are distinct differences between us and Christ. Think about paying taxes. Disciples of the Pharisees are asking, “Does your teacher pay the temple tax?” They have this conversation, and Jesus says to Peter, “Go to the lake, and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth, and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” So, for Jesus, how did He pay taxes? Jesus caught a fish and paid the tax. Are we supposed to do the same thing, catch a fish and pay a tax? No, the Scripture teaches us to work a job and pay the tax. Matthew 22:16–22, among other texts, teaches us, commands us to pay our taxes using methods we use to get that money. Scripture, obviously, never commands us to catch a fish to give us our tax money. Instead, Scripture clearly teaches that we are responsible for acquiring that money ourselves.
Now, think about catching fish. The disciples are having a hard time catching fish, so Jesus just says, “You should go out to this area, throw your net over the side, and you will catch scores of them.” So, they do. Jesus worked this way. Jesus commanded the fish to be at the side of the boat, then eat. If only it were that easy. Just get on the boat, and when you decide where you want the fish, tell them to be there and bring them in. This is not the same for us. Wait forever for the fish to come anywhere near the boat, then eat. We are supposed to find food still, but the means by which we do it is different.
In the account of walking on water in Matthew 14, Jesus expressed faith by walking on top of the water. Are we ever commanded to do that as an expression of our faith? No. For us, we express faith by walking through deep waters and difficult times, trusting in God, and keeping our focus on Christ. There is a shift in mode here.
Think about feeding the hungry. What did Jesus do in John 6? He fed 5,000 people. He reveals himself as God by miraculously providing food for the needy. He prays and the food is there. Obviously, this is not the same for us. Now, it is not that we are not supposed to feed the needy. Are we supposed to feed the needy? Yes, but for us, we pray to God as we work to provide food for the needy. Why do we not just use supernatural means to feed the needy today? Why do we not go into impoverished villages and simply pray and expect the food to come? Because God has said in Ephesians 4 and 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, “Sacrifice your resources to help those who are in need.” That is what He is commanding us to do. Pray to God as we work to provide food for the needy.
Think about speaking. Think about the way people reacted when Jesus spoke. We have to realize that Jesus had an inherent authority. He could say, “I say to you” this, and whatever He said was the Word of God. This is not the same with you and me. For us, it is not an inherent authority, but a derived authority. I have authority to speak the Word of God only in so much as I am saying what the Bible says. I do not say, “I say to you,” and it is authoritative. Absolutely not. My authority is to only speak the Word of God. It is completely tied to this Word and its authority. It is derived from God in His Word.
Think about the forgiveness of sins. With Jesus, He had authority to provide for the forgiveness of sins. You and I do not have that authority. Instead, we are ambassadors who proclaim the forgiveness of sins. We proclaim His forgiveness. We are still confronting the need for peoples’ forgiveness, but there is a totally different mode shift here.
When it comes to raising the dead in John 11, Jesus says, “Lazarus, come out.” Jesus never preached a funeral; every time He started one in the New Testament, the funeral would be over. This is not the same with us. It is Jesus, and what you have is that raising the dead is both an authoritative command and a gospel invitation. There are times when He says to a dead man, “Be raised and live,” and he does. There are other times where He invites people to repent, to trust in His Father, and you will live forever in the resurrection and the life. Now for us, we do not do the former, we only do the latter, the gospel invitation. We call people to eternal life. We are addressing this issue, resurrection from the dead, but we are commanding people to receive the gospel, not telling them to rise up and walk.
Think about controlling the weather. In Mark 4, Jesus speaks and the weather obeys. Us, we pray and God responds. We do not say, “Clouds, go over here. Wind and waves, stop.” We do not speak like that. We are not told to do that. We are not commanded to do that. We pray and God responds.
Think about healing the sick. Jesus had authority to command someone to be healed, and immediately, they would be healed. Then, we come to the New Testament, and this is not the case. We do intercession for healing. As James 5 says, we gather around and pray for one another in the church and as elders in the church.
So, these are different instances. Now, think about spiritual warfare. This is the story I put in here of Mark 5, Jesus casting demons out of individuals. This is something Jesus does here and in other places, but here is what I want you to notice. We are never commanded to cast demons out of individuals. Some would point to Luke 10 as the only example where this might be the case, and there are huge implications in that text for understanding our mission today. However, at the same time there are elements in that mission that are different from us today. They were going to a specific place, a specific time, a specific territory, at a specific time where the kingdom of God had come, and it was there in the presence of Christ. We do not see in the in the Gospels a command to cast demons out of individuals. In fact, once you get past Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts, you do not see it again at all in the New Testament. People casting demons out is not present anywhere. This is something that we see in Christ, and we see in some of His apostles in the book of Acts, but when you turn the page from Acts to Romans, you hear nothing about casting demons out of people in the rest of the New Testament.
I emphasize that because I want us to at least realize that in New Testament, spiritual warfare in the church it is not primarily about casting demons out of people. I will teach more about this in a moment, but what we see in the New Testament church is that, when it comes to spiritual warfare, there is not an emphasis on exorcism and incantations and binding and loosing and casting out this or that. Instead, we see an evident, consistent, bold emphasis on fighting the good fight of faith and repenting ourselves and calling others to repentance. That is spiritual warfare. It is the same idea we have seen in the Old Testament, and it is the idea we have seen in Christ fighting moral evil in the Gospels, and it is the idea we see of the church and spiritual warfare. We are never commanded to cast demons out of individuals.
This is where the battle of spiritual warfare is waged. Think about this: Revelation 2 and 3 gives an account of seven different New Testament churches in the middle of battle. It is interesting. The Church in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, and Laodicea that were birthed in the middle of pagan occultic idolatry. All kinds of demonism was rampant. Interestingly, when Christ speaks to them, we do not see at any point in Revelation 2 or 3, as well as the rest of the letters to the churches in the New Testament, things that we see today in conversations about spiritual warfare among Christians.
Let me give you some examples. Many of the writings in our day begin to talk about walking around a community rebuking Satan in Jesus’ name at every turn. This includes calling demons out of specific places. There is a variety of methods for casting out demons. One, the Deliverance Handbook says,
In deliverance, we were released from the spirits and desires that twist our heart and deceive our mind. What is a spirit? Anger is a spirit. Irritation and self-pity are spirits. Hatred, jealousy, illness, worry, deception, arrogance, fear, rebellion, resentment, phobia, shyness, conceit, confusion, sadness, accusation, addiction, pride, legalism, homosexuality, complaining, lying; they are all names of spirits. If at any time in your life you have ever expressed any such spirit or desire then you still have it hidden inside, unless you have been delivered of it.
So, the authors of this book claim that you need to experience deliverance by binding or casting out certain spirits. To do that, they say, simply say this prayer, “I bind and rebuke you spirit of (fill in the blank) in the name and blood of Jesus, and I command you to leave me now, totally and wholly. Thank you, Jesus.” Some expound on this and say, “Speak directly to the spirit and cough and blow it out.” What is that about? “Coughing is often necessary to release the spirit. Cough as necessary until it is out. If the spirit manifests disruptively or violently, it may be commanded. Do not allow the demon to speak and alter the words of this prayer. If it is altered the demon does not have to obey it, and the demon knows this.” These are the kind of things that are out there. It is very prevalent, and there are variations on this, some of them more excessive than others.
I want you to think about when Christ had an opportunity to speak into the seven churches that were in the middle of this pagan occultism, where all kinds of spirits were rampant, what did he say? To the church in Ephesus, a church surrounded by idolatry and immorality. Ephesus had the Temple of Diana, Artemus, many eunuchs, thousands of prostitute priestesses who came together in just a plethora of music, orgies, and drunkenness. Many followed in the lines of Nicolatians and sexual immorality, and Jesus does not say to them “Cast out the demons of sexual immorality and idolatry. Organize prayer walks around the Temple of Diana and bind those spirits.” No. He says to them, “Repent of your sin.” Revelations 2:5, “Repent of your sin and reclaim your first love. Love me.” Spiritual warfare is fought in the heart, in the affections of your being.
Then, Smyrna, a church that was facing persecution. They were facing direct Satanic opposition through being persecuted. What does Jesus say? “Bind Satan and all of his forces?” No. Instead, we see here what we see in other places in Scripture. God was sovereign over this persecution, and He was using it to bring about His purposes. So, Jesus says to them, “Trust God in faith and persevere in patience. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life.” That is spiritual warfare.
Pergamum, to a church dwelling amidst Satan’s throne. It literally says that, “You dwell in the middle of Satan’s throne.” This was a tough city with a huge altar to Zeus. There is a god of healing in Pergamum associated with snakes, and the way you would be healed of your diseases is you would go, and lay on the floor and let the snakes crawl over you. This place was messed up, yet in the midst of it, God does not tell them to go around binding and rebuking Satan. Instead, He says, “Be pure in thought and be pure in deed. That is how you fight the enemy.”
Thyatira, a church engulfed in false teaching. A false teacher, symbolically called Jezebel in the text, who was leading all kinds of people with her teaching into idolatry and immorality. Jesus did not tell them to cast demons out of Jezebel or bind Jezebel, but instead Jesus said, “Listen to holy truth and commit to holy living.” This is spiritual warfare.
Revelation 3 begins with Sardis, a church that was basically dead. It was dying spiritually, and the letter to them simply says, “Turn from sin and turn to Christ. This is how you come from darkness to light.”
Philadelphia, a church opposed – it literally says “opposed by a synagogue of Satan.” They were unbelieving Jews who were opposed to the gospel in Philadelphia. They were persecuting believers, and the believers were battling temptation to shrink back in fear. Jesus said, “Hold fast to my word and proclaim my name.” Hold fast to His Word and proclaim His name. This is where the battle of spiritual warfare is fought, in the proclamation of the gospel. Do not miss this truth: they were not supposed to go around Philadelphia praying down all the spirits in Philadelphia. Instead, they were to go around Philadelphia preaching the gospel, and that was spiritual warfare.
Laodicea, a church that was lukewarm, had all the money and all the trappings of this world, and Christ said, “You are poor and naked. You think you are rich, but you are empty.” He says to them, “Seek treasure in Christ. Clothe your lives in Christ.” It is great imagery there. “Also, fix your eyes on Christ.”
The description in all seven of these churches is that all seven are in the midst of intense spiritual battle in the first century, and Jesus never once tells them to engage in spiritual warfare by casting out, binding, rebuking, or calling down demons or engaging in high-level spiritual warfare. Instead, over and over again, He says, “Repent. Turn to Christ. Be pure. Be holy. Repent. Proclaim your first love. Then, proclaim your first love all over the city that surrounds you.” That is New Testament spiritual warfare.
Now, some people might say at this point, “You don’t understand. There are many things happening in different parts of the world that warrant different types of spiritual warfare.” That is exactly the point I want to make. If there were any places that necessitated the kind of spiritual warfare that we hear is so prevalent in contemporary Christian discussions of spiritual warfare, these seven churches were those place. However, even in the middle of this, Jesus is simply saying, “Trust in God. Repent of sin and proclaim the gospel.”
So, when we think about New Testament spiritual warfare, I want us in our minds to come back and realize that what we are seeing all over the New Testament is spiritual warfare in action, but it is not this glamorous, fanciful casting and calling out and binding demons. No, it is a constant pursuit of Jesus Christ, turning from sin over and over again and a proclamation of the gospel to the ends of the earth. Spiritual warfare is happening in the midst of it.
When you look in the New Testament, what you will see in terms of spiritual warfare are two primary actions. How does the New Testament say we should fight spiritual warfare? Number one, stand firm. This is a defensive posture. Look at Ephesians 6. It is one of the main texts we are going to study the rest of the night. Remember, this is right in the middle of Ephesus. Ephesus had the Temple of Diana, and all these gods and goddesses are being worshipped. There is rampant immorality and idolatry, and Paul says, “Stand.” This is what you do. Four times he says, “Stand.” “Put on the full armor of God so you can take your stand.” Underline it there. “Therefore put on the full armor of God,” a couple of verses down, “So when the day evil comes you may be able to stand your ground,” second time, “After you have done everything to stand,” third time, “stand firm then.”
Spiritual warfare is standing and resisting the devil. It is standing against temptation and the attacks of the enemy. Listen to 1 Peter 5, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” So, what do you do? Resist him, standing firm in the faith. Resist the devil. When the New Testament is talking about spiritual warfare, this is the idea: stand, resist, be firm and steadfast. James says, “Submit yourselves, resist him, and he will flee from you.” I promise a victory does not get any stronger than that. Stand, brothers and sisters, and the devil will flee. It is a promise. If you want to fight spiritual warfare, stand firm.
That is the defensive posture in spiritual warfare, then second, press forward. This is an offensive posture. Attack enemy territory. This is the the form of attack in the Great Commission, and this is where the entire passage in Ephesians 6 leads to. Do not miss this truth. “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it fearlessly, as I should.” Paul’s ministry was about aggressive proclamation of the gospel. So, there are two primary actions in spiritual warfare in the New Testament church. First, stand firm, resisting the devil’s schemes. Second, we press forward, attacking enemy territory, and there are three primary fronts where this battle is raging. The Bible teaches three ways or avenues through which evil is attacking us. The first is the world. The second is the flesh, and the third is the devil.
You will see all three of these in Ephesians 2. You will see all three of these in James 3, and also in 1 John, you will see evil described as the world, the flesh, and the devil. Think about these three things. When it comes to the world, the world is around us. The world in Scripture is referred to as the environment in which we live. All of the ungodly aspects of culture, and our values and traditions and customs and philosophies that surround us in this world are in this category. We need to see how the world has a profound influence on the way we think.
We can go to a gathering of the church every time it meets, and we can go through the motions and never once think that maybe Christ wants to redirect the way we raise our kids than our non-Christian neighbor next to us. Maybe Christ wants to redirect the way we spend our money than our non-Christian neighbor next to us. Instead, the world and the church look just like one another. We do not think about the fact that the world is attacking us in many sinful ways around us, and we are believing things so much that our lives are very indistinguishable from the world. The world is around us.
Second, the flesh is within us. We have in us, still, a sinful nature, an inner propensity to do evil. It is part of us that was tainted by the fall, and it is still in us. Galatians 5 talks about that. So, you have the world around us, the flesh within us, and then Satan is against us. The evil spiritual being and his demons intent on perpetrating evil in our lives.
Now, I want you to think about these three aspects together; the world, flesh, and devil. The Bible differentiates these three strands of evil without dividing them, The Bible does not say, “We have three problems: a world set of problems, a flesh set of problems, and a Satan/devil set of problems.” Instead, these three act like three cords of a rope. They are together. They are different, but they are overlapping together. Over and over again, they are coming together.
In addition, the Bible addresses people, not demons. Just like we saw in the Old Testament, this is what we are going to see in the New Testament. When the Bible talks about spiritual warfare, we are in the center and demons are in the background. Many novels have been written depicting demons as center and us in the background, but I want you to know it is just fiction. However, we start taking fiction, and we bring it into truth in our minds. The danger with novels like that is they put demons in the center, and that is not how Scripture describes spiritual warfare. Scripture is putting an emphasis on people, and people’s responsibility. People’s response to the world, flesh, and the devil, not demons.
All three of these working together against man. Thomas Brooks, he wrote one of the books that I have recommended. Thomas Brooks wrote, and he talked about how the flesh is the hook. Remember, this is only imagery. The flesh is the hook, the world is the bait, and Satan is constantly baiting the hook in our lives. What this means is spiritual warfare, then, is a lifelong struggle, not a one-time fix. Spiritual warfare is not about visiting someone who can cast demons out. Spiritual warfare is about a holistic battle that involves our entire lives and our struggle with sin, contending our faith, and advancing the gospel. This is where I want us to see that spiritual warfare and discipleship go together, and our sanctification is on the front lines of spiritual warfare. If we give ourselves to making disciples, we will be on the front lines of spiritual warfare.