Spiritual Warfare, It Is Real

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness inthe heavenly places. ~Ephesians 6:10-12

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I hardly see any blogs—maybe this is because of the kind of blogs I usually read (if any, anymore)—dealing with this real life topic; furthermore, I hardly hear any pulpits (that our healthy, anyway) engaging with this topic in critical and fruitful ways. And so to remedy this dearth, at least for me, personally, I am going to reflect (versus, exegete) upon the above passage, and upon my own ongoing spiritual warfare as one of Christ’s “soldiers.”

The ubiquitous, N. T. Wright, writes on this section (pericope) of Scripture:

What then is the battle? Who is fighting against us? And what are we to do about it?

Paul clearly supposes that the forces of evil that put Jesus on the cross have been seriously upset by the victory of the resurrection. They are now positively panic-stricken at the thought that the message of this Jesus is everywhere challenging their power and authority, and that communities loyal to Jesus as Lord and king are springing up, bringing together peoples and communities in a new unity, a new humanity, that shows evidence of the creator’s sovereign power and hence of their own imminent destruction. They are therefore doing their best to oppose this gospel, to distract or depress the young Christians, to blow them off course by false teaching or temptations to anger or immorality (see 4.17–5.20, where these are the main themes).

Sometimes this attack will take the frontal form of actual authorities in towns and cities who try to prevent Christians from spreading the message. Sometimes it will take the more oblique form of persuading Christians to invest time and energy in irrelevant side-issues, or to become fascinated by distorted teaching. Sometimes it will be simply the age-old temptations of money, sex and power: But in each case what individuals and the whole church must do is, first, to recognize that attacks are coming; second, to learn how to put on the complete armour which God offers; and, third, to stand firm and undismayed. [1]

I was pleasantly surprised when I read Wright’s ‘For Everyone’ on this passage; I was almost sure that he was going to focus on the anti-Imperial context of this passage—as is so popular nowadays—and miss how concrete and real this is in our individual and daily lives (he holds a good balance on both of these realities in his short comments. But I really don’t want to focus on Wright, so much; I want to talk about how real, and moment by moment this attack is, and how we usually are not even aware of it.

In my own life, and where I find spiritual attack most acute (there are actually many identifiable areas for me), is in the area of simple Bible reading. I read a lot! And I most often read works of theology and biblical studies, alongside my daily schedule of reading Scripture. But there is, and has always been this battle when I am intent on reading Scripture. Interestingly, I don’t experience this kind of acute attack on my theological or biblical studies reading; and I don’t even experience this kind of attack on my Bible reading when I am doing so from a posture of critical or academic engagement with the text (and I want to be careful not to imply here that critical Bible reading is not spiritually adept Bible reading, it can and should be, but it is not always—unfortunately—for me). But I do experience massive attack when I am attempting to read Scripture as if I am sitting at the feet of Jesus; I do experience acute attack when I am intent on reading Scripture in a way that is attuned to feeding my soul as an exercise of worship with the hope of growing deeper in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. I do experience this attack when I try to read Scripture with the hope that it will be able (as it breaks off in its reality in Jesus) to keep me from sin. I experienced this kind of attack today.

What I conclude from this (not being ignorant of the enemy’s devices as I am, cf. II Cor. 2), is this: God’s Word (Scripture) has something very potent associated with it. Something so potent that the enemy of our souls, who like a roaring lion is seeking whom he may devour, realizes that if we are in it, if it is in us, if we read it and think it prayerfully and meditatively; somehow (not mystically) has the power to rip our inward focused souls asunder—by causing us to look away from our bellies, and instead to look at the navel of God’s life in Jesus Christ. I know this attack is real, and I am sure many of you, as you have attempted to read Scripture in this way, and with the hope that I have mentioned, have experienced this same reality as well.

Just remember, any time you encounter systems of thought (even theological ones), that have embedded in them, the premise that God’s Word might not be all that it is cracked up to be; just remember that this is the same venomous bile that the serpent fed Adam and Eve so long ago. And just remember that ‘doubt’ of God’s Word brought rebellion into our lives; it is by God’s Word that this seed of the serpent has been crushed (Jn. 1:1). And try not to think of what I just wrote in academic or novel ways, try and think of what I just wrote in ways that are prayerful, and in ways that are coordinate with your day to day life and reality. This is the way I am approaching this. Not as an academic exercise, but as an exercise of worship and meditation before the throne of God.

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[1] N. T. Wright, Paul For Everyone: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, 66-7.

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2 comments

  1. That’s an interesting point, Bobby. I hadn’t made that connection before. When I’m involved in a general Bible study, there’s not much of a problem, but I’m when I’m reading to really hear from Him (i.e., lectio divina), then it becomes much more problematic. Hope you’re doing well! Eric

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  2. Yeah, Eric, it is something I’ve noticed over the years. And I think there is something to this. The primary mode of attack is through simple distraction.

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