This post is about the third pillar of knowing God's Will. If you want to know what I mean when I talk about “God’s Will,” start here. If you have not been following this series on the Foundations for Knowing God’s Will you can find the first, here. The second is here. This series is composed of seven parts, which lay the essential foundation for knowing God's will and recognizing his presence.
Today's post is connected to Monday's, where we explored the idea of "spiritual intelligence.” As a quick recap, Similar to the idea of emotional intelligence, spiritual intelligence is learning to pay attention to the immaterial aspects of our lives. On Monday, our focus was on the need to recognize the difference between our own spirit and the Holy Spirit. Today, we want to briefly explore a second important element to spiritual intelligence: spiritual warfare.
In the first post in this series, I explained that these seven pillars are from a book by Dutch scholar, Cornelis Van Der Kooi. He argues that there are seven criteria for Reformed believers to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit. One of those pillars
Before we look at a few key Bible verses that deal with this subject, let me tell you something interesting and unexpected that happened to me a couple years ago.
An Experience with the Demonic
I was working with a local church planting network and had been offered to teach a Bible study on the other side of town. A lay leader at one of key partner-churches wanted someone to teach a bible study once a week for the employees at his small company. I began teaching every week on Friday afternoons. To get from where I lived to where his company was located required me to drive down I-45 through a rough part of town. It was an area with high crime, known for drug use and trafficking. One week, while I was still on the freeway, I began to feel sick to my stomach. It came on so strong and so fast that I nearly had to pull over. Then a thought jumped through my mind, leaving as quickly as it came: "Tell it to stop, in Jesus' name." Motivated as I was to not get sick on myself, in my car, I thought, "what do I have to lose." So I did. In my car, I declared, "Stop. In Jesus' Name." The crazy thing? I felt better. Immediately.
Needless to say, my theoretical views on spiritual warfare became solidified (and personal) after that experience.
Behind Every Kingdom, There are Only Two Kingdoms
What do we make of a story like this? Well, the Bible offers a view of the world that is made up of both material and immaterial beings. Our Western, Post-Enlightenment, materialistic culture laughs at the idea of personal, spiritual beings -- malevolent or otherwise. But in the neighborhood of humanity, across time and cultures, we stand alone in that belief. And, for Christians, nothing in the Bible justifies the material-alone view of the universe.
The Bible offers us a view of the universe different from the common-denominator of Western society. There are personal, spiritual beings that are either in full submission to God (angels) and those who rebelled against him, becoming malevolent spiritual agents (demons). Despite the proliferation of nations, languages, or “races,” the Bible presents all of creation as part of one of two Kingdoms: The Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Darkness.
The Three-Front War
The chief of these malevolent spiritual agents is introduced early in the Bible's story. In Genesis 3, he shows up to manipulate Adam and Eve by questioning what God meant by what God said. He does not cause our first parents to do anything. But he does leverage their natural vulnerability (benign as it is) so that they choose to act against God's words. In this instance, He makes war against their minds.
In Monday's post, I also briefly mentioned Zechariah 3:1-5. There the prophet has a vision of the high priest in Heaven. He is standing before God, while Satan "accuses" him by pointing out all of his dirt and symbolic corruption. Here, he makes war against their spirit.
In numerous other places, sickness, disease, and physical impairment are directly connected to demonization. *It's important to note that not every instance of sickness, disease, or handicap in the Bible is presented as a spiritual malady.* For example, the demoniac in Mark 5 is presented as one with a severe case of mental illness. Jesus commands the demons to leave and he is restored to sanity. In Luke 11:14 a man who was mute was able to speak only after Jesus removed the demon. Two chapters later, in Luke 13:11, a woman who had been sick and physically deformed was healed after Jesus removed the demonic. Also, Mark 9, Matthew 17, and Luke 9 record a similar story of a man's son who had a demon and was mute, had seizures, and had suffered severe burns. In these places, the demonic makes war against the body.
In other words, Satan and demons can only pervert God’s good creation. Evil and darkness do not exist in and of themselves. Sin is a parasite, it cannot exist on it’s own.
This should not surprise those who are familiar with their Bibles. Paul offers a succinct and helpful explanation of spiritual conflict as arising from our own sinful flesh (Romans 5; Galatians 5) and from the "powers and principalities" (Ephesians 6). They wage war in our minds by attempting to get us to question God's Word. They wage war against our spirits, by accusing us and keeping us locked in guilt and shame. And, finally, they wage war against our bodies by causing sickness or handicaps.
Once again, it is essential that we recognize that not every instance of doubt, sickness, handicap, or feelings of guilt or shame can be attributed to demons. Sometimes we question God's word because our minds are still effected by sin and doubt God. Sometimes we get sick or experience physical handicap because sin still effects our bodies -- both in utero and throughout our lives. Sometimes we struggle to feel pardoned and free because our own spirits can accuse us.
The War is Won, But the Battle Rages
As important as it is to recognize the reality of spiritual beings leveraging our own sinfulness in it’s war against God and his Kingdom, it is more important to recognize that these two Kingdoms are not equal to each other. Paul calls Satan “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and Jesus calls him the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31) just before he says that Satan “will be judged.” Despite this there are a number of occasions during Jesus’ ministry that describe Satan’s initial defeat. First, Luke 12, after the seventy-two disciples return, Jesus tells them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18).This is recreated in dramatic fashion in Revelation 12. There he describes Satan’s removal from God’s presence and initial defeat in the incarnation of Jesus. After his death and resurrection, Jesus tells those present that he has been given “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). Paul says that his death and resurrection has exposed the entire Kingdom of Darkness to open shame (Colossians 2:15). James tells us that we can “resist the devil” with God’s help and the enemy will flee (James 4:7-8).
In the next post, I will give you a simple, practical, and biblical method for engaging in spiritual warfare.
In the meantime, what is your biggest takeaway or most nagging question about spiritual warfare?