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Though we are dependent creatures in the physical world, we are even more so in the spiritual realm. There are a host of spiritual beings all around us. Some of them are for our good, and some of them aim to destroy us.
This worldview is not the stuff from the imagination of the sci-fi fan, but the Bible. Satan and his minions desire to destroy us, and he would do that if he could. The good news is that Satan is not God’s evil equal: he has limited power and reach because he’s under the authority and power of God Almighty. We see his limitations in the book of Job where God was the One giving orders and setting the boundaries to what Satan could do to God’s child.
And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that 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
Satan is an evil adversary for a time, but it is only for a short period, and his strength, reach, and authority is limited and subservient to our heavenly Father. Nevertheless, he does have a battle strategy, and that strategy is to keep you living in your self-made world while not relying on God as your strength.
If you don’t know Christ, he wants to keep you from knowing him. He wants you to continue to trust yourself. He will do all he can to keep you from calling upon the name of the Lord and receiving His salvation (Romans 10:13).
If you are a believer, Satan knows the battle is over, but he will seek to keep you living a purely natural life—relying on yourself and not God. Similar to the unbeliever, he wants you to live as an unbelieving believer.
His primary strategy is to use the art of deception to keep you off-balance while trusting in yourself. He is the master magician, but his sleight of hand is more than a parlor trick. Heaven and hell are at stake. Your spiritual maturity and personal relationships are at stake too. Here are just a few of the enemy’s tactics:
As a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, you are in the middle of a great cosmic battle every moment of your life. Do not be deceived about this. If God gave us spiritual eyes to peer into the unseen world, we would be left quivering in our boots.
You are in a war, and it is different than any war you have ever imagined or could imagine. This battle is a cosmic conflict waged in the invisible spiritual realm, though the effect of the war can be seen and felt in our lives and the lives of our friends.
It would be easy to read about the spiritual world and be tempted to throw in the towel. How can we win with such a formidable foe? The truth is, we have already won. This truth is where we need to guard our hearts. The war is already over, and the victory is secure.
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 you don’t learn how to do battle in the spiritual realm, the enemy will distract you, and you will minimize your usefulness for God. You will be defeated and tempted to live a discouraged and distracted life. You will be a pitiful victor.
It does not make God’s name great or put His Son on display when we behave like spiritual lightweights. We tend to live defeated and distracted lives, which is partly due to the distractive influences of an enemy we are not discerning.
Footnoting the Devil – When I talk about the enemy in the spiritual world, I am not talking primarily about Satan. Satan is a localized being, and I doubt he is spending his time with either one of us. He has bigger fish to fry. Too many times, we give Satan too much credit.
The majority of us will never have an encounter with Satan. When I speak of the spiritual world, I’m speaking mainly of the evil beings who are part of Satan’s war machine. This concept is crucial because we do not need to make him what he is not: he is not omnipresent, omnipotent, or omniscient.
A lack of theological precision at this point can elevate Satan to where God does not and create even more confusion, which would bring him much pleasure. Tightening up of our theology does not dismiss my point about the enemies of the spiritual realm. They are deceptive and formidable, and we can be spiritual lightweights by comparison.
Being a spiritual lightweight is what some of the people in Corinth were accusing Paul. His perceived qualities were not significant, robust, dynamic, or powerful enough for the false teachers. They saw him as a weak man, not a great and powerful apostle.
These false teachers accused him of walking in the flesh—human weakness because he had an unimpressive leadership style. He came across as weak. He had an “unspiritual sense” or a substandard way of modeling spirituality.
They said he carried out his ministry more pragmatically, rather than dynamically. He was not your stereotypical Alpha Male. In some circles, these personality types are the only ones who are said to be called of God to lead others.
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 the bill. 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.
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 you base true spirituality on personality qualities or individual dynamic styles, you would most certainly have to devalue the cross. If we value strengths, personality, charisma, or preferences more than servant leadership, it will not be long before we steer the church into a ditch.
Strengths are good, and on one level there is nothing wrong with them; we want to commend them. But if these strengths do not put the gospel on display, it is nothing more than personal power, a horrendously weak virtue for the spiritual realm.
It is easy to interpret the gospel through what we value in our culture rather than explaining the culture through how we understand the gospel. Which lens establishes your filter? How do you see life?
When our gospel-less values become the criteria for making decisions, rather than the gospel being the criteria, we will make many blunders in the name of good intentions.
Many personalities in the Evangelical world have substantial leadership strengths, and we applaud them for their gifts. The problem is the gospel is not the filter through which we evaluate some of these men and women.
We all have qualities and values we like, but at times, these preferences can determine how we respond to life. Maybe a little less on the dynamic front is what God wants from us. Perhaps a little less personality would be better for the spiritual battle we’re waging.
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
Maybe weakness would be the order of the day, not preferential strengths. If you fight in the spiritual realm using your strengths, your spiritual enemies will squash you. Satan is formidable. You need a higher power. You need to tap into something that does not belong to you; His name is Jehovah. You need surpassing power.
This vital understanding should encourage all of our weaker brothers and sisters. You don’t have to be like your pastor, or whomever you may envy, wishing you had their gifts. You don’t need their strengths or gift-mix to fight this war. You need weakness—things that are perceived to be foolish.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. – 1 Corinthians 1:25
You don’t need human strength; you need extra-human strength for this fight. Though you are a human, you do not fight like a human. “Worldly weapons” will not do you any good in the spiritual realm. If they did, you would get the glory, and you would not need your Big Brother.
It might help to think about some of the “worldly weapons” you may employ to win your battles. What do you pull from your arsenal of human weaponry when things are going wrong for you? When things do not go your way, what do you do to get your way? What are some of your favorite weapons?
Some “worldly weapons” could look like excusing, blaming, bitterness, unforgiveness, lying, partial truths, relying on human ingenuity, justifying, anger, pouting, silent treatment, threats, intimidation, and absolute control.
When you go into battle with the weapons of the flesh, you may get your way and even win the battle. The problem is you will not make any progress in your spiritual growth, in developing deep spiritual relationships, and in building God’s name fabulous.
This way of fighting was actually how some of the people in Corinth fought their battles. 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 the weapons they preferred because I experience similar temptations. It would be easy to choose from the arsenals of worldly strengths, even though the origination of the battle is not in the physical world. Imagine Job using his ingenuity to go against Satan. Foolish.
Human weapons cannot effectively fight against the warfare we are engaged. It’s like a child beating off a robber with a water pistol. He can use the best that he possesses, but his best is not good enough.
The real battle is not what you see, but what you do not perceive. Our campaigns are not against flesh and blood. The weapons of our warfare should not be flesh and blood, but arsenal from the spiritual domain. It is crucial that you know where the artillery should come from when fighting spiritual warfare: they come from God. They are expressions or manifestations of the work of the Spirit in our lives.
Rather than reacting in anger—the weapons of human reasoning, we can respond with humility—the weakness of Christ. When we live out the weakness of Christ in our lives, we are manifesting the work of the Holy Spirit.
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 fighting, it is the power of God. It is just one of our many spiritual weapons. If you try to fight spiritual battles with worldly weapons, you lose. Let me repeat it: you will lose.
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. Anger, for example, does not produce the righteous life that God calls you to (James 1:20).
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.
Here are nine manifestations of the Spirit that will enable you to fight a good fight in the spiritual realm: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
If you only take these nine expressions of the Spirit with you into battle, you will do well when you go to fight in the unseen world.