THE BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE OF WARFARE
"For we wrestle ... against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world" (Eph 6:12).
"The devil made me do it!" One hears that statement often these days. Comedians, posters, bumper stickers, and lapel pins keep the theme going. Most people laugh and smile at this attempt of man to excuse himself of any guilt in his sins. How man would like to laugh away the problem of sin and the misery and torment it often brings!
Such levity about Satan and his part in man's sins is subtle satanic strategy against us. The prince of this world sees to it that the world he controls laughs him off with indifferent levity. Christians ought never to enter into joke-making about Satan or hell. While believers do need to exercise care in not assigning all of their wrongdoing as Satan's responsibility, we must with biblical insight appreciate the awesome power of Satan's kingdom to influence us.
God's greatest servants have always shared an appreciation of the awesome power of Satan and his kingdom and the complete victory over Satan's kingdom which is available to all believers through the mighty Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jude warns us of apostate teachers who are "filthy dreamers," and part of whose folly is to "despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities" (Jude 8, KJV). He goes on to show how even Michael the archangel did not dare to judge Satan, but appealed to the Lord to rebuke him (v. 9).
Careful study of the epistles of Paul soon reveals the depth of understanding the Holy Spirit brought to the apostle concerning the need for wisely approaching spiritual warfare. The book of Ephesians is the New Testament handbook on spiritual warfare. Paul closes this epistle with a focus that seems to make successful spiritual warfare against Satan an important key to the message of the whole epistle. A believer's ability to enjoy the lofty spiritual benefits set forth in the first five-and-one-half chapters depends upon his being strong in the Lord and his effective warfare against Satan and his kingdom.
Martin Luther was also one who saw the need to enter into aggressive, biblically sound warfare against Satan and his kingdom. It is traditionally accepted that Luther so surely was aware of Satan's presence on one occasion that he threw his ink bottle at him. It is not difficult to believe such tradition when one sings the words of his great hymn, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God."
A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing,
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God's own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth His name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim—
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him
That word above all earthly powers—
No thanks to them—abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God's truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
The believer's emphasis in spiritual warfare must be upon a biblical, doctrinal approach to the subject. Subjective feelings, emotional desires, and fervent sincerity are not sufficient weaponry against Satan. He yields no ground to emotion or sincerity. He retreats only from before the authority the believer has through his union with the Lord Jesus Christ and the absolute truth of the Word of God.
Many in the more feeling-oriented communions of believers are to be commended for their awareness of the need to see people loosed from Satan's bondage. However, if one might be permitted to exercise a note of loving concern, it has been my observation that far too many of these believers have substituted feelings, desire, and fervency of emotion in place of objective doctrinal truth. The defeat of our enemy depends on our reliance upon the Word of God and the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Word of God recognizes that we face three unique enemies which seek to defeat the spiritual life of believers. Commonly we speak of these three as the world, the flesh, and the devil. Each of these enemies has a unique and particular role to play in the warfare against believers. It is vital to our victory in the Lord Jesus Christ that we know how each of these enemies seeks to turn us aside from our purchased possession and position of victory. It is important for us to be able to discern what kind of temptation or testing we are facing in a given situation.
When a person becomes a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, his relationship to everything in the physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional world undergoes a radical change. He is a new creation, and everything is becoming new. The believer is a citizen of heaven (Phil 3:20); he is God's child (Jn 1:12) and an heir of God. Believers are appointed to suffer with Christ and to be glorified together with Him (Ro 8:16-17).
Because of this new relationship to God, all believers are marked targets for attack from the same enemies that oppose and attack the Person, plans, and purposes of God. With such relentless plan of attack against us, believers must know all they can about their available defense system and their weapons of warfare.
Several years ago, while pastoring in Colorado, I witnessed the fascinating development of the beautiful new Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs. The US government purchased thousands of acres of land and then proceeded to pour multiplied millions of dollars into the construction of one of the most beautiful campuses in the world. Through a careful screening process, the US Air Force seeks to recruit the cream of American youth. For four years in a highly disciplined academic community, these gifted young men are trained and conditioned in the finest military tradition. Graduation day is just the beginning of many more long years of further training and preparation to defend our country and to prepare for military warfare. Our government demands that our military leaders spend their whole lifetime studying, improving, and perfecting military strategy.
The point begins to become obvious, doesn't it? If earthly military needs demand such study and careful preparation, how much more our preparation to meet our enemy demands our most diligent effort. The believer who does not become familiar with spiritual warfare will indeed be a poor soldier of Jesus Christ. The believer's enemies are engaged in unprecedented activity against him today. One's own observations, the entertainment industry, the mass media, numerous books by Christian authors, all sound the alarm. Christians are under concentrated attack today.
It is vital that I have doctrinal or biblical answers to such basic questions as: How do I recognize the world's attempt to press me into its mold, and how do I overcome the world? How do I defeat the works of my fleshly nature? How do I recognize temptations and testing from Satan and his demons, and what defeats these focused efforts to destroy me? Biblical answers to these questions will equip members of our Lord's body to walk in the spiritual health which has been supplied by their Head.
A number of years ago now, I led a young lady in her early twenties to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. She was radiant over her newfound joy and peace through the Lord Jesus Christ. Some very defeating sins and problems with nightmares and fears disappeared immediately. She was set free in Christ. Through neglect on my part and the young lady's own choice, however, adequate follow-up and careful grounding in the Word of God was not achieved. She lived some distance from the church, and after a few weeks, her attendance became very sporadic. Worldliness which had been a very prominent part of her life before her conversion continued. Fleshly sins were tolerated and excused with little concern.
After about a year had passed, this girl returned to my study for counseling. "It didn't last, Pastor," she said. "It was wonderful at first, but now my problems are much worse than before I received Christ. My nightmares are more hideous than ever, and I'm afraid all the time. I guess it just doesn't work for me."
This babe in Christ had become a tragic victim of her enemies. She did not know how to recognize and defeat the enemies which were out to destroy her spiritual victory and rob her of the enjoyment of God's will. Her experience abounds in the body of Christ today. The world, the flesh, and the devil must be challenged and defeated by the victory won for us through our Lord Jesus Christ.CHAPTER 2
WARFARE WITH THE FLESH
"To be fleshly minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace" (Ro 8:6, ASV).
A neighborhood Bible study was in progress. The group was studying the book of Romans. A highly educated, professional man was asked to read from The Living Bible Romans 7:15-25:
I don't understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I can't. I do what I don't want to—what I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience proves that I agree with these laws I am breaking. But I can't help myself, because I'm no longer doing it. It is sin inside me that is stronger than I am that makes me do these evil things.
At this point, his wife, who was in another part of the room, asked the lady next to her if her husband was making a confession. She recognized these words as so aptly describing her husband's struggles. She was assured that he was reading as he continued in the passage:
I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn, I can't make myself do right. I want to but I can't. When I want to do good, I don't; and when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway. Now if I am doing what I don't want to, it is plain where the trouble is: sin still has me in its evil grasp.
It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love to do God's will so far as my new nature is concerned; but there is something else deep within me, in my lower nature, that is at war with my mind and wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. In my mind I want to be God's willing servant but instead I find myself enslaved to sin.
So you see how it is: my new life tells me to do right, but the old nature that is still inside me loves to sin. Oh, what a terrible predicament I'm in! Who will free me from my slavery to this deadly lower nature? Thank God! It has been done by Jesus Christ our Lord. He has set me free.
The one doing this reading told me later that he just couldn't believe these words were in the Bible. He was sure that those leading the Bible study had deliberately chosen the passage for him to read. Being aggressive and vocal, he told them so, and they all had a good laugh over the incident.
How relevant the Word of God is. How pointedly it speaks to us about the experiences we are having.
Man has a depraved nature which presents a great challenge to any desire to do right. This depraved nature resulted from man's fall. Some would tell us that this debased, depraved nature is a holdover from man's primitive, savage, brute state. This evolutionary view of man rejects and is in contradiction to the Word of God which describes man as being created in the likeness and image of God on a plane only a little lower than God. "Yet Thou hast made him a little lower than God, And dost crown him with glory and majesty" (Ps 8:5, NASB).
Man's sinful nature did not arise out of his original constitution, nor was it a result of his environment. Man's sin nature resulted from his departure from God in an act of personal consciousness and deliberate, free will violation of God's holy law. The curse of man's willful sin resulted in a sinful nature, a disposition of the heart out of which sinful actions spring (Mt 15:19; Mk 7:21-23).
We have inherited this cursed sin nature from Adam (Ro 5:12-19). The law of inheriting our sin nature is the outworking of Adam's sin and the relationship of the human race to Adam as its head.
Evangelical Christians accept the fact that man inherits through the Fall a depraved human nature. This nature is opposed to God and is prone to sin. The Word of God uses several different words and phrases to describe this debased, weak, low tendency in man to be ungodly and sinful. For example, the "old man" describes what man was like before he receives Christ and becomes a "new man." (Ephesians 4:22, 24) The "natural man" describes this fallen condition as opposed to the "spiritual man." (1 Co 2)
One of the most common New Testament words used to identify man's fallen depraved nature is the word flesh. The word has several different usages in Scripture and does not always mean man's fallen nature. The context in which the word flesh appears usually makes unmistakably clear its usage or meaning.
Numerous New Testament passages depict for us the great struggle and warfare that the believer has with this fallen depraved nature. This is a battle the Christian faces completely apart from direct temptation from Satan or the powers of darkness. We must see that even though there is always a relationship between one enemy—our fallen nature—and the other—Satan—they are also separate. We must never underestimate the terrible strength of our fallen nature to hinder and destroy spiritual life and the holy life God desires us to live.
In such texts as that quoted from Romans 7, the apostle Paul recognized the total failure and depravity of our fallen, fleshly nature. The deadliness of this enemy is further expounded in Romans 8:7-8: "The [fleshly] mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God" (KJV).
Romans 7:23 pictures this enemy of our flesh as being the cause of an inner war, a struggle and a battle between the fallen nature and the new or spiritual nature that enters when we become believers and are born again (Jn 3:6-7).
While teaching a Sunday school class, I challenged the class to come up with a definition of the flesh as the Bible describes it. My own insight gained from the definition these believers shared: The flesh is a built-in law of failure, making it impossible for natural man to please or serve God. It is a compulsive inner force inherited from man's fall, which expresses itself in general and specific rebellion against God and His righteousness. The flesh can never be reformed or improved. The only hope for escape from the law of the flesh is its total execution and replacement by a new life in the Lord Jesus Christ.
One might find a more polished definition from an able theologian, but the practical insight of the deadly nature of the flesh seems to be captured here. The flesh cannot be tamed, reformed, or improved. It is so totally bad that it has to die. This terrible force is within us, and even after we have by faith counted him dead, he will attempt to spring to life again and control us.
Man's flesh, his fallen nature, has definite ways in which it tempts and wars against the spiritual man. The flesh is a deadly enemy which is capable of completely defeating a believer and keeping him from pleasing God with a holy life. One of the reasons the flesh is such a difficult enemy to handle is because of its close inner relationship to the believer's personality. The flesh is intimately intertwined with our mind, our will, and our emotions, and prior to his conversion, it pretty much controls a man's inner life.