So very many things in the spiritual realm are the opposite of the earthly and not at all what we would naturally think; God’s ways are so different to ours! When it comes to spiritual warfare, we know that the weapons of our warfare don’t belong to this world because we don’t belong to this world – we are involved in a spiritual warfare rather than a physical one. Although we know this in our heads, in practice we still often apply our natural knowledge of war and fighting to the spiritual realm and as a result we end up fighting with flesh and blood weapons, perhaps not physically, but certainly with words. Words are powerful and must be used wisely and be God-directed: “The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
Too often we see with our natural eyes and think we know what to do or say but the truth is that we DON’T KNOW. “Looking at His disciples, Jesus said, ‘Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who ‘have it all’ to enter God’s kingdom?’ The disciples couldn’t believe what they were hearing, but Jesus kept on: ‘You can’t imagine how difficult. I’d say it’s easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for the rich to get into God’s kingdom.’ That set the disciples back on their heels. ‘Then who has any chance at all?’ they asked. Jesus was blunt: ‘No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it.'” (Mark 10:23-27).
It is just as difficult for those of us who think we “have it all” and “know it all” and consider ourselves rich spiritually to enter into the kingdom of God as it is for those who may be physically rich. The kingdom of God is where God sovereignly rules and we do not. Religion can make us think that we are spiritually rich and in need of nothing; that we know what God would want and so we basically rule our own kingdom. We have to be shown that we are in fact poor and need Christ as everything. That last verse in the Amplified says: “With men [it is] impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”
It is when we know without a doubt how impossible we are and that we desperately need all that Christ is, that God can step in and make all things possible! God’s kingdom is where He sovereignly rules and there is no chance of being part of His rule when we think we can do things (ie rule!) ourselves. This is indeed a battle and a war; this is spiritual warfare, but not as we’ve known it! Instead of this spiritual warfare being external and out there somewhere, it is instead internal; it is warfare between our kingdom and God’s; between our will and God’s. It is a battle to see who will prevail: self through pride and presumption, or God through our yieldedness and submission.
What is often referred to as “spiritual warfare” in this day and age usually amounts to nothing more than religious flesh; it loudly assails an enemy who is ALREADY defeated (but doesn’t want us to know it) while ignoring the enemy within: us and our flesh – in particular, our religious flesh which delights in the illusion of having power and in doing things and being seen to be doing things. This so-called “spiritual warfare” seems to be more motivated by preservation of self and fear of our enemy than by trust and faith in our Victory who is Christ! The way some people speak sounds as though they think the enemy is in control and not God and they are in fear of him; but God desires us to know HIM and to not be deceived by the many illusions that the deceiver uses to distract and intimidate us.
“The main objective of the forces of evil is by some means – no matter how – to rob the believer of real spiritual fighting force; not talking force, working force, organizing force, advertising force, holding-and-going-to-meeting force, listening-to-teaching force, soul force; but genuine fighting force in which the impact of the victory of the Christ of Calvary by the Cross is registered upon the forces back of the human and worldly elements – the “principalities and authorities, the world rulers of this darkness, and the hosts of wicked spirits in the heavenlies” (Ephesians 6:12). Spiritual effectiveness is decided there, and not amongst the things seen. It is because of this that the enemy is well pleased amongst the spiritually superficial or unspiritual “Christians” to carry on a campaign of works and activities, programs, institutions, meetings, and churches… and allow or foster a certain kind of success imitative of good, but in which there is nothing that gets beyond time and earth and is lacking in that constituent which affects his hold upon the situation… it must be settled that the measure of spiritual effectiveness – the measure in which we count in the presence of the unseen forces – is just the measure in which we have come by the Cross to the place where we know – and live accordingly – that it is not in or of ourselves to serve God… that no resource of ours can count as an effectual basis… that God must do it in us and through us… and that all means, methods, forces, times, enablements must be out from Himself.” (T. Austin-Sparks – Satan’s Main Objective)
One of the reasons this “do-ing” is so engrained in us is simply because it is our nature – we are sons of Adam and daughters of Eve – it is our human nature to make decisions and judgments ourselves. In the garden of Eden they both chose to be independent from God. We are so used to being in charge, doing things ourselves and being lord of our own lives, making up our own minds about things and being the ruler of our own little kingdoms… but that Adam must die so that the last Adam (Christ) can live and reign in us and through us instead: “The first man Adam became a living being, an individual personality; the last Adam (Christ) became a life-giving Spirit restoring the dead to life. But it is not the spiritual life which came first, but the physical and then the spiritual. The first man was from out of the earth, made of dust (earthly-minded); the second Man is from out of heaven. Now those who are made of the dust (earth) are like him who was first made of the dust (earthly-minded); and as is the Man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven (heavenly-minded). And just as we have borne (worn) the image of the man of dust, so let us also bear (wear constantly) the image of the Man in heaven. But I tell you this, flesh and blood cannot become partakers and inherit or share in the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” (1 Cor. 15:45-50).
It can take a lot to break us of this habit of relying on ourselves and what we think we see and what we think we can do (particularly in spiritual and religious things) and to instead see that we truly know nothing apart from Christ. Do we still think we can DO anything in ourselves to please or satisfy God? If so, then we are still in the place of thinking we ‘have it all’… We can only see and know our Father and truly submit to Him and His authority when we have given up on ourselves and surrendered all that we are. This was the case even for Jesus; He was totally dependent on His Father and did not do or say things just because it seemed like He should; He did NOTHING from Himself so that He could be ruled and governed by His Father (John 5:19,30; 8:28) and this was not what people expected: “The chief priests accused Him of many things. So again Pilate asked Him, ‘Aren’t You going to answer? See how many things they are accusing You of.’ But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.” (Mark 15:3,4 NIV). This, indeed, was warfare; but not as we have ever known it!
Warfare in the Bible
In the Old Testament, fighting and warring are mentioned many times. The principle which is shown to be true again and again is that GOD is the One Who causes the battle to be won. “The Lord your God Who goes before you, He will fight for you just as He did for you in Egypt before your eyes” (Deut 1:30). Whenever the Israelites got complacent or presumptive about winning and went into battles without asking God, the result was defeat. In the case of Gideon (Judges 7), it seemed impossible to win with so few men so that God could clearly show that it was not about man or the number of men and what we do, but ALL about God and what He can do when we are fighting in conjunction and in cooperation with Him. We usually tend to do things the other way around; WE decide what we think we need to assail and fight and we expect God to fight in conjunction and cooperation with us because we assume that our judgment is right.
Everything hinges upon who is lord and king of our lives; whether it is ourselves or God! Sometimes what God may require of us will seem to be the opposite of what our “good” commonsense would tell us. In 2 Chron. 20 is the story of a battle in which the people were weak and did not know what to do; God told them not to fight but to simply stand still and watch the deliverance God brought them; it was His battle. With Elisha and his servant it was not about what was seen here on earth, but about what was true in the unseen heavenlies (2 Kings 6). These principles have not changed; but just like Elisha’s servant, we need our eyes, minds and hearts opened to see from heaven’s perspective.
There are not very many references to warfare in the New Testament, one Greek word which is sometimes translated as ‘fight’ is “agonizomai”. Its primary meaning is to compete and contend in a contest like in the Olympic games and in that sense it is a type of fight or contest. That is not how we typically think of fighting though, and this word ‘agonizomai’ is used in the following verses and is where we get our English word “agony” from:
“Strive to enter by the narrow door.” (Luke 13:24)
“Fight the good fight of faith and claim eternal life.” (1 Tim. 6:12)
“Now every athlete who goes into training conducts himself temperately and restricts himself in all things.” (1 Cor. 9:25)
“For this I labor, striving with all the superhuman energy which He so mightily enkindles and works within me.” (Col. 1:29.
Then there are another five Greek words (strateia, strateuomai, mache, machomai and polemeo) which all do mean fighting in the sense in which we think of fighting: a battle or war. They are mostly used in a negative context though. Paul wrote to Timothy: “The servant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome (fighting and contending – “machomai”). Instead, he must be kindly to everyone and mild-tempered; he must be a skilled and suitable teacher, patient and forbearing and willing to suffer wrong.” (2 Tim. 2:24). Being patient, forbearing and willing to suffer wrong IS warfare; but again, not as we’ve known it. “My kingdom,” said Jesus, “doesn’t consist of what you see around you. If it did, My followers would fight so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. But I’m not that kind of king, not the world’s kind of king.” (John 18:36)
Instead of taking things into our own hands, and defending ourselves or proving ourselves right and fighting in that way, we instead submit and yield all to God in recognition and trust in the knowledge and fact that GOD KNOWS ALL. The battle is His!
That takes all responsibility for revenge, vindication, justification and defending ourselves out of our hands; we are HIS and He takes care of His own! T. Austin-Sparks writes: “Everything depends upon our lowliness, meekness, patience, our forbearing one another in love, our eagerness to keep the unity. Does that challenge us? But those are our spiritual weapons in the field, and much grace and faith is needed if they are to be used effectively.” Yes, using those weapons means we stay on heavenly ground where our enemy has no ground in us. If we instead get involved and respond from our soul or natural life, then we are no longer in Christ, instead we are taking things into our own hands and using the carnal weapons of this world. By doing that, we expose ourselves to attack because we are no longer hidden in Christ; we are operating from ourselves instead of from Him.
Often we think we are being attacked by the enemy and blame things on him when in fact what is happening is that we have exposed ourselves by doing things from our carnal nature instead of remaining hidden and protected in Christ. When we repent and return to our Place of Rest, we find that the battle is taken care of through Him: “He gives us more grace… That is why Scripture says: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:6,7). Most of the emphasis in teachings on verse 7 seem to be about resisting the enemy and telling him to go in Jesus Name as though that is some magic formula. It seems to me that the key to resisting is given in the previous words: Grace is given to the humble; to those who know they cannot and who yield and fully surrender themselves to God and know Jesus Christ as Lord of all!
The same word ‘resist’ is also used in Ephesians 6:13: “Put on God’s complete armor, that you may be able to resist and stand your ground on the day of danger, and, having done all, to stand.” So what is God’s complete armour? All of the armour is representative of Christ and we are hidden and protected by Him and through Him so long as we stand and remain and dwell in Him. The battle has already been won and now our enemy simply seeks to get us out of Christ and onto the ground of our flesh – that is, to do or say something which is from US and not from Christ; to rely on ourselves and not Christ; to trust ourselves and not Christ; to believe in our ability to do something instead of believing in only Christ. Whenever that happens, we provide our enemy with legitimate ground to fight us on (he is a legalist). As long as we live and rest in Christ and in His finished work at Calvary, then Christ Himself is our Victory and Armour and Defense as well as Offense. But staying in that Place of Rest can often be very, very difficult for our flesh – to do nothing from ourselves when we see such need and when everything seems so hopeless is not natural for us and it takes the supernatural ability of the Holy Spirit to enable us to simply stand, and trust and to wait on God! THAT can be real warfare!
The very first thing mentioned in the armour in Ephesians 6 is Truth: we must know Christ as Truth – Truth revealing and unveiling not only Who Christ is, but also who we are… When we know Him as Truth we then stand in Him as our Righteousness – our right-standing before God in Him. Wherever our feet take us we are prepared for whatever may come by knowing as reality in our experience the good news of Christ as our Peace, Rest, Safety and Security. Our shield is our confidence, assurance and trust in Christ – knowing that through death He has defeated our enemy and raised us from death to Life in Himself! Our head and mind is protected, preserved, delivered and saved in Christ! And, of course, the sword of the Spirit is again: Christ – the Word of God.
Only two of the references for war and battle in the New Testament speak positively of us warring and fighting (there is a full list of references for these Greek words given at the end of this article for those who are interested in studying them for themselves) and these verses are:
“For though we walk (live) in the flesh, we are not carrying on our warfare according to the flesh and using mere human weapons. For the weapons of our warfare are not physical [weapons of flesh and blood], but they are mighty before God for the overthrow and destruction of strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:3,4 AMP)
“This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare” (1 Tim. 1:18).
These verses speak of the spiritual battle which we are all a part of by default, by being part of Christ and His Body. It is the Head that decides where the Body goes and what the Body does; so we too are involved in this warfare simply because we are part of Christ’s Body. In both of those verses the words “strateia” and “strateuomai” are used; they mean warfare and, interestingly, is where our English word ‘strategy’ is derived from. Paul’s words to Timothy seem to speak of a battle/warfare in the mind and soul – a battle for Life where we need to believe and trust in God and what He says to us instead of what we think ourselves or what others may say. Paul refers to this war within himself in Romans 7:23 and goes on into chapter 8 recognizing that only in and through Christ are we delivered and set free! This warfare can be very hard work and a real battle because we are usually more comfortable trusting ourselves and what we think we know rather than trusting God and believing what He says even if it means not necessarily knowing or understanding many things! This is a battle in which we don’t go by what our physical senses may tell us or by what we think we know, but by what our Father reveals to us to be Truth – Truth which we don’t just give lip-service to, but which we KNOW through experience and through the eyes of our hearts being enlightened/opened to see.
True Faith comes when we have no faith ourselves; too often we are so busy looking at ourselves and trying to ‘have faith’ and do what we think Father and others want or expect, that we do not see Christ Who IS Faith and Who alone can be Faith in us! Having faith is not something we DO, we cannot make ourselves have the faith and trust required. We are not only hopeless but also helpless. We become nothing so that Christ can be Everything. True spiritual warfare is not something WE can do in and from ourselves; it is knowing what Christ has DONE and yielding to Him and standing in Him in that knowledge; trusting and knowing Him in reality as our Victory, our Conqueror, our Armour – our All!
“Little children, you are of God [you belong to Him] and have [already] defeated and overcome them [the agents of the antichrist], because He Who lives in you is greater (mightier) than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4 Amp.).
References for fighting and warfare:
Agonizomai (compete, contend, contest) – Luke 13:24; John 18:36; 1 Cor. 9:25; Col 1:29; 4:12; 1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7.
Agon (place of racing, contesting) Philip. 1:30; Col. 2:1; 1 Thess. 2:2; 1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7; Heb. 12:1.
Mache (fight) – 2 Cor. 7:5; 2 Tim. 2:23; Titus 3:9; James 4:1.
Machomai (fight) – John 6:52; Acts 7:26; 2 Tim. 2:24; James 4:2.
Polemeo (war) – James 4:2; Rev. 2:16; 12:7; 13:4; 17:14; 19:11.
Polemos (war, battle) – Matt. 24:6; Mark 13:7; Luke 14:31; 21:9; 1 Cor. 14:8; Heb 11:34; James 4:1; Rev. 9:7,9; 11:7; 12:7,17; 13:7; 16:14; 19:19; 20:8.
Strateia (warfare) – 2 Cor. 10:4; 1 Tim 1:18.
Strateuomai (to war) – Luke 3:14; 1 Cor. 9:7; 2 Cor. 10:3; 1 Tim. 1:18; 2 Tim. 2:4; James 4:1; 1 Pet 2:11.