I vividly remember my introduction to spiritual warfare. I was in my Detroit high school prayer group, the New Vine, when someone got a hold of some Derek Prince tapes. His message possessed us.
When a young woman asked for deliverance-prayer because of her anxiety, a few of us trooped up to a small room and prayed with her. We used all the phrases like, “In the Name of Jesus,” or “I command you,” and “You have no power here.” In response, she screamed, then she shook, and then she went silent. Just like the movies, only better. I was impressed.
And for as long as I knew her, she was really changed. Almost no anxiety. I was awestruck.
For decades, my understanding of spiritual warfare was limited to demonic oppression and lies. But I’ve begun to realize that restricting spiritual assaults to battling Satan is a monster-mistake. It deceives our defenses and fools our offences.
Because warfare is whenever two (or more) parties claim the same throne. And we have lots of adversaries; it’s more than just the devil.
It’s An Axis of Evil
There is an array of forces opposed to God that battle for power. They fight because they hate the Lord, so they attack God’s treasures, His people:
Those who hate you raise their heads. They formulate cunning plans against your people; they consult together against your treasured ones. They say, “Come, let us wipe them out.” (Ps. 83:2-4)
When people overlook key agents of spiritual assault, it leaves them naked to all to the powers that they ignore. It’s as though they would have fought WWII by blowing up tanks, all the while forgetting to watch out for submarines and bombers.
Christianity has always taught (well, for two thousand years) that there are four key spiritual enemies: the World, the Flesh, Satan, and Sin. (Though most modern lists omit “sin.”)
Today’s spirituality is good at battling Satan’s lies and oppression. It’s also pretty aware of fighting the desires of the flesh. But if we forget that Sin and the World are also spiritual enemies, we’ll lose the war because we ignored the U-boats and Luftwaffe.
Of our four foes (the World, Flesh, Satan, and Sin), Christians today treat Sin more as an action than as a power. But that’s just a modern regression. In Scripture, sin was always a force. In Genesis 4, Cain is murderously jealous of his brother. God says to him, “Sin is crouching at your door; it’s desire is to have you” (Gen. 4:7). The image God paints is:
- Sin as a stalking leopard, hiding in the bushes, making itself small, just before it attacks.
- Sin as a power that hungers to “have” or “master” us, to control.
One of the way Sin camouflages itself today is when it tricks us into thinking that sin is merely “missing the mark.” Hey, let’s just repent. Because at its core, Sin perverts our hearts; a power that sits on our throne; an addiction we can’t control without God.
First we do sin, then sin does us.
The World is a set of solutions to the problems of life using “answers” that are independent of God. It doesn’t deny God as much as it ignores God. It is a kind of self-reliance, trusting in self-esteem instead of God-esteem, self-love instead of His love. We opt for the wisdom of the world instead of turning to the supernatural One who created us.
The World is a gravitational force that bends our minds away from eternity until we orbit around this world only. Today. This age. Imagine There’s No Heaven. Jesus said that tomorrow is so important, it would be worth losing and arm or a leg today, and enter eternity lame, than to risk the loss of heaven.
We all delay eating that Snickers today for health tomorrow. Should we not—even more so—reject modern short-term answers in favor of a supernatural and eternal God?
The Evil Alliance
These enemies work together in a kind of perverted alliance to keep us independent of God.
- Satan tries to scare us with his supernatural strength, but his primary power is lying. Think of Saruman.
- The Flesh is inordinate desires which get us chasing emptiness, even to our own downfall. Think of the Ring Wraiths.
- Sin mainly wants us to be in a state of rebellion against God. Think of the One Ring that “in the darkness binds them.”
- And the World primarily wants us to ignore God. And the supernatural. And the eternal. I think of Sauron.
These enemies fight together to keep us from a deep relationship with God. They are the infantry, navy, air force, and spies of a foe that hates God. To “wipe us out” they lie, distract, intensify hungers, and focus our hearts on today’s Snickers bar.
Spiritual warfare is fighting all four. Spiritual surrender happens whenever we overlook just one.