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.
Wow! You wrote a Wow! It has the powerful impact of both convicting and encouraging me at the same time. Love it!
I thought some biblical language observations while reading this article. Something about how you called out us modern “theologians” on our attempts to explain away sin, by analyzing and minimalizing it, had my thoughts go to how we tend to think in Greek categories of postulated statements and conclusions while Jesus thought in Hebrew. Greek is all about the nouns and pronouns while Hebrew is all about the verbs and adverbs. It’s action language. That’s why when John describes Jesus as the Word made flesh, he may mean something much different than what we’ve focused on over the last two or three centuries. If John 1 is intended to communicate the Greek concept of “logos,” then Jesus is the great cosmic idea. If it’s intended to communicate the Hebrew meaning of “dabar,” (but just got written in Greek for apparent and appropriate to the time reasons), then Jesus is the One who both says and does. He’s the great I AM who speaks and life happens. In the beginning was the Word. He spoke and creation became reality in motion. In the end, He is the Word who speaks and acts and the redemption of all creation is made possible – our sin is forgiven. We can be like Him as we speak and take action against it. We don’t have to dismiss it as an concept, nor give in to it, nor allow it to defeat us.
You sparked a lot of thoughts this morning, Sam. May they lead to actions. Thanks.
I LOVE it whenever I can “convict and encourage” at the same time.
That’s what I find the cross does to me: I’m convicted by my sin, and I’m encouraged by His love.
At the very same moment!
I never thought of sin as a force of its own…I will have to ponder that some more. There are a lot of books written about these four adversaries. Your post just scratched the surface. Hopefully we can see more insights and discussions on this topic?
Yeah, this has been a long time coming in my thinking. But the more I think about it, the more I see sin as:
—Breaking God heart more than merely breaking the rules
—And a power that keeps me enslaved
I heard a contestant on American Idol singing Imagine There’s No Heaven.
“Imagine There’s No Heaven”, it’s easy if you try.”
I cannot “imagine” a life on Earth without the promise of Heaven. Especially in these times of worldwide deception by the enemy, Earthquakes, wars and “rumors of wars.
Jesus set us free, but if we ignore Him and His Holy Spirit direction, we invite the enemy into our camp.
We are then surprised when destruction ensues?.
It is the enemy’s desire to “steal, kill and destroy. If we allow him an opening in our thought life, we should not be surprised that he takes it.
Recently I heard that satan so desperately hates us, because when God created us, we took what satan thought was his “forever place” in Heaven.
So naturally he wants us totally out of the picture.
Yet… God’s love ❤️ wins.
We should always act like we have God’s eternal love and never doubt it.
Otherwise we are in danger of falling into the same trap the enemy fell into.
Why not choose God’s love and live like you have it every day?
Rich! Thank you Sam. I have never put all this together so clearly but realize the struggle. Thank you.
Michael Knower, MD
Worldliness was so much easier to spot, and eliminate, when it was things like smoking, drinking, chewing, wearing lipstick, going to movies, or playing cards on Sunday–with the possible exceptions of Go Fish or Old Maid. Thanks for the reminder that the world is much more insidious and much more destructive.
Yeah, that is my growing conviction: ” the world is much more insidious and much more destructive.”
Great article – so much in so few words! Thanks.