Spiritual battle … what does it look like?

The spiritual landscape of America is a battlefield; a war zone where minds are enslaved and lives are in jeopardy every hour. Social turmoil, political futility, and lawlessness in government are some visible evidences of the war. More evidence of the war can be seen in the increasing loss of life to suicide and drug abuse. Although the fighting rages on many fronts, the central issue of the war is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel is always central in spiritual warfare because Christ himself is central in all the spiritual realm.

– from Secular Pharisees, available here

The spiritual battle looks like the scene at the crucifixion of our lord. Although that moment in history has passed, if we could have been there we would have been struck by the physicality of the scene. As a man hangs from a cross, bleeding, he gives his last ounce of strength in devotion to God. Others standing nearby mock him mercilessly, displaying the cruelty that lies within their hearts. Greed is also on display as some of this man’s enemies divide among themselves the last of his earthly possessions. The insanity of hypocrisy is exemplified by those who hurled insults at the savior while hanging from their own crosses next to him. That God is working in the heart of one of the criminals is evident when he utters one of the most fit words ever spoken: “Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.


Photo by Andrew Yardley on Unsplash

The spiritual battle has manifestations in the senses realm, in the lives of men and women. The devil works in and through human beings to harm themselves and others. As the truth that sets men free is often spoken on physical lips, so are the lies that ensnare them.

Another scene of spiritual battle would be Antioch when men arrived from Judea saying it was impossible to be saved without circumcision. Paul and Barnabas got in a big fight with these men. This conflict had tremendous spiritual implications, but the fight was engaged with physical lips and audible voices.

And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.
Acts 15:1-2

It would have been crazy to reprove Paul and Barnabas for arguing with these men. “Stop arguing. This isn’t going anywhere. Don’t you know we wrestle not against flesh and blood?”

In order to recognize and engage in spiritual battle we must learn not to take things at face value. This is not the same as thinking that spiritual battles have no face! We should not refuse to contend with those men and women by whom destruction is brought to others. In the face of an attack like the one in Acts 15, if we retreat to our prayer closets and think ourselves spiritual, we are deceiving ourselves.

The spiritual battle rages in and around people. It is fought by people and through people. And yet it is not simply a human conflict; it is a spiritual battle with a human face.

Spiritual battle often revolves around words. Not individual words, but communication, speech, and the ideas that the words present.

As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine,

This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.
1 Timothy 1:3, 18-20

Commanding people not to teach anything but the truth is spiritual warfare. When Paul thought about the spiritual warfare that Timothy would be engaged in he thought immediately of two men, two faces, Hymenaeus and Alexander.

Hymenaeus is mentioned again in Paul’s second letter to Timothy. Here it gives us idea of what other doctrine Hymenaeus taught.

And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus;

And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus;
Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.
2 Timothy 2:17-18

Audible words and the ideas that they represent can ruin people’s faith. This is spiritual stuff. Believing the truth and living accordingly is not only the right thing to do, it is the service we render to God and it is the means by which others learn the truth.

The gospel of the Lord Jesus is spiritual life. The words that contradict him are spiritual death. That’s where the battle is.


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