What does the Bible say about spiritual warfare?

There are two primary errors when it comes to spiritual warfare—over-emphasis and under-emphasis. Some blame every sin, every conflict, and every problem on demons that need to be cast out. Others completely ignore the spiritual realm and the fact that the Bible tells us our battle is against spiritual powers. The key to successful spiritual warfare is finding the biblical balance. Jesus sometimes cast demons out of people and sometimes healed people with no mention of the demonic. The apostle Paul instructs Christians to wage war against the sin in themselves (Romans 6) and to wage war against the evil one (Ephesians 6:10-18).

Ephesians 6:10-12declares, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” This text teaches some crucial truths: we can only be strong in the Lord’s power, it is God’s armor that protects us, and our battle is against spiritual forces of evil in the world.

A powerful example of someone strong in the Lord’s power is Michael, the archangel, inJude 9. Michael, likely the most powerful of all of God’s angels, did not rebuke Satan in his own power, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”Revelation 12:7-8records that in the end times Michael will defeat Satan. Still, when it came to his conflict with Satan, Michael rebuked Satan in God’s name and authority, not his own. It is only through our relationship with Jesus Christ that Christians have any authority over Satan and his demons. It is only in His Name that our rebuke has any power.

Ephesians 6:13-18gives a description of the spiritual armor God gives us. We are to stand firm with the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, and by praying in the Spirit. What do these pieces of spiritual armor represent in spiritual warfare? We are to speak the truth against Satan’s lies. We are to rest in the fact that we are declared righteous because of Christ’s sacrifice for us. We are to proclaim the gospel no matter how much resistance we receive. We are not to waver in our faith, no matter how strongly we are attacked. Our ultimate defense is the assurance we have of our salvation, an assurance that no spiritual force can take away. Our offensive weapon is the Word of God, not our own opinions and feelings. We are to follow Jesus’ example in recognizing that some spiritual victories are only possible through prayer.

Jesus is our ultimate example for spiritual warfare. Observe how Jesus handled direct attacks from Satan when He was tempted by him in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). Each temptation was answered the same way—with the words “It is written.” Jesus knew the Word of the living God is the most powerful weapon against the temptations of the devil. If Jesus Himself used the Word to counter the devil, do we dare to use anything less?

The ultimate example of how not to engage in spiritual warfare is the seven sons of Sceva. “Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, ‘In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.’ Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?’ Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding” (Acts 19:13-16). The seven sons of Sceva were using Jesus’ name. That is not enough. The seven sons of Sceva did not have a relationship with Jesus; therefore, their words were void of any power or authority. The seven sons of Sceva were relying on a methodology. They were not relying on Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and they were not employing the Word of God in their spiritual warfare. As a result, they received a humiliating beating. May we learn from their bad example and conduct spiritual warfare as the Bible instructs.

In summary, what are the keys to success in spiritual warfare? First, we rely on God’s power, not our own. Second, we rebuke in Jesus’ Name, not our own. Third, we protect ourselves with the full armor of God. Fourth, we wage warfare with the sword of the Spirit—the Word of God. Finally, we remember that while we wage spiritual warfare against Satan and his demons, not every sin or problem is a demon that needs to be rebuked.

There are two primary issues to address regarding spiritual warfare and the Bible. First, does spiritual warfare exist? Second, what does the Bible say about engaging in spiritual warfare?

The Bible is very clear on the existence of spiritual warfare. Peter warns “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Our adversary or enemy, the devil, refers to Satan, who is a real entity, not a mythical creature or invention. Other titles of Satan include the tempter (1 Thessalonians 3:5), the wicked one (Matthew 13:19,38), and the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10).

Three of Satan’s titles indicate his authority in this world: the ruler of this world (John 12:31), the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4), and the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2). Satan also transforms himself into “an angel of light,” a description that highlights his capacity and inclination to deceive (2 Corinthians 11:14).

Spiritual warfare, the idea that humans battle in some way with supernatural powers, is also the testimony of the apostle Paul inEphesians 6:10-18. Here, Paul notes that believers battle against the devil’s schemes and that this is a spiritual battle, not a physical one. We are to be fully aware of Satan’s evil plans (2 Corinthians 2:11). Paul further describes the warfare in which we are engaged as we battle throughout our lives “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Clearly, such powers exist.

The second question—what does the Bible say about engaging in spiritual warfare?— is somewhat more controversial. The problem typically arises when we either over emphasize spiritual warfare by seeing every occurrence in life as part of it or under emphasizing it by ignoring the spiritual realm altogether.

Several biblical texts inform our understanding of this issue. First, Christians must remember we are already conquerors (Romans 8:37) and that Satan has already been defeated (Colossians 2:15;2 Peter 3:22). Second, the power of Christ within the believer is greater than the power of Satan (1 John 4:4). We have no reason to live in fear of Satan or evil spirits as believers. Satan can harm, but he cannot defeat the believer in Christ.

Third, we must not forget that Satan can be allowed to attack believers (2 Corinthians 12:7-9;James 1:2-4) in order to fulfill God’s perfect plan for His people. This was the case of Paul’s thorn in the flesh and was also seen in the example of Job’s life (Job 1–3). Satan’s power over us is limited, however, to only that which God ordains for His purposes—to bring His children to maturity and bring glory to Himself.

Fourth, Satan’s primary strategy is to blind us to God’s plan for our lives (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). Rather than a supernatural battle between angels and demons that is often portrayed in modern culture, the general tactic used by Satan is to turn our eyes away from God’s truth and toward self. However, we cannot blame every temptation on Satan, since the Bible also teaches that we are tempted and enticed by our own evil desires (James 1:13-15).

Fifth, the method to defeat Satan is to resist him and stay near to God.James 4:7-8instructs, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” A close walk with God is the best protection against Satan’s activities.

Sixth, Paul exhorts us to arm ourselves for the spiritual battle which is part of the Christian life by putting on the “whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). This armor includes truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, salvation, the Word of God, and prayer. These weapons will enable us to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10-18).

Ultimately, spiritual warfare is not about a technique to defeat Satan or demons, but a heart that walks closely with God. When God is first and foremost in our lives, Satan lacks power over us, despite his attempts to weaken our efforts to pursue Christ.

As a final warning, it is important that we do not take our God-given power over Satan as an opportunity to display arrogance. InActs 19:13-16, we find the account of Jewish leaders who attempted to use God’s power to overcome evil for their own benefit and received a harsh punishment for doing so. This stern warning should reveal our need to depend on a humble and personal walk with Christ to overcome evil rather than an external display to feed human pride.

In summary, spiritual warfare is a very real part of the Christian life, but should not be an opportunity for either fear or pride. Instead, the reality of Satan and his evil forces should cause us to draw near to God all the more, realizing His power can conquer any foe we may encounter.

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