What Does Spiritual Warfare Look Like?

HomeChristianity and the BibleWhat Does Spiritual Warfare Look Like?

A reader asks: What exactly does spiritual warfare look like? What about deliverance ministries? I’m not clear on what I believe about it. Why would we need to do any more than Jesus did when he was tempted?

I’ve had the same kinds of questions over the years. The topic of spiritual warfare can be difficult. Here are a few thoughts:

So we’re left to ponder the question: where can we find reliable, accurate information about spiritual warfare? As Clint Archer points out after doing a ton of research, “There are no experts in this field. No one person has any more reliable information than anyone else.” All of the information we can find on spiritual warfare either comes from the Bible or is anecdotal… that is, a story someone told to someone else. In a world filled with hucksters, shysters, con men, and gullible people, the Bible is the only source we can truly trust. The Bible, while fully reliable, doesn’t tell us much.

We should be content with what we have. If God thought we should know more about spiritual warfare, He would have inspired more about spiritual warfare for the New Testament. Those who make a career out of spiritual warfare have exactly the same amount of 100%-reliable information that the rest of us have… and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. That’s not to say that there aren’t people who have greater insight into this subject. It’s to say that we can’t rely fully on what any human says unless it matches what God has already said.

You wisely refer to Ephesians 6. It’s worth mentioning that while these 10 verses are important, they’re not necessarily more important than the previous 166 verses that Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus… or the 4 verses after. Spiritual warfare is not a primary topic in any New Testament book, and a proper perspective of Christian doctrine should include this fact. It’s a subject that’s important enough to be in there, but it’s obviously not a top-level priority in the context of following Jesus. It’s not the secret to living victoriously, or the lynchpin or the keystone or whatever else people may claim about spiritual warfare. We should study the verses that address spiritual warfare in exactly the same way we study any other part of God’s Word. Not more, not less.

So what does spiritual warfare look like? As far as I can tell from studying Scripture, it looks exactly like what you’ve described: what Jesus did. Your analysis is, in my opinion, brilliant. We see echoes of Jesus in many New Testament verses about spiritual warfare. Here are a few:

Spiritual warfare, rather than being a thrill-filled, action-packed process of hand-to-hand combat with dark spiritual forces, looks suspiciously like following Jesus. You know, learning what Jesus taught and then doing it. It’s more about what we personally know and do than it is about direct engagement with the enemy. We’re made aware of our enemy’s schemes by being familiar with the Bible. Spiritual warfare, as outlined in Scripture, starts with the gospel and is applied by looking in the mirror and making sure we’re not just hearing Jesus’ words, but living them.

You might have noticed that there are no New Testament passages about Christians having demons cast out of them. There are no verses that speak of demons of alcoholism or demons of doubt that attach themselves to believers. Most of the things that “deliverance ministries” talk about are entirely absent from the Bible… they’re the result, as mentioned above, of combining what little we have in Scripture with our overactive imaginations. If anyone wants to be an expert in spiritual warfare, they need to simply be an expert on what God has said in the New Testament. Anything more is likely unnecessary, as God has not chosen to give us more.


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