Awaking from a dream because of a sudden pain in my leg to find a black entity ominously standing beside my bed grabbing said leg is unsettling, to say the least. I might have passed off the experience as sleep paralysis or another dream, but this was different. A distinct aura — like the presence of death — surrounded the being. Only when I prayed to the Lord did it let go.
I had long believed a spiritual war rages beyond what I could see, but it had always seemed distant. Growing up, I was no stranger to the idea of spiritual warfare. One of my earliest “Hallelujah Day” costumes was the armor of God. During my teen years, I read Frank Peretti’s and Ted Dekker’s novels, which included overt spiritual themes. Then, in college, I had that dark experience that I could only describe as a spiritual encounter. And I realized that I had a role in this war.
What better way to understand my role than to study what the Bible says about spiritual warfare?
What I learned
To be clear, I know the term spiritual warfare is often abused. If anything, I’m the kind of person who is skeptical when people use the term to describe what I think is just an unfortunate event (no, a demon didn’t hide your keys). However, the spiritual realm is real and does affect us. In fact, it’s referenced clearly throughout Scripture.
While Satan was certainly the instigator of this war, he is not alone in the fight against God. In Daniel 10–11, an angel’s message to him indicated an all-out war was raging between spiritual powers loyal to God and territorial rulers of darkness. It is this same war in which we find ourselves today.
When Jesus came, He began the restoration of God’s real and full reign over all the cosmos. Jesus was not only proclaiming this news as the gospel, but also fulfilling it through His life and casting out evil spirits (Matthew 4, 8, 12).
Although rebellious spiritual beings know they are defeated, they, like Satan, are seeking to kill and destroy until the very end. First Peter 3:21–22 tells us that all spiritual beings are subjected to Christ, who is enthroned at the right hand of God. Nevertheless, Paul told the Corinthians that Christ must destroy all the spiritual rulers of evil before the end can come (1 Corinthians 15:24–28).
It’s easy to wonder, how is Christ fighting this battle? The final part of it has been raging for 2,000 years, after all. The answer is the work of the Holy Spirit through us, the church (Matthew 16:18–19).
How to fight
We are fighting a war that it is not won with weapons made of metal (Ephesians 6:12), but with lives of holiness.
When we proclaim the Good News of Christ’s reign and someone escapes the kingdom of death as they surrender their lives to Jesus the King, a battle is won. I joyfully announced this victory at a friend’s baptism on the day he publicly pledged his allegiance to Christ. It was wonderful to rejoice with the angels in such a victory.
When we approach the Lord’s table, bowing before Christ next to powerful earthly rulers, poor widows, small children or people with disabilities, Christ’s absolute authority is declared, barriers are broken and we reveal the unity of His people. During communion at my church as I prepare to receive the elements, I look around at all the different people. This helps me remember that they are all my brothers and sisters in Christ and that we need each other to fight this war.
When we are watchful and sober-minded, praying against evil and temptation, and filling our minds with the ways of Christ, death is put to shame. I’ve taken up the simple habit of saying the “Jesus Prayer” when I find myself dwelling on things that are not of God. Doing so helps me to be more conscious of my thoughts.
When we repent, reject the ways of death and sin, practice benevolence toward those in need and offer peace to our enemies, we demonstrate the victory of Christ. I now better understand how my actions matter in this war. What I do can either aid or sabotage God’s work.
We must continue, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to proclaim and embody the Good News of Christ’s reign until our King returns. Having this mindset has changed the way I live. In my personal life and in corporate worship, I am participating with the universal church and the angels not only in praising our Creator, but also in fighting against the forces of evil.
Spiritual warfare isn’t an abstraction; it’s a reality in which we all participate. Which side you aid is up to you.
Copyright 2019 James Clapper. All rights reserved.