Spiritual warfare is not a metaphor. It would be more accurate to say that human warfare is a metaphor — and an expression — of the even more real and pervasive spiritual war being waged all around us. And unless we engage it seriously, we will not be serious players in it, and may be swept away by it.
Demonic powers are in no way impressed by our intellect or other abilities. What impresses them is the strength of the Spirit of God and the weapons he provides. And these have divine power to destroy the works of the devil and cause us to stand firm in the evil day (2 Corinthians 10:4; 1 John 3:8; Ephesians 6:13).
And God wants us to stand our ground and not yield an inch. More than that, God wants us to take back ground that Satan has seized and free others he has enslaved through fear (Hebrews 2:14–15).
Schemes of the Devil
The evidence that a soldier takes his battle seriously, and understands the strength of his enemy, is seen in how he arms and prepares himself. That’s why when Paul launches into the most famous spiritual-warfare exhortation in the Bible, the first thing he says is this:
Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. (Ephesians 6:10–11)
Like any other war, there will be no defeating our spiritual enemy if we do not have the right equipment. Wars waged carelessly are wars lost. Protective armor and offensive weapons matter.
And all we have to do is look at the armor that the experienced warrior lists to understand the nature of this fight: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:14–17). This is a war over what is real, which means it is psychological warfare at its worst.
Look around you to see the destruction it wreaks. When humans are deluded over what’s real, they think and do terrible, unspeakable evil, individually and collectively. Look carefully, longer than you want to. See the horrors, too diverse to begin to catalog. What you are seeing are the outcomes of the devil’s schemes. This is what he wants to do to you and those you love. You know that, because you know what goes through your mind and what pulls at your depravity.
You can stand against these schemes, and more than that, you can defeat them and drive your enemy back. But you need to understand who you’re up against and take them with all seriousness.
We Do Not Wrestle Lightweights
Listen again to how Paul describes these foes:
We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but 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)
Many Christians in the West respond to Paul’s description of these spiritual beings like they do to descriptions of smallpox: a terrible scourge that really doesn’t affect our lives today. They wouldn’t say this in so many words, but they live like it. Which is a massive mistake, and likely evidence that they aren’t really engaged in the war.
Try taking spiritual territory from “cosmic powers” and you know what happens? All hell begins to break loose. We are assaulted with oppressive psychological warfare, we are tempted to suspect people we love, sickness hits, relationships go sideways, churches strain at the seams, and more. If you’ve been in the battle, you know what I mean. Press against a spiritual stronghold of evil, and very quickly our flesh will scream at us to get away from there.
This is not meant to scare us away from the fight. We have a superior power and better weapons at our disposal (1 John 4:4). But we ought not underestimate our enemy.
If we are going to follow Jesus, we will confront beings far beyond our natural selves, beings who are more powerful than we thought and who attack us in ways we don’t expect, beings who will do everything they can to delude us about what is real while trying to destroy us and everything we love.
Stand Your Ground, Take Your Enemy’s
If speaking like this makes us tremble, good! Soldiers only take their armor and weapons seriously, and learn how to use them, if they believe they really need them. God wants us to know that we really need our armor and weapons.
But God also wants us to know that our armor and weapons make our enemies tremble too. They are scared to death of God. And nothing on earth is more dangerous to a demonic cosmic power than a Spirit-filled Christian who wears his armor and wields his weapons. That person is pure destruction to evil. The fiery darts of deception are ineffective against a shield of faith. And the word-sword of the Spirit hews holes in the demonic line.
Battles are intense affairs. But if we take the battle seriously, and use the divine equipment God provides us, we will “stand against the schemes of the devil . . . in the evil day” (Ephesians 6:11, 13). Do not underestimate your enemy, but do not underestimate your spiritual Ally either. We will win.
“Therefore take up the whole armor of God . . . and having done all . . . stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13). Stand your ground. Do not yield an inch. More than that, press your enemy back, and take his ground. He will fight back, and it will get ugly at times. Don’t panic. Fight. “With God we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes” (Psalm 108:13).