What Is Spiritual Warfare?
By Mary Fairchild
Spiritual warfare is a biblical concept involving the struggle against evil forces, a persistent challenge in the life of every Christian. In the Bible, the devil (also known as Satan) is the adversary of God. Spiritual warfare has its roots in the rebellion of Satan and his angels against God. As the prince of this world, Satan leads an army of unseen, demonic forces that work in opposition to God, his church, and individual believers.
The Battle Is Real
Spiritual warfare is an area of biblical study that has led to unfortunate extremes. Some Christian traditions tend to overemphasize the spiritual conflict, giving Satan and his demonic forces too much attention. From this vantage point, every sin, every struggle, and every problem gets credited to an evil source.
Other Christian traditions under-emphasize or completely ignore the spiritual realm. But the Bible plainly teaches that believers in Jesus Christ are at war with the world, the flesh, and the devil. Satan attacks believers externally through persecution, deception, and seduction. The battle also takes place internally, as believers struggle with sin that can frustrate their efforts to serve God fully.
According to Scripture, Satan and his unseen forces constitute a well-organized army:
“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12, NLT)
The Bible describes the realm of Satan and his forces as "the kingdom of darkness." Believers in Jesus Christ have been rescued from this dark domain through the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross (Colossians 1:13).
The key to living victoriously as a follower of Christ engaged in spiritual warfare is to understand what the Bible teaches and keep that knowledge in biblical perspective and balance.
How Does Satan Attack?
One of Satan’s primary goals is to oppose the message of the gospel:
Satan, who is the God of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4, NLT)
Satan attempts to snatch away the truth of God’s kingdom when it is sown in the hearts of men (Matthew 13:19; Mark 4:15; Luke 8:12). Those who preach the gospel are certain to face strong opposition and conflict as they go about their mission because Satan will try to hinder their work (1 Thessalonians 2:2, 18).
We know that Stephen was stoned to death for sharing the good news (Acts 6:8–14; 7:54–58) and that the apostle Paul and his companions were violently opposed and persecuted (Acts 13:6–12, 44–45; 14:5; 17:13). Paul was thrown into prison on various occasions (Acts 16:16–24), and the Jews often plotted to kill him (Acts 9:23; 21:27–36). Scripture says that all who desire to live a godly life in Jesus Christ become Satan’s target (2 Timothy 3:12; Revelation 12:17–18).
How Do Believers Resist the Devil?
Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8, NLT)
Colossians 2:15 says that Jesus Christ disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities, publicly shaming them through his victory over them on the cross. Through Christ’s death, he broke the power of death and the devil (Hebrews 2:14). The purpose Jesus came to earth was to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). We don’t have to live in fear of him.
Nevertheless, until we are fully restored to God’s presence in His kingdom, we will have to engage in spiritual warfare. Part of that warfare is external, and part is internal—the battle between the flesh and the Spirit:
The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. (Galatians 5:17, NLT)
Thankfully, God has given believers spiritual weapons to fight with:
We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. (2 Corinthians 10:3–4, NLT)
The Bible says that believers are to fight with courage, readiness, perseverance, and faithfulness:
Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. (1 Corinthians 16:13, NLT)
Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12, NTL; see also Joshua 1:9; 2 Thessalonians 1:4; Hebrews 10:23)
Standing in God’s Strength – The Armor of God
The armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18) refers to the resources given to Christians by God as spiritual defenses. These defenses equip believers to stand in the Lord’s strength and the power of his might. With God’s armor, we can defend ourselves against the attacks of the world, the flesh, and our enemy, the devil.
Believers do not have to depend on their own strength to wage spiritual warfare:
God arms me with strength, and he makes my way perfect. He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights. He trains my hands for battle; he strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow. You have given me your shield of victory. Your right hand supports me; your help has made me great. You have made a wide path for my feet to keep them from slipping. (Psalm 18:32–36, NLT; see also 1 Samuel 17:45; 2 Samuel 22:40; Ephesians 6:10; Philippians 4:13)
Besides the armor of God, Romans 13:12–14 describes how believers are to clothe themselves for spiritual battle:
The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires. (NLT)
Prayer and the Word of God
Finally, two of our most powerful weapons of spiritual warfare are prayer and the Word of God.
Scripture urges believers to pray at all times and on every occasion (Ephesians 6:18). We are taught to pray for God to lead us away from temptation and deliver us from the evil one (Matthew 6:13). Because of our human weaknesses, we are to watch and pray (Matthew 26:41).
One piece of armor, described as the sword of the Spirit, refers to the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). The Bible says that hiding God’s Word in our hearts keeps us from sinning (Psalm 119:11).
God’s Word is powerful and effective:
For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and Spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. (Hebrews 4:12, NLT)
When the devil tempted Jesus Christ in the wilderness, the Lord fought back with the truth of God’s Word, setting an example for all believers to follow. When evil forces come against us, our best defense is to counter with the powerful truth in Scripture.
The Bible teaches that Christians are engaged in spiritual warfare with the world, the flesh, and the powers of darkness, led by Satan.
Although evil forces were disarmed by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, they remain a potent threat to the church and individual believers.
God has given believers spiritual resources to defend and equip themselves for battle against their unseen enemies.