“We are not fighting against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual army of evil in the heavenly places”– Ephesians 6:12
Bulwarks in the ancient world were a common strategy for protecting cities and nations from invading forces. The image of a bulwark was used in the Scriptures to describe how God dwelt with his people and protected them from their enemies. Paul the Apostle described the church as a “household of the living God” which stood strong as a “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). The Apostle Peter also used the image of a fortified house to describe how Christ called his followers to be joined together as “living stones built into a spiritual house” with Christ himself as the foundation and cornerstone (1 Peter 2:5,6).
Jesus, in one of his parables, contrasted two kinds of disciples – those who built their dwelling place on sand and those who built it on a firm base such as solid rock. The house built on sand was easily swept away when the storms and floods beat upon it, while the house built on a secure rock stood firm (Matthew 7:24-27).
Living and fighting as a bulwark
In past ages fortified cities and settlements not only kept hostile intruders out, they provided centers where people who lived nearby, as well as travellers passing through, could find shelter, medical care, hospitality, vocational training and education. These settlements were also places where people could share their goods through trade and commerce. Fortified cities are largely a thing of the past. If Christians are to thrive today, especially in environments that are de-Christianized or opposed to the gospel, then new spiritual bulwarks made of godly people must be built.
I believe that the key to effectiveness of many Christian renewal movements today, such as the Sword of the Spirit, is their understanding of the need to build and maintain spiritual bulwarks. This approach not only enables them to succeed in building Christian communities with a strong and vibrant Christian way of life. It also allows them to fight on the front lines of mission, the spiritual battle for the hearts and minds of people who are being seduced by the false gods of atheism, hedonism, materialism, and by a false humanism that justify the sacrifice of unborn children and unwanted dependents on the altars of Moloch.
Today, unfortunately, many people build their lives on the shaky sands of spiritual indifference, moral confusion, and dependence on prosperity and worldly success. Like the people in Noah’s time, they don’t heed the warning signs that disaster awaits those who ignore the ark of God’s dwelling place with his people – the body of Christ.
Spiritual warfare today
Jesus warned his followers, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul, rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). The Apostle Paul stated that “we are not fighting against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual army of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). The main battle in the universe is not just good versus evil, but God versus Satan (1 John 5:19). The Apostle Peter reminds us that “our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:9). John the Evangelist in his first letter declares that Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) in order to rescue us from Satan’s power and transfer us to Christ’s kingdom of peace and righteousness (Colossians 1:13).
Can Christians afford to remain neutral while our enemies, Satan and the world who are opposed to God, continue to wage war on God and his people?
The two kingdoms
The Scriptures make clear that there are fundamentally two kingdoms that stand in opposition to one another and they determine the course of our destiny – God’s kingdom of light, truth, and everlasting life or Satan’s kingdom of darkness, deception, and everlasting death. There are no neutral parties or kingdoms. We must choose whose side we will serve and obey.
Satan gains control of people through false promises, lies, and deception. John the Apostle states that “the world is in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). John speaks of the “world” as that society of men and women who oppose God and who refuse to obey his word and follow his ways (John 17:11,16; 1 John 2:15-17).
The spiritual battle lines today
In the spiritual battle we face today, Christ our Captain raises a standard to rally his people to fight and defend the honor of his name and the truth of his gospel. Are we prepared to follow him into battle? Or do we sit in ease in the comfort of our homes while the enemy overtakes our land, schools and media, our cultural and entertainment outlets, our courts, hospitals, and seats of government?
In a prophetic word to the Sword of the Spirit, the Lord has urged preparation for the spiritual storms and battles that are sure to come.
The storm is rising, the clouds gather, lightning, wind and storm great enough to carry off even the strong, the unprepared, the confused. Where now is the shelter? Where the bulwark, the refuge? Where is the strength of my church when the storm is upon it?
What use is there in building an island of peaceful ease while all around you spiritual war rages? Either I will take your ease from you, and in exchange for it a place in the battle, and with it my everlasting favor, or the enemy will take you from your ease, and give you in return for it punishment and terror. There is no other alternative. You are a spiritual nation at war, and the spiritual war will grow and draw you in, whether you wish to join or not. …Act, train, and live as if you were at war.
Satan’s goal is to bring as many people as possible into his kingdom, and to neutralize or remove anyone who tries to stand in his way. Satan is fiercely determined to not rest until he has won over the hearts, minds, and souls of every person living on the face of the earth today.
Satan is a powerful master of deceit, and he knows our weaknesses better than we do. He is always looking for ways to gain mastery over our minds and hearts. He seeks to deceive us and rob us of our spiritual authority and confidence, often working through human agents, wittingly or unwittingly, who have bought into his lies and deception.
Some areas vulnerable to Satan’s attack
Strong men and women of God are becoming a vanishing species in many places today – too few, too intimidated, too distracted, or discouraged. The world and Satan doesn’t want Christians to exercise moral leadership and spiritual influence in their homes, schools, and communities. Satan will do everything he can to distract and weaken us spiritually, especially in our personal prayer life, in our marriages and families, in our social relationships, and in our communities and churches. Men are genetically wired to protect their families and communities. But something radical has changed in our Western secularist culture. Through intimidation and persecution from the world, Satan and the world has robbed many Christian men today of their rightful authority to govern and defend their families, communities, churches, and society at large. Too many have abandoned their posts or given up the fight and left the woman to defend their families and communities alone.
Consider the following inventory of your own spiritual condition and protection:
- Where might I be vulnerable to Satan’s lies and attack? Do I make use of the spiritual wisdom and protection the Lord gives me in his word and through the support of other Christians?
- Who is the ruler of my life? Whose voice do I listen to and obey – the voice of the world, the deceiver, or my own unruly desires, harmful thoughts and addictions? Do I regularly read God’s Word, obey it, and allow it to shape the way I think, act, and speak? When I struggle with temptation, besetting sin, and harmful habits, do I seek out the support and counsel of others, especially those in my small group?
- Am I spiritually in the right place with the Lord or am I undisciplined, lazy, or distracted with other pre-occupations and interests?
- Do I neglect daily prayer and interceding for my family, community, work, and other responsibilities?
- Do I nourish and protect my spouse and family spiritually? Do I strive to build a Christ-centered environment for my family? Do I lead my family in prayer, teach my children reverence for God’s Word, and help them grow in Christian wisdom and maturity? Do I seek to protect my children from spiritual and moral harm, teach them to distinguish good from evil, and help them recognize and resist the temptations of the world, the flesh, and devil?
- Do I allow pride and shame to keep me from sharing honestly and openly with my brothers, especially in areas where I need to be accountable (i.e. care for my spouse and family, stewardship of my time, money, and possessions)? Do I hide my areas of personal weakness and vulnerability to temptation (i.e. irresponsibility in the home, addiction to pornography, excessive drinking or eating)?
- Am I possessive or protective of my personal time and resources? Am I willing and ready to serve where I am needed in community and to share what I have with others in need?
One of our key sources of protection is our fellow Christians – our brothers and sisters in the Lord who stand firm in their faith. The wisdom of scripture attests to this truth: “A brother is born for adversity and a friend helps at all times” (Proverbs 17:17). “Woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up” (Ecclesiastes 4:10). “Though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him. A threefold cord is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12). Who do you turn to for support, counsel, and spiritual protection? Do you have a spiritual mentor and a small group you can meet with regularly for prayer, support, and accountability?
God’s strategy for overcoming the enemy
The enemy is powerful and easily outnumbers us. And he tells us that we cannot win back the territory and the lives he has claimed for himself. What chance of success do we have against these odds? Can an outnumbered army defeat a stronger enemy? God has fortunately not left us to our own devices. He fights for us and with us. The Lord’s spiritual army vastly outnumbers the forces arrayed against him and his people.
A great example of this spiritual reality can be found in the Old Testament in the Second Book of Kings, chapter 6. Elisha the prophet, through his intercessory prayers, thwarts the work of the Syrian army who has come to destroy the people of Israel.
And the mind of the king of Syria was greatly troubled because of this thing; and he called his servants and said to them, “Will you not show me who of us is for the king of Israel?” And one of his servants said, “None, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedchamber.” And he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and seize him.” It was told him, “Behold, he is in Dothan.” So he sent there horses and chariots and a great army; and they came by night, and surrounded the city.
When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was round about the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He said, “Fear not, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed, and said, “O LORD, I pray you, open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha. And when the Syrians came down against him, Elisha prayed to the LORD, and said, “Strike this people, I pray you, with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness in accordance with the prayer of Elisha .(2 Kings 6:11-18)
The Lord Jesus promised his disciples that he would be with them always, even to the end of the ages and that the enemy would not prevail against them. In our struggle against the spiritual forces of evil we do not need to fear, for those who are with us [the spiritual armies of heaven] are more numerous than those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:16). Our spiritual strength, protection, and authority come from God – not from ourselves.
Shoulder to shoulder
We are not called to fight alone, but to stand united as “one man,” a “band of brothers” who can take back and defend the territory which the enemy has taken from us.
In any warfare the only sure defense is total protection. What good is a bullet-proof vest if the head is left unprotected, or the back exposed? Ancient Rome equipped their armies with full protective gear. Each soldier wore a full set of armor, including helmet, breastplate, and shin guards, along with a sword, dagger, and shield.
Soldiers were trained to work and fight in unison, to provide protective covering for one another, and to march together on the opposing army.
One example of how the Romans succeeded in conquering superior forces was their use of small tactical forces called the phalanx. The Roman phalanx was a tight-knit fighting unit protected on all sides by use of their shields. It was literally a wall of armed men with tall shields – a living bulwark – used for protection and for advancing against enemy forces. When a small phalanx came under attack, it could hold its ground as a protective wall. It could also advance on a much larger force and overtake them.
The Lord Jesus has not left Christians defenseless against the attacks of Satan and his spiritual forces. The Lord has equipped us with the spiritual weapons needed for today’s spiritual combat.
The full armor of God
Paul the Apostle tells us that we can “stand strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” if we “put on the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:10). God gives us all the spiritual armor and weapons we need to “stand against the strategies and tricks of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). Paul uses the analogy of a Roman soldier’s equipment to show us how God equips us (Ephesians 6:13-19).
Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints .(Ephesians 6:10-19)
Are you wearing your spiritual armor? Do you strive to wear the whole armor of God in all the situations that you find yourself in?
- Wearing the belt of truth. Do you fight for the truth or do you compromise with the world’s way of thinking? Do you allow God’s word to form the way you think, act, and speak? Does your practice match your speech, or do you say one thing and do another?
- Breastplate of righteousness. Do you love God’s wisdom and obey his commandments? Do you fight evil with good and strive to root out wrongdoing in your personal life, and in your home and work environment? Do you quickly repent of wrongdoing or do you tolerate sinful habits and worldly ways of thinking?
- Shoes fitted with the gospel of peace. Do you share your faith with others and strive to lead them to Christ? Do you strive to live peaceably with all as far as you am able?
- Shield of faith. Do you fight fear with faith, lies with God’s truth, discouragement with hope and perseverance, worldliness and insincerity with godliness and zeal?
- Helmet of salvation. Do you protect your mind and heart with the truth of the gospel? Do you love your neighbor – and your enemy as well – and show them kindness, compassion, and forbearance?
- Sword of the Spirit. Do you believe in the power of God’s word to transform your life, your family, and your community? Do you engage in mission and support it with prayer and confidence that God will use you to speak his word, defend his people, and advance his purpose wherever he places you?
Overcoming the evil one
If we take the whole armor of God, we can be confident that the Lord will place us in the battle where we can take our stand for the truth of the gospel. We can defend our families and communities if we hold to the truth and fight with the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.
He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches .(Revelations 3:21-22)
I believe that God wants every Christian – man, woman, and child – to take their shield of faith and sword of the Spirit and fight for his honor, for the truth of the gospel, and for the advancement of his kingdom. The victory is assured because the Lord Jesus is our Victor, and as we stand united with him, our own victory is assured as well.