Perhaps the only thing we do more than talk about spiritual warfare is misunderstand it.
Engaging in spiritual battles is a real thing. The Bible is clear about that. But often we misunderstand the fight that is raging in our lives. At the risk of being over simplistic, let me outline two types of spiritual battles we participate in. Understanding the difference between the two is a must.
There is no doubt that we war against Satan. The devil doesn’t want good things for us. He certainly doesn’t want us to love and serve Jesus. All manner of schemes are available to him to throw us off guard. Verses supporting this are well documented and often shared:
- Ephesians 6:12 (the spiritual armor passage)
- 1 Peter 5:8 (the prowling lion verse)
- Matthew 4 (Jesus is tempted)
- Genesis 3 (Satan lies to Adam & Eve)
The list goes on and on. We do well to be alert and recognize when we’re being tempted or when there is spiritual attack going on in our lives. It could be that it is Satan who is trying to get us off track.
It could also be that the great tension we feel is God trying to pull us back on track. This is an often overlooked aspect of spiritual battles described in the Scripture, and we’d do well to be able to recognize it. In the Bible, men and women portrayed as friends of God fight against Him, as do His enemies.
- Genesis 32 (Jacob wrestles with God)
- Job 38 and following (Job argues with God)
- Jonah (Jonah flees from God and is corrected)
- Pharoah, Herod, Saul, and many other enemies of God are frustrated by Almighty
So fighting against Satan is one kind of spiritual war that rages all around us, but it’s not the only kind. Sometimes we find ourselves frustrated, confronted, stuck, tense, and dissatisfied. It’s easy to claim that it’s because of great spiritual attack that is coming at us from the dark side. Yet it’s also possible that in our quest for whatever it is we’re questing after that the tension we feel is God correcting something in us.
Fighting against Satan is dangerous (the Bible instructs us to suit up in quite a bit of armor to stand a chance), but to fight against God is even more risky. Everyone in the Bible who did it ended up surrendering (which is good, because God wants what is best for us) or losing (which is bad, because then they didn’t get God’s best).
But the most dangerous of all is confusing the two. In one case we don’t want to lose, and in the other we can’t possibly win. To attribute the work of God in our lives (even if it is difficult work) to the spiritual assault of the devil is the most fatal tragedy. For in striving to defeat the foe we think we’re battling, we only grow further apart from the One to whom we must always surrender.
When the going gets tough in your life, take a long look in the mirror and take a long look across the battlefield. Eye your opponent before you draw out your sword. It may be that the wisest thing you can do is take out your white flag instead.