Do you struggle with temptation? Have you found yourself doing things you really don’t want to do, but you feel an overwhelming desire to do them anyway? This is a sign that you’re engaged in spiritual warfare.
The Bible says that you’re in a spiritual war whether you realize it or not. There are spiritual forces that wage war against your soul (1 Peter 2:11; Ephesians 6:12). Their desire is that you would turn away from God.
The Bible also says that the only way to overcome these spiritual forces is to submit ourselves to God through faith in his Son Jesus Christ.
We want to introduce you to the Christian’s spiritual warfare and help you discover how to win the daily battles against temptation.
First, we’ll hear what the Bible says about this war. Then we must see where it’s being fought in our lives—the battlefield. Lastly, we will look at the weapons that God gives everyone who has faith in Jesus, so they can overcome the spiritual forces of evil.
The War: What the Bible Says About Spiritual Warfare
While there are some who reject any talk about a spiritual realm, the Bible is very clear about the topic. As humans made in God’s image and likeness, we have an immaterial or spiritual component to our being. Just as God is spirit (John 4:24), we’re also spiritual beings. We often call this spiritual component our “soul.”
As you think about your own life and how you have struggled with doing wrong things—as we all do—consider these words in the New Testament by the apostle Paul: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV).
Paul recognizes that an unseen spiritual realm exists. In fact, it is a key component to the biblical worldview, one that includes angels and demons. These things aren’t from fairy tales and ghost stories; they’re real. Jesus often interacted with the spiritual realm while he was on earth. For example, he was tempted by Satan (Matthew 4:1-11), and in many instances, he cast out demons from people who were overcome by them (e.g., Mark 5:1-20).
So if we’re going to take God at his word, we must believe that there is a spiritual realm that we cannot see or touch, but is an active part of creation.
The Bible also recognizes that this behind-the-scenes conflict takes place in every person’s life, using words like “struggle” (Hebrews 12:4 NIV), “fight” (1 Timothy 6:12 NLT), “soldier” (Philippians 2:25 ESV), “conquer” (Romans 12:21 NLT), and “weapons” (2 Corinthians 10:4 NKJV).
Be honest with yourself. Do any of these words describe your experience? Do you find yourself wrestling with evil, trying hard to not do things you know you ought not do?
The Enemies: Who We Engage in Spiritual Warfare
The Bible identifies three enemies in our spiritual warfare. James 4 tells us that three enemies confront us: passions that are at war within us (v. 1), a world that is at enmity with God (v. 4), and the devil (v. 7). Paul provides a more concise summary in Ephesians 2:1-3:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. (NIV)
From these three verses, we see three forces that are opposed to God and his ways, that followers of Jesus must battle.
Paul identifies our own bodies as a significant culprit in the spiritual battle we face. He first, though, calls unbelievers spiritually dead because of their disobedience (v. 1). This means that they don’t have the ability to please God. Instead of obeying God, they live to gratify the cravings of their bodies and therefore are “by nature deserving of [God’s] wrath” (v. 3).
Because Paul is writing to people who have faith in Jesus, he knows this was his audiences’ spiritual state before they came to faith in Jesus. Elsewhere, the Bible says that our sinful nature is “hostile to God” (Romans 8:7 NIV).Christians must consistently fight against the temptation to continue in “deeds of your sinful nature” (Romans 8:13 NLT).
It’s important to acknowledge that apart from faith in Jesus Christ, you will not be victorious over your sinful desires and habits. You may even be giving in entirely to these spiritual forces without recognizing it. Only when we believe in Jesus Christ does his Spirit make us alive so we can have the power to resist the inclinations of our own hearts.
2. The World
Part of the problem is that we live in a world that’s hostile to God and his ways. Jesus said that the world hated him and so it will also hate his followers (John 15:18-19).
Paul acknowledges that before they became Christians, the Ephesians lived in rebellion against God like the rest of the world (Ephesians 2:2). Elsewhere he implores Christians: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world” (Romans 12:2 NLT). These customs involve the values and principles by which people in the world live.
As Christians, our calling beckons us beyond the temporary desires of this fallen world. We must “keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls” (1 Peter 2:11 NLT).
3. The Devil
Paul calls the devil “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 2:2 NIV). Peter portrays him like a roaring lion that looks to devour Christians (1 Peter 5:8). Satan employs “evil schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11 NLT) to trip up believers. These include persecution (1 Peter 5:8-9), false doctrine (1 Timothy 4:1), the allure of material prosperity (Matthew 4:8-9), and the desire to be like the world (1 John 2:16).
We must recognize all three of our enemies on the battlefield of spiritual warfare as we try to live a life pleasing to God. We live in a world hostile to him, we fighting demonic forces much stronger than us, and we struggle within our own bodies against temptation. With such odds against us, how can we possibly expect to win this war?
Weapons: God’s Gifts for Spiritual Warfare
God hasn’t left us alone to fight spiritual forces of evil far stronger than us. Just as we suit up for physical battles, sports games, and other conflicts, so too we must continually make use of the tools God has given us for this spiritual battle.
Remember: these spiritual tools are only available to followers of Jesus. That’s why it’s important that we know our position in Christ: we’re chosen by the Father (Romans 8:33), purchased by the Son (Ephesians 1:7), and sealed by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). Because of this blessed position, God has given us “weapons of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 6:7 ESV).
- God’s Word : Read, meditate upon, and memorize the Bible as our spiritual food to nourish and strengthen us (Psalm 119:11; Matthew 4:4; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Similarly, the Bible is described as our primary offensive weapon in the struggle against evil: it’s our sword (Ephesians 6:17).
- Armor of God : Believers must put on “spiritual armor” to engage the spiritual battle and shield them from enemy attacks (Ephesians 6:10).
- Prayer : In a battle against unseen forces, prayer is a powerful weapon. It’s the proof of our complete dependence on God (Ephesians 6:18-20).
- Yielding to the Holy Spirit : Believers must continually be guided by and filled with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16; Ephesians 5:18).
- Fellowship with Godly People: Spiritual warfare involves keeping good company. It’s never good in a fight to play around with the enemy (1 Corinthians 15:33).
- Ministry in the Church: By exercising our spiritual gifts, we edify other believers and together grow in maturity in our faith (Ephesians 4:14-16).
If you find yourself struggling with temptation, hoping to become a better person—but seemingly incapable of really doing it—the Bible has a solution to your problem. Turn to Jesus Christ. It’s only through him that you can have your relationship with God repaired and overcome the spiritual forces against you. Jesus gives all his followers a gift: the Holy Spirit, who is the “power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20), God’s own personal presence to help us overcome evil.
After you call upon Jesus, “Fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 6:12). This war we are in is a good fight because we are fighting with our Good God for his goodness to prevail in our world and in our own souls. Don’t give up.
The Bible promises that final victory is assured for the Christian. Jesus will not lose anyone that the Father has given him (John 6:39-40). He will defend, protect, and preserve every one of his soldiers. He has overcome our sinful nature, the world, and Satan (John 16:33; Colossians 2:13-15). We’re seated with him “in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6 NLT).
“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25 ESV).