The Reality of Spiritual Warfare
For our battle is not against flesh and blood,
but against the rulers, against the authorities, against
the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual
forces of evil in the heavens.
We had just arrived for our missionary assignment in Indonesia and were a few months into language study. Enjoying the tropical climate, adjusting to new culinary delights, and feeling welcome among the gracious, hospitable people of our host country, we were beginning to think we would evade the expected cultural shock in our smooth adjustment. One Monday morning our Sundanese household helper arrived for work emotionally distraught. She always went home to her village on weekends, and upon her return on this particular occasion, something was obviously troubling her.
“What's wrong? What happened?” we asked with concern. She explained that her daughter had become demon possessed. Not fully comprehending the situation she described, we were unprepared for her appeal that we go with her to her village and pray for her daughter. We had bonded closely with her; and although she was a Muslim, she respected us as missionaries and recognized that I was kind of like a priest or some kind of spiritual leader. It didn't matter whether we were Muslim or Christian; she just wanted someone with some spiritual authority and power to help her daughter.
We agreed to adjust our schedule to go with her to her village and pray for her daughter later in the week. I wasn't sure what we were going to encounter, so I spent the next couple of days praying and fasting. The serenity of the village, shaded by waving palm trees and surrounded by endless fields of golden rice ready for harvest, was broken only by barking dogs and children playing noisily. Thatched bamboo houses, each with an overhanging grass roof, built closely together, reflected community neighborliness. Friendly greetings belied the serious concern and understanding of why we had come.
As we entered the house and our eyes quickly adjusted from the bright sunlight to the darkened room, we found a beautiful teenager tied to the bamboo bed where she was sitting. Her clothes were torn, her hair disheveled, and she was snarling like an animal. When we walked into the room, she glared at us and said in clear and perfect English, “Jesus Christ is not God; Mohammed is the servant of the most high god.” Well, OK; that's an expected Muslim perspective. I didn't think anything about it until her mother told us on the way home that her daughter had lived in this remote village all her life, was uneducated, and didn't speak English!
We prayed for her in the name of Jesus, and there was no visible response or results. I didn't know anything else to do. But it was an alarming experience. I began to think, Is this what we're going to encounter here in Indonesia? Are we equipped for this? It wasn't long until we began to learn that where the gospel has not been proclaimed and Jesus is not known, Satan has considerable dominion and power. Demon possession is not uncommon in such places; and we had, indeed, ventured into Satan's territory.
A few months later, when we were becoming involved in our assignment of starting house churches, I was leading a group that was ready to confess Christ as Lord and Savior. I could tell in their personal conversation that they were responding to the Bible studies and the witness I had been presenting. Dark-skinned Javanese were crowded into the dirt-floored house, the light from a dim, flickering lantern reflecting off white pairs of eyes. Each window was filled with the silhouettes of curious neighbors. I felt the moment had come when I could ask them individually, but simultaneously and collectively, to pray and become followers of Christ. Leading them to take this step and make this decision was an auspicious, holy moment.
As we were moving toward that point of invitation and decision, one of the women started screaming and cackling. She had been a part of the group week after week, had always seemed normal and attentive, but suddenly became disruptive. Everyone was clearly embarrassed and tried to hush her, but she just kept screaming. Spontaneously, without any forethought, I said, “In the name of Jesus, be quiet!” She suddenly slumped in her chair as if in a trance. We continued with the service, and in a moment she sat up, appeared to be normal, and, in fact, was one of those who received Christ as Savior that night. It was apparent that Satan was making a last-ditch effort to disrupt the loss of souls in his dominion and prevent these people from becoming followers of Christ.
My sensitivity to the reality of spiritual warfare has grown over the years. I'm not sure what I truly believed about the presence and activity of Satan prior to going to the mission field. My understanding of the struggle with sin, even as expressed in my preaching, had more to do with personal resolve and human effort than a battle that was going on in the spiritual realm of life. However, it did not take me long following my arrival in Indonesia as a missionary to lose all skepticism regarding the reality of the power of Satan as manifested in cultures and places where Christ is not known.
Some years later we were visiting one of our colleagues in Indonesia. While we were in their home, two university students dropped in for a visit. They had been studying English with this missionary couple and were gregarious and fluent. They were always excited about meeting Americans and practicing their English. As we were talking, my wife, Bobbye, moved the conversation to a spiritual focus. Confident that these students had heard a witness from this missionary family, she asked one of the young men about his understanding and impression of the Christian faith. The young man started perspiring and blushing, and it was apparent that he was uncomfortable. Suddenly he jumped up and darted out the door. His friend apologized for his abrupt behavior and, politely asking permission, also left. Our missionary friends explained to us that they had been witnessing to this young man, and according to their understanding he had made a pact with a “dukun,” which is a kind of witch doctor that has power to cast spells, in order to get relief from an abusive father. He had had the dukun cast this spell, and as a result he was in spiritual bondage, as we would think of one selling his soul to the devil.
The last time the young man was in the missionary's home, he asked a lot of questions that reflected a spiritual inquisitiveness. The missionary got the Bible for him to read as they did not want their witness to appear to be just their words; they wanted him to read it as the authority of God's Word. They opened the Bible and pointed out the Scripture for him to read, and he said, “But there are no words there. The pages are blank.” The print was there on paper, but he kept saying, “The pages are blank. There are no words in this book.” The Scripture says the god of this world has blinded their eyes lest they see, hear, and understand (2 Cor. 4:3-4). There are many whose hearts are hardened and are spiritually blind, but it is disturbing to think that Satan could literally blind a person from seeing the Word of God.
A missionary in West Africa related the experience of a man telling him of his son's demon possession.
For some time now he has had terrible visions at night and has fallen ill. After consulting my Muslim teacher and our village spirit doctor, we decided that we must give Adamou, my son, to the evil spirit that has been tormenting him before the spirit kills him. We purchased the black goat and the three white chickens needed for sacrifices to be made on the day of the ceremony. We took gifts, the sacrifices, and payment to the spirit doctor the day before the ceremony and received all the instructions for the coming day.
My son was visited by the spirits that last night before his ceremony. One could hear his cries all over the village. We all agreed it was the will of Allah that he would become one with the spirit the following day. At one point during the ceremony, the chickens were beheaded, and the blood was allowed to flow over my son's body. At that point a powerful spirit by the name of Fonda Beri took control of my son. He began to talk to us and tell us who he was. He told us that he would give us wisdom and guidance when we travel. Each time someone in the village wants to go on a trip, we must speak to him and find out the day we should leave and when we should return.
He threw my son about and rolled him in the sand before he left. At the end of the ceremony, the spirit doctor gave my son an amulet to wear around his neck, identifying him with his spirit. The next day we took my son to our Muslim teacher so we could buy another amulet for him to wear around his arm. This amulet has verses from the Koran in it and will protect my son each time he is possessed. I am now greatly respected in my village because my son is possessed by such a powerful spirit. Our family will receive many gifts in the future as people from my village come to gain wisdom from my son's spirit before they travel.
Well, how do you explain things like this? Are they just coincidences or natural phenomena? Or are they manifestations of a spiritual power? The Bible talks about demons and the spirits, and they clearly recognize Jesus. He conversed with them and attributed cause and effects to demons and their spiritual powers. Was the Bible just conforming to a primitive worldview because this is how people of that day understood it? Was aberrant behavior attributed to demons because they didn't really understand mental illnesses, epileptic seizures, and other psychological phenomena? Or could it be that we're the ones who are naive in our Western rationalism and have discounted the reality of what goes on in the spiritual world?
Missionaries are aware of manifestations of Satan and demonic activity. Believers in the West also encounter Satan's activity in their lives and society every day. But we seldom recognize it because it is cleverly disguised and is discounted by our rational worldview. That is what this book is about. While there are those who see spiritual warfare in terms of demon possession, territorial spirits, generational bondage, or perceived outward manifestations of Satan's power and dominion in the world, the primary focus is what we encounter within our own lives. We need to recognize Satan's lies and deception and the attacks to which we are subjected daily. We need to understand how Satan defeats us and robs us of the victory and power we've been given. That's where the real battle lies. And only when we resist and walk in victory personally are we equipped to deal with some of the outward manifestations so prevalent in our world.
We are going to attempt to understand the reality of spiritual warfare, the nature and character of our enemy, some of his primary strategies that readily defeat us, and, finally, how we can walk in victory on a daily basis. As we study the truths of God's Word, Satan's lies will be exposed, and we will understand why faith, believing what God says, is the victory.
Spiritual warfare is not so much about demon possession, territorial spirits, or generational bondage as it is overcoming Satan's lies and deceits in our own life.
Spiritual warfare needs to be understood in the context of God's purpose. He has a specific will for each of us, but basically His purpose and desire is to be glorified in our life. The Bible uses various terms to reinforce this. In Romans 8:29 God's purpose is that we be conformed to the image of Christ. “For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” Why does God predestine us to be conformed to the image of Christ? It is in order to glorify Him. Satan tempts us to sin in order to keep God from being glorified. We have an enemy that is intent on robbing God of His glory in our lives. God is glorified when we are conformed to the image of Christ and live like Him.
That is why He saved us, not just to keep us from going to hell. It was necessary for Jesus to bear the penalty of our sin on the cross so that by our believing in Him we could be restored to the image of Christ that had been lost in the fall and in our sin. God saves us by grace, not just so that we can be assured of eternal life in heaven. That's the bonus of having been restored to the image of Christ.
Paul's prayer in Ephesians 3:16 describes God's desire that we “be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man.” Why? Is it just for our blessing and benefit? No, it is for God's glory, and it comes from Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith as explained in verse 17. John 15:4 says we are “to abide in Christ” (NASB). First John 2:6 exhorts us to “walk just as He walked.” Ephesians 5:18 describes it as to “be filled with the Spirit.” All of this is what God does for us and desires for us because He is glorified when we abide in Him, live the Christlike life, and are filled and controlled by His Holy Spirit. It is not simply for our benefit. He saves us, redeems us, and restores us to a relationship with Himself, gives us a new life in Christ, and fills us with His Spirit not exclusively for our blessing but for His glory. Too often we think of becoming a Christian as just being saved from sin. But God's purpose is to conform us to the image of His Son; He has to redeem us from sin in order for that to happen. God's desire in your life—every day, all the time, in every behavior and attitude—is to be glorified. And that is His purpose in all that He does and allows to happen to us.
If God's purpose for us personally is that He be glorified in our life, what is God's purpose in the world and among the nations? It is also that He be glorified. That is His purpose in redeeming the nations and peoples of the world. It is why He calls us as His people to a mission task. He said in Psalm 46:10, “I am God, exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth.” He wants the nations and all the peoples of the earth to praise Him and exalt Him. This is expressed in many references throughout the Bible such as Psalm 96:1-4, “Sing a new song to the Lord; sing to the Lord, all the earth… . Declare His glory among the nations, His wonderful works among all peoples. For the Lord is great and is highly praised.” Obviously Satan does not want God to be glorified among the nations. Hence, the warfare commences to divert us from fulfilling our mission to declare His salvation among the nations. But neither does he want God to be glorified in our lives, so the warfare rages with him also as he does whatever it takes to deprive God of that which would glorify Him in our lives.
Notice what the Bible says about what God has given us as born-again believers and how Satan has deceived us and lied to us, convincing us to accept that which is contrary to God's truth.