Basic Principles for Spiritual Warfare

We are at war.

If you are a Christian and you believe the Bible is true, I don’t think there is going to be much argument about that.

What there can be questions about and I think there are lots of questions about is how exactly we are to fight this battle as a church. It’s obviously not much good to know there is a battle if you don’t have any idea about how you are supposed to fight it.

And I think it is really, really important we think carefully about this because the fact is there are so many ideas that come into different people’s minds when they think about spiritual warfare. A lot of people are going to answer this question of how to fight it differently.

Like for many people, if I bring this subject up, that of spiritual warfare, the first thing and pretty much the only thing that people are going to think about is that of casting out of demons.

Spiritual warfare to them equals casting out demons.

Their basic concept of spiritual warfare is someone putting a hand on someone’s head and shouting out something and the person falling over or something like that. And this is so ingrained in some people’s minds that it is hard for them to even imagine that if I say I am going to talk about spiritual warfare that I would mean any other kind of warfare than that.

And what’s more, it used to be when people talked about the casting out demons they were talking primarily about casting them out unbelievers, but now and days you will find people are talking more and more about what they think demons do with believers. And there is an even a term people use for it, they call it demonization and while they might not say that a demon can actually own a believer they do think that a demon can take over part of a believer’s life at least and force him to sin.

So for example that means when they talk about spiritual warfare you might hear them talking about things the demon of lust or the demon of anger and if people are struggling with a particular sin, someone might say the problem is with some demon and that they need to be delivered. I know with some people I have heard of, it’s almost like every problem is related to a demon, your toaster is not working, you have to cast out the demon of the toaster.

And the way this works out in Africa is that we have all these churches and revival crusades where people go and they are exhorted to have demons of witchcraft and jealousy cast out of them. That is what they think of spiritual warfare.

I recently read a letter from a believer in Botswana describing what he sees happening in churches all around him.

“People are told they are bound by demons and all they have to do is go up front and be prayed for. Sometimes Christ won’t hardly be mentioned in the sermons. And people get the impression that demons are making them sin, and all they need is to respond to the altar call or have someone put hands on them and all will be well…”

You will have some churches who talk about holy water, charms and bracelets which members need to wear in order to protect them from evil. There are other churches where people are told they need to stamp on the ground in order to drive out the devil from their lives. And I know I have had people talk to me about deliverance ministries, they ask, do you have deliverance ministry, and what they mean by that, is do you try to bind demons and you find there are a lot of people who think there are some sort of special prayers or words you can speak that have power over demons or that there are some sort of special people who have this unique gift of identifying demons and casting them out and with some there is a real fascination with these kind of things.

There are books that have been written on how to get rid of demons and sometimes even entire seminars and conferences on the subject.

And you know it can get really complex, where you will even find people who are trying to name demons and they talk about ancestral spirits and how they think a father can actually pass a demon down to his children or that someone will be bothered by the spirits of their ancestors and sometimes they talk about things like territorial demons, and the idea there I guess is that certain places have certain demons that are in charge and so they might talk about the demon of Pretoria or the demon of Philadelphia or whatever.

And I know that even here in Africa, we have our own set of things that come up whenever we talk about spiritual warfare in addition to that as well, where I would guess that for many people, when they think about engaging in spiritual warfare or they go to church and hear about spiritual warfare pretty much the
main idea that comes up are things you can do to get out of curses you think other people have put on you.

And the reality is it can get a little confusing, because there are demons out there, and we have all seen some crazy stuff and we have all heard stories and we all probably know people who seem like they are constantly talking about demons and who will go around trying to bind demons and who are always worried about witchcraft and curses and magic and there even may be some of you who have experienced in a firsthand way something of what we are talking about or have had someone try to cast a demon out of someone you know or give you special rituals you are supposed to go through to get rid of demons and while there is no way obviously I can try to answer every single question, I thought what I could do is identify some basic biblical principles for understanding how to think through some of what you might see or might have experienced or might hear people telling you about all this spiritual warfare.

Because you see, when you are in these situations and you are confronted with things you don’t exactly understand and you are seeing things you can’t quite figure out how they work, one of the very best things you can do is just go back to what you know to be true for sure and when you try to evaluate what you are seeing or hearing or experiencing in light of what you know to be true for sure and that helps because even if you can’t explain everything about what you are seeing, you can have a basic idea of what it is or at the very least, what it is not.

It is kind of like with a complicated problem in math or calculus that you don’t understand and you look at that problem and you are sitting there looking at the paper and thinking there is no way you could ever figure it out, one thing you can do for sure is start with the simple things you do know, the building
blocks, because if you don’t get those right, there’s no way that you will be able to get the complicated problem right.

And so what I want to do is give us some simple, basic biblical building blocks for understanding this complicated matter of spiritual warfare; seven basic truths we have to be clear about if we are going to be clear about spiritual warfare.

The first is a truth about the Bible.

The Bible is our final authority.

It is our sole, our only, you can count on it, no mistakes at all authority when it comes to what believe and how we live and how we engage in spiritual warfare. When it comes to a subject like spiritual warfare we have just got so many things people are saying that we really have to know how we are going to evaluate all the information that is coming at us and the answer to that question bottom line is the Bible.

If you want to know whether something is true or important when it comes to the Christian life, you have to go back to the Word of God. The Bible is the standard you are going to use to evaluate what you are hearing or seeing.

And I want to stress that because you see when it comes to spiritual warfare, that’s not the standard many people are using, at all.

Instead if you listen, there are a whole lot of people who really, the ultimate authority they use to determine whether they think something is true or not is not the Bible, but their own personal experience or the experience of others and so how they make decisions about what they believe about this kind of stuff is at the end of the day based on what they have seen and what they think about it or at least what other people have seen and what other people told them about it.

And so what you hear these people saying a lot is when they talk about spiritual warfare is ‘I saw this’ or ‘this is what someone told me they experienced’ or even ‘I think.’

That’s their basic argument.

And look it’s not wrong for us to talk about what we think we saw or what people experienced or what we think, but what is wrong, is when we don’t evaluate or think critically about our experience or what people are telling us all that much. What is wrong is when we don’t stop and think, well maybe I didn’t see what I thought I saw; what is wrong is when we make our experience our culture our final authority for evaluating everything.

There are other people, who they base what they think or believe about this stuff, spiritual warfare, not on the Bible, but instead on visions that people have had or maybe they will base it on the teachings of some particular person they think is a prophet or on church tradition and what they have been taught.

And what you hear these people saying when they talk about spiritual warfare is something like ‘this particular prophet had this dream’ or ‘I know this is true because there is this anointed man who has this gift and he said this’ or ‘this is what I was told back at my church about all this.’

That’s their argument.

And again they don’t tend to want to evaluate what that prophet said, if they don’t understand it, that’s o.k., so long as he said it because he’s their final authority.

And I guess the thing I want you to understand about our church is that as we think about spiritual warfare and demons and how we are to engage in this battle, (and really anything else) we want to base what we believe on what God has said in His Word.

That’s our final authority.

So what we ought to be saying and hearing a lot around here when we talk about things like spiritual warfare is stuff like, ‘what does it say in the Bible?’ or ‘have you read this verse’ or ‘what does this passage tell us?’

For one thing, because we know this book, is not just another book.

God says in 2 Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is inspired by God” and that means it is God’s Word.

He’s the source.

And God, being God, knows everything and is right about everything and knowing everything and being right about everything makes Him our final authority for what we believe and how we live. I mean if I have a question about something it just makes sense that I am going to go to the person who knows everything and is right about everything for answers.

You can just imagine two people standing next to each other, one knows everything and is right about everything and the other is this guy you know sometimes doesn’t even spell his own name right, who are going to use as your authority for what is true?

There is no competition.

There are a lot of things you can learn from your experience but your experience makes mistakes and there are a lot of things you can learn from your culture and what other people tell you, but they make mistakes too.

But not the Word of God because it is the Word of God and God never makes a mistake.

Which means the Bible is the only for sure we can trust it never make a mistake guide to what we know and believe and how we live.

And that’s got to be the basic starting point for all this stuff we hear and see about demons and spiritual warfare. It’s got to be, but what does God’s Word say?

Because none of us are smart enough to be able to make this stuff up; to sit around and say, well I think demons do this and I think this is how you fight them, no, really not to be mean, but why would I trust what you think about demons, what I need to know is what does the Word of God say about all this?

And you know when you have got this principle in your mind, it really helps because whenever you see or hear something that seems really strange you don’t get all freaked out but you just go back to God’s Word and if what you think you are seeing or hearing is in contradiction to what God plainly says in the Bible, then you know without a doubt that it is wrong or you haven’t understood it right.

It is that simple.

If it comes down to what you thought happened or what someone else says they thought happened and what God says, what God says wins every time.

And what’s more, we can add to this, because not every time is what they are saying out and out contradicting, but if you are hearing something that sounds a little different about the Christian life and you go back to God’s Word and you are searching and you are searching and you can’t find it, it isn’t clear on the issue, or it doesn’t talk about it very much or it even doesn’t talk about it at all, then you know that whatever you are hearing or seeing is not necessary for your life spiritually. It may be interesting to talk about, but it’s not necessary.

Because if it were necessary, it would be clear in the Scriptures because God has specifically said in His Word, 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17, that He’s given us everything we need for life and godliness which means for example, if someone is coming to you and saying you need to do this or that to really move forward in your relationship with God, like you need to cast out this demon or do this ritual or pour this holy water over yourself or stamp on the ground and say certain words this way and then you go to the Scripture and you don’t see anyone anywhere saying you need to do this or that to be spiritual and walk with God then you know that it really isn’t something that is needed at all, and in fact, it is probably something fairly dangerous because it is going to distract us from what God says is important for the Christian life.

When we talk about spiritual warfare, the first and most basic principle has to do with the Bible. This is our only you can count on it, it never makes a mistake authority for what is important and what is true.

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