Are we really in a war? And if so, who are the combatants? Whether believers in Jesus Christ realize it or not, they are being attacked. But who is our opponent? It is none other than the devil. From the very beginning in Genesis we see that Satan takes many forms to entice and mislead God’s children. His strategic plan involves deceiving God’s elect—assailing them with darts of doubt whenever possible. So the answers to the questions above are: The devil is real, he is our adversary, and we are in a war.
The Call to Battle
A Word of Encouragement
Your Power Is a Gift
Your Perseverance Is Guaranteed
The Common Struggle Denied
The Common Struggle Declared
The Covering in Battle
On various surveys taken during the past twenty years, the number of people who state that they believe in the devil remains consistently lower than those who believe in God. Even when people state they believe in Satan’s existence, they often consider themselves too sophisticated to believe in anything as bizarre as spiritual warfare. For some modern Christians, “biblical” spiritual warfare is not something they fully comprehend, even though frequent spiritual skirmishes take place in the course of their daily lives.
Other believers may vaguely recognize the presence of a struggle, but they don't know how to relate their personal struggles to the larger reality of spiritual warfare. They may find it difficult from time to time to practice their Christian faith. They may even find it challenging to pray regularly, forgive others, and resist temptation, but they don’t question why they are less than victorious in their walk of faith. They have never considered that their small struggles might be part of a larger campaign.1
However, the Bible takes Satan and his minions very seriously, firmly declaring that our ultimate battle is a spiritual battle. And for this reason, nothing will be more practical or relevant to your life than the verses that we are about to examine in this article. What we need and what Ephesians 6:10–18 provides for us is a realistic assessment of both the struggle we are engaged in and the weapons that we already possess that will allow us to be victorious. These are, indeed, the terms of engagement.
The Call to Battle
A.W. Tozer, a great preacher and writer of another generation, wrote this about spiritual warfare and the battle of the Christian life:
How different it is today. The fact remains the same, but the interpretation has changed completely. Men think of the world not as a battleground, but as a playground. We are not here to fight; we are here to frolic. We are not in a foreign land; we are at home. We are not getting ready to live; but we are already living, and the best we can do is rid ourselves of our inhibitions and our frustrations, and live this life to the full."2
What a dramatic change in perspective we have taken as the people of God in just a few decades! We have lost sight of the war that is clearly at hand. There is no excuse for this ignorance because when we open the pages of the New Testament, there is no shortage of passages that characterize the Christian as a warrior and the Christian life as a battle. Here are just a few verses that reflect this theme:
1 Timothy 1:18
This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare.
1 Timothy 6:12
You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
2 Timothy 2:3
No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.
2 Timothy 2:4
Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong.
1 Corinthians 16:13
That was just a sample of the dozens of verses in God’s Word that can be found describing the battle that is ours as followers of Christ. Neither the Bible nor our Savior ever claimed that being sons and daughters of God was going to be a walk in the park. We are at war, and we need to acknowledge that fact first and foremost if we want our lives to be victorious.
A Word of Encouragement
The apostle Paul begins this section of Ephesians that we are going to study just as a war general would begin his speech before a battle. He motivates his troops by instilling confidence in their hearts. For centuries, members of military units have done this very same thing. For instance, the Crusaders screamed, “Heaven, at last!” The French soldiers yelled, “For the King and for France!” And here in Ephesians, Paul’s battle cry is, “Be strong!”
Your Power Is a Gift
Paul begins by writing in Ephesians 6:10, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” This is a reminder to all of us that our power is a gift from God. We are not asked to go into this battle by ourselves without any strength. Our strength is in the Lord, and in that strength we have nothing to fear. The Christian is not commanded to be courageous in his own strength, but to be emboldened by the power of another—Jesus Christ.
Once you understand that you are really in a battle, the first thing that will come to your mind is, “I am not capable of fighting in this war.” There is no doubt that this is a tough war, and if all we had was the instruction to walk into the battle without any encouragement from the Lord, this would not be a very positive lesson.
But 2 Timothy 1:7 tells us that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” Earlier in the Book of Ephesians, we are told that this very power is the power that God worked “in Christ when He raised Him from the dead” (Ephesians 1:20). This power is great; not even death can overcome it! It is resurrection power, and it is a power that is given to us by Almighty God.
Not only is the power the Lord’s, but in this very same passage we also learn that there is an armor that we are to put on. Ephesians 6:11 tells us to “Put on the whole armor of God.” The armor is God’s and the armor we are to wear is the armor that God Himself has worn in victorious battles.
I remember some years ago, that we had a debate in our community about whether or not the Christian should ever be involved in war. There are some Christian traditions that believe in pacifism and oppose war in all circumstances. I was asked to present the Scriptures that teach that war, although not to be desired, is sometimes necessary. And one of the greatest evidences I found is the fact that God Himself is a warrior! In fact, this is referenced in many places of the Bible.
And decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins,
And faithfulness the belt of His waist.
That language sounds familiar, doesn't it? It should, because it is a precursor to what we are studying here in Ephesians. In fact, much of the language is very much the same. Even later on in Isaiah we read this:
And a helmet of salvation on His head;
He put on the garments of vengeance for clothing,
And was clad with zeal as a cloak.
The Bible tells us that what we are asked to do in putting on the whole armor of God is exactly what God Himself does when He goes into the battle! He is giving us His very own armor for the struggle; therefore, we need not ever be discouraged. We have God on our side and we have His armor that is able protect us during the battle.
Your Perseverance Is Guaranteed
Ephesians 6:11 reads, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” We are doing battle in life today against “the wiles of the devil.” “Wiles” is not a word that we use a lot in our culture, so let’s examine what it means. The word “wiles” means “organized conduct, plans of war or strategy or methodology.”
The use of this word is incredibly appropriate because the Bible teaches us that Satan is attacking the lives and causes of those who seek to defeat his plans. That is why all of us who are Christians feel so much of the effect of Satan’s presence. He is not after those who belong to him—he is after those who want to defeat him. His goal is to drown the influence of men and women who claim to know and follow Jesus Christ.
And the Bible says that he has a strategy and a method for doing this. I personally believe that Satan has a strategy for every one of us. He knows our weaknesses and he knows our strengths, and he will stop at nothing if he thinks he can victimize us for his own purposes. This is why the Bible says that we are to put on the whole armor of God.
Look again at the sixth chapter and notice one particular part of verse 11: “that you may be able to stand.” This is a theme found throughout this book (Ephesians 6:13–14). We are not told that we have to win the war because Christ has already defeated Satan on the Cross. But we are told to stand firm in the battle and be the people that God wants us to be.
God’s Word says that the devil, as a roaring lion, goes about seeking whom he may devour. We are to stand strong in the midst of his attempts to destroy us. When we run, we open ourselves up to ultimate defeat. We can only stare him down in the power of the Lord, but that is what we are called to do. Don't give him an opportunity to come alongside your flank and destroy you. Stand strong, stand firm, and stand against him. And always remember, you don't have to defeat him—Christ has already defeated him on the Cross.
The Common Struggle Denied
Ephesians 6:12a tells us that, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood.” We are in a war, but notice that the text says we are wrestling. And we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but on the contrary we wrestle with the enemy.
Wrestling is a term that denotes a great intensity. It pictures a man with a grip on another man pressing hard, straining every muscle to pin his opponent to the ground. And his foe is using every ounce of energy to resist. That is why wrestlers are some of the most fit and conditioned athletes on the planet.
So when we wrestle as a child of God, we are straining every moral muscle and testing every spiritual sinew in our spiritual bodies. Our walk with the Lord is not a time of relaxation in the summer sun. We are called to a grim struggle with unseen forces. This fight is real.
The picture that Paul paints for us here is intriguing. Wrestlers wear very little armor—just a skin-tight jumpsuit. And yet the Christian he describes is one who wrestles with full armor against an enemy who has already been disarmed and defeated (Colossians 2:15).
And note carefully how Paul describes this one against whom we are fighting. Our enemies are not people. You may think that they are, but they are not. Satan may use people to try us and test our faith and lead us astray, but make no mistake about it. They are not the enemy. Satan is the real enemy. And if we waste our time and energy on wrestling against flesh and blood, we won’t have any strength left for the real battle and the real enemy.3
The Cosmic Struggle Declared
The rest of verse 12 tells us exactly who and what we are up against: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
Here we learn about our truest enemies and the ultimate cause of our world situation. Here is a presentation of the domain of Satan. He leads the forces of evil in this world. He is possessed of a power that we mere mortals can never understand.
It is clear in Scripture that Satan is in control of and commands a great army of fallen angels. In this force of evil that is described here in Ephesians, we are told that his army is organized, that there is a hierarchy in the domain of Satan.
Of this domain, the great Welsh minister Dr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones once wrote,
In the Greek language, the “principalities” refer to the “first” or “the head officers.” The “powers” that are mentioned have to do with staff officers. The “rulers” are divisional commanders. With this rank and file is the spiritual host of wickedness. In other words, there is an organized effort on the part of Satan to do his work in this world. He has charted this world and organized it, and we are part of his organized plan.
The Covering in Battle
This is a battle that we are all in. Someone might ask, “Well, don't I get to volunteer for this war?” No, because if you are a Christian, you are already in the war. You have been drafted. You can’t be a Christian and not be a warrior.
But dear fellow believer, take comfort in this thought—this war is not one that we have to go into unprotected. Our Commander-in-Chief has already won the war, and He wants us to get in on the victory every day that we live. But you can't win unless you're well-armed. You can't win unless you sense the provisions that are before you. And that is why Paul told the Ephesians to take on the whole armor of God.
The Lord did not tell us that if we prayed right, God would give us His armor. He did not say that we should look around and see if we could find it or maybe buy it somewhere. No, God said that it is the Christian’s personal responsibility to appropriate the armor of God in his own life.
He has told you to get the armor and put it on. It is your job to do that. If you get defeated in the warfare, if you get shot in an unprotected place because you are without armor, it is not God’s fault. The armor is sitting there waiting for you to put it on. He has asked you to do it.
It is your personal duty. It is your primary duty. It is your paramount duty. And it is your perpetual duty to put on the armor of God.
No warrior wants to entire into a battle without the proper defensive armor. As Christians, we do not need to fear that our armor is sufficient. Our Commander-in-Chief has appropriated the protective gear necessary for the battle before us. We have the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit in readiness. We are instructed to put the armor on—armor that is not applied simply offers no protection.
The story is told about a famous painting that hung in a European gallery. Nobody seemed to know how long it had been there. The painting showed a chessboard with the devil seated in a chair on one side with a look of gloating triumph on his face. Across from him sat a dejected, forlorn, defeated-looking young man still studying the board.
On a trip to Europe, American chess champion Paul Morphy had the opportunity to visit that same gallery. Upon seeing that painting, he intently stood studying the image before him for hours. Suddenly he became excited as he observed the positioning on the board. He called to someone nearby saying, “Bring me a chessboard. There is one, only one, mind you, but there is one move whereby I can save him.” They went and got a chessboard. I don't know what happened except that he had figured out that the artist had put the board together in the painting wrong, and he had come up with a way to defeat the picture.5
This serves as a reminder that Christ, the Lord of the universe, gazed down from heaven and regarded our plight. From all appearances, the world was checkmated by the devil, but the Redeemer of men made one move that freed us from a life of eternal hell. He died to free us from Satan’s bondage.
Because of Christ, we are victorious! And the whole purpose of Bible-strong living is to help us as believers live the victory that God has guaranteed to us through the death of Christ on the Cross. God doesn't want us to be victims; He wants us to be victors!
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We are in this battle, but we're not in doubt as to how it's going to turn out. We're victors already—we just need to start acting like it. We belong to Jesus Christ. The devil has no right to you or to me or to any of the other people of God. We are God’s people, and Satan does not have any claim to us unless we give it to him. And the way we keep that from happening is to put on the whole armor of God so that we might be able to stand against the evil one, “and having done all, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13). May God help us not to be casualties, but to be victorious in this fight!
1N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 73.
2A.W. Tozer, This World: Playground or Battleground? (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1989), chapter 1.
3John Phillips, Exploring Ephesians & Philippians: An Expository Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1995), 187.
4D. M. Lloyd-Jones, The Christian Warfare (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1977), 19.
5John Wesley White, The Devil: What the Scriptures Teach About Him, (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1977), 163.