Spiritual Warfare: 50% Spiritual and 50% Mental
- Grady McMurtry
- April 04, 2020
When most Christians talk about “spiritual warfare” they tend to concentrate on the principles of fasting, partial fasting, prayer and reading their Bible. They discuss battling spiritual principalities and powers in the heavenly places as described in Job 1 and 2, Ezekiel 28, Daniel 1 and 10 and Ephesians 6.
I fully agree with the importance of prayer, fasting and the study of Scripture to be effective in spiritual warfare. Certainly, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man [or woman] availeth much.” James 5:16 (KJV)
When studying about spiritual warfare in the New Testament, the first and second most often quoted sections are Ephesians 6:12-20 and 2 Corinthians 10:3-6.
While I do not wish to reinvent the wheel, given that tens of thousands of sermons and writings have been done to expand upon the meaning of Ephesians 6:12-20, I do think that a little needs to be said in order to develop the thesis of this article.
While we call it Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the words “at Ephesus” are not included in the oldest manuscripts and do not show up until the Fourth Century. It is quite possible that his letter was meant for all the churches in Asia Minor. Paul usually starts his letters slowly and then builds to a climax, however, in this letter he starts with one of the most important of theological truths: God’s purpose for the New Testament Church. He stipulates that the position of the believer is “in the heavenlies in Christ”; this describes the sphere and the nature of our spiritual experiences.
In Chapter 4:17-32, Paul writes as he does in several other epistles, concerning the constant internal warfare that occurs within all Christians; between the “new nature of Christ” and the Adamic nature. He encourages the Gentile believers not to live as they had before their conversion to Christ. They had lived in the sphere of the emptiness of their minds, denoting an ignorance of divine things, a lack of knowledge that involved moral blindness. Paul points out that the change that has occurred within them started with the renewing of their minds by the acquisition of new knowledge and that this process was to be a continuous process the rest of their lives.
In Chapter 6:12-20, Paul deals with the counterpart of the Christian’s internal warfare. After having described the ideal Christian home, he quite suddenly shifts to the battlefield. Paul often writes using military language and terms. In this section, he is not just using figurative language, he is talking about a real, difficult and dangerous battle. While salvation is a free gift, it is not culminated without great effort. No true soldier of Jesus Christ can expect to be immune from the assaults of the enemy, and no Christian can afford to be neutral in the conflict.
In addition, considering the seriousness of the conflict, the Christian cannot be self-reliant. In Greek, the term “Be strong” comes from a present passive verb, indicating a command to be strong “in the Lord” or “to participate in the strength that is inherent in Him.” It is present, indicating the necessity of continuous dependence upon Him. It is also passive, showing that strength must come from outside the believer, for without God’s help he would never make it.
As the believer cannot be self-reliant, he must put on the whole armor (panoplia) God has provided to be victorious in battle. In verses 11, 13 and 14 the emphasis on “to stand” contains the idea of being successful. The term “put on” is a Greek middle voice verb which indicates that you have to put it on for yourself.
This battle is not natural, but spiritual. In verse 13, “take unto you” refers to a decisive act of taking all the armor God supplied you. How does one put on this armor?
First, the loose garments must be bound up to prepare for duty. The word “loins” was used in those days to refer to strength, and therefore, to gird one’s loins was the opposite of ease and self-indulgence. The soldier’s belt here is God’s truth.
Second, the breastplate protected the vital organs of the body preventing mortal wounds. For Christians, the breastplate of righteousness means that an individual has come to grips with the basic tenets of the gospel.
Third, good shoes mean sure footing and the ability to move quickly. The terminology “above all” literally means “besides all.” Fourth, believers must never be without the shield of faith. The Greek shield stood four feet high and two and a half feet across, covering almost all of the body and strong enough to prevent arrows from piercing it. The idea is that a Christian cannot be without faith at all times.
Fourth, put on the Helmet of Salvation. The helmet protected the head, and more specifically, the mind of the individual during the conflict. In First Thessalonians 5:8, Paul refers to the helmet as “the hope of salvation.” This indicates that a person’s will (the “will” is what tells our body to move around), which is an intellectual process, is involved in the hope of salvation. It is the willful, purposeful action of the Christian that must be exercised continuously if we are to serve God and to benefit from His promises to us. Our minds must be protected if we are to obtain success in His Kingdom.
Finally, we pick up the one offensive weapon at our disposal, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” Without an in-depth knowledge of the Word, we are defenseless against the attack of satanic forces and our other equipment will fail after enough blows have been received.
Of course, it is noteworthy, too, that there is no equipment to protect our back. The reasons are obvious. We are never to have our back facing the enemy. We are never to be in a retreat mode. We are never to give Satan an easy target of opportunity.
Once we have physically picked up and put on the equipment, an intellectual act of our will, Paul then reminds us of the need for prayer and to be spiritually alert at all times. We can never be flippant about something so serious. The battle is quite real, the enemies are spiritual forces and they are not limited to the physical realm. God has provided us with the right equipment so that we may succeed against these spiritual forces.
We are not to pray at all times, but we are to be in attitude that we are ready and prepared to pray on an immediate basis. A soldier does not shoot his weapon during every waking minute of the day; but, he is competently trained, his weapon is clean and ready, his weapon is loaded, and additional ammunition is available. In a similar way, our mental attitude in the battle is just as important as our equipment. Spiritual warfare is 50% spiritual and 50 % mental.
In order to have our prayers answered every time, our prayers must be in alignment with the perfect will of God. The more our prayers are out of alignment with His perfect will, the less our prayers will be effective.
Note that Paul asked for other Christians to pray that God would help him proclaim the gospel with boldness, even though he was imprisoned in chains at the time. This is consistent with Jesus’ words to His disciples that His children should seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and depend on Him to then supply all their needs. (Matthew 6:33) Perhaps Christians would receive more answered prayers if they followed Paul’s example and prayed more for the power to proclaim the gospel, rather than asking God for things for themselves.
In verse 20, Paul refers to himself as “an ambassador”, an important appointed government official who represents the head of his government while in another country. An ambassador does not speak for himself, but for the person he represents. What could be more important for a Christian than to represent Jesus Christ to others?
Having set the background for the thesis of this article, that spiritual warfare is 50% spiritual and 50% mental, let us look at the second section of the New Testament that is most often mentioned when dealing with spiritual warfare.
When I teach on how to study the Bible, one of the first things that I mention is that sometimes in order to best understand the meaning of the Bible you have to study it out of order. At first this may seem like a strange statement, but it is absolutely true.
I give you this example to prove the truth of my statement. If you and I had written the Bible, then what is recorded in Genesis Chapter 10 would come after Genesis Chapter 11. After all, Genesis Chapter 10 records for us the results of the events that are recorded in Chapter 11. Don’t we usually tell the story and then give the results? But, God chose to do it the other way around. He gave us the results and then He told us the story. Apparently, to Him the results were more important than the story of how the results were achieved.
In the same vein, in dealing with the aspects of spiritual warfare found in 2 Corinthians, in order to get the best understanding, we have to study the verses out of order. Instead of starting in Chapter 10:3-6, we must start in Chapter 11:3:
“But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” (NAS95)
Please tell me what is Paul afraid of? Is he afraid of Christians not praying enough? Is he afraid that Christians are not fasting enough? Is he afraid that Christians aren’t reading their Bibles enough? No. Paul is afraid that our minds might be lead astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. Paul declares that his biggest concern is our minds and the thoughts contained in them. Paul declares that we are in a battle for the minds of men and women. That’s is where the spiritual battle starts!
What is the first recorded case of spiritual warfare concerning people in the Bible? It occurred in The Garden of Eden.
Consider for a moment the situation of Adam and Eve. God spoke to Adam and gave him one rule, one law - don’t eat from the fruit of that one tree. Well, that’s a simple enough mental instruction. Did God tell him to pray, fast or read the Word of God? No, he had no need to pray as he was able to walk and talk with God in the Garden on a face-to-face basis. When God confronts them and they admit to having sinned, God in effect says “I told you to listen only to Me, who have you been listening to instead?” They have to admit openly that they had indeed listened to another voice, that of Satan.
Let us analyze the description of this first spiritual warfare.
Adam sinned first (Romans 5:12). Eve was deceived first (2 Cor. 11:3), but Adam sinned first. First, he was supposed to instruct his wife exactly what God said and help her to do it explicitly. Next, he was supposed to protect his wife and he didn’t. When Satan spoke to Eve, Adam was standing next to her: “... she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.” (Gen. 3:6) Adam should have stopped Satan; said that Satan had misquoted God; told Satan to leave (Adam still had the God-given power to do so at that time); and that would have been the end of the encounter. Instead, Adam allowed his wife to be assaulted by Satan.
What really was the often touted “original sin”? How many sermons have been preached on that subject?
The first sin occurred when Adam and Eve challenged God’s veracity (that’s not the first sin, but it leads to the first sin). To challenge someone’s veracity means that they decided that they had a right to decide whether or not God was telling the truth. Actually, they did not have that right. God did not give it to them and God cannot lie.
“God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” Numbers 23:19 (NAS95)
Adam and Eve challenged God’s veracity and they falsely decided that God was not telling them the truth. Because of that mental decision, they would then go on to commit the first sin. The first sin was not in eating the fruit. Eating the fruit was an outward manifestation of a sin which had already occurred internally. What was the first sin?
It was when Adam and Eve initiated human autonomy. The word “autonomy” literally means “self-law” or perhaps better understood as “law unto self”. The first sin was when Adam and Eve decided that they had a right to decide for themselves what to do instead of following God’s law and then they initiated their own human law to replace God’s law.
Satan’s first spiritual attack against Mankind was mental. He placed a thought of doubt in the minds of Adam and Eve. What was the philosophical basis for the doubt that Satan placed into their minds? It was a doubt based in an evolutionary worldview. It was the thought that God is not the one and only Creator and Lawgiver. From this doubt that God was the Creator/Lawgiver they initiated their own law and ate of the forbidden fruit.
When God confronts them in the Garden after they have sinned, He first speaks to the man and asks him why he did it. Adam, in a very unmanly and shameful way, blames his wife (the perfect gift that God had just given to him). God didn’t buy that excuse. He turns to the woman and asks her why she did it. She turns around and blames the smart serpent (Satan).
God then pronounces His judgment on the three of them. The sin of Adam and Eve made the entire once perfect universe imperfect and started the decay process which continues until today. For his part in the rebellion, Satan is judged. God prophesies the crucifixion of Jesus; His plan for the salvation of Mankind; and, the utter, total and complete defeat of Satan.
God revealed His plan to save all of humanity right there. The salvation of Mankind was to come from the seed of Eve, not the seed of Adam. His plan began with putting enmity between the serpent and the woman; that we were to be reconciled by the seed of the woman versus the seed of the serpent. 4,000 years later a virgin would give birth to the Savior, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Anointed One.
Having looked at the original sin of humankind; having read the Apostle Paul’s basic concern in 2 Cor. 11:3, that he was concerned lest our minds should be led astray; we must read Paul’s second greatest section of the New Testament on the subject of spiritual warfare: 2 Cor. 10: 3-6.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.” (NAS95) [Emphasis added]
2 Corinthians is the most personal of Paul’s letters. The Corinthian Church had accused Paul of being weak, worldly and not having spiritual authority. In the first two verses of Chapter 10, Paul writes to the Corinthians and in effect says to them: “Do not think that my meekness is weakness.” In Verse One, Paul used the Greek word, praotes, or “meekness” in English. What is “meekness”? As Paul used it, it would be best understood as “strength under perfect control”.
Only the strong can be gentle. For example: a four year old boy wants to help his mother care for his new baby sister. The baby needs to be moved and he quickly volunteers to pick her up and do it all by himself. He tries to pick her up, he struggles to maintain his balance, and you are sure that he is going to drop and break the baby. Why? He has good intent, but he lacks the strength to do the job easily. His father is six foot tall and can easily pick up the baby and move her with no struggle at all. Why? He is strong enough to be gentle.
In Verse Three, Paul agrees that we all walk in the flesh as human beings. We all eat, drink, and work on the surface of the earth in a fleshly human body. We all need food, water, clothing and shelter from the elements. But, Paul then declares that when we make war in the spiritual realm, we do not make war “after the flesh”. In the same way, David did not put on Saul’s armor. 1 Sam. 17:38-39. Paul’s weapons were mighty because they were supplied by God.
Paul never mentions prayer in 2 Cor. 10:3-6. Every word used in verses 4-6 deals with what goes on inside the mind. What did his mental weapons accomplish? They would pull down, overpower, conquer and destroy spiritual strongholds.
I suggest that the word “Satanic” should be inserted in front of “fortresses”. These fortresses are prisons for the minds of men and women. As Satan has erected the bars that hold them, only spiritual weapons more effective than his can set the captives free.
In addition, fortresses are defensive positions. No war has ever been won through the use of a fort. This illustrates to us that Satan is on the defensive, and we are on the offensive.
We are to destroy, demolish and overthrow “speculations”. In the Greek, the word is, logismos, which also these thoughts would include sophistries, philosophies and any form of false logic. These speculations would appeal to the fleshly person’s intellect. These are the things that are raised up against the “knowledge” of God. In Greek, the word used for “knowledge” is gnosis, also the word meaning “science”. Satan uses false science to stir people away from knowing God. Satan’s first deception was to introduce people to evolutionary theories.
These “lofty things”, or these “lofty barriers”, would appeal to the fleshly person’s intellect. To embrace such systems of thought would be to feed an attitude that would be in opposition to the true knowledge of God. They are barriers raised up in order to prevent the individual from receiving the knowledge of God.
Paul refers to his own struggle with earthly thoughts versus heavenly thoughts in Romans 7.
Continuing in 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul comments that after we cast down worldly imaginations, we are to bring every “thought”, in Greek the word is noema, into the captivity of the obedience to Christ. The word noema means a perception, purpose, intellect, disposition, device of the mind, and thought. In Greek, the word used for “obedience” is hupakoe. It means attentive hearkening, compliance, submission, and obedience.
Paul advised the Corinthians, and us, that we should bring every non-Biblical teaching that we encounter into “captivity”. We are to capture every errant teaching and imprison every philosophical system which is contrary to the Christian Biblical Worldview and bring it into alignment with God’s opinions. All of Paul’s conclusions about the great questions that we face in life were to be based in obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In Verse Six, Paul writes about the disobedience of not bringing every thought into obedience to the teachings of Christ. He explains that we are to bring that disobedience into complete, total, 100% obedience. To do so is our duty before God.
In 2 Corinthians 11:3 and 10:3-6, the second greatest sections of the New Testament dealing with spiritual warfare, not one word has anything to do with prayer. Each significant word used (speculations, reasonings, thoughts, imaginations, knowledge) deals with what goes on between our ears, in our mind! The battle is for the mind!
On the topic of spiritual warfare, Paul always promotes the use of prayer for a variety of Godly purposes. 1 Tim. 2:8 and Thess. 5:17 He equally promoted the use of the mind. If the thoughts of our minds are in alignment with God’s thoughts, then half of our spiritual warfare has already been accomplished!