Spiritual warfare. When people mention it, most of us think of Hollywood renditions like The Exorcist or The Omen. And while I don’t deny that spiritual warfare definitely consists of possession and what not, is that the primary battlefield where Satan attacks us?
I am currently reading in the book of Ephesians, and I came across this verse:
‘Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.‘ (Eph. 4:26-27)
When we read those verses, we are drawn to the first part of the verse and the issue of anger. Much ink has been spilt on what it means to ‘be angry and do not sin’. But what about the second part of this excerpt?
Paul writes this command in the midst of a discourse on holy living–how we are to live holy lives in the midst of the Christian community. So why is there a mention of the devil in the midst of regulations for holiness? Because the primary spiritual battlefield in every believer’s life is their growth in holiness. Paul’s statement here speaks volumes. He writes this to the Ephesian church, one of the most spiritually charged contexts in the ancient world. Read Acts 19 to get a small glimpse of the Ephesian context. Throughout Paul’s letter, he refers to ‘principalities and powers.’ The infamous ‘armor of God’ is found in this book. Paul is writing to a church immersed in the spiritual world, a church that had witnessed exorcisms (cf. Acts 19:11-20). And yet he doesn’t mention the more ‘sensationalistic’ expressions of spiritual warfare; instead, he places spiritual warfare on the moral battlefield. A several months ago while reading Ephesians, I wrote this:
“Paul’s command places a greater importance on moral purity. I have frequently found myself surrendering or putting up a half-hearted fight in my battle with the flesh, because I always saw it as a fight within me between the old and the new. Because of the gradual sanctification process, it was easier to just say, ‘That’s just the old Jordan. He’ll die eventually.’ Spiritual warfare was a different game–battle with the enemy was all about supernatural attacks, demon possession, etc. That is what the armor of God is for. Let us not neglect the moral battle that we must wage everyday.
Now, please understand me: our struggles and shortcomings are not always (or even most of the time) the direct cause of some demonic working in our life. Paul makes that clear in these verses, that Satan may gain a foothold, not that he is the cause of our sin. If we have persistent sin in our life, that can be used by the enemy of our souls. Let us recognize the gravity of our quest for holiness, and put on the armor of God, that we may continue to be created in the image of God’s Son, Jesus.