Spiritual warfare is vitally important in the world of spiritual growth. With the increase of new age thinking, atheism, Satanism, and a growing interest in the occult worldwide, the need for Christians to understand what spiritual warfare is has never been greater. Moreover, spiritual warfare is becoming an increasingly confusing topic to study as Christians have a variety of views on the topic, some of which are biblical, but most of which are not.
The classic view of spiritual warfare is defined by repentance, faith, and obedience. The classic mode of warfare— evangelism, discipleship, and personal growth—follows the pattern of Jesus facing Satan in the desert. The textbooks for spiritual warfare in this mode have been Proverbs, the way Jesus addressed moral evil, and the teaching of the New Testament epistles. Puritan pastoral theologians wrote frequently and with great depth on spiritual warfare. As they wrote about Scripture, the devil, and human nature, they were alert to the incredible evil and deceptive strategies of Satan. At the same time they made a heart-searching analysis of the human condition. The Puritans were not demythologized moderns; they lived in a spirit-filled world and were well aware of spiritual warfare. They saw the combat, snares, deceits and schemes of Satan. Books in print from Puritans after over three hundred years include Thomas Brook’s Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Holy War, and William Gurnall’s The Christian in Complete Armor.
Ephesians 6:10-20 gives the best explanation of the classic mode of spiritual warfare: reliance on the power and protection of God, embracing the Word of God, specific obedience, fervent and focused prayer, and the aid of fellow believers. Spiritual warfare against the power of evil is a matter of consistently and repeatedly turning from darkness to the Light in the midst of assailing darkness. Christians fight spiritual warfare by repentance, faith, and obedience. Recognizing the powerful influence of Satan and sin within the human heart, classic-mode pastoral theologians call for biblical sanctification.
Ephesians 6:10-18 gives the best instruction in the New Testament on spiritual warfare. Ephesians 6:10-20 describes the whole armor of God. In this section, Paul concludes his exhortations with instructions for all Christians. His imagery is a sustained portrayal of the Christian life as spiritual warfare using the Lord’s resources. Paul opens this section in Ephesians 6:10-13 by introducing the armor of God and focusing on the strength it gives. Ephesians 6:10 the word be strong (ἐνδυναμοῦσθε – endynamousthe) emphasizes that the Christian cannot stand against supernatural human powers, but must rely on the strength of the Lord’s own might (Ephesians 1:19), which the Lord supplies through prayer (6:18).
The Greek word for the phrase “whole armor” (πανοπλία – panoplia) refers to the complete equipment of a fully armed solider—consisting of both shields and weapons like those described in verses 16-17. Paul’s description here draws primarily on Old Testament allusions, yet the terms used also overlap well with Roman weaponry (especially the terms for the large, door-shaped shield and the short stabbing sword). Visible portraits of such weaponry can be found on numerous military reliefs throughout the Roman Empire. The word schemes (μεθοδείας – methodeίas) in Ephesians 6:11 exposes the diabolical origin of the deceitful schemes of those teaching false doctrine (1st John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2nd John 7).
Ephesians 6:12 gives a list of spiritual rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers, and gives a sobering glimpse into the devil’s allies—the spiritual forces of evil who are powerful in their exercise of cosmic powers over this present darkness. Scripture makes it clear that the enemy host is no match for the Lord who has “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:15; Ephesians 1:19-21).
The “therefore” in Ephesians 6:13, means the Christian’s enemies are superhuman spiritual forces. Mere human resources will not work, which is why one must take up the whole armor of God. The divine armor and the sword of the Spirit belong to the Lord Himself and to His Messiah (Isaiah 11:4-5; 59:17) and are made available for believers. Along with the stand in Ephesians 6:11, believers are to withstand the enemy and to stand firm. Later in verse 13, Paul portrays Christians as soldiers in a battle line holding fast against the enemy’s charge. Paul (in Ephesians 6:16) identifies this whole age as evil days (“evil day”), yet the outbreak of the Satanic onslaught against Christ’s people ebbs and flows throughout this era until the final day when the Lord of Hosts will return in power and great glory (Luke 21:27) to rend the heavens and rescue His people forever.
Ephesians 6:1-17 actually teaches the Christian what it means to stand firm. Paul reiterates the charge to stand in the face of dreaded spiritual enemies because the Lord has not left his people defenseless. They have the complete armor of God from head to foot, which consists of the belt, breastplate, shoes, shield, helmet, and sword. These are metaphors for the spiritual resources given to them in Christ, namely, the truth, righteousness, gospel, faith, salvation, and the Word of God.
In Ephesians 6:14, Paul—with the rousing order, “stand”—urges the Ephesians to withstand the enemy (vv.11, 13), and not give in to fear. Paul exhorts his readers to always be ready to proclaim the Gospel in Ephesians 6:15. And in Ephesians 6:17, the flaming darts are burning arrows designed to destroy wooden shields and other defenses but the shield of faith is able to extinguish the devil’s attacks. The spiritual nature of the church’s resource is nowhere more plain than in its reliance upon God’s Word, which is the only offensive weapon mentioned in this list of spiritual armor. The Word of God is to be wielded like a sharp two-edged sword, in the mighty power of God’s Holy Spirit (Hebrews 4:12).
Paul (in Ephesians 6:18-20) is teaching about being constant in prayer. This section offers instruction on prayer (the main weapon in spiritual warfare) and explains when, how and for whom to pray. The weapons for warfare are spiritual because they are rooted in prayer, which is the Christ’s most powerful resource. Prayer is to permeate believers’ lives as a universal practice, as seen by the use of “all” four times in this verse: at all times, with all prayer, with all perseverance, and for all the saints. Prayer in the Spirit is a form of worship (John 4:23-24) enabled by the Spirit of God, who intercedes on behalf of the person praying.
The general character of the believer’s prayer life is described in the following way in Ephesians 6:18. First “all prayer and supplication” focus on the variety; second “always” focuses on the frequency (Romans 12:12; Philippians 4:6; 1st Thessalonians 5:17); “in the Spirit” focuses on submission, as we line up with the will of God (Rom. 8:26-27), “being watchful” focuses on the manner (Matthew 26:41; Mark 13:33); “all perseverance” focuses on the persistence (Luke 11:9; 18:7-8), and “all saints” focuses on the objects (1st Samuel 12:23).
Understanding the Role Spiritual Warfare Plays in Spiritual Growth Is Vital
As technology continues to increase, along with the growing interest in atheism, Satanism, and every other -ism, the Christian needs to learn that he/she lives in a world that is not only rapidly changing, but one in where they are in a war for the souls of mankind. The reality of this war has already been described in the previous section when we examined Ephesians 6:10-18. The reality is that many Christians rely too much on themselves and not enough on the grace of God. Paul clearly calls believers in Ephesians 6:10-18 to stand firm, not in their own effort or ability, but in the grace of God. As our culture becomes less identified as Christian and more identified with secular philosophy, the believer will need to learn the importance of the role of spiritual warfare in spiritual growth.
The only way to fight against Satan, his minions, and sin is through the classic mode of spiritual warfare. In a culture that rejects truth and has abandoned its moral foundation, there is even more reason today than ever, for Christians to stand firm in the grace of God. The Christian is engaged in a war because of the identity they have in Christ. Satan despises, rejects, and counters every single action God the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit take to redeem man from sin. The truth, then, is that while the Christian is engaged in a war, the Lord has not left His children without tools to fight against Satan, his minions, and sin. The tools Jesus has given the Christian are His Word, the Holy Spirit, the Church, brothers and sisters in Christ, and the ability to come to boldly before God in prayer.
Ultimately One’s View of Sanctification Will Affect One’s View of Spiritual Warfare
The reality of the war for the souls of mankind is real, and so is the tools the Lord has given His children. When the believer stands firm in the grace of God, because of the work of Jesus on the Cross—no weapon formed against them will prosper. Satan is a defeated foe because of Christ. Jesus has disarmed the forces of Satan through His death, burial, and resurrection (Colossians 1). The Gospel is good news because as Christians engage a sinful world, Christ is with them. Christians are not attacked as if they are on an island rather they are attacked because of one’s identity with their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The believer can then rest in the fact that as they rest and stand firm in the grace of God, that the Lord will guard, and protect them. True effectiveness for Jesus and His glory rests in reliance upon the grace of God in all things.
Dave Jenkins is happily married to his wife, Sarah. He is a writer, editor, and speaker living in beautiful Southern Oregon. Dave is a lover of Christ, His people, the Church, and sound theology. He serves as the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, the Host and Producer of Equipping You in Grace Podcast, and is a contributor to and producer of Contending for the Word. He is the author of The Word Explored: The Problem of Biblical Illiteracy and What To Do About It (House to House, 2021), The Word Matters: Defending Biblical Authority Against the Spirit of the Age (G3 Press, 2022), and Contentment: The Journey of a Lifetime (Theology for Life, 2024). You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, or read his newsletter. Dave loves to spend time with his wife, going to movies, eating at a nice restaurant, or going out for a round of golf with a good friend. He is also a voracious reader, in particular of Reformed theology, and the Puritans. You will often find him when he’s not busy with ministry reading a pile of the latest books from a wide variety of Christian publishers. Dave received his M.A.R. and M.Div through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.