Victory in Spiritual Warfare
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 24 October 2011; Revised 6 October 2015
Sources: Bibliographic data for works cited may be found at the end of the article. Unless otherwise indicated Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB Updated Edition (1995). Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).
Reality of Spiritual Warfare
"And there was war in heaven.” (Rev 12:7)
Ever since creation Satan has been waging a fierce campaign against God. Yeshua said, "The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy" (John 10:10). Satan’s intention is to rob God of the glory and obedience due Him, to kill those who seek to follow the Messiah and to destroy all of humanity.
The apostle Paul recognized that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (Eph 6:12). The first disciples of Yeshua understood that Satan was (and is) a great enemy. Satan instigates hatred against Yeshua’s followers. Satan schemes for the temptation and destruction of Yeshua's disciples. Satan orchestrates diabolical strategies to target the saints of God around the world. Peter issued a similar warning, "Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1Pet 5:8). The Body of Messiah faces an implacable foe who will not quit and who will not surrender one inch of ground without a bitterly contested fight.
For God's part, "The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil" (1Jn 3:8). The Lord will not settle for a stalemate with the devil. Indeed, God has already won the victory in the crucifixion of Messiah Yeshua, as Paul says,
"When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him." (Col 2:13-15)
Levels of Warfare
"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Eph 6:12)
Since the beginning God's people have experienced spiritual warfare in three fundamental intensity levels.
• High intensity warfare would be equivalent to state-sponsored persecution to destroy God's people. Examples in Scripture include the deception of Haman to kill all the Jews (book of Esther) and the anticipated campaign by the end time ruler to destroy the God's people (Dan 7:21; Matt 24:15-22; Rev 6:9-10; 7:14; 13:7). Christians faced martyrdom under the pagan Caesars and later by the advance of Islam. For centuries Jews experienced their own widespread persecution in European countries, primarily at the hands of Christian governments. Today Israel faces the combined threat of several Muslim countries bent on destroying the Jewish state.
• Mid-intensity warfare would be equivalent to local persecution of God's people, whether by ruling officials or opposing groups. Many examples can be found in the book of Acts. Paul declared that "all who desire to live a godly life in Messiah Yeshua will be persecuted" (2Tim 3:12 TLV). Since the first century localized opposition, discrimination and persecution has been the experience of God's people around the world. Christians and Jews face increasing legal restrictions that infringe on their religious liberty in most countries, including the USA. The world is united in its effort to restrict, if not silence, the voice of faith in the public sector.
• Low-intensity warfare would be equivalent to individual struggles with Satanic opposition. Calling this level "low-intensity" does not mean that the conflict is mild. Rather, Satan marshals all the forces at his disposal to harass and attack individual disciples (Eph 6:12). The devil "prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1Pet 5:8). Low-intensity warfare is experienced in three basic levels:
• Temptation, which in this context refers to enticement to sin, may arise from false teaching (2Th 2:2; 1Tim 4:1-3; Jas 3:15), fleshly or human desires (Rom 7:23; Jas 1:14; 4:1; 1Pet 2:11) or from the direct efforts of Satan (1Cor 7:5; 1Th 3:5). Temptation is a reality for every disciple of Yeshua, who also was tempted by Satan (Matt 4:1). Temptation is not sin, but is equivalent to hand-to-hand combat on the battlefield.
• Oppression, which refers to wide variety of situations in which Satan or his demonic agents attack an individual in order to cause discouragement and fear. Such attacks may be against innocent persons, such as Job or the unfortunate woman Yeshua healed (Luke 13:11). However, demonic attacks often occur against someone who has had prior contact with a false religion, the occult or sins of the flesh, e.g., pornography, prostitution, perverse sexual conduct, etc. (Acts 5:16; Rom 8:15; 1Cor 10:20-21; Eph 2:1-3).
• Possession, which refers to being indwelt by an unclean spirit or even Satan himself. Most of the mentions of demons and Satan in the apostolic narratives pertain to possession (Matt 8:16; Luke 22:3).
NOTE: The reality of spiritual warfare does not mean there is a demon behind every problem in life. Satan does get the blame for many problems that are simply the result of human desires and weaknesses. Don't forget that even though Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the Serpent, God held the couple accountable for their choices.
Strongholds of the Enemy
"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly but powerful through God for the tearing down of strongholds. We are tearing down false arguments 5 and every high-minded thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. We are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Messiah." (2Cor 10:3-5 TLV)
In Scripture the literal meaning of "stronghold" is a defensible hiding place (Heb. metsad, Judg 6:2), or even a prison (Heb. Beit-Sohar, Gen 39:20). In the Tanakh "stronghold" is used frequently in a figurative sense to refer to God as a refuge (Heb. matsood, 2Sam 22:2; Ps 18:2), but it is used just once in a negative sense of wealth (Prov 10:15). In the LXX the word ochurōma is used to translate the various Hebrew words for "stronghold." In the Besekh ochurōma occurs only in the above quoted passage where it refers to false arguments and belief systems opposed to the knowledge of God and in which a person seeks shelter to escape reality. The real problem in Corinth is that some of the members of the congregation had constructed a religious paradigm ("stronghold") that permitted them to integrate pagan practices with their Christian worship and in so doing rejected apostolic authority. Paul had to remind them that his instruction came from the Lord.
A matter of great concern for Paul was the continued influence of pagan philosophies and practices on the lives of disciples. He offered strong warnings against mixing with the world.
"Be not conformed to the world." (Rom 12:2 TLV)
"Do not be idolaters, as some of them were. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play." (1Cor 10:7 TLV)
"You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons." (1Cor 10:21 NASB)
"Be not be bound together with unbelievers." (2Cor 6:14 TLV; see also 2Cor 6:15-18)
"Take heed lest there shall be one that makes you prey through philosophy and vain deceit, according to the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Messiah." (Col 2:8 mine; see also Col 2:20)
The ultimate inspiration for strongholds that oppose the knowledge of God is Satan. Attempts at amalgamating the Good news of the Messiah and biblical truth with pagan or worldly ideas and practices is always destructive to true religion. "All truth" is not necessarily God's Truth. Every practice teaches something. What message does it convey? Beware of the philosophy "to attract the world we should use the methods of the world."
Weapons for Successful Warfare
"So take up every piece of war equipment God provides; so that when the evil day comes, you will be able to resist; and when the battle is won, you will still be standing. 14 Therefore, stand! Have the belt of truth buckled around your waist, put on righteousness for a breastplate, 15 and wear on your feet the readiness that comes from the Good News of shalom. 16 Always carry the shield of trust, with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the Evil One. 17 And take the helmet of deliverance; along with the sword given by the Spirit, that is, the Word of God; 18 as you pray at all times, with all kinds of prayers and requests, in the Spirit, vigilantly and persistently, for all God's people." (Eph 6:13-18 CJB)
To wage spiritual warfare successfully, that is, to defeat temptation, overcome the schemes of Satan, and persist in developing righteous character, requires the application of sound biblical tactics. Paul used the analogy of a Roman soldier's equipment to explain how to successfully fight against the enemy of our souls. These weapons are effective for all aspects of spiritual warfare.
Defensive weapons, Ephesians 6:10-17a (cf. 2Cor 6:7; 10:4)
• Girdle – represents truth. Satan always hits “below the belt,” that is, he is a liar and the father of lies. Yeshua is the Truth (John 14:6). Scripture is the Truth (2Tim 2:15). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth (John 14:17; 16:13) and the Body of Messiah is the pillar of truth (2Pet 1:20-21).
• Breastplate –represents righteousness (Isa 59:17; Eph 6:14; 1Th 5:8). The soldier’s breastplate covered the heart. Righteousness keeps the heart safe (1Jn 3:21-22).
• Sandals – represents the readiness to offer shalom or peace with others (Mark 11:25), and peace with God (Matt 5:9).
• Shield – represents trusting faithfulness. This was a large shield that protected the whole body. Faith, or more correctly faithfulness, refers to both God’s faithfulness and our faithfulness (Ps 5:12; Prov 30:5; 1Cor 16:13).
• Helmet – represents assurance of salvation. The mind is under siege from Satan, but God gives confidence of salvation (1Th 5:8-9; 1Jn 5:13).
Offensive weapons, Ephesians 6:17b (cf. 2Cor 6:7; 10:4)
• Sword – represents the Word of God (cf. Heb 4:12, "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." During the wilderness testing Yeshua answered every temptation of Satan with Scripture.
• Prayer - persistent petition to and fellowship with God is powerful for defeating the strongholds of Satan.
Victory Over Possession
Symptoms of Possession
To understand the actual phenomenon of demon possession a study of the history of the Gadarene demoniac in Mark 5 is essential. Eight distinct symptoms of possession are described there.
Mark 5:2 - The demoniac had an unclean spirit. In other words, he was indwelt by another being.
Mark 5:3 - The possessed man exhibited unusual powers of physical strength. No one could bind him any more.
Mark 5:4 - The third characteristic was the paroxysms (the fits of rage). He had wrenched chains apart and broken his fetters in pieces.
Mark 5:6, 7 - The fourth sign is one of disintegration, the splitting of the personality. The demoniac runs to Yeshua for help, yet cries out in fear.
Mark 5:7 - The fifth symptom is that of resistance, an opposition to the truth of God and His kingdom. He tells Yeshua to leave him alone. One meets this resistance to spiritual help quite often in counseling subjected people.
Mark 5:7 - The sixth symptom is hyperaesthesia, an excessive sensibility. The Gadarene had clairvoyant powers. He knew immediately who Yeshua really was.
Mark 5:9 - The seventh sign is seen in the variation of alteration of voice. A 'legion' of demons spoke out of him.
Mark 5:13 - The eighth characteristic is occult transference. The demons left the man and entered into the swine.
It should be noted that the second, third and fourth characteristics listed above, are similar in many respects to the symptoms of certain psychological disorders. However, I say similar, for in no case are they exactly the same. The remaining five characteristics on the other hand are not to be found within any psychiatric classification. It is pointless, then, to "cast out" demons unless some or all of these symptoms are present.
Freedom from Possession
Victory over demon possession, as described in many accounts in the Besekh, always requires outside intervention by an experienced and mature believer. Disciples of a nervous disposition should never attempt to help the demon possessed. The method described in Scripture accounts is straightforward. In the Gadarene narrative Yeshua did three things: (1) he asked the demon his name; (2) he commanded the demon to come out and (3) he told the demon where to go. Sometimes Yeshua rebuked the demon with "Be quiet" (Luke 4:35).
It's noteworthy that only Yeshua asked a demon for his name. The apostles merely commanded demons to leave in the name of Messiah Yeshua without engaging in conversations or specifying where the demons should go (Luke 10:17; Acts 16:18). The testimony of Scripture is that only Yeshua has the power to free people from possession and oppression of the devil. In addition, to conserve victory the one who was possessed must complete the steps listed below for victory over oppression. Otherwise, the demon may return and cause worse problems (Matt 12:43-45).
Victory Over Oppression
Those who have had some prior contact with Satan's kingdom often face tremendous challenges after accepting their need for God and turning to Him for redemption. Symptoms of oppression may include hearing voices, obsessive thoughts to harm oneself or someone else, unreasonable superstitions, having dreams that seem to come true and other spiritistic phenomenon. Victims of this oppression may not understand why bizarre things happen to them, but the reality is that contact with the occult often leaves a person with residual effects.
The good news is that one can have victory over these symptoms. Yeshua came to destroy the works of the devil (1Jn 3:8) not to settle for coexistence. Satan is a defeated foe having been disarmed by Yeshua through His death and resurrection (Col 2:15). Following are some basic suggestions to follow in applying the weapons listed above and gaining victory over Satan. (NOTE: many of these steps are more effective if followed with the assistance of an experienced counselor or mature disciple of Yeshua.)
1. Get right with God.
• Reckon yourself to be dead to sin and alive to God in Yeshua. This is an decision of your will, not a feeling, that Yeshua has done everything necessary for your salvation. You must stand upon God's truth. (Rom 6:11-12)
• Come to Yeshua for deliverance and commit yourself totally to His lordship. Offer the physical parts of your body, the ones you've used to sin, to God. (Matt 11:28; Rom 6:13)
• Confess any cult/occult activities to God and ask for His forgiveness. In prayer to the Lord say that you renounce all the works of the Devil, including any occultic traits you may have inherited from your family. Be specific about what you're renouncing. (2Cor 4:2; Jas 5:16; 1Jn 1:9)
• Claim the protection of the blood of Yeshua. It is the blood of Yeshua shed on the cross that cleanses you of all your sins and repudiates all the accusations of Satan against you. (Rev 12:10-11)
• Surrender yourself to God's purposes for allowing all the trials and attacks of Satan. God wants you to profit spiritually from your experience. As you affirm and submit to God's purposes, reject Satan's purposes against you. (Rom 8:28-39; 2Cor 12:7-10)
2. Get rid of Satan's influence in your life.
• Destroy every object, writing, article, paraphernalia or symbol belonging to a false religion or of cult/occult/pagan/ungodly association or practice. Such things belong to Satan and if you wish to be rid of Satan's domination, you must be rid of his property. Ask the Holy Spirit's help in identifying these things. (Gen 35:1-5; Acts 19:19) See Cult/Occult Influence for examples.
• Mediumistic or occultic contacts and friendships with false religious groups must be broken, even if they're family members. (Acts 2:40; 1Cor 15:33; 2Cor 6:14-17; Jas 4:4; 1Jn 5:16)
Victory Over Temptation
1. Get right with other people.
• Remove resentment and bitterness from your heart. Forgive anyone who has sinned against you or hurt you in the past. The devil wants to destroy you through your own anger. Ask God to deliver you from resentment and give His love for those who have wronged you. (Mark 11:25; 2Cor 2:10-11; Eph 4:26-27, 31) See my article Overcoming Resentment.
• If possible, reconcile with those who have hurt you or with those whom you have hurt according to the instructions of Yeshua (Matt 5:23-24; 18:15-19). See my Peacemaking Readiness Guide and the article Reconciling a Broken Relationship.
2. Live right in faithful discipleship.
• Realize that you are strong in the armor of God, but only as you fully depend on God. Thank Yeshua for providing these for your protection. Trust in God to deliver you from temptation. (1Cor 10:13; 2Pet 2:9)
• Remain faithful in the personal means of grace - daily prayer, worship and Bible reading. (Matt 26:41; 1Th 5:16-17; 2Tim 2:15)
• Remain in continuing fellowship with a body of believers faithful to Scripture, engaging in weekly public worship, as well as fellowship and accountability with other believers. (John 1:16; Acts 2:42; Heb 13:15-17)
• Remove habits offensive to God and contrary to Scripture. (2Cor 7:1; 2Tim 2:21-22; Jas 4:8)
• Replace the sins of your former life with good deeds and give your attention to constructive things that will build good character. (Rom 12:1-2; Phil 4:8-9)
• Resist the devil whenever tempted. Confess any bad or wicked thoughts to Yeshua and ask Him to cleanse your mind. (2Cor 10:5)
• Recite Scripture when tempted, as Yeshua did in the wilderness. God's Word is powerful to defeat the enemy. (Matt 4:4)
• Retreat from temptation when necessary as Joseph ran from Potiphar's wife (Gen 39:6-12; 2Tim 2:22)
• Remember the simple but powerful response to temptation: just say "NO!" (Titus 2:11-12)
• Repent, if and when you do sin. God loves you and will forgive you. (1Jn 1:9)
Resources for Further Study
Barbara Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly Woman, Crossway Books, 2001
R. Kent Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly Man, Crossway Books, 2001
Kurt Koch, Between Christ and Satan. Kregel Publications, 1962.
Kurt Koch, Demonology: Past and Present, Kregel Publications, 1973.
Kurt Koch, Occult ABC. Kregel Publications, 1986.
Kurt Koch, Occult Bondage and Deliverance, Kregel Publications, 1970.
Also valuable reading in the principles of war:
Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), On War. Anatol Rapoport, ed. Penguin Books, 1968.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War. trans. Lionel Giles. J.W. Edwards, Inc., 2009.
Copyright © 1993, 2015 Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.