Spiritual Warfare: Understanding the Nature of the Conflict

Share
This is War

And We Need to Know What It’s All About

Having established some of the foundational principles for Spiritual Warfare in our last two exercises—that…

  1. Through Christ, we are once-again the divinely Authorized Rulers over Planet Earth; and,
  2. By learning to exercise our Authority over His and our enemies, we are being trained to rule along with Christ when He returns to the Earth to set up His Kingdom…

…it is time for us to move on to the training exercises that will help ensure our victory in the spiritual battles that lie ahead.  To help us get into the best fighting shape possible, this training will include exercises in…

Understanding the Nature of the Conflict;
Knowing the Enemy;
Getting the Lay of the Land;
Familiarizing Ourselves with our Weapons; and,
Honoring the Rules of Engagement.

That being said, let’s get exercise number one underway by first assessing what is involved in this conflict; for…

…what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand (Luke 14:31)?

What We Need to Know

At the outbreak of any war, before the potential combatants suit up and march off to battle, it is essential that they know whom they will be fighting and what they will be fighting for.  In order for them to be fully committed to winning the war at any cost, they must first understand the reason behind the conflict and just what is at stake in it for them.  If they don’t believe they have a personal interest in it, then they won’t even bother to show up.  I think this concept is best illustrated by a brief look at the United States and its delayed entry into World War II.

Throughout much of its history, when it came to its involvement in overseas wars, the United States maintained a policy of isolationism, because it didn’t see that it had a personal stake in those faraway conflicts.  Maintaining this position was possible because, unlike a lot of the nations in other parts of the world—nations which shared common borders—the United States was protected east and west by oceans, and shared its northern and southern borders with only two neighboring—and friendly—countries.  So, why become involved in wars on the other side of the world which seemingly had no bearing on life in America?

Uncle Sam Wants You

And Uncle Sam Got Them , Too!

All of this changed, however, when Adolph Hitler came to power in Germany, and he began his rampage across Europe in pursuit of world domination.  At first, even though war had been declared by England and France in 1939 and Hitler had been wreaking havoc across the continent before then (with his oriental ally, Japan, doing the same in the Far East even longer than that), the US refused to become involved.  Since it wasn’t being affected by the war, why fight in it?  That was its position until Japan attacked America’s naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941—and, then, it became personal!  The US immediately declared war and thousands of young men—eventually millions—made their way to the nearest military recruiter and signed up, because they suddenly had a stake in the outcome of the war!

Although the Second World War was…

…the most widespread and deadliest war in history, involving more than 30 countries and resulting in more than 50 million military and civilian deaths (with some estimates as high as 85 million dead)…[1]

…the war which has been raging in the spiritual world since the beginning of time is one that has affected far more people (every person who has ever lived, in fact), and is far deadlier than WWII—or, all of the wars in human history put together, for that matter.  That’s because it is the one war which has not only impacted the quality of life on this planet and endangered the life of every human being on it on a daily basis, but it is the one war which has determined the eternal destiny of every person who has made the earth his home.  Given this, it is a war in which we all have a very personal stake—and one that we each need to understand more fully and take more seriously!

To help us do this, let’s take a moment and look at this war within the overall context of the Bible Story, in an effort to discover…

The Source of the Conflict;
The Nature of the Conflict; and,
The Outcome of the Conflict.

As we do, we need to keep in mind God’s original goal for Mankind and the Earth—which was, to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth, with His Sons and Daughters ruling over it in Righteousness.  We know this to be true because…

  • God gave the first Man and Woman Dominion over the Earth—that is, the Authority to Rule it–which they subsequently lost to Satan; and,
  • Jesus later came to the Earth and reclaimed that lost Authority through His death and resurrection, and restored it to the Children of God.

In fact, as these verses illustrate, Jesus’ entire ministry was focused on restoring the lost Kingdom of God and re-establishing it on the Earth within the Hearts of Men…

From that time [the beginning of His ministry] Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3, 5)

…but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God…for I was sent for this purpose.” (Luke 4:43)

Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. (Luke 8:1)

When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing. (Luke 9:11)

And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried…your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.  Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the   (Luke 12:29-32)

The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. (Luke 16:16)

…and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 22:29)

And this gospel [the good news] of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)

Since the Kingdom of God—both its restoration and proclamation—was at the heart of Jesus’ mission to Earth, then it stands to reason that it must have been the reason for the conflict in the first place.

The Source of the Conflict

To discover the reason behind this war, we must go back before time even began; when, at some point in Eternity Past, the All-Wise, All-Knowing, All-Powerful God purposed to have a Family and to create the Earth as the place for that Family to live.  In anticipation of this, He first created a huge Host of Angelic Beings, whose purpose would be to serve Him by serving His soon-to-be Heirs of Salvation—or, the coming Sons and Daughters of God…

Of the angels he says, ‘He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.’  Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?  (Hebrews 1:7, 14)

Angels of the Lord

Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts! Psalm 148:2

To facilitate this future Service, God created different types of Angels, each one designed for a specific purpose and each one given a particular rank of Authority—with those highest in rank called Archangels.  One of these Archangels was named Lucifer; and, as possibly the highest-ranking Angel, it was his job to protect the Throne of God and lead the Worship which took place around itHe must have been something to behold, because in Ezekiel 28 he was described as being…

…the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty… every precious stone was your covering… On the day that you were created they were prepared.

You were an anointed guardian cherub.  I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.

You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created.

That is…

…till unrighteousness was found in you… you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire.

Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground… (Ezekiel 28:14-18)

Just what could have caused this?  In Isaiah 14, we learn that…

You [Lucifer] said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’  (Isaiah 14:13-14)

In other words, Lucifer—now the Devil and Satan—so coveted God’s Throne and Power that he rebelled against God in an effort to obtain that Throne and usurp His Power.  Having been denied the Throne in the Kingdom of Heaven, Satan then purposed to set up his own kingdom here on Earth.

God had other plans for the Earth, though; for, as we have already learned, He intended for it to be ruled by Man.  So, try to imagine the outrage that Satan must have felt when he heard God announce…

Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth (Genesis 1:26)…

…as well as his delight when the Woman he tempted…

…saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate (Genesis 3:6).

What a coup!  Not only did he succeed in enslaving Man and alienating him from God, but he also managed to wrest the Right to Rule from Man so that he could set up his own kingdom here on the Earth.  Where before, there had only been One Kingdom and One Will in existence—that being God’s—there were now Two Kingdoms and Wills, both contending for the hearts and allegiances of Men and Women.  As Watchman Nee explains…

We may say that there are two massive contradictory wills throughout the universe.  On one side stands the holy and perfect will of God; on the other is arrayed the defiled, defiling, and opposing will of Satan.  In between subsists the sovereign, independent, free will of man.[2]

This is so important for us to grasp, because in this cosmic battle of wills, the decision as to which one will prevail on the earth has been delegated by God to the will of each human being living on this planet; and, it is determined every time he or she is chooses to do what will satisfy his or her own selfish desires, or what will be pleasing to God.  To put it simply, then, this contention for the free will of man is what this war is all about.

The Nature of the Conflict

When we describe this war as a clash between kingdoms, mind you, we are not talking about physical or material kingdoms, but spiritual ones.  They are actually the systems of governance which rule the hearts and minds of people and, by extension, the operating systems existing in the spheres where these people live.  We need to clarify this because I think there is a tendency on our parts to regard Satan as the owner of the Earth when, in reality, he isn’t.  In Ephesians 2:2, the Apostle Paul calls him the Prince of the Power of the Air because that is where his domain is.  The Earth itself, on the other hand, still belongs to God…

The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein… (Psalm 24:1)

Since Adam and Eve were only given the Right to Rule as God’s governors on the Earth—and not the title deed to it—the Dominion that Satan took from them also gave him the Authority to rule over the world and its systems, but not the legal ownership of the Earth.  Even so, this Authority alone was enough to enable him, over time, to establish the political, cultural, and religious systems that are so reflective of his ambition and nature–systems which he has used so effectively to manipulate and dominate his poor, unsuspecting subjects ever since the Garden of Eden.

Because Satan’s kingdom was founded upon pride and rebellion, and operates on the basis of deception and lies, slander and corruption, every institution that he has established as part of this world’s system bears those same characteristics and functions according to the same principles.  Through these institutions, as well as through his constant appeal to the pride and baser human instincts of man, he has—as the god of this world—been able to control the hearts, minds, and especially the wills of those in his kingdom, and has…

…blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

The Devil's Tactics

No Tactic is too Low

In the war to maintain control of his subjects and his territory, no underhanded scheme or dirty trick has been beneath him—with guerrilla warfare being his specialty.   To use the words of Jesus…

He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44); and, is…

The thief [who] comes only to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10).

C.S Lewis, in his classic apologetic novel, The Screwtape Letters, imagines this war of wills through the eyes of a seasoned demon named Screwtape, when he writes…

To us [demons] a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which the Enemy [God] demands of men is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth.

He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself—creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because he has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His.  We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy (God) wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct. [3]

In this excerpt, Lewis clarifies the Nature of the Conflict for us:  Satan and those in his kingdom want to destroy the individual and absorb his will into their own, in order to satisfy their insatiable greed and increase their power base; while God and those in His Kingdom want to bring the individual into the Family of God, shower him with love, and empower him to become the unique and whole/holy person God created him to be.   In the former, the motivation is selfishness and greed, while in the latter, it is giving and grace.  Given the marked contrast in the nature of these two kingdoms, we might wonder why anyone in their right mind would will to remain in a kingdom such a Satan’s, when they could will to enjoy the freedom in a Kingdom like God’s.  As I see it, the most likely explanation is that they have no idea that the Kingdom of God even exists, and that they can actually choose to be a part of it—a situation directly attributable to the Church’s lack of obedience in carrying out Christ’s final and Great Commission to…

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-19).

Soldier of the Cross

Armed and Ready to Serve

As the Sons and Daughters of God–and Soldiers of the Cross, it is our responsibility to take the Light of the Gospel into the sin-darkened territories held by Satan, so that those still imprisoned there can see their way clear to the Kingdom of God.  Instead of going AWOL, we need to suit up and show up, ready for battle—because the sooner we do what we are supposed to do, the sooner the war will end.

The Outcome of the Conflict

Because…

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9)…

…He will not bring this war to an end until every single one of His Children has been brought home to Him.  When all those who will be saved are saved, and His Family is complete, He will crush His enemies, merely by the Word of His mouth, and set up His Kingdom of Righteousness and Peace on the Earth. Satan and all those in his kingdom will be thrown into the Lake of Fire where they will suffer forever, while those in God’s Kingdom will take their places before him and hear, at last, their Father say…

Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master (Matthew 25:21).

 

Keith and Kristyn Getty challenge the Church to Arise…

 

 

 

[1] History Channel Website, http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii.

[2] Watchman Nee, The Spiritual Man (Richmond, VA: Christian Fellowship Publishers, Incorporated, 1968), Book 3, 77.

[3] C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001), chapter 8.

 

Closing the Case on Cain and Abel

Share

Cain and Abel with Their OfferingsBefore we can leave the story of Cain and Abel behind, there are still a few matters that we need to attend to; for, we have yet to identify…

  • The Life Lessons to be learned from their story;
  • The Contributions their story makes to the One Big Story being played out on the Heavenly Stage above us; and,
  • Any Revelations of God that their story holds for us.

The Life Lessons here are ones involving…

1.  Choice

One of the first lessons to be learned from the story of Cain and Abel is that each person, at some point in his or her life, will have to choose whether to continue eating from and bearing the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; or, to step away from the that Tree of Death and head over to the Tree of Life.  When that time comes, it will not matter who that person’s parents are, or how godly they may be, every child born to those parents will have to decide for themselves if they will continue to pursue the Way of Works or if they will abandon that natural and fleshly way for the Way of Faith—a Faith that is founded on the Word of God and which provides the forgiveness of sins and salvation made possible only through the substitutionary and atoning work of Jesus Christ.

2.  Cost

For those choosing the Way of Faith, the story of Cain and Abel also serves as an excellent reminder that their choices will come with a price tag attached.  Just as Abel’s righteous deeds served to convict Cain of his own sins, the righteousness of those who come to salvation through faith in Christ will also offend and separate them from the wicked around them—sometimes the members of their own families—and may lead to their persecution and, at times, even to their deaths.

3.  Consolation

Although we may recoil at the idea of an innocent person being senselessly slaughtered by a guilty one, merely because the one in the wrong arrogantly refuses to admit his guilt, we can take comfort in the knowledge that no injustice will ever escape the notice or the judgment of God.  Just as in the case of Cain and Abel, where Abel’s blood cries out to God from the ground, anytime the blood of a righteous person is poured out in the defense of his faith, it calls out continuously to the God who will see to it that the life represented by that blood will eventually be vindicated.  And, from what we have learned so far about the principles of sowing and reaping, we can be certain that the seed sown by this or any act of wickedness will produce a harvest that is in keeping with the nature of the deed.  On the other hand, the seed sown by the righteous will be sure to reap according to the promise of Jesus in John 12:24-25…

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

The Contributions here are all about Patterns…

1.  Patterns of Generational Sin

In Vignette #4, the Fruit of the Fall, after God’s confrontation with Cain about the murder of his brother and Cain’s subsequent refusal to acknowledge or repent of his sin, we learned that…

…Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.  Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch.  [And] When he [Cain] built a city he called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch. (Gen. 4:17)

To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad fathered Mehujael, and Mehujael fathered Methushael, and Methushael fathered Lamech.  And Lamech took two wives.  The name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah.  Adah bore Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock.  His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe.  Zillah also bore Tubal-cain; he was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron.  The sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah. (Gen. 4:18-22)

Lamech said to his wives:  Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say:  I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me.  If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-seven fold.  (Gen. 4:23-24)

From this account, we can see the beginnings of a Pattern for Generational Sin that will continue throughout the Story of the Bible; a pattern becoming more prevalent as more and more people choose to go the way of Cain, turning away from God and insisting on living life on their own terms.  This pattern is laid out for us in the following illustration…Pattern of Generational Sinx

 

2.  Patterns of Conflict

In addition to the Patterns of Generational Sin, here in the story of Cain and Abel, Patterns of Conflict are also beginning to take shape.  These patterns, naturally arising out of the opposing natures of these two men—natures derived from the two systems of faith which they represent—will result in the division of humanity into two groups, the Righteous and the Wicked.

Just as God, on the first day of Creation, divided light from darkness and day from night, here in the lives of earth’s first siblings, we find the same kind of division taking place; a division which will continue to exist throughout the remainder of human history, and one which will provide the conflict needed to move the action of the story forward.  We will learn more about this in our upcoming Vignettes but, for the time being, this illustration will help us understand these Patterns of Conflict and their sources a little better…Patterns of Conflict

 

Revelations of God…

As for the Revelations of God in this story, we once again find Him presented as the gracious and loving God who, “…not willing that anyone should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9),” seeks out the sinner, and confronts him with his sin for the purpose of bringing him to repentance and restoration.  However, when these gracious gestures are rejected, we see God revealed as the Judge who must see to it that the righteous demands of the law are met and that any violators of that law are punished appropriately.  Even in His judgment, though, the picture painted here of God is of One who remains merciful, even to the point of protecting the life of the unrepentant offender from revenge-seekers; and, in His raising up Seth to take the place of righteous Abel, the One who remains faithful to His promise to Eve to provide her with a son through whom the Redeemer will one day come.

With humanity now divided into the two camps of the Righteous and the Wicked, and with Cain and Seth in place as their two heads, we are ready to move forward in our Story; and, to the presentation of our next Vignette, where we will learn how the actions and interactions of these two groups will result in the Judgment of the Flood.

Smiley Face with Earphones2
If we could talk to Abel today, he would probably agree with the sentiments expressed in “All My Tears,” by Selah, with Kim Hill…