Sermon #1: The reality of our warfare:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Today we are going to start a three or four week mini-series on spiritual warfare. We are near to the end of the book of Ephesians and Paul brings his revelation of the church to a conclusion by encouraging us to be strong and fight in this battle, this spiritual warfare. Why am I slowing down now – we’ve been whipping through Bible books in these Rooted series and have gone very quickly over other things, why slow down now?
Slide #1: A tri-une model of ministry
The goal of our instruction is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
Many of you have seen this before, it was the first message I preached in the church, its been something I’ve been developing and meditating on for over a decade. I keep on adding to it as I study the scripture, as I learn about church history and as I meditate on God’s work in my life and the lives of others. We are the sincere faith Jesus people. Sometimes we have bleed over into the good conscience practical side of the faith. Most of us, however, are not as well-versed in the things of Holy Spirit, in the present-tense aspect of the faith, and so we are not equipped to fight this spiritual war, and as such remain in bondage to sin and trembling before spiritual forces because we don’t know how to deal with the spiritual. That’s why we’re going to camp here a little bit more.
It’s also very important to camp here a bit because God wants us mature and free, yet for most of the “Rooted” series we have focused on developing spiritual and Biblical maturity. Yet some of us are not able to grow in maturity, because we are not free. In Galatians 5:1, Paul writes, “Is was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” This verse not only assures us that God wants us to be free, but also warns us that we can lose our freedom.
Before we received Christ, we were slaves to sin. But because of Christ’s work on the cross, sin’s power over us has been broken. Satan has no right of ownership over us. He is a defeated foe, but he is committed to keeping us from realizing that . . . As long as he can confuse you and blind you with his dark lies, you won’t be able to see the chains that once bound you are broken. You are free in Christ, but if the devil can deceive you into believing you’re not, you wont experience that freedom as your inheritance . . . Once a person is free, you would be amazed at how quickly he or she matures (Anderson, 12).
Some of us have reached a plateau in our relationship with God and cannot progress further in maturity until we spiritually deal with, fight and put to death the influence of Satan in our lives.
The Reality of Our Warfare
I understand that for at least half of us in this room, the first thing I need to convince you of is the reality of our spiritual warfare. In a sense this is Paul’s main concern in introducing the concept of spiritual warfare to the Ephesians in chapter 6 when he counsels us to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might and put on the full amour of God to stand against the devil, for – and here is his explanation – for we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Be strong, for, or because, you in fact are engaged in a spiritual wrestling match against the forces of darkness. You must be strong in the Lord, for this is the reality of your situation. This is not a choice for the Christian – you can’t opt out of this struggle, there is no dodging this draft. If you have come to Jesus Christ and received the benefits of his kingdom - his love, his grace, his forgiveness, his guidance, his Spirit – if you truly are a citizen of his kingdom, then you must know that you have become a citizen of a kingdom that is presently engaged in an all out war, and in becoming a citizen of that kingdom you have been enlisted in that battle. Our Father God foretold of the war when he told our adversary the devil in the garden, who had won the first battle when he lured Adam and Eve into sin, that the enmity, the warfare would continue throughout history until a descendant of Eve would come and after suffering injury in the battle, would ultimately prevail and crush Satan’s head. Jesus, the chosen descendant of Eve, God’s own Son come in flesh declared to us, his people that after he ascended into heaven we would continue to be involved in this warfare. In Matthew 18 he declares to his disciples, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” This was a declaration of war that Jesus would wage through his body, the Church against the powers of hell. Only after Jesus returns will this war ultimately come to an end. Chapter 19 pictures Jesus on a white horse coming with the armies of heaven and overcoming the evil one once and for all. This warfare is real and it is no minor theme of the Bible – it is a mega-theme, part of the story of redemption from Genesis to Revelation. You’d have to be blind not to see it.
The problem is, many of us are blind, because Satan has used aspects of our culture to blind our eyes to the reality that we are at war, so that even when we come to passages of scripture that plainly instruct us in the nature of our warfare, we kind of chuckle to ourselves and say, isn’t that cute, our pastor still believes in demons, just like we do when we see an eight-year-old child still believing in Santa Claus. The most devious scheme Satan ever devised was to get us to in our minds put him on the level of Fairy Tales and Santa Clause. If we don’t really think he’s there or he’s powerful, then there is no need to train ourselves to resist him.
We have been blinded by our culture.
In 1982, Dr. Paul Hiebert published a very influential article in the Journal “Missiology” called “The Flaw of the Excluded Middle”. Dr. Hiebert had been a missionary in India for many years, teaching in a Bible School. Yet an encounter with some of the local people made him question some of the basic assumptions he held as part of his worldview. Being a sociologist by training, Hiebert constructed an analytical framework to analyze religious worldviews. In short, Heibert found that most traditional cutures around the world view reality as three levels. At the first level, is the level of the natural world. All cultures, Hiebert found seek to understand reality at this level. They develop theories about the natural world around them – about how to build a house, or raise a child, or cook a meal. Western science is not unique – just more systematic at its approach to this level. At the second level are forces that cannot directly be perceived but are thought to exist on this earth. “These include spirits, ghosts, ancestors, demons, and earthly gods and goddesses who live in trees, rivers, hills and villages. These live not in some other world or time, but are inhabitants with humans and animals of this world and time. In medieval Europe these included trolls, pixies, gnomes, brownies and fairies who were believed to be real. This level also includes supernatural forces such as mana, planetary influences, evil eyes, and the powers of magic, sorcery and witchcraft.” The third level consists of the transcendent worlds beyond this one - eternity, God, hells and heavens, various African High Gods, the High concepts of Buddhism or Hinduism. Hiebert found examples of these three levels of reality in every culture he studied, except one, the Western worldview. Since the 17th and 18th century, Western culture has shifted toward a two-tiered world-view – hence the concept “excluded middle.” “The result, Heibert summarizes, “was the secularization of science and the mystification of religion.” The practical outworking of this worldview is that most of us live nearly all our lives on the first level, and then only flip into the third level when you’re at church or doing your devos, or something spiritual. Here’s a question. When you have a headache, what’s the first thing you do? Do you pray to God to heal you? Do you wonder whether you’re being attacked by spiritual forces? Or do you take an aspirin? Before you go on a trip, do you check your oil? Pray for God to watch over you? Or pray for angelic protection and protection against spiritual forces? When you’re witnessing, do you rationally present the gospel in a way that appeals to their reason? Do you pray that God would mystically draw them to himself through he Spirit? Or do you take authority over the lies of the enemy demonstrate the spiritual power of the gospel to them? Most of us who have grown up or been educated in the West, in most situations are very secular. This is why when we read the gospels or Acts, there world seems so strange to us. The reality is, set against the rest of history and against nearly every other culture on this planet today, we are the weird ones. I say some of us are blinded because there are others in this church, who understand the other worldview. Some people have told me that they were actually offered to demons as children. Others have shared how their relatives regularly consult diviners or mediums. Also, Western culture itself has changed. We have seen too much that science alone can’t explain, and their has been an explosion over the past twenty years in new spiritualities, the occult, and Eastern religions. The problem is that the Western church, which has done much of the theologizing for the rest of the world has done much of it out of the worldview of the excluded middle and as such we haven’t trained ourselves as to how to stand against the devil and his schemes. As Leslie Newbigin pointed out, Western Christian missions have been one of the greatest secularizing forces in history. So you have Christians all over the world, and I would say even in our Western Churches, that believe in Jesus as there Lord and savior, but when they are in trouble or need day-to-day guidance, they consult shamans and shrines, horoscopes and Oprah.
We have been blinded by our comforts.
The other device Satan has used to blind us to the reality of our warfare is comfort. 2 Samuel 11: in the time of year when kings go off to war, David stayed home. (2) It happened late one afternoon when David arose from his couch and was walking on his roof.” Satan does everything he can to make us forget about the battle we are in.