Chapter 14 – Warfare is our Nature

The Bible uses the title “Lord of hosts” (which means “Lord of armies”) to describe God more than any other title. Similarly, Psalms and Proverbs frequently describe Him using military language. For example, He is called a fortress, a bulwark, our defense, the One who encamps around us, and the One defeats our enemies. Obviously, warfare is one of the most important aspects of God’s nature.


Since we bear God’s image, warfare is also one of the most important aspects of our identities. A warrior-like approach to the enemy is integral to life as a Christian. It is impossible to significantly advance God’s kingdom without simultaneously displacing Satan’s kingdom, which he always resists. This is why Jesus gave the disciples authority over the enemy (Luke 10:19) and why Paul taught the Ephesians to use the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-17).


We are at war against myriads of incredibly wicked, invisible beings all around us. They have influence in our governments, media, economy, corporations, and every other high place in our society (ex. 1 John 5:19). But their most coveted target is the family, which is the foundation of civilization. The battle is unavoidable. The consequences are real. The casualties are eternal. Pursuing a life of active prayer, faith, and obedience is nothing if not warrior-like. 


I had a conversation with a church leader who basically refused to acknowledge the relevance of spiritual warfare in his life. He said his own flesh provided enough struggle and he did not need additional help from the enemy. His statement revealed a dangerous blind spot. It does not matter whether he needs more help from the enemy – he has it – a lot of it. The very fact that he considered spiritual warfare irrelevant indicated that, at least in one area, the enemy was already winning the battle.


The Battleground of Marriage

After our relationship with the Lord, our marriage is the enemy’s primary target. This is because our marriage is meant to be our greatest source of grace and blessing. Satan knows that destroying our marriage will minimize the fruitfulness of our lives.


Evil spirits are careful, deliberate planners, which is why Paul exhorted the Corinthians not be ignorant of their schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11). Evil spirits also orchestrate setups. David portrayed them as strategically laying down traps and snares (Psalms 124:7, 142:3). Evil spirits learn our weaknesses, wounds, and vulnerabilities. They know what to suggest at the right time to incite fear, pain, or rage against our spouse. They know what thoughts to plant in our minds to cultivate bitterness or mistrust. Jesus told the disciples to be “shrewd as serpents” (Matthew 10:16), which means to understand how the enemy thinks and strategizes. 


Part of our maturing process is that God gradually pulls His hand of protection back to allow the enemy to test us. A good parent shelters a child from evil influences while he is young, but gradually allows a measure of exposure as he matures. Then, when he becomes an adult, he will not be godly only because he was never exposed to any other alternative, but because he is aware of the nature of sin and has grown to hate sin and love righteousness. God does likewise.


We see this in scripture. Jesus was led into the wilderness to be “tempted by Satan for 40 days”. A “messenger of Satan” tormented Paul for a time and God refused to take it away. God set a table before David “in the presence of his enemies”. Ephesians 6:16 implies every believer can expect to be attacked with “flaming arrows of the evil one”. God allowed Satan to tempt Adam and Eve in the garden. God withdrew His presence from King Hezekiah and left him vulnerable to attack in 2 Chronicles 32:31. God permitted Satan to afflict Job.


God sometimes does the same thing in our marriage. He allows us to be tested and attacked, to an extent, so we learn to choose righteousness and our marriage grows stronger. During one season of my marriage, the devil suggested a lie to me that I struggled against every single day. Finally, I asked the Lord how long He would allow the enemy to continue doing this. I felt as though He replied simply, “For as long as it works.” In other words, He wasn’t going to make it stop. Instead, He wanted me to mature to the point where the lie no longer had any power over me.


Warfare Scenarios

There are countless types of spiritual attacks we can encounter in our marriage. Spiritual attacks are not formulaic. They can feel heavy and oppressive, or they can feel exhilarating and enlightening. They can also feel like nothing at all, but only affect our intellectual thought patterns.


They can be overt and obvious or they can be subtle and difficult to discern. They can incite depression, shame, fear of the future, or questioning the goodness of God’s character. They can evoke spiritual pride, criticism of others, lust, or envy. Sometimes we are completely blind to an area where the enemy is manipulating us. However, God often gives our spouse discernment in areas where we are blind. Our spouse, if we are willing, may be the instrument God uses to deliver us and help us walk in freedom.


Spiritual attacks can be dealt with in different ways. In some cases, a single, direct rebuke using the name and authority of Jesus will cause the enemy to flee. Paul did this in Acts 16:18 and Jesus did it in Mark 1:25, 9:25 and Luke 4:35, 9:42. In these instances the evil spirits were manifesting overtly and visibly. However, the same principle can also apply when their presence is much more subtle.  


In other cases, an attack is being allowed by God to refine us. It doesn’t help to rebuke the enemy because God is allowing him to remain. We can ask God to remove him, which He may or may not do, but one thing we should also ask for is grace to persevere for as long as the attack persists.


In other cases, the enemy has a right to continue attacking us because we are living in agreement with him. Somewhere in our lives there is an open door that we may or may not be consciously aware of. If we are unsure what the door is, we can ask the Lord and He will reveal it to us. Then we can close it through repentance.


When Peter declared that he would never fall away even if all the other disciples did (Matthew 26:33), there was pride and self-reliance in his heart, which Satan had a right exploit. This is why Satan “demanded permission” to sift him like wheat (Luke 22:31), which resulted in Peter soon denying that he even knew Jesus. Peter was initially overcome by shame. He may have even contemplated walking away from his calling (John 21:1-3). However, Jesus knew Peter’s heart. He knew that Peter would eventually repent and close the door through which the enemy entered his life, which is why Jesus preemptively said to him in Luke 22:32, “…I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”


In the case of some attacks, we are simply invading the enemy’s territory and he inevitably defends and counterattacks. Anyone who consistently helps to lead others out of bondage will encounter opposition. Anyone who walks in his calling and anointing will necessarily spend a significant amount of time in the enemy’s presence, which is why David said in Psalm 23:5:


“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil, My cup overflows.”


One way of combatting lies from the enemy is to “go in the opposite spirit”, which means to believe and act as though the opposite of what the enemy is suggesting is true. If the enemy is saying God has abandoned us, we should immediately begin thanking Him for His faithfulness. If the enemy plants thoughts of criticism or envy toward others, we should thank God for them and pray for Him to bless them.


Because the enemy opposes what God is doing, sometimes his attacks can actually help to illuminate God’s activity. For example, if the enemy is working hard to get us to hurriedly change our situation on our own initiative, even though we know God put us there, it probably means God wants us to be patient and persevere. By contrast, if the enemy is working especially hard to get us to believe a certain situation will never change, it may mean that God is planning to bring change.


Sometimes the situations in our lives can be complicated and it is unclear how the enemy is involved or how to war against him. However, God can reveal these things to us if we seek Him. The Bible promises in James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” 2 Corinthians 2:14 also promises that if we allow God to lead us, He “…always leads us in triumph in Christ.”

A Testimony

Once when Jenny and I were engaged, I was driving to her house to pick her up for a date. I felt happy and excited to spend time with her. Suddenly I remembered four or five ministry-related phone calls I wanted to make. Some were to make plans for a youth group I was co-leading; others were to encourage friends who were struggling with difficult trials. I began to feel anxious, knowing I wouldn’t be able to complete them all before I arrived. However, I was determined to do as much as I could.


I started to make the first call… then stopped. I realized that in 30 seconds I went from being excited to see my fiancé to feeling anxious about not having enough time to complete these ministry tasks. I put the phone down and decided the calls could wait. I went back to my previous happiness and excitement. This decision didn’t strike me as significant at the time. However, I think it was very significant to God and He wanted me to know it.


Later that day, for some reason, I could not stop thinking about my choice to temporarily set aside those phone calls. I couldn’t shake the feeling there was something significant the Lord wanted to show me about it. I decided to ask Him. Here is how I would verbalize what I felt Him lay on my heart:


“When you rejected the enemy’s suggestion in the car to make your phone calls, you said no to one of his main strategies against your relationship with Jenny.” 


As I thought about this and continued praying, I realized the enemy had been doing this for months. He was trying to hinder the oneness God wanted to build in our relationship by pressuring me to over-prioritize various ministry-related tasks and distracting me from my future wife.



In the next chapter we will examine a marriage about which there is written more in scripture than any other. They are both known for being heroes in the faith, but they experienced some gut-wrenching failures along the way.