Is Spiritual Conflict Real?: guidance from the Apostle Paul

This past weekend at Eastbrook I preached from Matthew 12:22-37, where Jesus is accused of exorcising demons by the power of Satan. You can watch or listen to my message, “The Messiah and Satan,” but the entire episode raises an important question: is spiritual conflict, or spiritual warfare, real?

The Apostle Paul addresses that pretty directly in the last chapter of the book of Ephesians, where he closes out the letter by writing these words:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”(Ephesians 6:10-12)

Paul’s final word to the believers here is that there is a spiritual conflict, and the struggle is real.

So, do I believe in real spiritual forces that stand against God and His people? Absolutely, yes. The Scripture is replete with that idea, from Jesus’ encounters with demons to hints of demonic forces in the book of Daniel and Revelation.

Because of that, we must arm ourselves appropriately for such a struggle by relying upon the strength of the Lord and not our own strength. We all know that our human strength is limited, but that God’s strength is unlimited.

As it says in Psalm 73:26, “My strength and my heart may fail but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forevermore.” Or as it says in Isaiah 40: “Even youths grow tired and weary, and the young stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.”

If we want victory, we must rely on God’s strength.

Paul says that we do this by arming ourselves appropriately in what he terms “the armor of God.” Notice that this armor is made by God and has its source in God. The goal of relying on God’s power and arming ourselves with His armor is so that we can “take our stand.” This tells us something important here: the armor and our role in the conflict is primarily defensive. Paul helps us understand how to defend ourselves against the onslaught of the devil and his forces.

What are those forces? Well, Paul lists out several aspects of them:

  1. they are not flesh and blood
  2. they are rulers and authorities
  3. they are the powers of this dark world
  4. they are spiritual forces in the heavenly places

We are not talking about people here, but about forces running higher and deeper than mere human force. Certainly, we are talking about the devil and spiritual forces. Jesus faced them and the early apostles faced them and we too will we face such demonic powers.

The words of 1 Peter 5:8-9 are still true for us: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”

Returning to Ephesians 6, we must also remember that along with the purely spiritual forces against us, Paul also speaks to the reality of other powers at play in the world.

There are kings and rulers of the world, there are social-cultural dynamics, there are hidden powers of sin and injustice that seem to have super-human power within societies and the world. The Ephesians believers lived in a context dominated by worldly living, idolatrous religion, and perverse customs and practices.[1] These, too, Paul says will often stand against us as believers. They are impersonal but often used by personal beings, whether human or demonic, to oppose God’s people.

Sometimes this evil is readily apparent, but at other times “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). This requires even more vigilance. Therefore, the attack comes in ways that might be appealing or enticing or just plain nice to be around. Yet, as Eugene Peterson writes, “Paul is calling us to be alert to the evil that, in fact, looks like the good.”[2]

“Believers,” Paul says, “this struggle is real. See it. Name it. Prepare yourself for it. And stand in the face of it.”


[1] John Henry Jowett, The Whole Armour of God (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1916), 13-15.

[2] Eugene H. Peterson, Practice Resurrection:  A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 257.

The Messiah and Satan

This past weekend at Eastbrook, I continued our series entitled “The Messiah’s Mission,” by looking at Matthew 12:22-37. Here, Jesus is accused of casting out demons by the power of Satan, but offers a stern rebuke of this and some words about what has come to be known as the unforgivable sin. I explored what that unforgivable sin really is, and also the significance of our words in showing forth who we really are.

You can find the message video and outline below. You can also view the entire series here, as well as the devotional that accompanies the series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.” (Matthew 12:25)

Jesus’ Power Over Demons

The reality of demonic powers and Satan’s kingdom

  • the effects upon this man (12:22)
  • the reality of Satan’s kingdom (12:26)

The work of Jesus in relation to these powers

  • healing (12:22)
  • driving out demons (12:27)
  • kingdom of God breaking in (12:28)
  • tying up the strong man and restoring house (12:29)

Jesus’ Power and the Unforgiveable Sin

  • Jesus delivers by the power of God’s Spirit (12:28)
  • Jesus’ deliverance divides humanity (12:30)
  • Jesus’ work and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (12:31-32)

Jesus and the Significance of Words

  • Our words come from within (12:33-35)
  • Our words reflect who we are (12:35)
  • Our words define whose we are (12:36-37)

Making It Real

  1. Acknowledge Jesus as Lord over all, including demonic powers.
  2. Trust in the victory of Jesus and the Cross.
  3. Be aware of and beware the power of our words.

Dig Deeper:

This week dig deeper into Jesus’ power and authority over all things, including the spiritual, in one or more of the following ways:

Beating Off the Demons

genesis-15.jpg

In Genesis 15, Abraham has a monumental experience with the Living God. In order to reaffirm the covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 12, God asks Abraham to offer a sacrifice before Him. Abraham prepares the sacrifices, cutting them in half and spreading them out on the open fields of Canaan before the Lord.

All through the day, as Abraham waits to meet with God before the sacrifice, birds of prey come down to nibble and steal the sacrifice that Abraham has prepared before God. Jewish commentators and many of the early church fathers saw the correspondence between these birds and the demonic powers of Satan coming against Abraham. They described it as a picture of a holy life attacked in the midst of the world.

This helps me. Many times in my life, troubles rise up and I feel the tearing bites of the demons gathering around my life. In Romans 12, Paul describes the life of the Christian as a living sacrifice before God. We, too, cut open by the Word of God, offer our lives to the Lord, spreading them out on the promises of God’s truth, waiting to meet with God. Part of our task is to simply beat off the demons who come to attack us, confound us, and ultimately destroy us.

As the night descends, Abraham meets with God in perhaps one of the most bizarre theophanies in all Scripture. Floating between the bisected sacrifice, God appears as a smoking fire pot and a glowing torch before Abraham. God passes in the midst of the sacrifice to convey His glorious presence and His profound commitment to Abraham, taking upon Himself all the obligations of the covenant which Abraham could not fulfill himself.

This reminds us of the grace and power of God on our behalf. In Christ, God takes upon Himself the responsibilities of the covenant, showering us with the gifts of reconciliation and justification. In Christ, God has triumphed over the principalities and powers at the Cross, extending His victory to us. We, for our part, respond to the prevenient grace and victorious power of God with faith. In part, that includes us beating off the demons who strive to defile the responsive sacrifice of our lives. In this context, Paul’s words in Ephesians 6 about the nature of our conflict and the calling to stand make even more sense. So, too, do Peter’s words in chapter five of his first epistle about being sober and alert as the devil prowls around us.

As with Abraham, may God’s grace and power strengthen us daily to beat off the demons that strive to defile the living sacrifice of our lives that we bring to Him.

A Crash Course in Spiritual Conflict (Ephesians 6:10-24)

Ephesians

This past weekend at Eastbrook, I concluded our series “Ephesians: A Crash Course in Basic Christianity.” I explored Ephesians 6:10-24 through the message: “A Crash Course in Spiritual Conflict.” This is the well-known “armor of God” passage, with a lot of attention to the principalities and powers that we as Christians face in our earthly sojourn.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities for involvement.

Read More »