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.

Jesus, Light to the Nations

As we continued our series “Power in Preparation” this past weekend at Eastbrook Church my good friend and colleague here at Eastbrook, Pastor Femi Ibitoye, explored Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness in Matthew 4:12-17. I appreciated the insights that Femi shared in this message, as well as the personal testimony he shared from his life about Jesus being the light.

You can view the message video and outline below. You can follow along with the entire series here and the devotional that accompanies the series here. You could always join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16)

Jesus, light of the world to the nations

  • Jesus is light to the gentiles
  • Jesus is the Light that overcomes the darkness (Matthew 4:16)
  • Jesus is King in this Kingdom (Isaiah 9:7)
  • All people (including the Gentiles) are invited into this Kingdom
  • All have sinned and must repent to enter it (Matthew 4:17)

What does the Light of Christ do?

  • It gives life
  • It sets people free from fear, darkness and death
  • It exposes sin and brings healing
  • It illuminates (provides wisdom and knowledge)
  • It provides direction and guidance

What should our response

  • Pray-Repent
  • Worship God- Like the Magi, 1 Peter 2:9, like Jesus mentioned in his temptation in Matthew 4:10, Deuteronomy 6:13
  • Reflect the light of Jesus. Matthew 5:16
  • Let the Word of God be a priority (Matthew 4:4, Psalm 119:105

What If God Is Leading Us Into the Wilderness?

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (Matthew 4:1)

What if God is leading us into the wilderness? As I’ve written before, the wilderness is that place of judgment, purification, and renewal with God. What purpose does God have for such a work in our lives? In Deuteronomy, Moses offers insight about it:

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. (Deuteronomy 8:3)

Moses reminds the people that the wilderness was God’s way of humbling and testing them on their way to the Promised Land, and it serves a similar purpose in God’s work with us.

The wilderness humbles us as we are brought face to face with our weakness and inadequacies. God wants us to realize our own powerlessness, so that we might turn to Him. The Apostle Paul experienced a wilderness of his own weakness revealed with a persistent thorn in his flesh. While we do not know exactly what that thorn was, the wilderness experience led Paul into an encounter with the all-sufficient grace of God. In light of God’s grace, he declared: “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). The humbling of the wilderness brings us into that true encounter with our need and God’s provision.

The wilderness also tests and reveals what is truly in our hearts. When we are brought to the end of ourselves—humbled more than ever before—what we love and who we are is brought out into the light. We cannot hide it any longer, even from ourselves. Of course, God does not need to test us to see what is in our hearts. He already knows it. But He tests us so that we, too, might honestly see who we are and what we love, and be moved toward change through that testing.

There is humbling upon humbling in the wilderness. It is not easy and we often resist it. But through the wilderness, God intends to bring us to a crossroads. At that crossroads, we grapple with many penetrating questions. Will we serve God or serve ourselves? Will we build our lives around love for God or around love for ourselves? Will we walk in obedience to God or obey other masters? Will we bow down to God or bow before other false gods? The wilderness forces us to wrestle with these questions beyond superficiality and into the deep places of our souls.

In the wilderness, we are humbled and tested. The wilderness is a great revealer in the spiritual life. When we find ourselves in the wilderness, we can be assured that God has a purpose. He takes us into the wilderness both for our good and His glory in us. May we respond to Him—and not flee from Him—when He leads us into the wilderness.

The Way of the Wilderness

As we continued our series “Power in Preparation” this past weekend at Eastbrook Church my good friend, Will Branch, explored Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness in Matthew 4:1-11. I appreciated the insights that Will shared in this message, and I hope you are encouraged by it as well.

You can view the message video and outline below. You can follow along with the entire series here and the devotional that accompanies the series here. You could always join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”
Matthew 4:1

The Wilderness: Where will my provision come from?

The Wilderness: Where will my protection come from?

The Wilderness: Where will my praise go?

The Weekend Wanderer: 31 October 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.


Abood - Asher Imtiaz“Grace Under Pressure: A photo essay” – A friend, Asher Imtiaz, has a very special photo essay in Comment that I would encourage you to take a look at. Asher writes: “I have been doing documentary photography for almost a decade now. Very early I asked myself this question: Why do I take photographs? The answer was: to honour people living under pressure. To give those who we consider as other’ a voice and a story….So when in 2016 I finally decided to start a long-term, self-assigned project to collect stories and photographs of immigrants, I wanted to produce work that is not just a report. Work that would evoke enough feeling in people to change their attitudes about immigrants. In the process, I found myself changed.”


George Yancey“I see nothing, I know nothing!!!” – George Yancey writes an extended blog post jumping off from his observations of Professor Eddie Glaude in his encounter with Rod Dreher on the Morning Joe show. As a sociologist and conservative Christian, Yancey explores how bias against conservative Christians in academia parallels other biases we have. The post is wide-ranging but looks at the interplay between our blindspots, the evidence we need of wrong in differing domains, and how that shapes who we defend and who we do not.


public engagement“The Early Church Saw Itself as a Political Body. We Can Too.” John Piper’s article that I shared last week highlighted one of the weaknesses of 20th century Christianity: we do not have a very well-considered theology of public engagement that touches on the individual and the corporate aspects of what God’s kingdom looks like. This is at least part of what I was trying to get at in the five-week series we walked through on the kingdom of God recently at Eastbrook. Tish Harrison Warren looks at the issue from a different angle in this recent essay in Christianity Today: “We have an impoverished and inadequate political theology. It took us generations to get here, and this one election, regardless of the results, will not undo that. So before we know who wins or loses, we as a church must begin to reexamine how the good news of Jesus shapes us politically.”


Nice attack“Three dead as woman beheaded in attack in French church” – France has faced shocking events in the past weeks with religious-based extremist violence. Just a couple days ago, an attack at Notre Dame church in Nice left three people dead. This followed an earlier attack just  over a week ago where a schoolteacher was killed in a suburb of Paris after exhibiting satirical cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed in a lesson on free speech.  This is part of a long conflict around a series of depictions of the Prophet Muhammed that goes back to 2005. Let’s all pray for wisdom, peace, and healing in France and for an end to acts of terror, reprisals, or mistreatment in any direction.


Wilton Gregory“Wilton Gregory: Pope Francis names first African-American cardinal” – “Pope Francis has said he will appoint 13 new Roman Catholic cardinals, among them the first African-American clergyman. The Pope announced the 13 cardinals from eight nations in a surprise address from his window overlooking St Peter’s Square in Rome on Sunday. Wilton Daniel Gregory, the progressive 72-year-old Archbishop of Washington DC, will be one of them. The cardinals will be installed in a ceremony at the Vatican on 28 November. Cardinals are the most senior clergymen in the Roman Catholic Church below the pontiff.”


The_Temptation_of_Christ_by_the_Devil-768x402“Forget the Horns. Ditch the Pitchfork. What Do We Really Know about the Devil?” – One of the questions I often receive as a pastor is from folks wanting to know about this or that term or idea in the Scripture. One of the most frequent is related to the devil or to demons. I came across this simple summary of our understanding of the devil at the Lexham Press blog and thought I’d share it for those who are interested in the biblical backgrounds related to our understanding of the devil or Satan.


Music: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, “Killing the Blues,” from Raising Sand

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]