For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,
(2 Corinthians 10:3-5 ESV)
We usher in the kingdom by ushering people into the kingdom. And there is one special weapon in God’s armory that is specially suited for ushering people into the kingdom: the preaching of the gospel.
I. WE ARE ENGAGED IN A WAR.
The moment we receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior we become enemies of Satan. There was a time when we were enemies of God, dead in our trespasses and sins, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. We were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. Now, the situation is reversed. We have been reconciled to God and have become enemies of the evil one. In John Bunyan’s great allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress we read of the confrontation between Christian and Apollyon, where Apollyon, in response to Christian’s declaration of loyalty to his Prince, Jesus Christ, broke out into a grievous rage, saying, “I am an enemy to this Prince. I hate his person, his laws and people. I am come out on purpose to withstand thee.”
And so whether we like it or not we are engaged in a war; we are soldiers in the Lord’s army whose duty is to fight. As Paul says in 1 Tim. 6:12 “Fight the good fight of faith.” There is no escaping this war if you are a Christian. In Eph. 6:11 the Apostle Paul tells us to put on the whole armor of God, that we may able to stand against the schemes (or wiles) of the devil. In relation to this verse and going back to the battle between Christian and Apollyon in Pilgrim’s Progress it is interesting that John Bunyan depicts Christian as having armor which protected only his front but not his back! Bunyan was of course telling us here that in the Christian life there is no running away from this battle; you cannot afford to turn your back to the enemy; the best way to survive is to stand firm and fight!
My point here is we can no longer afford to be complacent. We are in a war whether we like it or not. We have to make up our minds decisively to fight with all our might. As the Apostle Peter says in I Pet. 5:8-9, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith…”
II. THIS WAR IS A SPIRITUAL WAR.
Our text says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.” In other words, this is no ordinary war. As the Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:12, “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.” When we hear the word “war” what probably comes to mind is World War 1, or World War 2, or the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, i.e., wars between earthly armies, involving bombs, guns, bullets, swords, tanks, airplanes, battleships, etc. Or maybe what comes to mind is the war against poverty, the war against ignorance, or the culture wars, or the war against corruption in government, or the war against crime. But the war the Bible speaks of here is the war against spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places. This war is much worse than any world war; it involves enemies more powerful than Presidents and Generals who possess and control nuclear weapons and hydrogen bombs. In this war bullets are of no avail, tanks are of no avail, warplanes are of no avail, bombs and missiles are of no avail.
In this war the stakes are higher. We are no longer talking here of genocide and the decimation of cities and the loss of life, limb and property; what is at stake here are the eternal destinies of multitudes of souls.
In this war human wisdom and human solutions are ultimately of no avail even if they produce much temporal good. Advances in medicine can probably cure a host of diseases and prolong human life considerably. But death will still have the final say. Wise political and economic decisions might result in economic progress and a comfortable life for many people but in the end, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” Free and solid education might lead to a more intelligent citizenry but that is no guarantee that it will be a righteous citizenry as well.
We might as well pause at this point and consider precisely what it is we are up against. And the biblical answer to that is we are up against the devil and his cohorts. We are up against a spiritual, intelligent, powerful and wicked personality who is described in the Scriptures as the prince of the power of the air, the god of this world, the serpent, the dragon, and the father of lies. As believers in the Scriptures, we might as well boldly declare that we are up against a spiritual enemy, not impersonal but personal, a fallen angel, a murderer from the very beginning, a deceiver, a destroyer, a thief, a roaring lion, the accuser of the brethren, the evil one, the devil, the adversary, Satan himself. He is evil, he is wily, he is scheming. Against this kind of enemy carnal weapons are of no avail, only spiritual weapons will do.
We must also ask How does this enemy wage war? When we think of the devil and his minions and their works it is understandable that what comes to mind is demonic possession or even demonic involvement in sickness and natural phenomena and even human action. There is no denying that the Bible does speak of this kind of demonic attacks or activity. In the gospels we read of such things as a person being possessed by a deaf and dumb spirit. In the book of Job we read of Satan’s role in the calamities which befell Job. It seems Satan was granted control over human beings, the Sabeans and Chaldeans, who robbed Job’s properties and killed his servants. It seems he had control as well over the fire from heaven which consumed Job’s sheep and servants, and the wind which struck the house Job’s children were feasting in, causing it to collapse, thus killing Job’s children. And in Job ch. 2 verse 7 we read that Satan struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.
However, it is interesting that the warfare our text focuses on involves the destroying of arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and the taking captive of every thought to obey Christ. In other words, the battle here is not about bodies possessed by unclean spirits, or diseases inflicted by demon spirits; the battle here is for the minds and hearts of people. What is in view here is Satan’s role as a deceiver of minds and a blinder of hearts. By manifold ways and means, by various wiles and schemes, he has caused people to believe his lies rather than the truth of God.
The classic example of this is the case of Eve in Genesis ch. 3 where we read of Satan in the form of the crafty serpent first casting doubts in Eve’s mind as to the truthfulness of God’s Word: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” Note here that Satan was actually twisting what God actually said. Then later on he proceeded to flatly contradict what God said, “You will not surely die,” even though God had said, “In the day you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Not without reason is the devil called the deceiver of the whole world in Rev. 12:9. And in 2 Cor. 4: 4 he is depicted as the god of this world who has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
I have been a longtime coming to the crux of the message, which is: The spiritual war which we are primarily called to wage in a spiritual manner with spiritual weapons is a war for the minds and hearts of people. It is actually a battle for truth. The war which our text is concerned with is not so much about exorcising unclean spirits from demon-possessed bodies, but about countering and overcoming the false arguments, the lies, and mistaken opinions that Satan has injected into the minds of men and women, which prevent them from understanding the gospel so that they may be saved. The war we are called to wage involves removing the blindness which keeps unbelievers from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.
III. THE WEAPONS OF OUR WARFARE ARE NOT CARNAL BUT POWERFUL.
Which leads us now to the question, what is that weapon among the weapons in God’s armory, which has divine power to overcome the darkness in people’s minds, which is able to liberate their hearts and minds from Satan’s lies, and deliver their souls from the domain of darkness and usher them into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son?
The obvious answer to that is the gospel. As the Apostle Paul says in Rom. 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”
What is the gospel?
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
(1 Corinthians 15:1-5 ESV)
What has the gospel – the fact that Christ died for our sins – got to do with spiritual warfare?
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
(Colossians 2:13-15 ESV)
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
(Colossians 1:13-14 ESV)
By means of the preaching of the gospel, the captives who put their faith in Jesus Christ are reclaimed from the grasp of Satan and ushered into God’s kingdom. By means of the preaching of the gospel those who are spiritually blind are made to see. The crucified Christ whom we preach took away from the devil and his cohorts the weapons of guilt and fear and discouragement and condemnation. These have no power over us anymore because by faith in the gospel we have received forgiveness, hope, freedom, reconciliation and eternal life.
In summary, we are engaged in spiritual warfare for the souls of men and women. This warfare is primarily a battle for their minds and hearts. We need to overcome the darkness that is in them, the lies and deceptions that Satan has injected into them and which keep them bound to him. And the weapon that God has given us especially for this purpose is the preaching of the gospel. It is by faith in the gospel that people are saved. But how shall they believe if they do not hear? And how shall they hear unless someone preaches to them?
I conclude by pleading for a recovery of our confidence in the power of the gospel, or to be more specific, we must recover our confidence in the preaching of the gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation. We must resist the temptation to resort to carnal weapons. We must not be ashamed of this weapon known as the gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation. By means of the preaching of the gospel we overcome the ungodly wisdom of this world and usher people into the kingdom, and by ushering people into the kingdom we usher the kingdom into this world.
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
(1 Corinthians 1:20-25 ESV)