Jesus doesn't talk about 'spiritual warfare' at length, He primarily teaches about the relational, moral and economic nature of discipleship. I believe that in itself says much about the nature of spiritual reality. Indeed, although we see Jesus casting out demons, those actions tend to be witnessed within the larger context of his 'signs and wonders' ministry of the Kingdom (Mark 1:34-39, 6:13, et al). Going a step further, the Gospels of Mark and Luke have the majority of references to demons and the 'casting out' of demons, and those references tend to cast spiritual warfare as a normal part of the life of the disciple in the world. Truly part of every disciple's commission is to exercise God's power over the demonic in the name of Jesus (see the 'Sending of the Seventy' in Mark 6:13 and Luke 10:17). The contested ending of Mark even states that the 'casting out of demons' will be part of the signs that accompany the one who believes in Jesus name. Yet Jesus does not give any direct instructions as to the methodology of 'casting out demons' as it were. The narratives suggest that Jesus naturally comes into contacts with the demonic when He is in there presence. At that point, Jesus confronts them and tells them to leave. In the late addition to Matthew - 17:21 - Jesus tells the disciples that there is a certain type of demon that does not come out except through 'fasting and prayer' although a few verses earlier, in Matthew 17:18, Jesus 'rebuked the demon and he came out and the boy was cured at once.' My question is two-fold: On one hand, is Jesus saying that there is a demon that is of such strength that one must prepare 'more' to confront it, or is He saying the depth of the disciple's life must include regular fasting and prayer - as Jesus would seem to have pursued - in order to engage in spiritual warfare. In other words, the spiritual life and spiritual warfare demand a devoted spiritual regimen or you simply aren't prepared to address absolute evil? This is an interesting question. Spiritual warfare must not be engaged flippantly! So what is the nature of spiritual warfare?
1. Spiritual conflict between God and evil is normative for the disciple. It is a part of the fabric of reality in a fallen world.
2. Evil exists along side good and is personified in the demonic. Demons are personal and have an agenda - to interfere with the expansion of God's Kingdom and to hold captive humankind. Jesus says that the "thief has come to steal, kill and destroy, but that He has come to give life and that more abundantly!" (John 10:10)
3. God has absolute power over creation, including evil and the demonic.
4. Jesus, as God, has given human believers - better, disciples - power, in the Holy Spirit, to confront and defeat evil in the demonic, in His name.
5. Disciples of Jesus, must be actively pursuing spiritual discipline to be prepared for this confrontation.
a. They must understand the reality in which they live - spiritual and physical
b. They must understand that there is nothing in their own flesh or spirit that can withstand evil.
c. They must understand that it is the power that indwells the believer - the Holy Spirit - which roots out evil and defeats the enemy, when called upon in the name of Jesus.
d. They must understand that if they seek to follow Jesus in this world, spiritual warfare is a constant reality, and that vigilant preparation is necessary. The disciple must have a rigorous life of prayer and fasting, worship and study as they seek to embody the love and virtue of God, as well as confront the powers in this world.
6. Disciples of Jesus must be unafraid to engage in this battle. By dismissing or not engaging, the battle is lost.
7. Disciples must never forget: It's Jesus. But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk! Peter finally got it. To defeat the enemy, it's not about what we possess, but who possesses us. All Peter had was Jesus, and it was Jesus who worked through Peter in the power of the Spirit.
For next time: The Toll of Spiritual Warfare