All Out War: Investigating Spiritual Warfare, Part 4 (How Does God Deal W/ the Powers?)

How does God deal with evil powers? Let’s look at 2 biblical Images, connected to our passage in Ephesians 6, that I think will give us some insight into our questions.

1. Yahweh (God’s proper name) as the Divine Warrior

In Ephesians 6 we read about “the armor of God.”  Paul seems to have drawn from two main sources in order to create this masterful motivational speech.  First, he was in jail when he wrote this letter, so its likely that he would have seen some Roman soldiers wearing some body armor.  But more importantly, Paul draws upon passages in the Old Testament prophets like Isaiah for his armor metaphor.  When we read the bible and specifically the New Testament, there is something we have to keep in mind.

Its called: the Principle of First Mention.  Let’s think about a really easy example.  In John 1.1 it states: “In the beginning was the Word…”  “In the beginning” is a phrase that ought to make a light bulb flash in our minds.  Why?  Because, according to the Principle of First Mention, we need to ask ourselves: where else in the Bible does it say something similar? O… I know—Genesis!  So, whatever John is writing, we ought to read with the original “In the Beginning” story in mind!

In the same way, when we read this text in Ephesians, when it talks about God’s Armor; it’s pointing our attention to passages like this next one found in Isaiah 59.

15 Yes, truth is gone, and anyone who renounces evil is attacked.  The Lord looked and was displeased to find there was no justice.  16 He was amazed to see that no one intervened to help the oppressed.  So he himself stepped in to save them with his strong arm, and his justice sustained him.  17 He put on righteousness as his body armor and placed the helmet of salvation on his head.  He clothed himself with a robe of vengeance and wrapped himself in a cloak of divine passion.  Isaiah 59.15-17

This is one of several passages in Isaiah that are the source of Paul’s Armor of God metaphor.  When God sees injustice, what does he do?  He fights for justice on the behalf of those who are oppressed.  He fights for the poor, the slave, the prisoner, the victims of all evil.  We were created by a Divine Spiritual Warrior and Paul is telling us that all of God’s weapons are at our disposal!

And take note: this is not a defensive stance.  We are to pursue the work of Evil in this world, and with God’s own armor or resources; we are to undo the work of Evil.  Many often approach this passage as a “stand” in a defensive posture, but for Paul, if we are going to take up God’s resources, we must use them to pursue and undo the works of the fallen powers!  God is willing to fight for the cause of justice… the church must take up God’s spiritual armor to do the same.

Here is a huge question: Are you in a place where you can see past the frustration of your life to see a bigger picture, where many are in a more difficult situation than your own?  Our world is one in which over a billion people have no access to clean water, where every seven seconds a child dies of hunger, where a billion people live on less than a dollar a day, where one hundred million children are denied basic education, where forty percent of people in our world lack basic sanitation, and where Americans spend more annually on trash bags than nearly half of the world does on all goods.[1]

Are you ready to see beyond your frustrations (not that God wants you to be ignored) so that you can be part of a movement of global justice?  Are you ready to join up with other Christians and to take up God’s Armor to undo the work of Satan and his Demonic Powers in our world?  Does your heart break, just as God’s heart does, for those who are victims of injustice around the globe?  This leads us to our second image…

2. Christ’s death and resurrection as victorious over the powers

The primary way that the New Testament talks about the death and resurrection of Jesus has to do with his defeating the Powers of Evil and death itself.  A passage in Hebrews 2 says that the resurrection “broke the power of the devil.”  In the church we often will talk about how Jesus is victorious over the devil and all evil, but then we often just leave it there.  If this is truly the case, then why is our world so messed up?

I have to admit that this is a question that is more than relevant.  So, I want to give another thought that might help us understand how the victory of Jesus over the Powers of Evil works according the witness of the New Testament.  Christians claim this victory today, and will embody this victory tomorrow.

The Bible teaches that what Jesus did was the “first fruits” of what is to come.  The role of the Church is that we claim this victory – the victory of the resurrection of Jesus.  Because he rose from the dead, he defeated Evil once and for all.  Think of Satan and the Demonic Powers as on “death row.”  Except, they are in the middle of rioting and creating a fuss, up until their final execution.  Until the day that Jesus returns to resurrect humanity (which is what I mean by “embodying the victory tomorrow”) – to judge all Evil and to cleanse creation of all injustice – we will have to remind the Powers that they are already defeated.  Not only are they defeated already, but they were humiliated by Christ’s death and resurrection (see: Colossians 2.13-15).

In forgiving us and nailing our sins to the cross, Jesus has given us the opportunity to live in a radically different way.  Sin has lost its power over our lives!  Living in light of Christ’s victory gives us power to live above the influence of ‘evil powers.’

You don’t have to live your life under the influence of evil ever again!  Every time you choose to do the right thing, you remind the Powers of their defeat.  Every time you buy a homeless person a meal and sit with them to hear their story, you remind the Powers of their defeat.  Every time you choose not to allow the temptations in your life to dictate the way you live, you remind the Powers of their defeat. In all of these things you are reminding the Powers that Jesus Christ has defeated them once and for all.  Jesus’ victory is your victory!

[1] Rob Bell, Jesus Wants to Save Christians (Zondervan, 2008), pp. 122-123

The World is Cracked and Maybe That's Just the Way it is
Operation Screwtape: The Art of Spiritual War
God’s Middle Finger – When the Divine Says “Up Yours”
Cracks in God's Beautiful World: social justice as an act of spiritual warfare
  • Marc

    God is willing to fight for the cause of justice…

    The only evidence I can see of that is that Jesus established the Church. Dying on a cross just didn't destroy or even slow down evil and injustice. It seems to me that God's answer to the Problem of Evil is… US… and we ain't doing to hot…

    • Tasiyagnunpa

      I think that that is Kurt's point. God created us as the crown of creation…and we're to take up His Will on earth as it is in heaven. You're right…we aren't doing so hot…guess we do need a few miracles. :) Everyday miracles that get us over ourselves and able to see our neighbor…and to give us hope.

  • Chris Price

    I think you are making too many assumptions here. I see the NT as an actualization of the OT and all the work of Christ in the New has a parallel in the Old. There is, therefore, no need for a principle of first mention (which I've heard of but can't see any justification for). It does seem clear that Paul draws from Isaiah but the parallel with this passage must not be overstated. This warrior was clothed in a cloak of vengeance which we are not called to put on. Furthermore, though we are called to do the work of Jesus and share in his suffering we are not called to do battle in the same way. Because of the cross we enter into God's rest. I think Nehemiah presents us with a useful picture. The men were building the wall with a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other. When you think of Gandhi and King, they did battle with forces of evil yet never lifted a finger.

    Claiming the victory and reminding the devil that he is defeated are straight out of the Pentecostal manual. We can't really claim any victory – it's Christ's victory (though we can know it). And why remind the evil powers of their defeat – they know it better than we do. I'm not sure death row is a good example either because these powers are at large and as powerful as ever. We don't need to see Satan's power diminshed – we need to understand that with the power of the Holy Spirit we are more than equal to the task so long as we humble ourselves before God's mighty power.

    To put on the armour is to put on Christ. To put on Christ is to deny ourselves.

    1 Cor 15: 55-58 "Where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting? The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God. He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm."

    • Kurt

      Chris, it is pretty obvious that we have entirely different hermeneutical philosophies. I tend to care quite a bit about the narrative world out of which Paul wrote and Jesus spoke. They had two back-stories that we need to inform our understandings of the New Testament: 1) Jewish history, which includes the OT and an Eastern worldview, 2) The counter-narrative of the Roman Empire. To deny the principle of first mention is to lend your method to the modernistic surface level extraction/prinicplizing approach… which if this is the case, is what has led to poor theology in our churches. My guess is that you do not care much for literary criticism, rhetorical criticism, or any of the like. I follow the approach of guys like NT Wright (where I first heard the John example I briefly mention here) and Richard B Hays when it comes to biblical interpretation. I am guessing you do not 😉

      And the connection to Isaiah… it is ludicrous not to see it as significant! Why else would Paul use such imagery? The imagery is that God's resources are available to us! God fights injustice in the spiritual realm as we fight it though rolling up our sleeves and doing the hard work in the physical realm; all the while, praying against and thereby resisting the powers of evil.

      Also, you are not being fair about the "claim" statement I used. Come on… I am not a pentecostal in that sense (at all!)… for goodness sake, I am an Anabaptist which is fundamentally opposed to "name it, claim it" theology. Christ's victory is his own, but we as Christians can claim the resurrection as the victory we walk in presently through the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit and that we will embody when we ourselves are resurrected at the consummation of history! Here you are being nit-picky about semantics in quite an unfair way.

      Death row – every analogy breaks down at some point. But I even say this to clarify "Except, they are in the middle of rioting and creating a fuss, up until their final execution." In other words, they are on the prowl and powerfully so. Except they are ticked! They have been humiliated by the resurrection and are doing everything they can to screw up this world, because they know the clock is ticking.

      So Chris, I hope you have a great day bro, but I think we may have fundamental theological / exegetical differences between us. If we were using the same methods and coming out with different results, that would be one thing. But, I think that we simply see Scripture and its interpretation differently.