Tag Archives: Spiritual Warfare

Deliver us from the Evil One

 

In so called reformed circles, it is sometimes common to hear of spiritual warfare that downplays any opposition to the devil or his minions.  Typically, this type of spiritual warfare focuses on the enemy within, namely sin, and poo-poo’s any battle with the evil one, because it is generally assumed that he has bigger and better things to do than cause your car not to start or give you a cold.  I say this last statement a bit tongue-in-cheek because there is another approach to spiritual warfare, that typical of the charismatics, that blames everything on the devil, from a flat tire to spilling your coffee on the way to work.

So what is the biblical approach to this?  Does the devil come against us either personally or by way of a second-tier demon, as in say The Screwtape Letters?  Or is there little to no evil activity by way of the evil one that is directed our way?

The first passage we will look at is a familiar one, though the proper translation is not as familiar, at least not familiar to most of us who memorized the KJV.

Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Matthew 6:9-13 ESV

The ESV, cited above, is in line with the King James Version on the translation of this passage, particularly verse 13 and the phrase, “deliver us from evil.”  Interpreted in this way, it would seem that our prayer should be for deliverance from general evil, which may come in many shapes, sizes, and forms.

However, this is not the best translation.

The NKJV gets this phrase right when it translates, “But deliver us from the evil one.”  How can we conclude that this is more accurate?  The Greek word for evil here is the word ponerou and it is an adjective.  Translating this word would leave us with the English equivalent for evil, however, as we can see in the ESV translation, it is functioning as a noun (technically a direct object).  How can an adjective function as a noun in the sentence?  Because it is functioning as a substantival adjective, meaning it acts as a noun in the original Greek grammar.  So wouldn’t this simply mean that the ESV translation is correct and our prayers should be to keep us from evil (note that the ESV recognizes the possibility of “evil one” in its footnote)?

Not necessarily, because not only is this word functioning as a noun, but it has a modifying article tou which when put together in its context would be more accurately translated, “the evil one” (tou ponerou).

This isn’t simply an academic exercise throwing around Greek words and phrases to impress or confuse, but has profound application in our prayer life and the direction toward which we should approach spiritual warfare.  It gives us a crystal clear statement that the devil, whether by secondary means or not, is in opposition to believers and that God is willing and able to protect us from the evil one (Luke 22:31-32).

Though outside of Matthew’s usage, similarly, this exact phrase is translated as I’ve just described in 1 Thess. 3:3

“But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.” ESV

Here the ESV has chosen to translate the phrase “the evil one” while again offering a footnote for an alternative, this time for “evil”.  In this context, the Apostle Paul is concluding his second epistle to the Church at Thessalonica, by contrasting the faithless with the faithful Lord and stating His willingness and ability to guard them from the evil one, seemingly a related restatement of the passage from our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount cited above.

Additionally, John 17:15, in the midst of Christ’s High Priestly prayer we read

“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” ESV

Again the translation choice of the ESV is towards a specific “evil one” and not a general concept of evil.  Context again shows a petition made that God would keep His saints from the evil one, and He will.

Summarizing this brief survey we may conclude several points:

  1. Satan is active in opposition towards believers.
  2. God is sovereign over Satan.
  3. Believers are to pray for God’s protection from the evil one.
  4. Christ intercedes on behalf of the saints for protection against the evil one.
  5. God is ready, able, and willing to protect them from the evil one. And He does.

Of particular interest is that in these passages we do not see any command or instructions on engaging in personal combat with Satan, as some charismatics would have us to believe.  Likewise, we see nothing of the diminishing attention that Satan gets in some reformed circles.  Perhaps in a future post, we’ll look at several passages that give us more insight into the operations of the devil in the lives of the believer and how we are exhorted to resist him, which is rooted and grounded in our Lord’s resistance of Satan 3 times in Matthew 4 and His subsequent death and resurrection (1 John 3:8).

 

See also: Ephesians 6:11, James 4:7, 1 John 2:13, Luke 22:31

For more on this translation discussion see Daniel Wallace Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, pg. 233.

 

 

Taking Every Thought Captive

 

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ 2 Corinthians 10:5

In the realm of spiritual warfare, one of the chief strategies deployed in the fight has been developed from a phrase found in the passage cited above, “take every thought captive to obey Christ.”  Typically, this wartime strategy, around which several popular “Christian” books have been written, is viewed as a command to control the thoughts of the mind and should one get out of line, we are to capture it immediately and bring it into conformity to all that our Lord commands.  While this is likely an appropriate way to avoid thinking unholy thoughts, by “capturing” them, literally forcing them out of your mind by meditating on Scripture or the attributes of God as He has revealed, this is not an accurate interpretation of the passage.

Note again the larger context of the Apostle’s argument, 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, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.”

We may observe that the context for this statement is indeed spiritual warfare, “we are not waging war according to the flesh.”  However the opponent that Paul identifies is not one’s own thoughts, but the thoughts of others.  He is not describing a personal strategy in which he takes his own thoughts captive, instead he is describing the warfare that takes place between himself (and likely other Apostles) and those who raise “arguments and every lofty opinion…against the knowledge of God.”  It is those contrary thoughts of others that the Apostle identifies as the target of captivity.

Turning again to our own internal battle of spiritual warfare in the mind, is this a passage that we can employ to exhort us into taking rogue, sinful thoughts captive?  Yes and no.  We’ve seen how the context dictates that the warfare the Apostle has in mind is with those who raise thoughts contrary to the knowledge of God.  However, we may well find ourselves in the cross-hairs of the Apostle should our own thoughts be contrary to the knowledge of God.  Some examples of these thoughts would be:

  • Doubt
  • Worry
  • Anxiety
  • Lust
  • Pride
  • The desire for control
  • Anger
  • Revenge

All these and more are contrary to the knowledge of God, or better, contrary to what we know about God as He has revealed concerning Himself through His Holy Word.  Therefore we may say that the exhortation derived from this passage to take every thought captive is not an immediate rallying call for spiritual warfare of the mind.  However, we must set our minds on things above, as we read in Colossians 3:2 and elsewhere.  Should we find ourselves given to rebellious, sinful thoughts, this passage from 2 Corinthians puts us in the cross-hairs of God’s Word that, like a two-edged sword divides and discerns our thoughts laying them open and bare before the Almighty.

The List: A Wartime Ambush

Last week we looked at the importance of declaring war against our own sinful flesh and we uncovered and examined some truths about the nature of this war.  In brief summary, we outlined 3 key strategies in declaring this war: 1) Don’t conform to the world 2) Renew your Mind 3) Put on Christ and realize your identity in Him.  If you remember, this third strategy is where our true power lies, by realizing that this fight of the flesh in our battle toward holiness cannot come from any internal power of our own, but instead from the power of Christ living in us.  It’s on this point that we must advance and avoid the wartime ambush.

 

Picture it like this, you’ve declared war against sin, against your own sinful nature, against your fleshly desires of anger, greed, lust, fear, anxiety, money, power, selfishness, racism, hatred, every ungodly impulse that runs through your body and you’ve developed your battle plan, a list of do’s and don’ts that are sure to make you victorious.  Just like the troops ready to storm the beaches at Normandy, you too are ready to begin your war.  There’s only one problem, that list of do’s and don’ts, the warfare strategy that you thought would be so helpful, has actually disarmed you and is sending you into battle with no weapon in hand.  This is quite the precarious situation, because surely you cannot do battle without a plan, yet to proceed into war without a weapon would be spiritual suicide.  This is why the third strategy from above is so critical; your warfare strategy must come from a total reliance on Christ.  It is He that arms you with His Spirit. 

 

Let me attempt to put this in terms we can relate to.  Suppose in your declaration of war, you resolve that you will not lose your temper toward your children, spouse, co-worker, friend, etc. for 6 months.  That’s a goal you’ve created in order to wage your war.  What happens when you lose your temper and get angry after the first week?  Have you already lost the battle?  Will you start the 6-month period again?  What would be the point in that?  A second scenario might be that you’ve decided to avoid all lusts of the flesh and after a few months have passed you are able to look back and say, “I haven’t committed a lustful sin in 7 months 4 days and 3 hours.”  This is equivalent to building the Titanic and declaring that God Himself cannot sink it.  That “sinless” streak will end nearly as soon as your Pharisaic declaration has been made.  How then did our “list” strategy fail us?  Especially when we had intentions of doing good.  These lists that we like to create are really no different than what the Apostle Paul addresses in Romans chapter 8, because just like the “Law” that he speaks of, our lists cannot sanctify us, only Jesus Christ working in us through His Spirit can bring us progressively closer to Christ-likeness.

 

In Romans 8:3 ESV Paul states, ‘For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.  By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.”  The law that Paul speaks of here, namely the Mosaic Law (10 Commandments), is perfectly Holy, perfectly good, but our sinful flesh is unable to uphold them, just like we are unable to keep those lists we created.  If you remember, in our last post we said that legalism was “doing” works, i.e. law keeping, in attempt to gain right standing with God.  Legalism (“law-keeping/list-making”) can’t improve our standing or justify us, just like it can’t move us toward holiness, or sanctification.  The same principle is at work here; we must be totally dependent on Christ trusting in Him that, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6 ESV

 

Our instruction from Jesus is to obey the law, to follow the commandments that God has outlined for us, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15 ESV The law however, reveals areas of personal weakness (Romans 5:20) in our hearts that needs to be changed.  But the law, and to a lesser extent our list based on the law, isn’t a personal improvement plan; it’s a standard of holiness, one that without Christ at work in our lives any attempt to uphold it would be futile.  How then can we move toward holiness and progress in our sanctification without checking off a list of do’s and don’ts?  By loving Jesus.  If you love Him, you WILL keep His commandments.  It’s conditional on love, not on list keeping.  Do you want to move toward victory in your war?  “This land cannot be entered by moral effort or by moral attainment.” (A. Redpath). It can only be entered by the redeeming blood of the Savior Jesus Christ and the sanctifying work of His Holy Spirit within us.  Run to Jesus and love Him, treasure Him, obey Him, and you will have victory.

 

“Absolute triumph is achieved only in response to utter obedience.”

 

“For the greater the obedience, the greater the discipline, the greater the faith, the fuller and more complete the allegiance to our precious Lord, the more does the heart expand and receive more and more of Jesus.” A. Redpath- Victorious Christian Living