In my previous articles, I described what spiritual warfare is and gave examples of how to recognize it and defend ourselves against it. The next series of articles will describe how using the armor of God (first described in Ephesians 6) is not simply a defensive act, but a forward-moving advance of the Kingdom of God.
What is Spiritual Warfare?
This can be a complex and even frightening topic. But we can briefly define it by saying that spiritual warfare is an effort on the part of our enemy (the devil) to keep humans from realizing their potential and identity in Christ. This is most often accomplished through either distraction (e.g., temptation, sudden crises, or being hurt in some way) or discouragement (e.g., fear, hate, or losing hope). Our enemy is always trying to squash the foundation of God’s Kingdom, which is hope, faith, and love, and which scripture tells us will always remain.
Conviction vs. Condemnation
In my experience, spiritual warfare is most often a case of conviction versus condemnation. We experience conviction when the Holy Spirit points out something that is distancing us from God and needs pruning ̶ it is a call back to God. Conversely, condemnation always points someone away from God, telling them that they are not worthy, or that they have sinned too often or too badly. Condemnation urges us to give up.
The battle between conviction and condemnation is something I certainly experience in my own life. When I explain the difference between these two compulsions to clients, they seem to light up and sometimes say that I’m describing their exact story. It is important to be aware of the spiritual war, to know the enemy’s tactics and how to counter them. Allow me to use a personal story to illustrate my point since transparency and stories are powerful forces of heaven.
An Experience of Forgiveness
One misty April morning, I was talking to the Lord. At some point, I felt His Presence. Warmed and encouraged, I prayed that all I really wanted was Him. I began remembering back through our partnership, and how God has been closer than any of my friends, or even my wife, every day of my life ̶ through every wonderful time and every desert. Then a lovely thing happened: I experienced an image of Jesus putting his arms around me.
In a flash, it all seemed so real, but I had the same reflex that I’ve had so many times before. I did not doubt that Christ could actually put His arms around me right then and there, but I was challenged with condemnation. I told Him that I did not deserve His arms around me, and tried to explain that I simply was not righteous enough for Him to be near me. Have you ever had someone awkwardly not reciprocate a loving gesture such as a hug? It may be that they had the same reaction I did in that moment when I felt His arms are me – unworthy.
After a pause, He broke the silence with typical grace and authority. I simply felt Him say, “I forgive you.” I learned instantly that it takes an act of humility in order to want God’s forgiveness. I envisioned the painting entitled “Forgiven” by Thomas Blackshear, an image of Christ holding up a man faint of strength, clutching a hammer and spike in either hand. This painting is especially popular in the field of substance addictions because of how dramatically those brothers and sisters must hold on to Christ’s love to make it through. They must constantly reject condemnation, though they realize daily how they have turned upon Christ and crucified Him with selfishness. I was softened by His grace, not my righteousness. Christ holding me was suddenly comforting and healing.
To Resist Spiritual Attack is to Advance the Kingdom
This is an example of being under an attack of condemnation ̶ and I passed through it. I did not try to provide my own salvation by paying penance, but I put my hope in Christ by accepting His forgiveness. Jesus assured us that we will have trouble in this life. (John 16:33) Our enemy attacks us whether we are ready or not. But we are told that: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)
However, standing the test accomplishes more than simply enduring. By resisting my enemy’s attack, I also gained strength and knowledge, and I worshiped God. This was not simply a passive defense. I advanced the Kingdom by joining with the Spirit and softening my heart by needing God, instead of acting on the enemy’s suggestion to turn away from God and decay in self-accusation. Each saint must fight their own battles, day by day, but we do not need to be alone. One way for me to stand with my fellow saints is to explain the war, and how to achieve victory.
Christian Counseling Strengthens You to Resist Spiritual Attack
Does this story remind you of tests and attacks you have experienced in your own life? Do you find it difficult to resist shame, condemnation, or temptation? These issues are common because we live in a spiritual world. Christian counseling can help you to identify spiritual attack and connect with God’s grace. Actively pursuing spiritual growth and healing is a worthy investment and a fine defense and offense in the spiritual war. If you would like to process any areas where you feel the enemy has been able to keep you down, or if you would like to increase your personal understanding and ability to identify harmful lies in your life, please contact me or one of the counselors at Seattle Christian Counseling.
“book of transition,” by Alice Popkorn, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/4TuJyW; “Misty Morning,” by Nana B Agyel, Flickr CreativeCommons, (CC BY 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/aEJ3Yh; “Preparing for Battle,” by Vicki Burton, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY-SA 2.0)
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