Winning the War for Your Soul
Ephesians 6.10-12 / John 15.1-8
Dr. Jim Denison
American ground troops are now at war in Afghanistan. Most of us think this is just like the Gulf War ten years ago. Most of us are wrong. This time our troops are equipped with global positioning systems, advanced night vision equipment, weapons with laser sights and thermal imaging capabilities, and computerized fire control systems. Our ground forces are backed by attack helicopters and airplanes. And they are able to launch ground attack weapons from pilotless aircraft.
The right weapons are essential to victory in war.
As with the military, so with the soul. You are engaged in a spiritual war, and you must have and use the right weapons to win. My job today is to teach you how.
Understand spiritual warfare
First we need to know what the Bible teaches about spiritual warfare, then we can learn the practice of spiritual victory. You need these facts.
One: you are in a war. Every day Satan fights against God, and there is no middle ground. If you are on God’s side, you are Satan’s enemy. And so “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
Satan wants your soul. If you’ve given it to Jesus, then he wants your witness, your ministry, your life. You are in a war.
Two: you must choose the right weapons. To win this battle you must “put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (v. 11). You cannot win a battle without the right weapons. I’ll show them to you momentarily.
Three: these weapons are employed through prayer. “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests,” Paul orders. Further, “be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (v. 18). Paul knows that we have spiritual power when we are connected with the Spirit in prayer.
Four: you must stay close to Jesus every day.
This battle is being waged against us every day. And so we must “remain” in Jesus—the word means to abide, to stay connected with, to stay close to. Then Jesus promises that you “will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Only when you stay close to the General can you win the battle. And then you will “bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (v. 8). The patience, kindness, and goodness we’re studying in Sunday school today are yours only when you stay close to Jesus, their Source.
Victory begins when we recognize we’re in the battle, and we choose to win it in the Spirit. Make that decision with me, right now.
Choose submission over self-reliance
Now let’s get practical. How do we defeat Satan’s attacks on us? By knowing what they are, and using the right weapons in defense. The classic spiritual disciplines, practiced by believers for centuries, are our tools in this war. Let’s learn how to employ them.
The first strategy of Satan is self-reliance. In Scripture and personal experience this is always so.
He tempted Adam and Eve to be as gods, knowing good and evil.
He tempted Jesus in the wilderness to use his own power for his own glory—whether turning stones to bread, impressing the crowds by jumping from the temple, or worshiping Satan in return for earthly glory.
Satan tempts me with self-reliance every day. To write a sermon and ask God to bless it; to solve a problem in my own ability or experience.
Am I alone here? Where is the enemy tempting you with self-reliance today? Where are you trusting your abilities more than prayer and Scripture to solve your problems and succeed in your abilities?
The spiritual discipline we need when tempted to self-reliance is submission. Submission to God’s will physically and relationally. We do this in two ways.
First by fasting. When we abstain from food for spiritual reasons, we submit our bodies to our souls. We submit our appetites to God’s control. Regular fasting is crucial to spiritual health.
Second, by accountability. Every Christian needs someone to whom he or she is accountable spiritually. Someone who knows your problems, stands with you, prays for you, is honest with you. Someone to expose your self-reliance and self-sufficiency.
The more your spirit resists submission today, the more you need this discipline. It is essential to my soul, and to yours.
Choose solitude when distracted
A second tool of the enemy is distraction. Using circumstances to take your eyes from the will of God. At Caesarea Philippi, Peter tried to push Jesus away from his resolve to die on the cross. And Jesus said to him, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:23). Satan loves to use good things to distract us from God things.
Busyness is one of his most effective distractions, in life and in ministry. I still remember the conviction I felt years ago when I first read these words in a commentary: “Perhaps the ministry was never busier than it is now. Hundreds of men are hoarse from continual speaking, and are wearied out with running here and running there. If things slow down, we evolve yet another type of meeting. And when this new and added wheel is spinning merrily with all the other wheels, there may be no spiritual outcome whatsoever, but there is a wind blowing in our faces; and we hot and sticky engineers have a comfortable feeling that something is going on” (Arthur John Gossip, John, in The Interpreter’s Bible, 8:716).
This satanic tactic works well with me. Running from meeting to meeting, finishing one message just in time to start another. Taking little time to be with God, because I’m so busy working for him. How well is distraction working against you?
The weapon to use in defense of distraction and busyness is the spiritual discipline of solitude.