Pulling Down Strongholds (Phil Johnson)

2 Corinthians 10:3-5   |   Sunday, August 25, 2013   |   Code: 2013-08-25-PJ

     Spiritual warfare has become a common theme in recent years. Not long ago I visited a Christian bookstore in a tiny out-of-the-way town, and although they had only a handful of commentaries and reference works and Bible-study helps, they had a large section of books on spiritual warfare. Most of them were books by charismatic authors, and most of them described spiritual warfare as a territorial conflict against demonic powers.

     I am amazed at how pervasive that imagery is. Mention "spiritual warfare" to the typical Christian today, and what he thinks of is demonic confrontation—almost a hand-to-hand combat with individual demons where you speak directly to the demons with rebukes and verbal incantations that are supposed to bind the demons and send them to the pit, or whatever.

     That is not the way Scripture portrays the Christian warfare. Of course, it's true that the Christian's fight is a spiritual warfare—a battle in the supernatural realm against the collective forces of evil. Ephesians 6:12: "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." So our adversaries certainly include the demonic armies—invisible, intelligent spirits; fallen angels who (among other things) can disguise themselves as angels of light. "And no wonder," Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:14-15, "for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness."

     But nothing in Scripture teaches us to engage the demons in a one-on-one exchange as if we had power to command demons or control them with magic words. True spiritual warfare is not mystical; it is rational. It's not about territory; it's about truth. Scripture doesn't tell us to use tactics that are occult and superstitious, but just the opposite.

     And you see this clearly in the way Paul describes spiritual warfare in his second epistle to the Corinthians. In this hour, I want to examine three crucial verses in 2 Corinthians 10 where Paul describes how he waged spiritual warfare. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5:

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.

4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.

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

Here's the context of this passage: Paul's apostleship was under siege in Corinth. Sometime after he founded that church and got them established, his ministry took him away from Corinth. False teachers moved in, and high on their agenda was an aggressive campaign to diminish the church's respect for the apostle Paul.

     That is what the whole epistle of 2 Corinthians is all about. Paul has been forced to defend his apostleship, exonerate his personal character, and reestablish his apostolic authority over that wayward flock. It appears many of the people in the church had been influenced by the slanderous rumors these false apostles had spread against Paul. It seems the whole church had taken up a low opinion of Paul.

     The first seven chapters of 2 Corinthians are dominated by Paul's response to various accusations that had been made against him. Some of the lies the false teachers had spread against Paul were just mean and petty, and some were serious attacks against his character—but combined, they represented a and significant challenge to his apostolic authority. And for that reason, these rumors about Paul were undermining the gospel message itself, because the people were beginning to move away from what Paul had taught them.

     So the issue of Paul's apostolic credentials becomes the focal point of his self-defense, and the very heart of it is in 2 Corinthians 5, where he mounts a vigorous and formidable defense of the gospel he proclaimed. He continues through the end of chapter 7 answering his critics, and then in chapters 8 and 9, he turns to a new topic. It's the issue of giving—stewardship of their finances. And Paul speaks to them in very warm and pastoral language about their duty to fulfill a pledge they had made to help meet the financial needs of the saints in Jerusalem. He reminds them that God loves a cheerful giver, and he ends that section in chapter 9, verse 15 with a joyful exclamation: "Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!"

     But then the whole tone of the epistle changes. There is an abrupt and momentous change from tender, sympathetic language, and Paul suddenly takes on a tone that can only be described as militant. He returns to his self-defense, and now he is using the language of warfare. He knows he is under siege, and it's not just a personality conflict with people who don't like him. The very cause of Christ is under assault in Corinth. So Paul sounds the charge with a clear reveille that employs some of the most militant language we find anywhere in the New Testament. This militant section will escalate and continue through chapter 13, where he writes (starting in verse 1),

This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

2 I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them.

He's warning that he is coming prepared for battle. If there's not repentance, he is prepared to set things in order in a militant way. He'll be coming with weapons ready, and he will prevail over those who oppose the truth.

     Now this is not the kind of language we would normally encourage pastors and missionaries to employ when writing or speaking to the flock. But this was a pivotal time in church history, and the very life of the church was in jeopardy in Corinth, and Paul was saying these things under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and with full apostolic authority.

     Paul is making a threat—a militant, aggressive, combative declaration of war against the forces of evil at work in Corinth. But it's a peculiar kind of threat and a singular kind of warfare. And that is what he makes perfectly clear in our passage.

     This is not a fleshly war. And the weapons Paul was making ready were not fleshly weapons. He gives here a description of spiritual warfare that sets this whole issue in clear perspective for us. Here we see clearly what Paul has in mind in virtually every other context of the New Testament where he mentions spiritual warfare.

     By the way, Paul uses the language of warfare a lot. He tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:18, "This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare." And in 2 Timothy 2:3-4, he writes, "Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him."

     To Paul, the whole Christian life was a perpetual state of battle. And you see this vividly in his life and ministry. Throughout the book of Acts and the Pauline epistles, Paul is constantly in conflict. It's not because he was a contentious man—quite the opposite. But Paul had a lot of conflicts because he was such an effective warrior. Satan seems to have targeted Paul and his ministry in a unique way. And it's true that if the powers of darkness had succeeded in overthrowing or disqualifying the apostle Paul, the advance of the gospel would have been severely hampered at the very outset. So he was continually engaged in warfare for the defense of the gospel and the preservation of the primitive church. And the reality of that warfare colors everything he ever wrote.

     The church at Corinth was positioned at the very heart a culture that represented everything evil, everything fleshly, and everything worldly. So naturally, the church at Corinth became a focal point in the warfare Paul waged.

     And here he tells us what we need to know to keep a proper perspective on spiritual warfare. Here is the cure and the corrective for all the superstition and charismatic nonsense that has confused and distracted so many modern Christians. Here is also the answer to those who insist that in order to conquer our postmodern society for Christ, we must accommodate our message and our methods to the preferences of the culture. Here, again, is what the apostle Paul says about how we must fight in order to see victory in the battle against evil principalities and powers:

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.

4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.

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

I want to draw from this passage three admonitions that will help you wage spiritual warfare effectively. If you want to be the kind of warrior the apostle Paul was; if you want to fight the good fight and win, here are three things to keep in mind:


1. Don't Misunderstand the Battle

     This is not a fleshly war. It is not a battle over earthly territory or a battle against flesh and blood. Verse 3: "For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh."

     Now why would Paul say "we walk in the flesh"? That doesn't sound like a positive thing at all, does it?

     Well, it's not. But apparently, some of Paul's critics had accused him of walking in the flesh. They said he was secretly living an ungodly life, indulging in fleshly lusts, and operating with self-serving motives. Paul had answered all those charges charge definitively in the first seven chapters of the epistle. So now he takes up the accusation that he walked in the flesh, and he employs a little sanctified sarcasm against his enemies: "For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh."

     He's saying that the Christian warfare is not a carnal battle. It's not a battle for lands and cities. It's not a personal conflict against other people. It's a battle for the truth.

     Biblical Christianity is not and never has been like Islam, spreading its influence at the point of a sword or with threats of force or acts of terrorism. Although history includes several sad episodes of wars and crusades and inquisitions that have been carried out by men who claimed to be acting in the name of Christ, that has never been the tactic by which the true church has sought to increase her influence. Our battle is not against flesh and blood. In the words of Spurgeon, "For the church of God ever to avail itself of force would be clean contrary to the spirit of Christianity: for the Christian bishop to become a soldier, or employ the secular arm [of military force], would seem the very climax of contradiction. A warrior ambassador is a dream of folly."

     So Paul makes it clear here that he is not talking about the actual use of military force. He's at war, but it is not a carnal war. It's a spiritual conflict. It's easy to lose sight of that. Even though we're talking about spiritual warfare, its too easy to forget what that means and begin to think of it in carnal terms.

     So there are three things I want you to notice here, and if you're taking notes, I want to help you get these down. First, and most crucial—

     1. The issue is ideological. Again, this is not a battle over territory, but a fight for the minds and hearts of people. You have people running around today in the name of "spiritual warfare" advocating all kinds of things like "territorial praying" and "spiritual mapping"—whatever that is supposed to be. I can't tell you how many people in recent years have written to me or to the ministry I work for to ask us our thoughts about "spiritual mapping," and "prayer marching," where Christians parade around a city or a community, claiming they are setting up a spiritual barrier that is supposed to confound and overthrow territorial demons. And I've been asked repeatedly to give a biblical response to practices like those. Here's my answer: The Bible knows absolutely nothing about practices like those. The Christian warfare is not about territory; it's about ideology.

     Look at verse 5: "We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ." That's what this is about. It's about arguments, opinions, knowledge, and thoughts. It's about truth, not territory.

     Here's a second characteristic you mustn't miss about the spiritual nature of our warfare. If you don't want to misunderstand the battle you are waging, notice this:

     2. The arena of this warfare is closer to home than you might think. This isn't only a battle against false religions that flourish in some other part of the globe. It's a battle against the spirit of this age; worldviews held by your next-door neighbors—and sometimes even ideas you'll find being taught in supposedly evangelical churches. In Corinth, the battle had been brought right into the church by the appearance of these false apostles.

     There are people today—large numbers of people in the visible church—who insist that Christians should never fight any battle over doctrine with other people who call themselves Christians. They say it ruins our testimony. They claim it is inherently unloving to criticize the teaching of anyone else who names the name of Christ.

     That is manifestly false, and it is amazing that anyone who believes the Bible would ever entertain such a notion. The apostle Paul certainly did not embrace that kind of folly. All this militant language was aimed against people who had identified themselves as emissaries of Christ, men who had joined the Corinthian church and taught there and even claimed to be apostles.

     Now, we have to apply this principle with the utmost care. I realize that there are some people who seem to be constitutionally contentious and who love to wage war over arcane points of doctrine—and they will turn their guns against innocent sheep just as quickly as they attack the wolves. And that is why Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:24-25 that "the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth." In our defense of the truth, we should be vigorous and persistent, but never adopt a pugnacious, belligerent, contentious spirit. This isn't a call to pick fights over every disagreement we have with other Christians.

     But when the issue at stake is the gospel itself, or justification by faith (which is the very heart of gospel doctrine), or heresy about the person of Christ, or the lordship of Christ, or the doctrine of the Godhead, or any other vital aspect of the faith once for all delivered to the saints—then we must earnestly contend for the faith. Because defending the faith and contending for the truth of the gospel is the very point of the spiritual warfare we have been commissioned by Christ to fight.

     So the issue is ideological, and the arena of warfare is closer to home than you might think. Here's a third characteristic of this spiritual warfare:

     3. The primary battlefield is the mind. That makes sense, doesn't it? If the issue is ideological and the goal (verse 5) is to "take every thought captive to obey Christ," then it ought to be patently obvious that this is a war waged for the dominion of the mind, in the intellectual realm. It's a battle to subdue evil thoughts and evil ideas—because when you do that, you overthrow evil systems.

     And the battle begins in the warrior's own mind. If your own mind is not subject to the truth of Christ, there's no way you can be a good soldier in this warfare. I'll have more to say about that later.

     But what I am saying is that there's an intellectual aspect to spiritual warfare that no one should ever discount. I'm amazed at how many Christians have been deluded into thinking that there's something inherently unspiritual about anything that deals with the human intellect. Some people actually believe that an intellectual concern for doctrine isn't really spiritual. I hope you don't think that way.

     Now it's true that we have to be "doers of the word, and not hearers only," (James 1:22). In fact, James is saying that if your interest in doctrine is intellectual only, then you are self-deceived.

     But don't make the mistake of thinking he is discounting the importance of hearing and knowing and understanding the Word of God accurately. Scripture is filled with commands to divide the Word of God rightly, to maintain sound doctrine, and to have enough skill in handling Scripture to refute those who contradict the truth. In Hebrews 5:12-14, the writer of Hebrews rebukes Christians who refuse to get past the elementary principles of doctrine; people who (he says) are "unskilled in the word of righteousness"; those who haven't learned to digest the meat of God's Word instead of constantly drinking milk. "Solid food [he says] is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil." Discernment is the fruit of a disciplined mind that is trained and skillful in understanding and properly applying God's Word, the sword of the Spirit.

     So the key battlefield of spiritual warfare is the human mind, and that means if you neglect the development and the sanctification of your own intellect, you will eventually become a casualty of the war.

     So that's the first admonition I would glean from this passage: Don't misunderstand the battle. It's an ideological battle, not a territorial one. It's fought in an arena that is closer to home than you might think. And the primary ground on which you fight is intellectual. Don't misunderstand the battle.

     Here's a second admonition for you:


2. Don't Distrust Your Weapons.

     Paul says that because this war is spiritual, it must be fought with spiritual weapons. Verse 4: "For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds." That entire verse is set off by parentheses in the Authorized Version. The fact that we're not talking about physical jihad with fleshly weapons is a point that is so simple and obvious, it shouldn't even need to be spelled out. But just in case someone doesn't get it, Paul makes it as clear as possible. Our weapons aren't the weapons of conventional warfare, but they are divinely powerful for tearing down a spiritual enemy's strongholds.

     Incredibly, most Christians today, and evangelicals in particular, are obstinately and desperately trying to use carnal weapons in the spiritual warfare.

     What are carnal weapons? Is Paul thinking of swords and knives and other military weapons? Certainly he would include those things among the carnal weapons he rejects. But it's more than that. "Carnal weapons" would include clever philosophy, manipulation, political pressure, protests and demonstrations, compromise, and every method adopted for sheerly pragmatic reasons.

     Listen to Paul himself from his first epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 2: "I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. . . . My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

     He's saying the same thing here. "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal"; that is, they are not of human origin at all. They are not manmade military machines; they are not ideas spawned in the minds of human philosophers; they are not clever techniques invented by imaginative innovators. And (can I say this?) the weapons by which our side will prevail in this battle are not public protest or court orders or legislation or clout in the realm of secular politics.

     What are the true weapons in the spiritual warfare? I read one commentator who said Paul was speaking here of the apostolic gifts—miraculous gifts of healing, prophecies, and various signs and wonders. But that seems quite out of context to me. Paul wasn't going to battle with these false apostles by staging a contest to see who could do the best miracles; he was going to answer their false teaching with the truth.

     And I think what Paul actually has in mind here are weapons that are available to every Christian in every age. He gives the full panoply of Christian weaponry in Ephesians 6. It includes a complete array of defensive armor and one simple offensive weapon. Here is the whole armor of God: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, feet shod with the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, "and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."

     Now notice: there is nothing novel or innovative about those weapons. They are old weapons. If you're waging a military fight (a warfare against flesh and blood), it is important to have the most modern, up-to-date weapons. Technology and innovation have always been important in conventional warfare. You don't want to show up at a gunfight with a knife. You can't go up against a modern army with nothing but slings and arrows.

     But things are different in the spiritual realm. Our weapons are not carnal. We don't have any earthly military firepower. It may even seem to the carnal eye as if we are unarmed. But, Paul says, our weapons are "mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds." These weapons "have divine power to destroy strongholds." They are powerful because they are the instruments of God's power. Their true effectiveness does not lie in the skill of the swordsmen or the cleverness of our strategies, but in the power of God. Don't distrust your weapons. They trump every kind of fleshly weapon for this kind of warfare.

     I am frankly weary of all the self-styled experts who are telling pastors and church leaders today that unless they get with the times and tone down their message and adapt their methods to meet the preferences of this worldly generation, the church will die or lose the battle for the souls of men. I'm just as weary of all the political activists in the church who claim that unless we take the battle to the political arena and use our collective clout for political purposes, we're going to lose the culture. I have news for those who have never read church history: the church of Jesus Christ has never owned the culture. The people of God have never had the upper hand in shaping the culture of this world, and we never will. We are in this world but not of it. Our citizenship is in heaven, and that is not the least bit threatened by what happens here on earth, especially in the political arena.

     Now, before any one runs off with the wrong impression, I'm not saying we should be passive or silent. Just the opposite. I'm saying this: Don't distrust the weapons Christ has entrusted to His church. Don't underestimate the power of the word of God or the influence of clear and dynamic preaching. Don't set aside the weapons God has chosen for us and trade them for Saul's armor.

     Only the word of God is "living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." And if you're going to wage war in the spiritual realm, against evil imaginations and false ideologies, you are going to need a weapon like that—"a discerner of the thoughts and intent[ion]s of the heart" that cuts with precision and pierces to the depths of the heart.


     So, if you're taking notes, be sure you have this much: Don't misunderstand the battle. Don't distrust your weapons. Now, here's a third admonition to bear in mind:


3. Don't Relinquish the Fight

     Every general in every war knows how vital it is to have a clear goal. In modern terminology, you've got to know the end game. You have to have a distinct objective, and you can't walk away before the objective is complete. That's one of the key lessons from the first Gulf War, right? It's also one of the lessons we learn from King Saul's battle with the Amalekites in the Old Testament. When you're fighting an evil and tenacious enemy, you don't quit early. If you don't finish the war, the enemy will regain strength and come back after you with a vengeance.

     Notice how comprehensive the ultimate goal of spiritual warfare is. The end of verse 5: "Bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." How far are we from victory in that battle?

     Don't miss the progression in the verbs Paul uses. I like the way these verbs are translated in the King James Version. Verse 4: "pulling down . . . strong holds"; verse 5: "Casting down imaginations"; then finally, "Bringing into captivity every thought." Pull down. Cast down. And bring into captivity. It's an all-out assault, and the goal is not complete until every thought and every imagination of every human heart is subject to the lordship of Christ.

     Now, I'd like to tell you that this is a war we can win in our lifetime, but it's not. The war won't be over until the glorious return of Christ, when He subdues the nations and establishes His kingdom forever. You find the description of that, and the culmination of all spiritual warfare in Revelation 19:15, where the apostle John describes his vision of the return of Christ. Here's what he says: "From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty."

     What is that sword that comes out of His mouth? Again, it's a spiritual weapon, not a carnal one. It comes from His mouth because it's His Word. It's the two-edged sword of the Word of God, the very same weapon you and I should be making use of in our warfare against the powers of darkness.

     And until Christ himself puts an end to the war by winning a complete and total victory, we are not to relinquish the fight. We're not to give up our warfare and think we can win the world by entertaining people. We're not to take up a different kind of warfare in the carnal realm with carnal weapons. We are called to fight the good fight until we have finished the course of this life. It is a never-ending battle.

     Now, look at this expression "strongholds" in verse 4. Remember that we are talking about ideological fortresses—false doctrines, worldly philosophies, hedonistic and materialistic arguments—"and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God." The expression "strongholds" of verse 4 parallels the word "arguments" in verse 5. The King James Version translates the word as "imaginations." The New American Standard Bible says "speculations." The basic idea is a high-minded academic theory—some moral, philosophical, or ideological opinion that is rooted in human rationalism and canonized by the intellectual elite as an iron-clad argument against the authority of God.

     The Greek word is logismos, from the same root as the English word logic. It carries the idea of human reasoning, rationalism—rational and irrational arguments against the truth of God's word. The expression "every lofty thing" is a literal translation of a Greek word that speaks of an elevated rampart or battlement. It's translated "pretensions" in one of the modern versions, and that probably captures an element of what Paul has in mind.

     But the idea of fortresses and high things had a special significance in Corinth, and I think Paul was deliberately using those expressions because they would have been familiar to every person in Corinth.

     Just outside the city of Corinth is a very high natural formation that overlooks that city. It is a tower of rock that stands over 1800 feet high, known as Acrocorinthus. The ancient Corinthians had built an impregnable fortress up there. It is so high that on a clear day you can see Athens from up there, 45 miles away. It was virtually impregnable, a massive, towering bulwark so high and so strong that no earthly army ever succeeded in tearing it down. That's where the Corinthians would retreat to whenever their city was under assault.

     To them, the idea of pulling down or casting down such a stronghold was unthinkable. Paul was comparing that kind of impenetrable fortress to the fortresses of lies and deception we as Christians are called to wage war against.

     However, he says, our spiritual weapons are "mighty through God" to the pulling down of such battlements. There's no need for a Christian ever to be timid about the truth or to shrink away in the face of false or anti-christian ideologies. We don't need to compromise with them, try to engage them on common ground, or engage in dialogue with them as if we might eventually come to some kind of agreement. We have weapons powerful enough to tear those strongholds down. And we need to employ those weapons and keep at the fight until we have brought everyone who is barricaded in those fortresses "into captivity . . . to the obedience of Christ."

     Now be sure you catch what he is saying here. Our aim in the spiritual warfare is not to destroy people, but to liberate them. We're following the lead of our captain, who "[did] not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them."

     "Captivity . . . to the obedience of Christ" is the true freedom. You understand that if you truly know Christ. Romans 6:17-18: "But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness." And that is the true freedom.

     The people who barricade themselves in fortresses of lies and deception are enslaved to their sin and their evil ideologies. Our end-game is the liberation of as many of them as possible. And we can't relinquish the fight until the battle is completely over.


     Now, I want to speak in very personal and practical terms here. If you get nothing else from this passage, please understand this much: The Christian's spiritual warfare is a battle for truth, not territory. It's a fight over ideology, not literal hand-to-hand combat with demons. It's a fight for hearts and minds, not a war over cities and nations. And I've already said that the arena of this battlefield is closer to home than you might think. Sometimes, like in Corinth, the church itself becomes a battleground, especially when grievous wolves creep in and threaten the flock.

     But let me go even further. I said this earlier, and I promised I would return to it. The battle starts with your own heart. The goal and the end game is to bring "every thought captive to obey Christ." And that starts right here—in my own mind and heart.

     I have no control over your thoughts. I can perhaps influence your thinking by the proclamation of the truth of God's words, but my role in that regard is instrumental only. You can't be accountable to me for your private thoughts, nor can I be accountable to you. But if this is a battle whose aim is to take every thought captive for Christ, then the first and most important ground of battle for each of us is our own private thought life.

     Your part in the vast, cosmic war for the minds and hearts of men and women begins right there. Paul knew that. On occasion, he described the Christian warfare in precisely those terms. Romans 7:22-23: "I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members." Galatians 5:17: "The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do." Paul was describing a struggle in his own heart. He says you can expect to have the same kind of internal conflict. And that conflict you feel inside yourself is one of the key skirmishes in the cosmic spiritual war.

     Peter understood that aspect of the warfare, too. In 1 Peter 2:11, he wrote, "Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul."

     That is why the New Testament uses such graphic and violent language when it speaks of our duty in the matter of sanctification. Romans 8:13, "For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live." And Colossians 3:5: "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry."

     One of the sad realities of warfare is that the soldier must kill or be killed. In the spiritual warfare, there is some killing for us to do, Paul says. It's not about killing people, for that would require carnal weapons, and our weapons are not carnal. But it's about putting to death sin—first of all in our own members, but also tearing down the strongholds of lies, false doctrine, and worldly philosophies that have been erected by the powers of evil for control of the hearts and minds of people in our society.

     May I as gently as possible say that you that you cannot be a good soldier unless you take this warfare seriously? You must be spiritually earnest, sober-minded, sound in the faith, strong in the Word of God, and diligent in the battle.

     Too many Christians, especially in this worldly age, are content to coast through life taking nothing seriously. If you know me at all, you know that I'm not arguing against having a sense of humor. But at the same time, this warfare we are engaged in is serious stuff. It's not for the lazy or apathetic. In fact, if you are passive or careless at all in your own personal spiritual walk, you will suffer agonizing defeat at the hands of the enemy.

     If you entertain private thoughts that are unworthy of a Christian, that's like removing your armor in the heat of battle. You will not emerge without serious injury. Paul was conscious of that his whole life. He never reached the point where he took the battle for granted. In fact, it was fairly late in his ministry when he wrote, in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27, "I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified." Paul never let down his guard or took the warfare casually. And that is how he was able to fight the good fight and finish his course. He kept the faith, guarded the faith—fought for it, without ever losing sight of the fact that the first and most important battle ground to secure and hold fast was his own heart.

     Let me close with this: In October of 1941, during one of the bleakest times of World War II, Winston Churchill visited Harrow school in England, and as he listened to the schoolboys there singing one of their school songs, he noticed they had added a stanza that made a reference to the darkness of those days.

     So when he stood up to give his speech, he told them these might be stern days, but they were not "dark." He had every expectation that England would ultimately triumph. "We have only to persevere to conquer," he told them. And it was in that same impromptu speech that he delivered one of the most famous lines he ever spoke:

     "Surely from this period of [the past] ten months," he said, "this is the lesson: Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."

     That's the kind of stance we as soldiers in the spiritual warfare need to take.

     This is serious business, this warfare. Don't misunderstand the battle. Don't distrust your weapons. And don't relinquish the fight.