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Spiritual Warfare Part 4

Understanding the Battlefield Landscape

This is part four of the series on spiritual warfare. If human wars are the physical expression of spiritual wars, then, we can design a similar strategic and tactical planning to win our spiritual wars against our mortal enemy that we use to design our physical wars. In human wars we use well-known principles to develop strategic plans that can be implemented at the tactical level. The same principle should apply for spiritual warfare. So far, I have begun the discussion to establish three basic principles wee need to develop a coherent strategy to fight our spiritual war. I have discussed the first two elements for developing a strategy, (1) knowing the Church’s capabilities and (2) having a working knowledge of the enemy’s capabilities. On this reflection I want to consider the third element, which is understanding the landscape of the battlefield.

In a human war, we evaluate the battlefield by considering rivers, hills, mountains, desert areas, thick vegetation, jungles, lakes, and the like. Each one of these terrain features could have a decisive impact on the best laid out battle plans. For instance, a combat unit crossing a desert must prepare to slow down because of the damage the sand can do to the tanks and other vehicles. If combat units are moving on swampy terrain, they probably won’t deploy heavy equipment, but must rely on faster moving troops on the ground. Now, let us transfer this information to the spiritual battlefield. What does the spiritual battlefield look like? What are the spiritual features the commanders leading the Church must consider when designing their strategy? Like I did in the previous posts, I will only consider three spiritual elements to simplify our discussion. They are, (1) history, (2) philosophy, and (3) morality. These are extensive areas of study, and for that reason, I will deal with them in separate reflections. First, I will consider how God uses history to reveal his character, and how the devil uses it to obfuscate, lie, and deceive.

History: the first element in knowing the battlefield

The first principle we must recognize and accept is that the spiritual battle that we cannot see is being fought in our midst. Human history is, itself, the battlefield. God is concerned with humanity’s salvation and the devil is fighting as hard as he can to prevent people from hearing the good news that God has entered the world in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Whatever grievances Satan has against God, he certainly is taken them against people. His anger and hatred are all consuming. He is constantly lashing out against humanity without mercy. He does not care who, when or where he kills. People are dying the most horrific deaths because the devil’s hunger for death can never be satisfied, and he will use any man willing to serve his purposes.

Most of you remember the curse the LORD pronounced against the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Let’s read it together. “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:14). Let’s unpack this verse.

The first thing we must understand is that the curse was not directed to all the physical snakes on earth. We know snakes move on their bellies, but God was not concerned with rattle snakes or pythons. The term “serpent,” as we have discussed already, is a metaphor that refers to the devil. The apostle John confirmed this interpretation when he said: “And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9). The serpent in the Garden of Eden was not a physical snake. It was the devil bringing his spiritual warfare into the realm of men. With this understanding of the serpent, the curse takes a different twist. The devil wanted to own the spiritual souls of men, but God said to the devil, the only thing you will possess is death. In other words, the devil will feast on human carcasses. That’s the meaning of the phrase “you shall eat dust all your life.” The symbolism of the biblical language is extraordinarily powerful. The devil will feast on human death (dust), and this is the reason Christians can never, under any circumstances, lower their guard while fighting this war. The serpent is a murderer from the beginning. He killed Adam and Eve. Not physically, but spiritually.

As you can see, the history of salvation, which is a spiritual history, is being played in the Garden God created for man to dwell. We are still living in God’s Garden, but this Garden was corrupted when the serpent introduced death into the world. Since the devil is a spiritual creature, he needed a physical vessel to introduce death, and Adam was that vessel. The apostle Paul affirmed this interpretation when he said that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin” (Romans 5:12). The serpent’s purpose was to introduce death into the world of men because human death is his food, and the devil is never satisfied no matter how many people lose their lives.

As you can see, the spiritual war is being played in the history of men. Thus, history plays a central role in Biblical revelation. God wants us to know him, for only in knowing him we can escape the devil’s death grip. God revealed his “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature” through the creation of the world (Romans 1:20). This is a historical fact. The apostle Paul was affirming that creation itself is the evidence for God’s existence. According to the apostle Paul, no one could look at creation and conclude that it came into existence on its own, as many so-called scientists have claimed. Or said in another way, anyone who looks at creation must conclude that God created the universe because God’s fingerprint is all over it.

So, what does the serpent do? He keeps making the same assertion he made at the Garden, with a slight variance: To Adam the serpent said: “Did God really said that if you eat of the tree you will die?” Come on. Nobody believes that. To us the serpent says: You surely cannot believe that God could have created the heavens and the earth. That’s ridiculous. Or he says to other people: You cannot believe that someone can rise from the death. Everybody knows that is impossible! And to others he says: Since you know God is good, that means that all the world’s religions lead to Him. Just learn to COEXIST. Take your pick. The serpent has been using these techniques for thousands of years, and many Christians are still falling for the same deception. Why? Well, the reason is that many Christians still do not know the type of warfare we are fighting against the serpent.

In addition to creation, as a witness to God’s existence, God’s law testifies to God’s moral character. Moses established the nation of Israel after receiving the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. The Ten Commandments gave Israel the most fundamental and non-negotiable moral imperatives upon which to establish a civil society. God’s primary purpose was to establish a people in whom the LORD reigned supreme, as oppose to Israel’s neighbors who worship rocks, carved wood, and the planets. The Commandments were the standard through which the people of Israel would experience, and dispense, God’s impartiality and justice. To accomplish the goal of a righteous society in which God’s character determined people’s moral conduct, Moses appointed judges who would rule in accordance with God’s law. It was an abomination to the LORD when judges accepted bribes, acted with prejudice or weighted the scales of justice. Partial judgments were forbidden because they ran counter to God’s impartial character.

Many people have tried to interpret all the implications the Ten Commandments had on the nation of Israel, and how the commandments have influenced western civilization through the Church. That search is beyond the scope of this reflection. However, I want to suggest that the one implication that has been overlooked often is how the law and Israel’s social arrangements testify to God’s presence in the nation’s consciousness, even during the times in which Israel was immerse in idolatry. Many people have spent a great deal of time analyzing Israel’s failures in their religious duties and not enough in understanding how God revealed his character through the nation’s history. While the Old Testament has hundreds of passages that speak about God’s character, the New Testament speaks about the practical implications of God living in men’s hearts through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Please note that creation, the events of the Garden of Eden, the social, religious and political life of Israel, as well as the life of the Church, are all historical events that reveal God’s character.

The devil is in the business of distorting (he is a liar) every aspect of God’s revelation with deception, trickery, and violence. Christians must remain vigilant against the devil’s schemes. The serpent always obscures the truth by distorting history. When Christians join the world in distorting history, they become complicit with the devil in hiding God’s truth from a dying world. (NEXT: history as evidence)

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