On Spiritual Warfare

If a man is entangled in the things of this world, caught by their many shackles, and seduced by the evil passions, it is very hard for him to recognize that there is another invisible struggle and another inner warfare. But, after detaching himself from all visible things and worldly pleasures, and beginning to serve God, he then becomes capable of recognizing the nature of this inner struggle and unseen warfare against the passions. Yet, as we said, unless he first achieves outward detachment by aspiring to serve God totally with his whole soul, he will not recognize the secret passions of evil and his inner fetters. On the contrary, he will be in danger of thinking that he is healthy and not ailing, when in fact he is full of wounds and nourishes unseen passions. But if he has despised desire and glory, he may first become aware of these inner passions and then fight against them, calling on Christ with faith and receiving from heaven the weapons of the Spirit: the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit.

The devil tries to disrupt our hope in Christ and our love of Him in a thousand ways. Inwardly he brings afflictions on the soul by means of evil spirits, or he fills it with foul and immoral thoughts by stirring up its memory of former sins, so as to make it grow sluggish and to despair of ever attaining salvation. His aim is to cheat the soul into thinking that it generates these thoughts of its own accord and that they are not sown in it maliciously by an alien spirit. Or else he inflicts bodily suffering and brings on us vilification and tribulation through the agency of other people. But the more he shoots his fiery arrows at us, the more we must enkindle our hope in God, knowing with certainty that He deliberately permits souls that long for Him to suffer these things, so as to discover if they truly love Him.

St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth, quoting St. Makarios of Egypt, Philokalia volume 3, pp 351-2; translated and edited by G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and [Bishop] Kallistos Ware (Faber & Faber, 1984)

The previous post brought to mind the importance of keeping in mind and realizing, that is making actual in one’s life, spiritual warfare. The war against our own sins is directly a part of that wider battle against the bodiless powers of the evil one and his minions, as St. Makarios reminds us above. That is, this warfare is against an entire continuum with which we are intimately familiar, for our spiritual faults belong to it, as part of the spiritual problems of our sins: giving in to lust, arrogance, anger, despair, and so on, is giving in to the evil one inch by inch. And what does he want? For you to end in the most dehumanized, deintellectualized, humiliated, polluted, and putrefying way possible, as far from the purity and eternity and glory of the Spirit of Holiness as possible, as far from the image of God that he can entice you and you will follow. It starts simply, with perhaps merely the bite of a fruit, and ends with the entire world aflame!

It is SO VERY EASY being involved in Biblical Studies, with all its arcana, the technical work of textual, lexical, grammatical, and historical issues, so bookish, so secular and staid and established, to forget the living faith, the dangerously vivid faith of the prophets that produced these texts, that faith that a number of us ostensibly belong to still. There is the tutting over “supernaturalism,” against “faith-based [insert noun],” the separation of the church of one’s faith from the state of one’s studies. All of these play a part in distancing one from personal responsibility for one’s own spiritual battle, or for helping others to realize that there even is such a thing, much less helping them in their own battles. So one thus forgets or even denies that there is a cold, calculating, purely anti-human intelligence, so simple, so banal, so settled in his perfectly effective and efficient soul-destroying ways, the conductor on the train of damnation, who only ever repeats, “Ticket, please,” punches it and moves on to the next victim. “Ticket, please.” He has his routine and it works perfectly in such a world of such people, supported by those who should know better, who would deny his existence through textual studies, a help which I’m sure he appreciates.

Be aware, always. Be on guard. The enemy is everywhere. Pull out by the roots whatever hold the evil one has in you, and do everything you can to help others to do so in their lives, too. For that is what it is to be truly human, as created, in the image of God.

3 Replies to “On Spiritual Warfare”

  1. You definitely hit the nail on the proverbial head. All our training has taught us to keep our conclusions at arm’s length, not to let it influence our actions. Sometimes Debbie (my wife) will get so frustrated with me. She will say, “You’ve known that for years! Why don’t you live it?” She is right, of course, but our training gets in the way. Not that we can do it on our own strength, but as we surrender it to God, He is more than able!


  2. An excellent post.
    Modern western christendom seems to have lost its appropriate, scripture-based doctrine concerning Satan and his network of cooperating malevolent spirits. This is so odd, given that the bulk of revelation on the aforementioned comes from none other than Christ Jesus Himself. The New Testament books provide much light on the Dark One, yet such understanding is lacking in our pulpits, classrooms, and personal study. We seem to be practical fatalists: whatever evil we encounter must somehow be “the will of God”. If that were true, Jesus is found frequently “UN-doing” the will of God as he reverses the ‘fate’ of those bound by Satan.

    Simultaneously the western world at large has become less and less atheistic and the shelves of our major bookstores are lined with enlightened works on New Age do-it-yourself theology, modern glossy ‘Witchcraft’, revisionist Jesus fables, ‘find your inner guide’ manuals, Hindi-inspired Yoga instructions, and puffy apologetics on the rise of Islam.

    I think I smell a rat.


  3. There has been alot of talk about spiritual warfare as of late here ,with some very good points being made. But what about our own brothers and sisters, in our own spiritual homes we call churches? What really is this thing called slaying in the spirit?, Holy laughter? Do we test the spirits?, does God allow us to test what we may believe is the Holy Spirit? “if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different different gospel which you have not accepted–you may well put up with it ! ”

    The answer is a resounding yes ! “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God; Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ came in the flesh is of God. and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was comming, and is now already here.”

    What a wonderfull God we have, who has given us a powerfull sword to test the spirits, a simple question for faithfull believers who know deception is quite possible in todays churches, do you want to be deceived? Simply open your Bible to 1 John chap. 4 and ask those who are laughing uncontrolably, or writhing on the floor; “Did Jesus Christ come in the flesh?” Surly if this truly is the Holy Spirit, the answer will be a definitive yes !

    Why is testing the spirits so important? ” The comming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all ununrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”

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