22 May 2024

Spiritual warfare: Resist temptation!

Spiritual warfare is resisting evil. Plain and simple.

Now yeah, some Christians describe it as fighting evil. And when they think of fighting evil, they’re thinking of fighting some evil spirit, if not Satan itself. The devil and its imps are trying to destroy the world. So they’re fighting back! They’re praying really, really hard for the devil to get defeated. Bound in unbreakable chains. In some cases they’ll pray directly to the devil: “I bind you, Satan; I order you into the pit.” I’m not sure they understand only Jesus puts Satan in the pit; I’m not sure they understand spiritual warfare in general.

Y’see, back in the 1980s, author Frank Peretti wrote some novels about an unseen cosmic battle taking place between spirits, which used humans as their proxies. (Much like the Greek gods manipulated humans in Homer’s Iliad.) From the humans’ point of view, there was a culture war going on between good Christians and evil pagans. From the spirits’ view, they were fighting in the skies with swords and scimitars. And somehow prayer made the angels’ swords mightier. And that’s why we gotta pray. Our prayers are like the charging cable for our angels’ lightsabers!

In real life? No. Dumb. But it really struck a nerve with the fleshly, fightin’ part of culture warriors, and to this day you’re gonna find some the language from Peretti’s novels mixed in with the speech of “prayer warriors.” Doesn’t matter that none of it is biblical. They’ve heard this myth so long, they’re convinced it’s totally biblical.

But again: Spiritual warfare is resisting evil. And to do that effectively, we gotta be humble before God. We gotta recognize there’s no way we can defeat evil without him. He’s gotta empower us to resist. He, not our prayers, does it.

James 4.7-10 KWL
7So be submitted to God;
stand against the devil, and it’ll run away from you.
8Come near to God
and he’ll come near to you.
Sinners, cleanse your hands!
Those on the fence, sanctify your minds.
9Recognize your misery, mourn, and weep.
Change your laughter into sorrow
and joy into shame:
10Be humble before the Master
and he’ll lift you up.

But of course the Frank Peretti novels insist it’s the prayers of the saints, so “spiritual warriors” are gonna insist it’s all the weepy, loud praying they’ve been doing which knocks down strongholds and takes ground for God. Nope; it’s all God. Who defeats evil in the End with or without us. But of course he’d much rather have us join him, and not get destroyed along with all the evil. So I recommend doing as James said: Come near to God, clean your hands and minds, stop laughing off these things as if they’re nothing to worry about, and acknowledge Jesus is right and we are not.

Stop assuming prayer is warfare, worship is warfare, going through the motions of devout religiosity is warfare. None of those things are. Jesus and his apostles never describe ’em as such. Because they’re not.

Submitting to Jesus and resisting temptation: That’s warfare.

It’s way easier to pray and sing, than stop sinning!

Visit a lot of churches, and yeah, they’ll correctly describe spiritual warfare as opposing and fighting evil. Funny thing is… their way of opposing it isn’t to resist personal temptations. Often they’ll never even hint about resisting personal temptations. That’s not the evil they worry about. They’re worried instead about are other people.

For them, spriritual warfare means resisting antichrists (by which I mean people who are against Christ, not the Beast). Or anyone who wants to teach any philosophy they consider antichrist. Or anyone who wants to teach any philosophy they consider anti-American, because they’re Christian nationalists who incorrectly think the United States is God’s kingdom, and have otherwise confounded the two kingdoms. Or anyone in the opposition party, becaue they think their party is God’s party, and ignore the many godless people in its leadership.

There’s a lot of worry in their prayer meetings too. Nevermind Jesus tells us to not worry; Lk 12.22 they’re worried! They think evil is winning. Their favorite pundits tell them so. And all this evil is gonna trigger the cycle of repentance, and God’s wrath is gonna pour out on us—or at the very least we’ll be robbed of God’s blessings. No peace. No security. No wealth.

Eek! How are we to fight this evil? Well you won’t find such Christians talking about integrity, personal accountability, confession, and other activities which help us behave ourselves and develop the fruit of self-control. Instead we’re encouraged instead to pray really hard. Sing harder. This’ll create a positive atmosphere where somehow evil can’t thrive. Pray harder, and really contort yourself in asking God for stuff. Go through all the motions of Christianity, and supposedly this is “spiritual warfare.”

How’d Christians get the idea these religious theatrics count as warfare? I suspect it began as hypocrisy. Someone wasn’t resisting temptation any, but claimed his prayers and music were just as good, and convinced others to believe him. And why shouldn’t they? Praying and singing is way easier than not lying, not cheating, not stealing, not hating. Way easier than literally fighting evil.

Christians have even invented little myths which go along with our lack of holiness. Supposedly the battle between Michael and Satan Rv 12.7 is raging in the heavens, right over our heads. Every time we pray and sing, good angels gain power; every time we stop, bad angels advance. Exactly like that battle with Amalek where the Israelis were winning whenever Moses had his hands raised, and losing when he lowered ’em. Ex 17.11-12 So we gotta raise our hands—in prayer—so Michael can win the actual spiritual war. Our prayers and songs are helping! They have power.

Rubbish, but popular rubbish. Found in the superstitions of sports fans, who think their positive vibes for their teams help them win. Or the superstitions of ancient Greco-Roman pagans, who straight-up believed their prayers and offerings turned into ἀμβροσία/amvrosía, “immortality.” (We get our word “ambrosia” from it.) The Greeks believed amvrosía was literal food the gods ate which made them immortal, and if you prayed to someone—say, your dead grandma—your prayers would become amvrosía for her, and if she ate it she’d literally become a god. It’s why the Roman senate actually ordered Roman citizens to pray to certain dead personages, like Julius Caesar: They were turning him into a god. Because they could make gods.

Of course prayer doesn’t work like that at all. Prayer isn’t a spiritual electricity we grant to angels so their lightsabers burn hotter. Prayer is talking to God. Yeah, we can ask him to empower people or angels—and if the Holy Spirit likes the idea he’ll do it. But the Holy Spirit is God, and he does not depend whatsoever on our prayers before he acts. If he chooses to do something, he’ll do it; if it’s the right thing to do, none of our prayers will stop him. If he wants Michael to defeat Satan, Michael’s gonna win. Nothing wrong with praying for Michael!—but if you think Michael’s in any danger whatsoever of losing, man do you not know the Holy Spirit.

…Though why am I talking about Michael’s fight with Satan in present tense? It’s not ongoing. It concluded an age ago. Michael kicked Satan’s devilish ass right out of heaven. There might be other battles in heavenly places, but that battle was decisively won millennia ago. The devil’s a defeated foe. Nobody’s still fighting that war… except “prayer warriors” who got suckered into thinking the devil’s still a threat. It’s only a threat when nobody ever bothers to resist it!

The actual battle, the real spiritual war, is between us humans, and our tendency to be totally self-centered and corrupt. But because we’ve claimed the long-ago battle is the actual battle… we’re totally losing the actual battle.

So stop visualizing the wrong battle! Stop thinking all you gotta do is sing or pray really hard, and it’ll strengthen Michael’s angels to fight harder. They won already! Now you need to fight. Stop sinning, dangit!