I can imagine a scenario where a Christian is in some sort of conflict. Things are getting heated and as the Christian works through things internally, he then turns to the matter of spiritual warfare. It is painful to apologize, and it is painful to critique oneself, and so this Christian chalks up the conflict to a matter of spiritual warfare. It is not so much that he is wrong about the spiritual warfare part of things, but he has skipped through the whole process of self-analysis and learning from the conflicts of life. Similarly, he might be focusing on the external nature of the spiritual warfare of the Christian life, meanwhile avoiding the internal aspect of the spiritual warfare of the Christian life.
What is spiritual warfare? The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 6:12–13: “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. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” Spiritual warfare, Biblically defined, is that wrestling against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Screwtape Letters, by CS Lewis, is a good book to read on this matter.
Spiritual warfare consists of both internal and external warfare. The spiritual forces attack the Christian internally, in the sense that they seek to undermine the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. The spiritual forces will also attack through external pressures, such deceptive friends, compromising family, etc. The same would go for the church. The spiritual forces of evil will attack both from within and without.
At least one corpus of teaching in the Christian Church, the Heidelberg Catechism, puts it this way: “Moreover, our sworn enemies – the devil, the world, and our own flesh – do not cease to attack us.” Ephesians 6:10-13, would be referring primarily to the attacks of the devil. The world refers primarily to those who do not love God. Our own flesh, refers to that tendency within our own human nature that is inclined to hate God. In our war with the spiritual forces of evil, Satan employs all these things to drag us down.
But as the Apostle Paul points out in Eph. 6:10-13, we cannot claim to be the victim of the spiritual forces of evil. In fact we are given the way of escape: “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Eph. 6:10). Only when we are in the Lord can we stand. We are given the full armor of God so that we can stand (Eph. 6:11). In the process of growing in holiness, the Christian is given a command, is given the responsibility, to utilize the whole armor of God. As the following verses indicate, it is more important to be equipped with truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the word of God, prayer, than to intellectually assent to all the ins and outs of the ordo salutis. This can only be done in union with Christ: be strong in the Lord.
Christians can and should talk about spiritual warfare and God gives us this category to analyze the struggles of the Christian life. King David does this as well in many of the Psalms. But King David also says in Psalm 139:23–24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” He is not only fighting the spiritual warfare of the Christian life with the spiritual forces of evil around him, but he is also at war with he spiritual forces of evil that are at work to deceive him. He does not want to deceive himself with true words that are wrongly applied.
This is the nature of the Christian life. We are at war. We must ask God that He would not let us go down to defeat. And this war often starts within.