The Reality of Spiritual Warfare
A Conversation With Tony Evans
February 1, 2005 - Author and speaker Tony Evans writes and speaks frequently about spiritual warfare. As a pastor and Bible teacher, he has observed how many people assume that life's struggles are simply reflections of our physical world. But in the following interview with Decision, Evans says that if we are to be victorious over the devil and his army, we must learn to fight him on a spiritual level through the power of the Holy Spirit.
by Jim Dailey
Q: You have addressed the topic of spiritual warfare on a number of occasions. Why do you consider the issue to be so important?
A: Because there is a lack of understanding about the spiritual realm and the influence that it has on the physical realm. The spiritual realm precedes, influences and, to many degrees, determines the physical realm. The better we understand the spiritual and how it relates to the physical, the better we are able to operate as Christians.
Q: Is it true that Western cultures don't recognize the spiritual dimension as readily as many Eastern and animist cultures?
A: Absolutely. The materialistic nature of our culture camouflages the spiritual world and makes it seem insignificant and unimportant. That is to our spiritual detriment. As Christians we have contributed by not giving the spiritual dimension high play. Look at the theologies out there today that emphasize a physical blessing as the sum of all things. We have to help people understand the cause-effect relationship. There frequently is a strong link between the spiritual and physical. That is, what we are dealing with in the physical realm often can be determined by what is taking place in the spiritual realm. Our failure to deal with the spiritual cause of the problems we encounter can really mess us up.
Q: Imbalance often is a problem in discussing spiritual warfare. We give our adversary, the devil, either too much or too little credit. How do we maintain a biblical perspective when discussing the devil's role?
A: On the one hand, we must recognize that anything that causes us to be outside the will of God is influenced by the devil—he is behind it, either directly or indirectly. On the other hand, "greater is He who is in us, than He who is in the world" (Cf. 1 John 4:4). We cannot use the devil as an excuse for our defeat because of another spiritual reality—the reality of Jesus Christ and our relationship with Him. So, we give the devil the credit of influence, but we do not give him the credit of accomplishment. He can only accomplish what we allow him to accomplish given the spiritual reality of God's activity in our lives and in the world.
Q: How can we resist the devil, as Peter commands us to do in 1 Peter 5:9?
A: Jesus resisted the devil by applying Scripture to the attacks He was going through. When we are attacked, it is the knowledge and use of Scripture that allows us to resist him. We don't resist him by human will or human effort. We resist him by spiritual means, by using Scripture—the Word of God—just as Jesus did.
I think the power of prayer is equally important. Prayer is our mechanism of engaging the Holy Spirit's power as we use the Word. So, it's prayer with the Word, because prayer invokes the Spirit's presence with the Word as we address whatever the spiritual issue is.
Q: How do you prepare for spiritual warfare?
A: It is a mindset. First Corinthians 10:31 says, "Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (NIV). If that is my mindset, I will make every activity spiritual. Once I make every activity spiritual, I have engaged in the spiritual process, so that anything that comes into my day that goes against the glory of God gives me the basis for a spiritual response.
Q: A.W. Tozer said that when we make Christ Lord of our life, everything is sacred from that point on. There is no separation between the sacred and the secular. Do you see a separation in our world?
A: We are suffering from a Greek philosophical orientation to life, all the way back to Plato, who separated the spiritual and the physical world. He kept them in two different compartments. Under the lordship of Jesus Christ, the secular becomes sanctified. It is now spiritual because we invite God to be in every situation. Everything now comes under the hand of Almighty God. When we keep it separate, it allows us to be defeated.
Q: Can accountability with other believers help strengthen us for spiritual warfare?
A: A lot of our battles have to do with relationships. That is why it is critical that every believer become a functioning part of a local church body where others also have a spiritual point of view. Then we can have meaningful relationships that reinforce our spiritual life.
Q: In Ephesians 6, Paul talked about the necessity of putting on spiritual armor. How do we do that?
A: Each piece of that armor is really a characteristic of Jesus Christ. To sum up the armor, it is Christ-likeness. To put on Christ-likeness is to say, "How am I to reflect Christ in this situation?" Once we implement the answer to that question, we are armored. It is a reflection of our spiritual relationship with the Savior. As we grow in that relationship and put it into action, we are arming ourselves for battle.
Q: How do Christians appropriate the victory of Christ on the Cross for their personal lives?
A: We must take the Cross out of a 2,000-year-old historical event and make it a contemporary reality. For many of us, the Cross is what happened back then, not its effect carrying on today. The Cross is implemented today in our lives through the Holy Spirit working in our hearts to implement Biblical truth in our daily lives. When we are walking in the Spirit, He implements biblical truth in our lives.
Q: do you agree, however, that Satan still has power?
A: It is like the current situation in Iraq. We defeated Iraq very quickly. In fact, Iraq has lost, but there are still influences from the old regime that are seeking to cause havoc and to stop that country from maximizing its potential. In the same way, Satan was defeated at the Cross, but he is still trying to undermine the new thing that God is doing.
Q: How does the Spirit help us to deal day-by-day with Satan's attacks?
A: There is a lack of understanding today about the role of the third member of the Trinity. In the Old Testament people were aware of the Father's presence. In the Gospels the Son was present. But, in the Church age, we have the Holy Spirit's presence. The Spirit's job is to make real in our experience the reality of Christ. Therefore, He is to be the focus of spiritual ability, empowerment and enablement. When we look at the Word and seek to apply the Word with faith and obedience, the Spirit empowers that action. He won't do it apart from the Word, but He will always do it in concert with the Word. When we look to the Spirit of God to activate the Word of God in our lives, as we step out in obedience, we will seek His work of transformation and enablement. We cooperate with the Holy Spirit.
Q: So our identity in Christ gives us the power for spiritual warfare?
A: Absolutely! Our reference point is Jesus Christ. He is the One we are living for; He is the One we are seeking to please, to emulate and to glorify. Satan's goal is to cause us to forget that reference point and to create new reference points. Once we create new reference points, we are no longer connected with the Power Source; we base our identities on works, for example. But, as Christians, we are not who we are based on actions or feelings. If we have been born again, our identity is that of children of the living God. We must count that to be so, even when it doesn't feel like it. When we count it to be so and act on it, then our feelings catch up with our actions.
Q: Understanding our identity in Christ helps us deal with doubt as well, doesn't it?
A: If the devil can cause us to be unsure of our personal relationship with God, then he can undermine everything because everything is based on that. The assurance of salvation comes through looking to Christ, not to ourselves. If we view life based on our personality or our emotional stability, then our faith will fluctuate—so look to Christ. As you look to Christ, He becomes the mirror of your salvation; He reflects back assurance to you. Instead of looking inside to be sure, look to Christ and let Him make you sure.
Q: When we are saved, the Bible says we are brought from the kingdom of Satan to God's kingdom. Part of salvation is changing kingdoms, or dominions, and changing kings. What happens when we make this change?
A: As unbelievers, we are in the realm of Satan, under his control and in his environment. When we become Christians, God is our new authority. The Kingdom of God is our new environment, and, therefore, that is the reference point for our lives.
It is like moving from Las Vegas to Jerusalem—it is a totally different environment. If you still have a Las Vegas mindset in a Jerusalem context, you are going to be out of sorts because that mindset doesn't work there. A lot of people have a secular mindset even though they are in a sacred environment. They have the old mind in the new world. Our citizenship is now in heaven, and our allegiance is to our King, Jesus Christ, who has triumphed over every power and principality. We are victorious through our union with Him and fully armed for every encounter with evil.