Religious beliefs around the world are many and varied, but even within major religions like Christianity, there are many denominations of believers who follow a range of different practices and worship their God in a whole variety of different ways.
Within the Christian faith, there are many topics that people disagree on or view differently, and one of these is the concept of spiritual warfare – so in this post, we examine what spiritual warfare is as well as what it means to Christians around the world.
What is spiritual warfare?
Before we delve into the topic of spiritual warfare, let’s take a step back and talk a bit about what it is so we all know what we’re discussing.
In Christian belief, in the most general terms, spiritual warfare refers to the eternal fight God, his angels and his followers on Earth wage against Satan, his demons, the fallen angels and those who do not choose to devote themselves to God or who Satan has led astray.
However, the concept is understood differently by different Christian denominations, with some parts of the idea being accepted by most or all Christians and others being rejected by mainstream Christianity and only being accepted by certain more limited denominations.
The fight between Good and Evil
According to mainstream Christianity, the Devil – or Satan – along with other lesser demons and fallen angels exist in a very real sense. In other words, they are not considered to be metaphors or parables for instruction.
Furthermore, the Devil is seen as constantly seeking to exert his influence on people, leading them away from God and into sin.
As a result of this, the forces of Good and Evil are locked in a constant battle, and the culmination of this will be a final battle between Satan and his forces on the one hand and God and his followers on the other.
This final confrontation is foretold in the Book of Revelation, and this version of spiritual warfare is most commonly accepted by Evangelical Christian denominations.
Different forms of spiritual warfare
Since there is no single definition of spiritual warfare, and certain aspects of the concept may be accepted or rejected by different Christian denominations, it’s difficult to state simply what it is and what it isn’t.
However, what we can do is look at various aspects of what can be taken as spiritual warfare one by one, so let’s do that now.
1. Individual battle against temptation
According to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus spent 40 nights fasting in the desert, and during this time he was tempted by the Devil.
This was a form of spiritual warfare between Jesus and the Devil, and it is replicated by every follower of the Christian faith.
This is because the Devil also tries to tempt Christian believers, trying to lead them away from God and into sin.
This means the fight of all Christians to stay true to their faith and to reject sin can also be seen as a form of spiritual warfare.
Furthermore, as Pope Jean-Paul II once said, “Spiritual combat… is a secret and interior art, an invisible struggle in which monks engage every day against the temptations”.
This quotation implies that monks’ vows are constantly being tested, and they live lives of constant spiritual warfare against the Devil and all his temptations.
For some people, this form of spiritual warfare is among the most important since a key tenet of the Christian faith is submitting to the will of God and trusting ourselves to his protection.
Although the Devil and his demons may try to tempt us or lead us away from God, our strongest weapon that we can use to fight against them is simply faith in God itself, something that can be most easily expressed through prayer.
3. Praise and worship
Like prayer, praise and worship of God is also a form of spiritual warfare since by engaging in such activities, Christians are showing their devotion to God and denying the Devil the opportunity to lead them astray.
Praise and worship, just like prayer, can also be seen as ranking among our strongest weapons against the forces of evil.
When we are faced with temptation – or when something happens that might test our faith in God – abandoning our faith would be seen as a victory for the Devil and the forces of evil.
However, if we can remain strong in the face of such temptation or testing events, our praise and worship can reaffirm our faith in God despite everything that might happen to shake it.
And again, if we can stay firm in our beliefs and never waver in our devotion to God, then that represents a victory for the forces of Good.
Fasting can be a form of spiritual warfare in which Christians specifically test their faith against the temptations of the Devil, directly mirroring the ordeal Jesus experienced when fasting in the desert.
In some ways, this can be seen as a more aggressive form of spiritual warfare than prayer or praise and worship since it is a direct challenge to the Devil, telling him that his temptations will not work rather than passively submitting to the protection of God.
However, for those who wish to demonstrate the strength of their faith, or for those who wish to put it to the test, this can be a popular way of showing devotion to God and fighting against the Devil and his temptations.
Exorcism is one of the more controversial aspects of spiritual warfare, but it is an accepted practice within Christianity.
In essence, it is believed that a demon has the ability to possess an individual’s body, taking over their body and controlling their actions.
In such cases, it may then become necessary for a priest to attempt to drive the demon from the body of the possessed.
This can be seen as a very direct form of spiritual warfare in which the priest confronts a demon directly, although it is not a part of Christianity that is commonly discussed openly or that all Christians feel comfortable with.
6. Belief in God
For some people, the most important part of spiritual warfare is maintaining their belief in God, because if fewer people believe in God, it means the Devil is gaining the upper hand.
The Devil is ready to use any tricks and devices he can to lead people away from the path of God, and in recent times, it could be argued, the most effective method of all has been convincing people that God doesn’t exist.
The Devil is quite happy if nobody believes in God – or in the Devil himself for that matter – because this means that people are no longer wary of the Devil’s attempts to lead them astray, which makes the Devil’s work much easier.
As a result, Christians can now be thought of as engaged in a type of spiritual warfare in which they need to maintain their faith and convince others of the existence of God to prevent the Devil from leading ever-increasing numbers of people away from the correct path.
Problems with the understanding of spiritual warfare
As we’ve already mentioned, not all Christians see the concept of spiritual warfare in the same way.
For some denominations, such as Evangelical Christians, spiritual warfare is seen very much as a real battle between the followers of God and literal demons that come to us to try to tempt us, lead us into sin or even to possess our bodies.
However, for others, this literal interpretation is rejected in favor of a more metaphorical interpretation that sees spiritual warfare as synonymous with simply keeping one’s faith in God, trusting in God and His Grace and never wavering in one’s belief.
Others also point out that in no part of the Bible are we told that we should do battle with demons on our own, and there are no passages instructing us on how to do this.
As a result, many would argue that the direct form of spiritual warfare against demons favored by some Evangelical Christians runs counter to what the Bible teaches and that instead, we should trust in the protection of God rather than doing battle ourselves.
Many different ways to understand the concept of spiritual warfare
Although what we have given here is only a very brief introduction to an incredibly complex concept that has been debated by theologians for many centuries, it should at least provide a background to the fundamental Christian belief in the eternal battle between Good and Evil.
If you are a Christian yourself, you may choose to believe in a more literal battle between Christians like you and a host of demons who are trying to deceive you or lead you astray, or you may simply choose to see it as the tests to your faith that you face in your everyday life.