The Unseen World: How to Handle Spiritual Warfare

June 9, 2008

As I have been reading more on the history of Christian spirituality, I thought I would share with you some thoughts on spiritual warfare. One of the most confused areas of Christian theology seems to be that of angels, and demons, and how to wage spiritual warfare against the principalities! Here is hopefully some helpful information for you.


The church of Jesus Christ has made much noise about spiritual warfare and there are many disagreements over the nature of this warfare and how to deal with it. Some lead us to believe that Satan and his demons are constantly attacking believers and we must be under constant attention to them and thwart their temptations. Others ignore totally the threats and temptations of Satan and his demons and assume they have no bearing on the life of the believer. Both extremes are false. First, we will look at the nature of Satan and His demons. Second, we will look at what effects they can have on believers. Finally, we will look at how a Christian does battle against these invisible enemies.

Who Are We Battling? Satan and his Demons

McCune tells us there are distinct values to studying Satan (and of course by extension, his demons). First, it enables us to know our foe and how to combat him. Second, it reveals to us the presence of an evil genius in the world. Third, it saves us from a belief in moral dualism (equal opposing forces of good and evil).[1]

Specifically, Satan “exists and that he is a person, not just a symbol of evil or a figure of speech. He is an angelic being of wide and powerful influence, a major character on the moral stage of God’s universe. He is an enemy of man and of believers, one whom we should know, respect, and resist in the faith and in the power of the Lord Jesus.”[2]

This enemy of God goes by many names and often are reflective of his evil. He is called Satan (adversary), devil (slanderer), Beelzebub (ruler of demons), Belial (worthless), Serpent (harkens back to the Garden), Tempter, Wicked One, Prince of Demons, God of the World, Prince of the Power of the Air, the Accuser, Prince of this Word, The Dragon, Evil One, and Deceiver.[3]

He was once an angel, amongst many, that chose to rebel against God and fell (1 Tim 3:6). His works are most important to our study here. He slanders and opposes God and God’s plan (Gen 3:4–5; Zech 3:1–2). He counterfeits God and His word (2 Cor 11:14–15). He accuses and slanders believers (Rev 12:10). He sows tares among the believers (Matt 13:39). He incites persecution against believers (Rev 2:10). He tempts believers to sin (1 Cor 7:5). He harasses believers (2 Cor 12:7). He deceives the nations (Rev 20:3). He blinds the minds of unbelievers (2 Cor 4:4). He takes the Word from unbelievers (Matt 13:19). He performs other misdeeds as well.[4]

Demons are fallen angels (Matt 25:41; Rev 12:7). They perform many wicked acts. They oppose the people of God (Eph 6:12). They hinder the work of good angels (Dan 10:13). They support the work of Satan (Rev 12:7). They control bodies of men and animals (Mark 5:8–13) They inflict physical infirmities (Mark 9:17, 25). They produce moral impurity (Mark 5:2). They may work miracles (Rev 16:13–14). They bring about false doctrine and false worship (1 Tim 4:1–3).[5]

What Effects Does Satan and his Demons have on Believers?

The effects of Satan and demons can be expressed in positive and negative terms. First, there are things that they cannot do. They cannot possess a believer. Some disagree.[6] Many believe that in fact Christians can be possessed by a demon. Possession implies complete control and victimization by a demon.[7] Very clearly, the Scripture seems to affirm that a believer cannot be possessed. He cannot be possessed because they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 John 4:4).[8] Second, demon possession requires complicity (Matt 12:43). A believer cannot be in total complicity with the devil.[9]

But, a Christian can seemingly come under some kind of demonic attack. Luke 13:11, 16 seems to imply that we can be affected by the temptations of the demonic. Very simply as well the book of Job seems to imply this. Satan very subtly attempts to deceive believers and lead them into sin.[10]

How Does a Christian Battle these Invisible Enemies?

How then are we to face the onslaught of the invisible demonic world? At the outset it must be said that, nowhere are we ever told how to cast out demons or anything like that. “The only command given to believers dealing with Satan is to resist the devil.”[11] James 4:7 tells us that we are to submit ourselves to God and resist the devil and he will flee from us. We are given much better weapons to fight Satan and the demonic forces: “we must be delivered from the power of the evil one by believing, praying, repenting, obeying, seeking, and serving.”[12]

This is accomplished by putting on the armour of God.[13] Ephesians 6:10–20 tell us that we are to resist the work of Satan and his demons by arming ourselves. The focus is obedient living. “Biblical spiritual warfare is not about knowing Satan—it is about so knowing God and walking with Him that we readily recognize the counterfeit offers of the Enemy. Putting on the armor is about making disciples through teaching…. his point was that faithful Christian living is itself effective in undermining the Enemy.”[14] Lawless offers a holistic approach to spiritual warfare through right living and obedience to God. Spiritual warfare is won through the exaltation of God through worship, evangelizing the world, equipping believers, edifying others, encountering God through prayer and the Word, and encouraging one another.[15]

Success in battle is living obedient and holy lives to God the Father through the provision of the Son, and the power of the Spirit.


God has not told us how to detect demons, how to know their names, or how to cast them out. Instead, He has exhorted us repeatedly in His Word to shun sin, make no place for Satan in our lives, and resist the devil by obeying the Lord. At the moment of salvation Jesus delivers the believing one form the power of darkness and transfers him or her into the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Col. 1:14). We need to put into practice the victory Christ has already achieved for us, always keeping in mind the exalted position we have in Him. Satan is a defeated foe. Victory is ours in Christ and Him alone.[16]

[1]Rolland D. McCune, “Systematic Theology I” (Unpublished Class Notes, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, 2001), p. 192.

[2]C. Fred Dickason, Angels: Elect and Evil (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1975), p. 115.

[3]For a good explanation of many of these names see Robert Lightner, Angels, Satan, and Demons (Nashville, TN: Word, 1998), pp. 73–76.

[4]See Dickason, Angels, pp. 144–149; McCune, “Systematic Theology I,” p. 197.

[5]McCune, “Systematic Theology I,” p. 200.

[6]Many are confused on this issue. Dickason is unsure whether possession could happen to a Christian (Angels, pp. 188–192). Others on one hand seem to believe in possession while at the same time seemingly denying it (see Ed Murphy, The Handbook for Spiritual Warfare [Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1992], pp. viii–xi).

[7]Ibid, p. 201.

[8]Thomas Ice and Robert Dean, Jr., Overrun by Demons: The Church’s New Preoccupation with the Demonic (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1990), p. 119.

[9]McCune, “Systematic Theology I,” p. 203.

[10]See the very helpful book by Richard Mayhue, Unmasking Satan (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1988).

[11]Ice and Dean, Overrun by Demons, p. 135.

[12]David Powlison, Power Encounters: Reclaiming Spiritual Warfare (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1995), p. 22.

[13]John MacArthur, Jr., How to Meet the Enemy: Arming Yourself for Spiritual Warfare (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1992), p. 68.

[14]Chuck Lawless, Discipled Warriors (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2002), p. 55.

[15]Lawless’ book is probably the best there is on spiritual warfare. He structures his whole book around these paths to becoming discipled warriors (see throughout).

[16]Lightner, Angels, Satan, and Demons, p. 93.