America’s racial problems have a long and ugly history. The 13th amendment ended slavery in 1865 and the Civil Rights Act ended Jim Crow laws in 1964, but the root causes of racism cannot be removed simply by passing laws. Laws can manage sins, but not remove them. Laws impose a set of moral principles, values, and behaviors on people, and threaten punishment for disobedience, but no law is capable of eliminating sin from someone’s heart. Removing sin is a work of the Spirit. It is a God-sized task.
I have written previously that the deepest issues we are facing as a nation are spiritual in nature. I have also written about a few, simple, and practical things Christians can do about it. But ultimately, we need to remember this: spiritual wars are fought and won with spiritual weapons. Make no mistake – this is a spiritual war.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that this is merely a spiritual war and that all we should do is pray and move on. What I am saying is that whatever we do, we’d better to it with prayer and in the power of the Spirit. If we don’t, we’re going to be destroyed. When the seven sons of Sceva got all excited and decided to go out and make a difference in the world, Satan overpowered them, kicked their butts, stripped them naked, and sent them running out of the house (Acts 19:15-16). They had no idea what they were up against. Do we think we’ll do any better?
The spiritual world is real. There are demonic, evil powers that hate God and wants to cause Him pain. One way to hurt God is to hurt those He loves. When Satan wanted to make God suffer, he attacked Job. Satan knew all about Job: his name, his wife’s name, his children’s names, his work, his address (Job 1:10). Satan knew exactly how to hit him where it hurt, and he hit hard.
As we look out into our world right now, what do we see with human eyes? Cruelty. Hatred. Rage. Division. Vengeance. Bitterness. Envy. These things are right out in the open in your newsfeed and on TV. But look again, this time with spiritual eyes. The apostle Paul told us there’s more going on than we realize. “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,” (Eph 6:12). Paul is telling us to see with two sets of eyes. With our physical eyes, we see “flesh and blood” conflict going on in the world. With our spiritual eyes, we can also see that there are also demonic powers behind these events.
Paul’s writings reveal a hierarchy of evil powers at work in the world, such as rulers, principalities, authorities, powers, dominions, thrones, and world rulers. There is a range of meaning for all these words, but they often refer to demonic spirits that are arrayed against God and his people. But Christ is supreme over all these beings, having defeated them in his death and resurrection (Eph 1:20-21, Eph 3:10, Col 2:15).
Christians share in the victory of Christ, but that doesn’t mean we can’t also experience defeat. In Luke 9:1-2, Jesus sent out his disciples and gave them authority over demons. This was not absolute authority, since they could not overcome some of the demons they encountered (Mark 9:29). What did Jesus say about those demons? “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” In other words, don’t get cocky. You don’t know what you’re dealing with, and you’d better be prayed up first.
Here’s another example. Colossians 2:8 says, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” Notice a couple of things here: First, Paul is warning us to not get caught up in philosophies – worldviews – that are based in human tradition. These philosophies begin and end with human beings as the point of reference. There is no fear of God in them. Second, while these human philosophies are God denying and man-centered in their approach, they are actually demonic in origin. The engine of their man-centered philosophy are “elemental spirits of the world” – most likely, demons. Third, they deny Christ (“not according to Christ”). Remember, Paul isn’t writing this to the Humanities Department at Colossae U. He was writing to the church. What’s my point? Christians and churches can get taken in by Christ denying, godless, man-centered, demonic philosophies.
Behind the human events we see in the news is a hierarchy of spiritual forces – rulers, authorities, powers, and evil spirits. This is evident by the account of the first sin in the garden. The serpent’s temptation of Eve was not a fraternity prank on a helpless woman. His temptation was much closer to a covert operation by an elite, demonic power to plunder the most treasured possession of his sworn enemy. It was a spiritual turf war.
Here’s what I’m getting at. Human beings in our physical world are the focal point of a spiritual battle. The things we do in the world to oppose evil in our physical world have spiritual ramifications and will incur spiritual opposition. Satan (the Father of lies) and his demonic beings are at war against God and his heavenly host. This is the worldview of the Bible – it’s what Jesus himself taught. Therefore, Christians are called to wage spiritual wars with spiritual weapons. Paul calls this the whole armor of God (Eph 6:12-18).
My concern is for Christians who are rushing into a spiritual war unprepared for battle. Many Christians want to fight for “justice and righteousness” in the world but their definitions of “justice” and “righteousness” come from critical theory, not scripture. If we want to fight for justice without a solid definition of biblical justice (“belt of truth”), we’ll get our butts kicked. If we want to fight for a more righteous society without a commitment to personal holiness (“breastplate of righteousness”), we’re going to lose. If we want to relieve worldly suffering without regard to eternal suffering (“the gospel of peace”), we’re not being truly loving. If we want to see positive change in the world without “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication,” what exactly are we trusting in?
Christians are called to make a difference in the world, but we must be adequately prepared. Christians are called to be salt and light, but salt can lose its taste and light can be put under a basket (Matt 5:13-16). Christ and his kingdom is a movement on offense, reclaiming ground stolen by the enemy. Our weapon of offense is the sword of the Spirit (“the word of God”). And the Holy Spirit is the power within us – and he who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).