Spiritual conflict (or “warfare”) is a subject that often succumbs to two extremes. First, there are people who blame the devil for everything — even things that are their fault. Second, there are those who dismiss demonic activity altogether; lumping it into a mystical-mindset best relegated to the extreme corners of fringe charismatic groups. Both of these views are anemic. The fact is, spiritual conflict is real and leaders do well to maintain a balanced understanding of this subject for the purpose of their own lives and counseling those they serve. The first chapter of Mark’s Gospel provides a splendid backdrop for valuable principles on spiritual conflict. These can be used to walk people through the delicate balance of discerning what spiritual warfare is, and isn’t.
The Devil is in the Business of Temptation
Right of the bat, Mark records Jesus’ encounter with the Devil in the wilderness (Mark 1:13) in which Satan tempts the Lord. Even Jesus was tempted! Spiritual conflict is very often synonymous with temptation. Think about your own life for a moment. Have you ever noticed that whenever you commit to walking in obedience, temptation comes knocking on your door? Plenty of longtime Christians will tell you that their greatest moments of weakness come after making big commitments to the Lord. Jesus modeled perfection in the face of temptation (Hebrews 4:15) and dealt with it by sticking to the word of God (Luke 4:4,8,12). And remember, Satan doesn’t show up at the foot of your bed with a red tail and pitchfork claiming, “Here I am to tempt and deceive you!” We often think spiritual warfare looks like a Hollywood scene. It doesn’t. Temptation is part of “enemy tactics” so don’t be blind. Turn to God’s word and remember that God has given us a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). Win the battle by first refusing to live denial. Admit that temptation is real. You are not immune. Then, turn to God’s word and resist the Devil and he will flee (James 4:7).
Christ Has Power Over Demons
Mark records a powerful moment in which an evil spirit that was possessing a man (could have been many evil spirits because they say “us”) declares that Jesus is the Holy Son of God! (Mark 1:24). Jesus, with a mere command, takes authority over the unclean spirit and casts it out instantly. No sweat, no screaming repetitious phrases, no three-hour exorcism. There are numerous people claiming power of demons today who go around putting olive oil on people and shouting superstitious — mostly repetitious — phrases. But is this the model for modern ministry? Even the archangel Michael did not take “authority” over the Devil in Jude by saying, “I rebuke you, Satan!” Michael, knowing where true power came from said, “The Lord rebuke you” (Jude 9). Our best bet in spiritual conflict is to stick close to Christ. Where He reigns, demons cannot. Where He resides, demons cannot. If someone believes they are experiencing demonization of any kind, the first thing we ought to encourage them to do is to get on their knees, confess their sin, and surrender their will to Christ.
In Mark 1:38 Jesus leaves one region and goes elsewhere saying his purpose was “…so that I may preach there also, for that is what I came for.” Jesus did not come to put on an endless show of exorcisms and mystical wonderings. His primary goal was to preach His kingdom come! The truth transforms so we must proclaim the truth. It also stirs up and drives out evil.
I once had a counseling session with a man I knew very well. He was in charge of an area of our ministry. Within ten minutes of our session, his eyes were moving in different directions and his face was contorting in disturbing fashion. I could see something was off so I chose to counsel him by reading a certain passage of Scripture out loud. Suddenly, I looked up and realized he was staring intensely at me. Then, without warning, he attacked me physically. His eyes grew large, his voice changed, and he tried to subdue me. After sitting on him and eventually getting him over to our main office I called other pastors in to pray. It became very obvious that this man was experiencing some level of demonization. He was cursing at us, calling us false prophets, and calling the church pulpit “weak.” At one point he looked at me, claiming to be the Devil himself, and said, “I own your uncle and I own you! You’re ours!” I remember wondering how someone who was sitting under the faithful preaching of God’s word each week could experience such bondage. Turns out, he wasn’t. One of our elders discovered that this man had stopped coming into the sanctuary and was hiding in the corner of the courtyard avoiding the preaching portion of service every week. Whatever was at the root of this man’s oppression did not want him hearing the preaching of the word. The truth always cuts through the core of people’s hearts. Want to know the best way to stay spiritual safe in the midst of spiritual war? If you’re a pastor, preach the word. Saturate your life with it. If you’re a church member, cement yourself under sound preaching and supporting the ministry of the word. Saturate your life with it. Truth is the best antidote in spiritual conflict.
In just one chapter of Mark, we quickly see a framework for spiritual conflict and can apply it to our lives. Spiritual warfare is real. Jesus is victorious. His truth protects our lives.