Greg Laurie — God's Strategy for Winning in Spiritual Warfare
Let's grab out Bibles and turn to Ephesians 6. The title of my message is, "God's strategy for winning in spiritual warfare". Let me ask you a question. Have you ever been just humming along as a Christian? Doing well. Firing on all cylinders when all of a sudden you were just barraged with an onslaught of spiritual attacks from trials to doubts to heavy duty temptations. You wondered what on earth is happening. Have I committed some sin that has caused this to happen? No. It is called spiritual warfare and you are in the heat of the battle. Sometimes we would like it to all stop and find some little foxhole to crawl into. But listen. You are either going to move forward or you are going to move backward in this spiritual battle. We have to understand that it is going to happen if you are a true follower of Jesus Christ.
You might say, "Greg I don't feel like I have been tempted that much lately. I don't feel like I have had any hassles or any attacks or trials". My response to you would be do you have a pulse. Maybe a better question would be are you an actual Christian. If you are an actual Christian and follower of Jesus you will face spiritual warfare in this life. We have an enemy. The devil who moves in relatively predictable patterns. It may surprise you to know that satan uses the same tactics year after year, decade after decade, generation after generation century after century. He doesn't really change up what he does. It is all here in the Bible. It is good for us to understand what his strategies are.
Victor Hugo the author of the classic book Les Miserables made this statement, "A good general must penetrate the brain of his enemy". That is true. Our enemy is the devil. We need to know what he is thinking and what he is up to because the Bible says we need to know about his strategies and his deceits. So we need to be armed for battle. Here is my buddy Roman here all armed up and ready to go. This is actually a replica of Roman armor, shield, sword, and so forth. It is really quite accurate as to what a Roman soldier would wear. When Paul tells you to put on the whole armor of God he was thinking of this kind of armor. I want to talk a little bit about how the armor of the soldier worked so we can understand what this is all about. How our equipment works.
Let's read Ephesians 6:10-18 together. "Finally, my brothers, be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles or the strategies of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the Gospel of peace: above all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one and take the helmet of salvation, and the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God". We will stop there.
There are six pieces of armor that Paul refers to. The first three. The belt, the breastplate, and the shoes of the soldier were attached to the body and really never removed. The second three the shield, the helmet, and the sword were for specific purposes and methods of attack. That brings us to our next part of our armor. The shield of faith. Look how big this thing is. On the back there is a handle that you grab hold of. This was a huge object that the soldier would carry into battle. He would have his sword of course. He might just have a spear. This was something they used in the initial march forward. The Romans were incredible on the battlefield. That is why they never were really defeated as a military power. That is how they were able to bludgeon the world into submission.
The Romans had all of these tactics they used. They would march forward with these shields. Why were the shields so big? Because a common tactic of the day was to have arrows set on fire and they would be fired at the approaching armies. Here comes your enemy. You would get all of these arrows dipped in pitch lit on fire. You are coming into battle with your shield and there is a barrage of flaming arrows. The soldier would pick up his shield and he would hide behind it. The arrows would go into the shield. You have seen this in movies that have Roman warfare. You know what we are talking about. This is how you stopped the flaming arrows that were coming your way.
You say, "That is nice for Roman soldiers. What does it have to do with me"? We face flaming arrows, or as the king James version puts it fiery darts or as I once misstated it diary farts. And they come in many ways. Maybe it is thoughts that come out of nowhere seemingly. Maybe it is an impure thought. You are sitting in church like right now. Impure thought. Where did that come from? It is like a little flaming arrow. Or it might be a thought of complete despair. It may be a thought of total fear. It might be a thought of jealousy or envy or hatred. You just look at someone and you have this thought of hatred toward that person. You are saying, "I can't believe I am thinking these things. Where did that even come from"? It came from the devil. It is called a flaming arrow. That is why you need to keep your shield of faith up.
The devil is so clever because first he fires the arrow at us. Then he condemns us for being hit by it. It is not a sin to be tempted. The sin of temptation is not in the bait. It is in the bite. If you refuse the temptation you have successfully passed the test. It is when I have taken that temptation into my own thought processes and made it my own. As one person said, "I can't stop a bird from flying over my head, but I can stop it from building a nest in my hair".
Here is another thing. Those flaming arrows or temptations or spiritual attacks will often come when you are attempting to do something great for God. If you are going to continue struggling and floundering and never do anything with your faith the devil is like who cares about them. They are no problem. But if you dare to say I am going to try to influence people around me for Jesus. I am going to step up my game and speak up for my faith you are going to get hit with flaming arrows. They will also come when you read scripture. You can read any book you want. Watch any television program you want. Look at any website you want but the moment you pull out the Bible all hell breaks loose and the arrows start flying. The kids are setting the dog on fire. A 747 just landed in your backyard. More to the point maybe you are trying to read and all of these thoughts come rushing in. I have got to pick up the dry cleaning. I have got to remember to send that one email. Those are just distractions because the last thing the devil wants is for you to open this book.
Sometimes people ask me to sign their Bibles. I don't know why they do. Sometimes I will write this inscription in. I think it was D. L. Moody who said it first. "Sin will keep you from this book and this book will keep you from sin". God wants you to read the Bible. The devil does not want you to read the Bible. That is why he is going to hit you with those flaming arrows when you open up the Word of God.
During World War II in China and Burma there was a man named Chennault that had a group of fliers. They were known as the flying tigers. They were legendary. Together they downed 217 enemy plans. What was their secret? Chennault said it was cooperation. Even if outnumbered 10 to 1 they always attacked two at a time. Here is our problem when we go through temptation or hardship or despair or even doubt. Sometimes we will isolate ourselves. I don't want to share this with anyone. They would think I am not a strong Christian. I don't want to tell anyone I am being tempted by this. You should go to your Christian friends and say pray for me right now. I am under attack. Working together. Praying together. Jesus said, "If any two of you agree on earth as touching anything they ask it will be done of my father in heaven".
Notice the power of unified prayer. Remember when James was put to death. Peter was arrested in Acts 12. What do we read the church did? We read that the church got together and prayed for them. The whole church got together. Constant prayer was made for him by the church. They prayed constantly. They prayed together. We need to do the same. That is putting our shields together. Listen. This is a global fight. We are all in this battle together. Christians from all around the world. 1 Peter 5:8 says, "Be controlled and alert for your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him. Stand firm in the faith because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of suffering". Others are being attacked too. Peter is saying you are not fighting that lion all by yourself. Pull together with your fellow soldiers and lock shields together as you march forward in the battle that God has called us into.
Then we have the helmet of salvation. Look at this helmet. This is a re-creation of a Roman helmet. You can see that it has protection all around. It has protection on the top. Then we have these protections for the ears and the side of the head. Even for the back that could withstand the blow of a sword. If you are in battle and you are going against your opponent the two areas you are going to hit are the breastplate and the head. Thank you. I am a professional. Don't try this at home. The idea literally in battle was to decapitate your enemy. The devil is going to come and he is going to hit you right here. What does this protect? It protects your mind. It protects your thoughts. Our mind, our thoughts, and imaginations must be guarded because it is here where temptation generally starts.
Stop and think about the last time that you gave into a sin. A quick poll. How many of you have ever sinned? Raise your hand. Wow. You are a wicked bunch of people. No seriously my hand was up too. If you will trace back that sin I think you would find that it started here. The devil is smart. He is sort of like if you are looking at a car and someone says why don't you take it for a test drive. Or you are looking at an outfit and the salesperson says why don't you try it on. Or you are looking at some cookies and someone says would you like a free sample. In the same way the devil says, "Hey man. I know you would never do this because you are so spiritual but just for fun take it out for a test drive. Go ahead and run this temptation through your mind just to see what it is like".
This is why we have to keep the guard of our minds up. Jesus blew the cover of the religious leaders of the day the pharisees when he said, "You guys say you shall not commit adultery you have heard it said but I am saying to you if you have evil thoughts, if you have lust in your heart after a woman or a man, it is like you have committed adultery in your heart". It starts in the mind. It is not just enough to not do it. You shouldn't think about it either. The enemy will hit us in this area and we must keep our guard up at all times.
Listen to 2 Corinthians 10:4. "The weapons of warfare are not physical but they are spiritual. They are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. Casting down imaginations and every high thing that sets itself against the knowledge of God and bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Jesus Christ". Have you ever noticed you can't think two thoughts simultaneously? If you are thinking a pure thought you cannot simultaneously be thinking an impure thought. If you are thinking a loving thought, you cannot at the same time be thinking an unloving thought. One replaces the other. You want to fill your mind with truth.
After our son Christopher died I was so devastated. I couldn't sleep at night. I was just in anguish. My mind was being hit with so many things from everything ranging from it's your fault. I would think it was my fault. Why didn't I do something? What could I have done? All of these thoughts come. Then of course there is the why question. It was at that time I really had to learn how reject thoughts that were not helpful and instead embrace thoughts that were. Thoughts that came to me ran along the lines of your life is over right now. Or you will never be happy again. Or you will never survive this.
I would take that thought and replace it with a biblical one. For instance when I would have that thought you will never see your son again. It would just hit me like a ton of bricks. I would be driving along. I will never see him again. It would just destroy me. Then I would quote scripture out loud to myself. I would say, "Greg you listen to me. Jesus said, 'I am the resurrection and the life, and he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.' You will see your son again. He is alive in heaven right now". I would remind myself of the statement of 2 Samuel 12:23 where David's child died. David said, "He cannot come to me, but I will go to him". There will be a reunion one day. In Thessalonians Paul writing of the rapture of the church says one day with our loved ones that have died and gone before us. One day we will be caught up together with them in the air.
I would take that thought of despair and replace it with a thought of hope. That is why good theology matters. A lot of times when people are going through hardship they turn to sentimental thoughts. People will say things like, "God must have needed another angel in heaven". Please. Really? "God picks his best flowers first". Amazing. Hallmark card. "They are an Angel and they are watching over you now". No they aren't. None of those things work. In fact those things are irritating when someone has lost a loved one. You come to them with words of scripture. You come to them with words of truth. That is why we have to know what the Bible teaches when those moments of difficulty come to us.
Philippians 4. "Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever us just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things". Certain thoughts come. That is not virtuous. That is not lovely. That is not admirable. That is not right. I am not going to think about it. I am going to fill my mind with the truth of God.
That brings me to the last weapon in the spiritual arsenal. The only weapon that is both defensive and offensive I am talking of course about the Sword of the Spirit. What is the Sword of the Spirit? The Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. You have got to have this weapon in use. You can have all of the greatest armor. The breastplate. The helmet. The shield and everything else. But if you don't have the sword you are going to get up to your enemy and he is going to take you out and that will be the end of that story. We need to learn how to use the sword. That is how the devil wants to keep you away from the Word of God.
This is how you resist temptation. The Psalmist said, "Your word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against you". It is a good thing to carry a Bible in your briefcase, backpack, or purse. The best place to carry the Word of God is in your heart. Memorized. I ask you what shape is your sword in. Is it polished from daily use as you study the scripture on a regular basis and sharpen it on the anvil of experience as you obey what it says? Or is it rusty and dull by disobedience. If you neglect scripture your spiritual life will unravel. You need God's Word in your life.
If you don't want to follow Christ, here is what I would say to you. Enjoy this life on earth because this is as good as it gets. For the nonbeliever life on earth life is as good as it get because in the afterlife judgment will come. But for the Christian life on earth is as bad as it gets. For us the best is yet to come. Have you put your faith in Jesus Christ? He came to the cross 2000 years ago on a rescue operation to save us from our sin. To save us from judgment. Yes to save us from hell. Then he rose again from the dead three days later. Jesus Christ who died, who rose, is alive and he is here with us right now speaking to you. He is saying, "I stand at the door of your life and I knock. If you will hear my voice and open the door, I will will come in".
Have you asked Jesus Christ to come into your life? If you haven't, you are going to face a certain judgment. You are going to go through life without him. But if you will say, "Lord I am sorry for my sin and I need your forgiveness, come into my life" he will do it. Maybe you have struggled for years. Maybe decades with an addiction you have not been able to overcome. You have tried to change yourself. You have tried to better yourself. You have only gotten worse. You need help. God will help you. He will pull you out of that pit. He can intervene in your failing marriage. He can intervene in your crisis you have created for yourself. He can intervene in your tragedy. He will be there for you. But you must call out to him.