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Fall 2000 · Vol. 29 No. 2 · pp. 142–52 

Equipping Principles for Spiritual Warfare

Randy Friesen

When we consider the spiritual safety of those under our care, we know we are not to fear the enemy. Yet most of us know just enough about spiritual warfare to avoid confrontations when possible. As we consider helpful principles for training disciples of Christ in this area, we will want to consider all that Scripture has to teach us. However, we do well to look first at Jesus’ example. His preparation of the twelve disciples in Luke 9 includes a pointed reference to their power and authority over the demonic realm in the context of sharing the good news of the kingdom of God. The same authority is acknowledged in debriefing the seventy-two disciples later in Luke 10:17-24. Jesus wanted them to know they had spiritual authority.

We must take up the call to battle the real enemy blocking the rule of Christ in our lives, marriages, churches, and world.

However, Jesus goes on to gently rebuke the disciples for focusing on their various deliverance stories. It is human nature to dwell on the more sensational aspects of ministry. To focus on our relationship with the Father and our knowledge of him, however, requires discipline and maturity. This balance between ministering in spiritual authority and power, while not getting distracted by it, is still a challenge for us today.


In Hosea 4:6 God declares through his prophet: “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge” (NIV, passim). God’s people were religious, yet their religion was not tied to obedience. They had more knowledge of evil than good. Similarly, Christians today can become destroyed through a lack of knowledge. And in this area of discipleship, order is important.

We require first of all a knowledge of the Father and his incredible love for us as his covenant people, leading to the truth about our identity and positional authority in Christ, followed by a knowledge of our hearts (the true nature of our inner life), and concluding with an awareness of the nature of the enemy and his schemes.

Knowledge of the Father

Jesus points out to his disciples that a relationship with the Father is hidden to the “wise and learned” but “revealed . . . to little children” (Luke 10:21). The disciples were to rejoice, not that the spirits submit to them, but that “your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). Spiritual pride blocks us from understanding the value of our relationship with the Father, but it can also open the door to a fascination with spiritual warfare. In particular there can be a dependence upon technique and strategy rather than upon the Father. Biblical knowledge is always tied to obedience and not merely to intellectual assent. To know the Father is to obey him. Jesus reminds us that “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

There is nothing the enemy wants to block or disrupt more in the life of Christ’s disciples than our daily communication and love relationship with the Father through Jesus. A knowledge of spiritual warfare technique is dangerous without a growing knowledge of the Father expressed in daily dependence and obedience.

Knowledge of Our Identity and Authority in Christ

The knowledge of our authority and power in the spiritual realm flows out of our knowledge of the Father. We have been called heirs of God and are part of his family. He protects us by the power of his name (John 17:11).

“God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). Through this revelation of our position in Christ we know the “hope to which he has called” us, the “riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (our value to God), and “his incomparably great power for us who believe” (Eph. 1:18-19). These {144}truths put the experience of spiritual warfare in its proper context.

Spiritual authority has been given to the believer through the finished work of Christ on the cross (Matt. 28:18-19; Col. 2:13-15; Eph. 6:10-11). Believers are called to apply this authority that Christ won for them through actively resisting harmful thoughts and the enemy’s attacks (Col. 3:5-11; 1 Pet. 5:8-9; Jas. 4:7).

Knowledge of Our Hearts

With the often-used picture of our hearts being a home in which Christ comes to take up residence, we are invited to surrender daily every area of our lives to his control. Renovation and ongoing surrender under the leading of God’s Spirit are evidence we know Jesus is the new owner of the house.

Humility leads us to acknowledge that our hearts are “deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). The disciple prays with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way within me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24).

Responsibility must be taken personally for our sin issues. Like David we must declare, “I have sinned” (2 Sam. 12:13). We cannot blame the enemy for our own willful transgressions. Bitterness, anger, pride, fear, and lust all involve choices of our will. Repentance involves confession (acknowledging sin against others and God), turning from sin (our will is engaged), and choosing God’s way. Jesus linked our forgiveness of others to our own reception of forgiveness (Matt. 18:35). In many cases a person’s freedom is linked to their willingness to forgive someone who has hurt them.

Knowledge of the Enemy

Jesus pointed out that, although he came that we “might have life, and have it to the full,” there was also the “thief” who comes to “kill, steal and destroy” (John 10:10). Revelation 12 similarly presents the enemy as a devourer, accuser, and deceiver. Jesus’ unexpected rebuke of Satan working through Peter (Matt. 16:21-23; Mark 8:31-33) is an illustration of how subtle spiritual warfare can become. Paul pointed out that unforgiveness must be dealt with in the body of Christ “in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11). Jesus gives us a knowledge of the enemy and his schemes for our protection.

Believers under the control of the Holy Spirit cannot be “possessed” by the enemy. However, Paul warns that without renewal in our minds {145} and an active, daily “putting off” of the old nature and “putting on” of the nature of Christ, we can give the devil a “foothold” (Eph. 4:20-27) or way of influencing our lives.

“Footholds” can exist in the lives of disciples even though ownership of the house belongs to Jesus. Demonic footholds can be distinguished from periodic sin (everyday house dirt). Footholds are established when we are unable to stop repetitive willful sin through simple confession. We are instructed in situations like that to “confess our sins to each other and pray for each other that you might be healed” (Jas. 5:16). When we recognize their presence we respond to these sin footholds much as to an unlawful squatter. They must be evicted.

Jesus said when you sweep a house clean and put it in order, it is important that the house is then filled (Luke 11:24-26). The lies of the enemy must be replaced with the light of God’s truth. Jesus’ warning that demons return sevenfold to retake space they have lost has been documented in countless counseling relationships. It is often much harder in matters of spiritual warfare to hold ground than to take it. It is essential to have a growing knowledge of the Father and of our identity and authority in Christ, as well as regular spiritual housecleaning to complement our knowledge of the enemy’s nature and ways.


The spiritual knowledge summarized above must be applied within various spheres of responsibility and authority. This begins with our personal lives, extends to our families and church, and finally reaches to the world around us. Disciples have positional authority in Jesus. However, their experiential level of authority in spiritual warfare (application of authority in power) is determined by their level of surrender and obedience to the Lord Jesus.

Casualties are possible. The danger with the proliferation of teaching on the subject of spiritual warfare, and in particular that of intercession against “principalities and powers,” is that it can arm immature believers with information and models for which they are not ready.

From a relatively immature intercession/spiritual warfare group that I witnessed in a local church setting several years ago, one member now suffers from extreme paranoid delusions, another is in an asylum for the criminally insane (he was formerly a local church elder), another is suffering from depression and delusions of seeing demons everywhere, and the final member has moved away and switched churches. It is hard to believe that four spiritually zealous and committed believers with no history of the above-mentioned ailments could all get off track so quickly.

{146} This story can undoubtably be repeated in mission field settings and churches around the world. Frontline evangelism and intercessory prayer is warfare. Without proper submission to authority, instruction, and guidance, we flounder and become casualties in the battle. Proverbs tells us “it is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way” (Prov. 19:2).

Personal Sphere

The first and most basic sphere is that of the personal mind and will of each believer. The believer is given spiritual “weapons” to “demolish strongholds” in our minds and to “take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Strongholds of fear, lust, bitterness, and anger can be built up in the minds of believers. Without a clear recognition of their existence and an understanding of how to apply the spiritual weapons that have been given to demolish them, these strongholds persist and influence destructive behaviors that limit spiritual freedom, destroy marriages and families, and discredit ministries.

The authority to “bind and loose” in the spiritual realm (Matt. 16:18-19) is given in the context of the advance of Christ’s church against the gates of Hades. The enemy’s strongholds are no match for a believer who actively submits to Christ and resists the enemy. When Jesus rightly perceived the satanic origin of Peter’s resistance to the cross, he verbally rebuked the enemy (Matt. 16:23).

Recently a teenager was brought to me by her youth leader following a youth rally. In a ministry of prayer, I had opportunity to witness the dramatic changes that result from recognizing one’s authority in warfare.

The teen struggled with anger toward an absentee father and a variety of other relational issues. Although a confessing Christian from a “successful” Mennonite home and churchgoing family, she was bulimic and suicidal. Her parents and youth leaders were helpless to change her destructive behavior. After gently and repeatedly telling her that Jesus loved her, the teen was finally able to raise her eyes to meet mine. As we asked the Holy Spirit to show us the root of the oppression in her life, the girl was reminded of a prayer she had offered to Satan during a particularly difficult time in her home eighteen months before. This seemingly innocuous prayer in her bedroom had initiated a very destructive period in her life.

She was initially unable to verbalize the name of Jesus and renounce her prayer to Satan. Finally, with the Holy Spirit’s enablement, she blurted out, “Can I say something?” and she stood to her feet. With the tenacity of a fighter she declared, “Jesus is my Lord and Savior and in his {147} name I bind you Satan and command you to flee my life, now!”

The breakthrough was immediate, and strongholds of death, anger, fear, and bitterness were quickly renounced and broken. The change in this girl’s countenance, eating habits, and personality have been overwhelming. She is “holding the ground” through the daily infilling of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, and resistance of thoughts that represent old strongholds.

Are all eating disorders demonic in origin? Probably not. Is all warfare just spiritual? Clearly not.

The Scriptures teach that we battle the ways of “the flesh, the world, and the devil” (Eph. 2:1-2; Rev. 12:17). The interrelationship among those three aspects of the battle requires that we be “self-controlled and alert” (1 Pet. 5:8). We frequently deal with the symptoms of spiritual warfare, such as the suicidal thoughts and bulimia in the previous story. But the ministry of the Holy Spirit is often critical in revealing root issues and incidents which are the “legal basis” for spiritual oppression. This is less a formula than it is another expression of our dependency on Christ, without whom we can do nothing.

Without personal freedom in Christ from destructive thought and behavior patterns, believers will have limited authority to engage in warfare in the subsequent three spheres of responsibility.

Family Sphere

The second sphere of responsibility for spiritual warfare is the family. Christian marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship with his bride, the church, and as such is a point of attack for the enemy. Lust and a lack of self-control are referred to by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:5 as a prime target of the enemy in marriages. Similarly, an attitude of dominance or disrespect (1 Pet. 3:7) blocks the prayer life in a marriage and represents another target. Humility and submission one to another represent a protection against darkness while the “days are evil” (Eph. 5:8-21).

Husbands and wives must pray for each other and even do battle for each other in addressing strongholds when necessary. Instead of living in darkness Paul calls us to live in the light (Eph. 5:11). By bringing strongholds of fear or lust into the light and interceding for each other, marriages are taken to a new level of oneness and freedom. A lack of willingness to live in the light and address strongholds in a marriage can result in vulnerability to spiritual attack in a family. Numerous missionaries, pastors, and spiritual leaders have fallen because of an unwillingness to practice the principles of submission to Christ in one another and {148} resistance of the enemy in their marriages.

I recently had the opportunity to pray with a church elder who was addicted to internet pornography. His repeated private confessions were powerless to break the foothold. It was only when he brought the issue into the light and confessed to another brother, and together we resisted the enemy, that the power of this foothold was broken in his life. What he did not realize was that his son had also come to me for prayer some weeks previous. The son confessed getting a girlfriend pregnant and then taking her to an abortion clinic where the “evidence” was disposed of.

We need to consider whether the sins of the parents—potential footholds—are visited on the children to the third and fourth generation (Exod. 34:7) even under the new covenant, and what the impact of the spiritual law of “sowing and reaping” (Gal. 6:7-8) might be on generational sin.

Church Sphere

The third sphere of responsibility in the area of warfare for the believer is that of the body of Christ. However, it must be noted again that we will have limited freedom to intercede for each other at this level if we are living in defeat in our marriages or personal life. Paul frequently called on the churches to pray for him in his ministry (2 Cor. 1:8-11), recognizing that Satan could frustrate and even block him (1 Thess. 2:18). Without intercession and warfare the schemes of the enemy to block ministry at the local church level proceed unhindered.

The final piece of the armor given in Ephesians 6:10 is that of intercession and prayer for the saints. We must be on guard for each other. “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (Jas. 5:16).

Footholds that impact the church include relational sin in areas of bitterness, slander, and gossip (Eph. 4:29-32). Repentance is our most powerful weapon to confront these footholds. The freedom to confront and confess relational sin is spiritual warfare. The “accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12:10) who often accuses us through each other will be overcome by our application of the blood of the lamb and willingness to repent. Similarly, a proactive commitment to live “at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18) is a form of defensive warfare that thwarts the schemes of the enemy to divide the saints.

When leadership teams, in particular, apply this commitment to not speak of each other negatively and remain loyal to each other, they are arming themselves against the accuser. Ministries led by personnel who {149} are loyal to each other and guard their tongues experience much freedom from the enemy’s relational attacks. Without “relational baggage” we are free to pray together and lay down our lives for each other.

The prayer ministry of the church is one of the ways in which we develop in maturity and responsibility in Christ’s kingdom. Jesus is looking for an active praying church that functions as his ambassadors on the earth. Satan is opposed to this role. Similar to the people of Israel, God has allowed the enemy to remain in the land to teach us responsibility and to reveal our hearts (Judg. 2:21—3:4). We are being prepared to rule and reign with him in the age to come (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 20:6). This is our training ground. “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).

Societal Sphere

Perhaps one of the reasons the church in the Western world has had such limited influence on the “principalities and powers” is because of our inability to walk in the light in the previous three levels of spiritual warfare. Without freedom personally, in our marriages, and in the church, we have a limited effectiveness or even desire to engage in intercession for our cities and nations. Those who do learn and begin to apply some fresh principles of intercession for their city or nation without walking in freedom at the previous three levels cannot withstand the “counterattack” and fall away from their course of action.

The Scriptures do not provide clear instruction in the area of confronting territorial spirits (Dan. 10). This in itself should be a warning against creating our own practical theology based on what works somewhere else. Clearly the Latin American, African, and Korean churches have “won back” territory from the enemy and have much to teach us in the West about “territorial warfare.” However, we must start to learn these principles where the Scriptures start: with us as individuals in the renewing of our own minds and relationships.

Having said that, the answer to misuse is not avoidance but proper instruction. We cannot allow fear to continue to keep us immature about spiritual warfare. Jesus stated, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matt. 16:18). We are to pray that his kingdom would come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10), precisely because his will is presently not being done on earth. The advance of Christ’s kingdom is warfare against a determined opponent: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8). When Satan offered Christ the kingdoms of the world if he would only worship him (Luke 4:5-8), Jesus never {150} challenged Satan’s ability to offer those kingdoms. Christ’s victory, however, would come another way: the way of the cross. “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col. 2:15).

While some persons go into great detail delineating the differences in role and function of the various levels of spiritual authority listed by Paul in Ephesians 6:12, what is important for our purposes is that this unseen enemy does exist and that he is organized. His organization along geographical lines seems to correspond to the earthly political and human powers that he attempts to control. Further, it seems logical that prevailing cultural gods or deities, such as the goddess Artemis in Ephesus (Acts 19), gain their power to influence a particular region through direct or indirect worship.

These prevailing cultural sins renew the covenants with powers of darkness often through annual festivals or ceremonies. Many who live in the two-thirds world can clearly articulate the identity of their regional deity. It must, however, be stated that God and not the enemy has determined the “places where they (the nations) should live” (Acts 17:26).

Given the reality of a geographically organized enemy, we have an opportunity to walk the streets of our cities and intercede for those blinded to the truth of Christ. We have an opportunity to join with the church gathered and to jointly intercede for our regions, as is happening in cities across North America. We can also intercede together with the church in other parts of the world. When combined with Christian witness and loving demonstrations of Christ’s kingdom community, this intercession is powerful.

Our adversary understands power, influence, fame, and wealth. He does not understand death to self and servanthood. There is a role for “binding and loosing” (Matt. 16:18-19) in our proclamation of Christ’s kingdom rule. However, this must not be at the expense of our kingdom servanthood and loving community “displacing” the kingdoms of this world. Our proclamation of the victory of the cross must be made in the Spirit with which that victory was won. There is no room for spiritual “Rambos with an attitude” in this area of evangelism, spiritual warfare, and intercession.

Humility, godly character, and a demonstration of Christ’s power should provoke the world to ask “the reason for the hope” we have (1 Pet. 3:15). However, kingdom living by itself rarely opens blinded eyes (2 Cor. 4:4). Similarly, intercession without a demonstration of kingdom living is incomplete (John 13:35). Kingdom community, when combined with intercession and warfare against the one who “blinds” the {151} minds of unbelievers from the light, has the ability to powerfully advance the kingdom.


While this is only an introduction to the discussion, there are several theological emphases that Anabaptists can offer to the broad topic of spiritual warfare.

As Hans Kasdorf and others so clearly pointed out in Anabaptism and Mission (Wilbert R. Shenk, ed., Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1984), the theological core of the early Anabaptists was radical obedience to the great commission’s call to go and make disciples of all nations. H. W. Meihuizen states that these early evangelists were commissioned as “Christian Knights” (Anabaptism, 89), borrowing a term first used by Erasmus. When captured and flogged before magistrates, these evangelists publicly stated their forgiveness of their enemies. These “knights” were clearly in a war. However, they were not battling flesh and blood in their proclamation of Christ’s kingdom rule.

Paul stated that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). Others have noted that if we do not wrestle against “principalities and powers,” we will fight against flesh and blood. This has been the history of the church through the ages. And here we should include the Mennonite Church. In our battle against unjust societal structures and systems in the pursuit of peace, we have too often opted for battling in the “flesh and blood” dimension. We have failed to invest in the warfare of intercession and prayer.

The example of Christ invites us to be active in both the spiritual and physical realms. The kingdom proclamation is of an anointing to “preach good news to the poor . . . freedom for the prisoners . . . recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). The physical and spiritual nature of both the problem and the cure are addressed by Jesus.

The early Anabaptist evangelists were warriors who integrated this seen and unseen nature of the battle. The present spiritual warfare discussion could benefit from a greater emphasis on this integration. The seen and unseen nature of the battle was evident at the cross with both the demonic forces of hell and the Roman soldiers surrounding the crucifixion.

At the cross we also see the paradox of the suffering servant and the victorious warrior who “led captives in his train” (Eph. 4:8). Anabaptists {152} have tended to focus on the suffering servant and not on the victorious warrior. Both are accurate in a fuller understanding of Christology and its import for the church.

We now have an opportunity to call the larger church to an engagement using Christ’s way of addressing evil. The church’s proclivity towards triumphalism and a prideful attitude in spiritual warfare will be challenged as we remember that Christ’s greatest victory over Satan occurred through obedience to the Father unto death. We will cease warring against flesh and blood as we take up the weapons of love and forgiveness.

The victorious suffering one will lead us to battle against the real enemy who seeks to block the rule of Christ in our lives, marriages, churches, and world.

Randy Friesen has served with the Mennonite Brethren Church for the past twelve years as Director of Youth Mission International (a short term missions/discipling program which trains some eight hundred participants each year). He has a B.A. in International Politics and a Masters in Theology from Tyndale Seminary in Toronto.

The original version of this essay, of which this is a condensation, was presented at the Council of International Ministries Consultation, Techny, Illinois, January 22-23, 2000.

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