The following article appeared in The New Millennium, a publication of the Association for Christian Development. To receive a free subscription to The New Millennium, please write to

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Basic Training in Spiritual Warfare


Kenneth V. Ryland

We as Christians live in dangerous times. With each passing day hostility to Christian thought, Christian principles, and Christians themselves grows, it seems. The Christian building blocks upon which our society was founded are not just crumbling; they are being demolished. In this brave new world Christ is out, and Dagon and his new world order are in. We are teetering on the brink of an era of unparalleled animosity toward Jesus Christ and His followers.

If we are, as many believe, very near the return of our Lord, we are even nearer a time of darkness such as the world has never seen: "For then there will be great tribulation such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Matthew 24:21, NKJV).

In such a social and spiritual climate many will turn away from the faith and betray those who remain faithful to Christ and His Word (Matthew 24:10). How will you avoid being one of the spiritual casualties of this treacherous age? Is your faith strong enough to prevent you from turning away from Christ to save yourself from such peril?

Jesus laid great stress on counting the cost of being one of His disciples. In Luke 14:25-35 Jesus told His multitude of followers that they could not be His disciples unless they were willing to value the lives of their family or even their own lives far below His life and work. In verse 33 Jesus declares that to be His disciple we must forsake all.

Christians have had it easy in the Western world, but that time appears to be coming to an end. As a rule we have not been required to "forsake all" as an acknowledgement of our devotion to our Lord and Savior. While our brothers and sisters in many other countries have daily faced persecution, imprisonment, and even death, we have lounged in the lap of luxury. But, the more our world rushes forward to embrace the gods of this age, the more hostile it will become to those who follow the one True God.

As the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy concerning the last days, "...all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (I Timothy 3:1,12). Paul considered persecution to be one of the costs of being a Christian. Perhaps we should as well.

As this end-time war against you and your God heats up, how will you avoid being a casualty? How will you guarantee that your name will be written in the Book of Life when Jesus returns to put down man's Satan-led rebellion against his Creator?

In I Timothy 3:15,16 the apostle Paul reveals to us one of the keys to our gaining victory in this war: Know the Scripture inside and out. The better we know the Scripture, the better we know our heavenly Father's mind and will. To know the Scripture is to gather our armor and armaments for battle. This knowledge is critically important if we want to be standing (spiritually) after the enemy has thrown everything in his arsenal at us.

However, having armor and weapons is a far cry from being prepared to win the battle. Our weapons are spiritual, and we must be trained to war after the spirit, not after the flesh. We must be trained to wield the sword of God's warfare with skill and daring. We can be assured that our enemy and his soldiers will come at us to cripple or destroy us if possible.

Lest we should be frozen with fear at this possibility, we must remember that we are not alone and that we do not have to face the enemy alone. Even though we live in enemy territory, we are not helplessly stranded. Our captain, the most skillful and successful warrior in the history of the world, is with us. He is more than willing to teach us to fight skillfully and successfully against our enemy and his forces. Yielding ourselves to His command, we can learn not only to fight for the faith and hold our own, but actually to take ground from the enemy.

Jesus not only willingly purchased our lives with His own blood as the purchase price, He also returned to this earth in the Spirit to fight to free us from the clutches of the devil. Through His body, the Church (us), He is warring to take away from the devil those whom our enemy refuses to let go. Because we now belong to Christ, the devil will stop at nothing to neutralize us or even destroy us if possible. He intends to give no ground to any Christian or to the body of Christ. He would desire nothing more than to kill, steal, or destroy any or all who have been torn from his grasp and given to our Savior.

With so much at stake how can we learn to fight through the Spirit so that we might free ourselves and others from every strand of attachment with which the devil pulls us in his direction?

Often, when we see our condition and how our enemy uses others and circumstances in our lives to influence and control us, we lash out in anger and hostility against those whom we perceive as "working for the enemy." But this is only using the devil's tools and the devil's tactics to extricate ourselves from the devil's control.

There is another way-- a way to use the weapons of God in a godly manner. To use God's weapons God's way means to be trained by God's best -- the Captain of the armies of the living God, Jesus Christ the Righteous -- in the art of spiritual warfare.

Spiritual warfare is a special way of taking on the issues of life, whether their source is the normal vicissitudes of living in this flesh or pure evil in one of its myriad forms. We can confront our circumstances with success if, and only if, we are willing to be trained by the Master. Our training will start in earnest when we can say with the Apostle Paul that we desire above all else to "know Him and the power of His resurrection..." (Phil. 3:10).

If we can begin to know the living Christ (not just how He is described by His biographers, those who have dealt with Him through the ages), we will begin to see a magnificent world unfold like a flower right before our eyes. We will start to see and understand how our prayers intermingle with the visible world around us to influence our own circumstances and the lives of others.

99.9% of us never enter completely into our Father's house. We open the door and stand in the entryway wondering what is inside, yet are unwilling to shut the door behind us and go all the way in. We like much of what we have left outside and would like to leave ourselves a way out in case the cost of staying with our Father becomes "excessive." So, the door stays open, "just in case." Yet we have a sense that we are not really personally connected to God and Christ but cannot quite grasp why that is so.

Our victory is gained through knowing God and Christ intimately. The superficial will no longer do. The world is becoming much too dangerous not to take the next step in our spiritual growth. It is only when we become willing to put personal considerations aside and with all our hearts seek to know Him that we can be trained successfully to confront the intensifying spiritual assault coming from the world around us. Even though we are many and are all part of one body, our training is very individualized and personal-- one-on- one. We must know the One who is training us. We must allow Him to eat with us, study with us, get into the trenches with us, and march side-by-side with us through each day's battles. It is only with this kind of personal contact and attention that we can be instructed by our Lord on a moment-by-moment basis.

If we insist on continuing to march to the beat of our own drummer and giving attention to God only when we need something or when we feel we "have to" in order to stay on His good side, then we have missed the whole point of the death of Christ. The way to the Holy of Holies is open. Go on in and talk to your Father. Jesus spilled His blood because He and the Father wanted you to come back home. You and I are His prodigal sons and daughters. Arise and go to Him. The filth from the pig stye of this world has been washed form us by the blood of Christ. Your Father wants you to know Him as well as you are known by Him. But, you must want and seek to know Him and the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is at this point of coming to know Christ and "Abba", our Father, intimately that we can begin to understand God's will as never before. The beauty of this kind of relationship is that we begin to comprehend not only what God demands of us, but why He demands it because our connection to Him through the Holy Spirit in us becomes reactivated and begins to grow and strengthen. By coming into a close, friendly relationship with God, we see more clearly what to pray, and how to stay within His will.

That closeness is what God wants. Jesus said, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep my word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our home with him." (John 14:23). Yes, the home of the Father and the Son is with us because we are their family, and family live together. In Revelation 3:20, Jesus reiterated the intimate nature of the relationship He desires to have with us: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me."

Your effectiveness in prayer is directly proportional to your intimacy with your heavenly Father and His son, Jesus Christ. When God says "Come now, and let us reason together,..." (Isaiah 1:18), that is God's invitation to us to come to know Him as a friend and guide, not just as the Supreme, Sovereign Ruler of the universe.

Those who through history have been the most effective in interceding with God have been His friends, not those who are casually acquainted with Him. Moses and Abraham are good examples of God's friends (Exodus 33:11 and Isaiah 41:8). Jesus emphasized to His disciples that His relationship with them (and with us, if we are His disciples) was based on friendship, not a master-servant relationship (John 15: 12-15).

My objective in writing this article has been to explain the most important element in guaranteeing your survival as a Christian in these difficult times. If you desire to pray effectively, with real influence on God, such prayer must flow from a close, personal relationship with the Father and the Son. This is basic training for the spiritual war we are in. Draw near to the source of life so that you as His child might be nourished and sustained by Him. When our lives are thus filled, His life with which we are filled will begin to flow from us to strengthen and encourage those around us. King David, better than anyone, sums up the peace and confidence of those who know God as Friend as well as Lord:

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever." (Psalm 23:4-6).

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