By Reverend Mark Hunnemann
I want to demystify or simplify spiritual warfare, without coming across as simplistic. Here are four principles which may change your life, and you can use for the rest of your life. The mind is where the action starts and progresses; and by action I mean problems, temptations, and sin.
First, we must distinguish between guilt and guilt feelings. If we don’t, then Satan can have a heyday with our consciences. In Psalm 51 David confesses that he has sinned… first and foremost against God, even though he had murdered Bathsheba’s husband and committed adultery with her. The horizontal sin was most certainly real and significant, but all sin is primarily cosmic treason against our holy God (vertical rel.). “Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight. V4” He incurred objective guilt before the Ultimate Judge. As the psalm progresses, David reveals that this objective guilt has caused seriously distressing guilt feelings—in v.8 it is compared to the pain of broken bones. In the relativistic age like ours, scores of folks hustle to secular mental health professionals to deal with guilt feelings, which they can only put a Band-Aid on. Part of the beauty of the gospel is the realism; it diagnoses accurately both cause (guilt) and affect (guilt-feelings), and then if offers the only solution—Divine forgiveness and consequent cleansing of conscience. 1 John 1:9 wonderfully captures this, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” If you struggle with guilt feelings, examine your heart for unconfessed sin—once confessed/forgiven, it is your responsibility to not let the guilt feelings fester. How?
To be effective in spiritual warfare we must first recognize the lies in our minds…sometimes we feel guilty for something we have not done or have been forgiven of. Throughout the day thoughts bubble up, and they seem to always have “I” attached to it, but it may not necessarily be coming from me. It sounds like my inner voice, but it may not be. When tempted by the world, the flesh (indwelling sin), or demons they don’t take on an ominous inner voice tone—we hear what sounds like us speaking to us. Some of these thoughts can be awfully destructive can’t they? We need to recognize these thoughts for what they are and not ignore them; acknowledge them and expose them to the Light. If you have thoughts that say you are: worthless, loser, ugly (fill in the blank please), then do NOT ignore those thoughts. Just as guilt is distinct from guilt feelings, we need to make a distinction between temptation and sin. Jesus had all kinds of nasty, brutal, and depraved stuff projected into His mind by Satan, but our Savior never sinned. Please do not feel guilty for being tempted with, say, a lustful thought popping into your mind. It is only if you dwell on it that it becomes sin. If you did something for which you feel shame, you need to expose it to the light by acknowledging it; or if it was done to you this shame needs to be named. Submerging it will only give the demonic a foothold in your mind. Often this exposing to the light is all it takes to be delivered from self-destructive thoughts.
If that is not enough, then verbally renounce the lie. James 4:7-8 tells us that if we submit to God and resist the devil, then he will flee from us. What lie do you currently believe about yourself? Is it guilt, fear, shame, condemnation…? Be specific…as specific as you can. Oftentimes, there are multiple lies. The bible says that the power of life and death lie in the tongue, and some of us have been wounded or scarred by something our parents, spouse, or some other significant person said to us: “You are ugly….you will never amount to anything…stupid…and so on.” BTW, what is the ratio of compliments to criticism in your marriage or with your children or friends? Then, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you what specific lie is causing these self-destructive thoughts. Once you have a handle on what specific lie you have been entertaining in your mind, then you should say out loud, “I renounce the lie that I am a failure…stupid…” Occasionally you may sense the presence of the demonic, and you will need to rebuke it verbally as well. They need to hear it because they cannot hear your prayers or silent rebukes. May I suggest that some, if not most temptation/destructive thoughts, emanate from our flesh or indwelling sin, and not from demons. (James 1:14-15; Gal.5:17; Rom.7)What I do insist on is the cruel insanity of people like Bob Larson who tend to label these negative/condemning thought patterns of Christians as evidence that they are demon possessed. A thousand times NO! Whatever the source, renouncing it verbally will be helpful (especially if demonic in origin) and cannot hurt. Even when I do confess my sin mentally, I learned long ago the benefits of saying, “Thank You” to the Lord out loud—it reinforces the reality of the fact of my being forgiven. Plus, I think it only appropriate that we express gratitude to our Forgiver. May I suggest that you give that a try? So, I ask again, what lie/s do you believe about yourself? Renounce that lie specifically and verbally.
Lastly, in order to be effective in spiritual warfare we must speak biblical truth over/to ourselves. If you feel worthless and have renounced that lie, then say, “I am not worthless because God shed His precious blood for me…I am worth something because God loves me and has forgiven me…I have value because I am made in His image…and so on” Or better yet, quote relevant scripture: if you are feeling accused or condemned say, “Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:1) It is important that you find the exact biblical truth to take captive the specific lie you are being besieged with. Don’t look to worldly remedies, but speak God’s truth that gets right to the heart of the matter.
The psalmist in Psalms 42 and 43 is discouraged, but he moves from fear to faith by talking to himself, instead of letting inner, disquieting thoughts speak to him. Speaking to yourself is not the first sign of insanity! Speaking biblical truth to yourself is essential to being an effective spiritual warrior. We must intentionally address ourselves and the lie with the liberating truth. Hurtful thoughts come unsolicited, but mental assertiveness is necessary to overcome this negative inner monologue…then, we will begin to possess our possessions in the Lord.
Again, hiding the source of current shame, and not countering it with biblical truth, only gives power to the lie. Like kudzu, the lies will rapidly grow and wrap its tendrils around your heart—choking the life out of you. I tread gently here because you might have some horribly painful memory that you have suppressed. This process is not to replace biblical counseling in the case of dealing with a trauma. Diagnose where/what the problem is in the mind, and speak truth directly to it. The heart of spiritual warfare is not sensational—like rebuking some manifesting demon-- but daily acknowledging the lies, renouncing the lies, and speaking spiritual truth to the lies that are joy robbers. These are principles that you can practice for the rest of your life.
If we are not feeding our minds daily with God’s truth about Him, then our minds are being fashioned by something else…mostly lies. ”Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” (Rom.12:2 see 1 Peter 1:13-16) Living in a fallen world can be painful at times, and all around us are non-biblical remedies being shouted at us. I was divorced 13 years ago, and due to circumstances beyond my control, I was unable to live with my own precious children for most of that time. The guilt, shame, worthlessness, and sadness I wrestle with on a daily basis are sometimes unbearable. “I’m a failure as a dad.” is what I hear over and over in my mind, and I desperately wish I could turn back the wheels of time, but I can’t. I live with this wide-awake nightmare every day, and especially at night when I am alone. But this I know…our Lord brings beauty out of ashes, and causes ALL things to work together for our good. I am thankful that I am not just whistling in the dark when speaking God’s truth over me. What burden/lies can you lay at Jesus’s feet, who is gentle and tender-hearted to your sorrows? What truth can bind up that bleeding heart? “Cast all your anxieties on Him because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) May the Lord continue to heal you from the inside out in order that you might be increasingly effective as a mighty spiritual warrior. Amen.