“Please pray for me! I have been diagnosed with cancer, my husband has left me and the bank is about to foreclose on my house! I am under a spiritual attack.” The woman on the other end of the phone was desperate. As we talked I learned that she was a long time believer. Further questioning revealed that she felt she had been called to do spiritual warfare for her city in general and for a person, an unbeliever, in particular. Her prayer life was devoted to binding and rebuking the devil over people and areas. The fact that she was losing everything only served to make her more dedicated toward her task. This was not the first time I had heard a similar story. Why would a dedicated Christian be suffering such loss?
For a number of years I have had a growing concern about the modern trend in Christian groups that emphasizes our “warfare” against the devil. Like many I was once convinced that Ephesians 6:12 revealed a heavenly conflict that demanded our attention and “intercession” if the church was to fulfill its call to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Eph. 6:12
As it is commonly taught, this new kind of strategic intercession was necessary in order to free regions and cities from the demonic control that blinded men’s eyes to the message of Jesus Christ. As a result a movement of intercessors has become an integral part of many churches and there are many conferences devoted to such teaching and intercession with the purpose of “tearing down strongholds” and opening areas to the influence of the Word of God.
This emphasis on our struggle with demonic forces has filtered down to the prayer life of the individual Christian who often times devotes as much time to binding and loosing the devil as he does actually communing and communicating with the Lord. Is this Biblical prayer? Is this true intercession?
In my 43 years of Christian life and ministry I have spoken with many, many believers who are experiencing every kind of calamity, sickness and loss in their lives. Over the past few years and especially in the last few months I have noticed a disturbing pattern to the testimonies of these hurting Christians. In a growing number of cases when speaking with those who have known and served the Lord it was often mentioned in conversation that they were intercessors or involved in spiritual warfare. I began to sense that there might be a reason why so many warfare intercessors are suffering such losses.
I have taught for years against the popular practice of identifying the “strongman” over regions, prayer warfare against such spirits, and what I refer to as “Christian voodoo” with regards to the mystical, almost superstitious approach that many take in order to free their city or region from demonic influences. Having lived in foreign countries and having learned of the pagan practices of different groups that seek to rid themselves of demons and spirits, I can only groan when I see my brothers and sisters in Christ practicing similar rites in Christian churches! Christians in public and in private are making scathing pronouncements against the devil, binding and loosing, rebuking and casting him out of their area or even over nations. Is this what we have been commissioned and called to do?
It is my belief that certain verses in the New Testament have been misunderstood and wrongly applied, and as a result, sincere believers are entering into a spiritual realm that is not in their sphere of authority. This spiritual trespassing could very possibly be opening doors of opportunity for a defeated devil and his demons to exploit and bring heartache and suffering to well meaning Christians.
Many Christian intercessors can often be heard praying for others using the following terms loudly and often: “I bind you Satan, I bind you spirits of this and spirits of that, I curse you and cast you down, You must leave in Jesus’ Name, I send you to the pit, etc.” I myself have been guilty of such prayer before sensing a check in my spirit from the Lord and allowing Him to reveal the truths I am sharing in this article. I pray that you will be open to what might be a new point of view, and carefully consider what I feel to be a more powerful and effective way to see the church grow and the gospel reach the nations.
Where is the War?
As quoted above, there is indeed a war in which we wrestle not with flesh and blood. What has confused many is that the verse mentions “high places,” which is properly translated as “the heavens.” As a result the entire context of the passage has been ignored and the emphasis has been placed on the abode of these principalities and powers rather than their place of operation, the earth, and the subject of their wrath, the believer.
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Eph. 6:10-13
If we take time to consider Paul’s purpose in this passage, there is no way to conclude that this is a call to arms against principalities and powers in “high places.” What Paul is in fact exhorting is that the Christian “be strong,” “stand,” “withstand,” and “having done all, to stand.” The language is defensive, not offensive, and is aimed at exhorting the believer to be ready for a satanic onslaught against his person, not his city or region.
“Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:” Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit…” Eph. 6:14-18
As Paul continues his exhortation we are convinced that his purpose is to see individual believers strengthened through the revelation of the Word of God so that they might be able to “quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” In other words, the revelation of truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, salvation, the Spirit and all prayer, are essential in the life of every Christian if they are to continue in the faith firm until the end. The attacks of the principalities and powers are here on the earth in every day life, not in the heavenlies, because the believer is here on earth. There is no instruction to attack the heavenly abode of the principalities, but rather to withstand their earthly attacks on our lives.
Is there a spiritual warfare? Absolutely yes! However we have placed the warfare above us when in fact it is within us and around us.
“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Rom. 7:18-24
There is indeed a war taking place. And it is not a war that can be won by fleshly means. We know that in our flesh there dwells no good thing. The flesh strives to please God but is unable through the weakness caused by sin. The mind desires the things of God but is impotent to make the flesh submit to what it knows is right. And to make things worse, the devil himself is throwing fiery darts against us in order to secure our destruction. If this isn’t a warfare then I don’t know what warfare is.
“Because the carnal mind is enmity against God:” Rom. 8:7
There is a warfare in our mind. The mind set on the flesh is against God and cannot please God. The fiery darts of the enemy represent the temptations, persecutions and tribulations that all of us experience in life. The Christian who chooses to live in the flesh or attempts to win this war in his own strength is doomed to failure and defeat. Thus, Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 6, to “put on the whole armor of God.” We must know who we are in Christ and who Christ is in us if we will be victorious in this battle.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;” 2 Cor. 10:3-5
Our warfare is not in the flesh and our weapons are not carnal. Our weapons are in fact those listed in Ephesians 6: the revelation of truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, salvation, the Spirit and prayer. These weapons are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. But what is a stronghold? Isn’t a stronghold another word for a demonic principality that rules over a region and makes it impossible for the gospel to penetrate?
Paul tells us exactly what is a stronghold. It is an “imagination”, and a “high thing”(barrier) that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. It is a thought!! A stronghold is a system of belief that has been constructed in the mind of a person that goes against the truth of God and His Word. Strongholds include cultural customs, false religions, the bondages of sin, the philosophies of men, political arguments, scientific claims and such that deny or ignore the reality of God and His truth. These strongholds represent the battleground for the life of the believer. As long as they stand there will be no victory. A believer will continue in a perpetual struggle, the war raging in his mind and flesh as each attempt to gain the mastery over the weakened Christian.
But, the weapons of our warfare are not carnal!!! The revelation of the truth that sets us free, the fact that we are the righteousness of God in Christ, the power of the gospel unto salvation, the faith that can move mountains, our salvation and reconciliation with God, the Holy Spirit who lives in us and anoints us, and the various kinds of prayer are more than enough to tear down every stronghold that exalts itself against God. We are well equipped to win this warfare!
The War that doesn’t Exist
What is clear from the New Testament is that there is no evidence whatsoever, nor any instruction that reveals a spiritual war in high places that requires our strategic prayer and intercession. Jesus never sent forth intercessors to prepare the way for His message. He sent his disciples to preach the gospel, heal the sick and cast out demons. Jesus never indicated that some regions wouldn’t receive Him because of demonic principalities, and therefore they must first be torn down before the gospel could be preached. He told his disciples to shake the dust from their feet and move to the next village if they were not received. So much for blaming demons for men’s hardness of heart!
Paul never prayed to identify the strongman over a city or region. He simply preached the gospel and let the chips fall where they may. At times he was received with gladness and other times he was stoned. No mention was made of the “stronghold” that must be torn down. No intercessory prayer group was formed to attack these powers so that Paul could be invited back to town.
What Jesus did commission the church to do was preach the gospel.
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” Matt. 28:18-20
All power (authority) was given unto Jesus in heaven AND in earth. In other words, there is no realm that is not subject to His authority. Therefore, we are authorized and empowered to take the gospel to all nations regardless of principalities, strongmen and strongholds. The authority of those “powers” has been defeated.
“And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” Col. 2:15
These are the same principalities and powers so often referred to in Ephesians 6. If Jesus has “spoiled” these powers, and if “all authority” has been given Him in heaven and in earth, and if He has commissioned us to “go into all the world and preach the gospel,” then it can be assumed that the only resistance we have to deal with is an earthly resistance comprised of the strongholds in the minds of men and the fiery darts of an enemy who has been defeated and spoiled. But with the weapons of our warfare, we have been equipped for victory. Much time and prayer has been spent fighting an enemy by “binding” him in his heavenly abode, when in fact it is his earthly activities of lies and temptations that we have been equipped to tear down. And much time has been lost that should have been spent going into all the world and preaching. But, praying “strategically” sounds so much more romantic than actually preaching to the lost and healing the sick. You can stay at home and do “strategic warfare,” but you must leave the prayer room and go to the nations if we are to fulfill the Great Commission.
Binding and Loosing?
There are certainly demonic spirits which have their influence over some people to the point of causing physical sicknesses and mental or emotional distress. The gospels are full of accounts of Jesus “healing all that were oppressed of the devil.” (Acts 10:38) As we read the accounts of His powerful ministry we only find Jesus addressing evil spirits when confronting them in the physical body of human beings. It is never recorded that Jesus spoke to principalities and powers in the heavenlies, nor over towns or regions. He told His disciples:
“Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” Luke 10:19
And he sent them to “heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely you have received, freely give.” (Mt. 10:8) The authority of the believer is a part of our inheritance in Christ. It is inherent in the born again spirit of every Christian whether they know it or not. No demon can resist the Name of Jesus when spoken from the lips of one who knows his identity in Christ. Jesus showed us how to exert such authority many times.
“When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick:” Matt. 8:16
But what of binding and loosing? Is that a form of prayer? We find these terms mentioned twice in the teachings of Jesus. To what exactly do they refer?
“And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matt. 16:18-19
This passage follows Peter’s powerful revelation that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. As a result, Jesus explained to Peter something of what that revelation meant. In so many words Jesus was saying, “Peter, upon the revelation of who I am I will build my church. And to those who share in this revelation will I give authority in the earth. What my sons and daughters permit on the earth I will respect from heaven, and what they do not permit on the earth I will uphold from heaven.” In other words, we are His ambassadors, His representatives and ministers in the earth. The principalities and powers in heavenly places will submit to what we establish in the earth, not vice versa. Their earthly activities are subject to our weapons of truth, righteousness, the power of the gospel, salvation, faith, the Holy Spirit and prayer.
The one time we see “Satan as lightning fall from heaven,” reveals clearly the most effective tactic for shaking the principalities in the heavenly places. In Luke chapter 10, Jesus sent forth his disciples to preach the gospel and to “heal the sick.” (v. 9) This authority when put into practice produced amazing results. The disciples returned to Jesus exclaiming, “even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.” (v. 17) This spoiling of Satan’s domain, loosing the oppressed and setting the captive free, brought Satan himself down from the principalities in the heavenly places. The battle was waged on earth and the heavenlies felt the blow.
Unfortunately modern teaching would have us attack the heavenly powers first before feeling that we can preach the gospel with any effectiveness. This is not the New Testament pattern. There are two results from this line of thinking: 1) Men are not considered responsible for their hardness of heart. It’s the devil’s fault; and 2) Our lack of effectiveness in healing the sick and setting the captives free isn’t our fault either. We just need to tear down some more strongholds in prayer and maybe then we can see a revival. I believe this to be an error that has sidetracked the church from its true calling and commission.
“Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matt. 18:18
While Matthew 18 in its context is specifically referring to church discipline, we can still learn from the wording of this verse that the binding and loosing are to be done on earth by man. Earth is man’s domain. God is responsible for the heavenly results. However, many are attempting to bind and loose things in the heavenlies in order that they might see results on the earth. They have turned the verse inside out. We are not authorized to bind unseen evil spirits. We are authorized to loose people from them and set the captives free.
A wonderful case of “loosing” can be found in Luke 13 when Jesus encountered a woman bowed over with a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years. After she was healed Jesus explained that this bondage was of satanic origin. But before this was revealed, and without any vocal attack on this evil spirit, Jesus simply declared: “Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.” (Luke 13:12) He then laid His hands on her and she was instantly healed.
While many modern believers would have spent time binding the devil, casting him out, rebuking the “demon of spinal curvature,” or some such thing, Jesus loosed the woman! “Whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
It is little wonder that Satan fell from heaven like lightning when the disciples, mere men, were spoiling his realm and setting his captives free. We have been given authority to “tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” (Luke 10:19) The keys of authority have been given to the church. We have been commissioned to go into all the world and preach this gospel of power. True warfare is accomplished when we obey the clear command of Jesus.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.” John 14:12
If our authority is earthly and our commission is to go into all the world, is it possible that our attacks against these principalities, and our railing accusations against Satan are exposing us to misery and loss?
There is a severe warning for those who would “speak evil of dignities.” (2 Pet. 2:10) and “speak evil of things they understand not.” (2 Pet. 2:12) Not even Michael the archangel would bring an accusation against the devil but said, “The Lord rebuke thee.” (Jude 1:9) It is important that we understand that Satan is still the “god of this world,” (2 Cor. 4:4) and “the prince of the power of the air.” (Eph. 2:2) As such his heavenly realm of principalities and powers remains intact though spoiled. Any influence the devil has on earth is subject to our authority in Christ, but his heavenly abode is not an area we have been authorized to attack. In so doing we may be unwittingly empowering the devil to “kill, steal and destroy” those who would engage him in such a way.
When we move beyond the scope of our knowledge or authority we expose ourselves to destruction and defeat. In Acts 19:13-16 we see the example of the seven sons of Sceva who attempted to cast out demons using the name of Jesus, but not being born again disciples of Jesus themselves. Though subject to the name and authority of Jesus on earth, the demons quickly recognized that these men were not true ambassadors of Christ and attacked them and overcame them physically!!
It is my belief that many well meaning Christians are suffering similar results when they move beyond their authority on earth to heal the sick and set the captives free. Jesus never spoke his rebukes into the atmosphere, nor were they ever directed toward unseen principalities or demons. His rebukes and authority were always directed toward a person or event. He cast manifesting spirits out of people with His word. He rebuked the wind and the waves. He cursed the fig tree. He taught us to speak to the mountain, a physical entity. He only spoke to the devil when confronting him face to face during His trial in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-14). That example of submitting Himself to God and “resisting the devil” (James 4:7) is exactly what spiritual warfare is all about.
“I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.” I John 2:14
The Strongman is Bound
“But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you. Or else how can one enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house.” Matt. 12:28-29
One of the favorite tactics of modern prayer warfare is to “bind” the strongman so that his kingdom can be effectively spoiled. However, when we consider this verse in its context we can find no evidence of Jesus verbally binding any strongman. But he was most definitely spoiling his house. Exactly how did Jesus bind the strongman in order to heal the sick and the demon possessed?
The strongman, Satan, gained his authority in the earth as a result of man’s sin. Sin allowed the devil to be the god of this world and to kill, steal and destroy. If sin is what loosed the devil in the earth, then righteousness is the only force that can bind him. Since there is “none righteous, no, not one,” (Rom. 3:10) God Himself became flesh, the perfect, sinless man, in order to reveal to us the power of righteousness. Jesus declared concerning the prince of this world that he “hath nothing in me.” (John 14:30) The righteousness of Jesus left the devil powerless and unable to protect his captives. Jesus healed and delivered the oppressed with His word. He did not yell at the devil, he made no stinging rebukes nor curses, nor did he verbally bind the devil and his demons and send them to the pit. The devil was bound by the mere presence of Jesus. Righteousness always triumphs over sin and the power of the enemy!
If we could only grasp who we are in Christ, the very righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21) we would understand that binding the strongman is not a verbal assault but rather a confident assurance of who lives in us. As a new creation every believer is a walking demonstration of Christ’s righteousness. The devil must flee, the sick can be healed and the oppressed delivered. We are free to spoil the house of the enemy and set the captives free! Too often we have substituted the loud rebukes toward unseen spirits for the true power of the confident assurance of “Christ in us, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1:27)
I am convinced that many in the church have been distracted from the completed work of Christ on the cross and have sought to add to His victory through their own imaginary efforts. Christ has been given all authority in heaven and in earth. In turn, He has commissioned us in the earth to preach the gospel and set the captives free. Our “binding and loosing” on earth will be upheld in the heavenlies. As we spoil the strongman’s house, setting the captives free, we will accomplish true spiritual warfare.