The practice known commonly as “spiritual warfare” has been widely taught in the Church, especially within charismatic circles. Servants of God who believe in it have gone very deep into Scripture to understand it and teach it to other believers. Its purpose essentially is to set people in a particular geographic region free from demonic strongholds so that they can believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. This motivation is of course most praiseworthy. The methodology behind spiritual warfare involves directly addressing and rebuking principalities and territorial spirits controlling a certain region, binding them or commanding them to leave the area in the name of Jesus.
According to http://management.about.com/cs/money/a/CostBenefit.htm, “a cost-benefit analysis is done to determine how well, or how poorly, a planned action will turn out. Although a cost-benefit analysis can be used for almost anything, it is most commonly done on financial questions. Since the cost-benefit analysis relies on the addition of positive factors and the subtraction of negative ones to determine a net result, it is also known as running the numbers.”
Let’s do a cost-benefit analysis on the practice of spiritual warfare. First, let’s look at the benefit.
Does spiritual warfare actually produce measurable results in terms of the harvest? There are undoubtedly reports of the practice resulting in people in a certainly region suddenly becoming open to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Since we personally do not practice strategic-level spiritual warfare, we do not have the data to back this up. But we have no doubt that it “works.” Therefore there can be a benefit from conducting spiritual warfare. But “the numbers” can be a bit uncertain since the immediate results of spiritual warfare in a region or village are often not at all evident or measurable in terms of how many were saved after the warfare was conducted.
Now let’s consider the cost of doing spiritual warfare. It is very possible that there are risks involved when doing spiritual warfare against territorial spirits. When we harshly rebuke powerful demonic beings in the second heaven telling them to leave areas they’ve controlled legally since the time of the Fall, they will not take it kindly. They already hate us because we serve Jesus Christ. They will very likely want to retaliate against us and find a reason to take us out. And so over and over we have heard reports and testimonies of committed and dedicated servants of God doing spiritual warfare who have then suffered severely from retaliation—both in terms of physical infirmity and personal demonic attack. The attacks can include family members as well. Sometimes the attacks result in the physical passing of the beloved servant of God when he or she is in the prime of their ministry. Therefore the cost of spiritual warfare can be very high indeed.
But we might conclude that such suffering is the price that we must and are willing to pay for preaching the gospel and serving the Lord. After all, the apostle Paul suffered much for the sake of the gospel.
…Is it absolutely necessary to suffer severely—including even death—at the hands of territorial spirits because we are bearing fruit for the gospel?
However, is it absolutely necessary to suffer so severely—including even death—at the hands of territorial spirits because we are serving the Lord and bearing fruit for the gospel? We personally have found the answer to be no. We have found that if we simply obey the clear commands of the Lord Jesus as recorded in the gospels, we can produce much good fruit for the Lord without having to suffer at the hands of regional principalities and territorial spirits. In Luke 9 and 10, Jesus gave explicit commands to the Twelve and then to the 72 disciples when he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God.
When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. (Luke 9:1-2)
Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ (Luke 10:9)
The commands were to heal the sick using the power and authority he had given them, and to proclaim the kingdom of God to the lost. Scripture then tells us that the disciples obeyed the Lord’s commands.
So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere. (Luke 9:6)
The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” (Luke 10:17)
Scripture also informs us that the disciples continued to heal the sick and proclaim the kingdom of God on into the Book of Acts with the result that the known world was turned upside-down for the gospel within a few decades. The gospel was bearing so much fruit around the known world that even Paul thought the Great Commission was nearing fulfillment and that the Second Coming of the Messiah was near. Scripture does not record the disciples actually engaging in strategic-level spiritual warfare, either in the gospels or in Acts. Neither did Jesus in the gospels ever explicitly command his disciples to do so.
Today’s disciples can witness fruitfulness similar to that of the early disciples simply by using the Lord’s authority and power to heal the sick as they did when the gospel was preached, especially in gospel-resistant nations. No strategic-level spiritual warfare is needed. This has been our experience after full-time ministry since 1978. It has also been the experience of the many servants of God we have trained. This is the “benefit” of following the commands of Jesus closely: the producing of much good fruit for the gospel in terms of the harvest.
But what is the “cost” of preaching the gospel in this way? In our experience and in the experience of those we’ve trained, the cost does not include severe attacks by the enemy against us personally and our loved ones. At times there might be persecution against us by men or human governments, but we personally experience no direct retaliatory attacks by powerful and angry territorial spirits causing sickness or even death. The Lord protects us as we obey His commands clearly recorded in Scripture.
What can we conclude from this cost-benefit analysis of strategic-level spiritual warfare? When we engage in spiritual warfare against high-level demonic beings in the context of proclaiming the kingdom of God, we might (or sometimes might not) bear fruit. But often the immediate results cannot be seen and measured. The “numbers” are not available. Therefore the benefit can be unclear. But the cost, as we have seen, will generally be high.
When we follow the Lord’s clear and unambiguous command in Scripture by healing the sick when proclaiming the kingdom of God to the lost, the benefit is immediate and clear. The sick are miraculously healed and, witnessing the miracles unmatched by their local gods, the lost will come to Christ as Lord and Savior—often in great numbers as we are seeing in predominantly Hindu India. So the “numbers” are actually there. The cost, in terms of personal suffering due to attacks by high-level demonic powers, is negligible if not non-existent.
Which approach might be preferable?