John 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command.
It is clear that Jesus requires his disciples to obey his commands. Inversely, it follows that we are not required to do what he has not commanded us to do. What are some examples of his commands to the Church? Among other things, we are commanded to:
* love God (Matthew 22:37)
* love one another (Matthew 22:39)
* love our enemies (Matthew 5:44)
* preach the gospel (Mark 16:15)
* heal the sick (Luke 9:1-2; 10:9)
* make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20)
* take care of the poor and needy (Matthew 25:31-40)
* take Holy Communion (1 Corinthians 11:24)
* repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38)
* pray (Luke 18:1, 1 Thessalonians 5:18)
* praise Him (Hebrew 13:15)
* do good and to share with others (Hebrew 13:16)
* assemble together (Hebrew 10:25)
* live a holy life (Hebrew 12:14)
* forgive others (Luke 17:3-4)
These explicit commands as well as others are generally accepted within the body of Christ and are not controversial. What about actions that we perform which are not specifically commanded by the Lord Jesus or his early apostles? Should we be careful before attempting to perform such actions, especially if they involve the supernatural?
What might happen to us if Jesus doesn’t specifically command us to get out of the boat and walk on water?
Let us take the example of Peter who was seated in a boat on the Sea of Galilee when he saw Jesus walking on the water toward him. Peter was very impressed and wanted to walk on water just like Jesus. He wanted to perform a miracle just as he saw Jesus doing. But before he dared to step out of the boat, he waited for an appropriate command from Jesus.
Matthew 14:28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” 29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
When Jesus commanded Peter to “come,” the Lord authorized Peter to perform the miracle of walking on water. He was given the authority to do it. It was clearly the will of the Lord for Peter to perform the miracle. But what would have happened if Peter had not waited for a specific command from Jesus to come? It is obvious that Peter would have immediately sunk into the water after stepping out of the boat. He would have acted without being given any authority by the Lord to do so. None of us in our right mind would even think about stepping out of a boat on the high seas without first receiving a direct and clear command from the Lord to do so. Such an act would be the height of presumption and foolishness. Would the Lord be obligated to save us from drowning if we had in fact done such a thing?
Even though Jesus commanded him, Peter still sank in the water and put himself in danger
Note that even though Peter did receive the command from Jesus to walk on water, after some initial success he failed because of his little faith. His life was endangered, and he cried out to Jesus to save him from drowning. Of course Jesus heard his cry and saved him from the surging sea. But what might happen if we attempt to perform some supernatural feat without any command from the Lord to do so? It would likely be a failure and a waste of time and effort. Not only that, it could be dangerous. Peter’s life was put in danger. And in this case it is important to note that it was clearly the Lord’s will for him to perform the miracle.
Therefore the Church should be very careful to know exactly what the Lord commands us to do, especially in the realm of the supernatural. Even if it is in the realm of the natural not involving the miraculous, there can be risk in taking action which the Lord has not authorized us to do. For example, if we attempt to do business which is apart from the Lord’s will for us, there could be adverse consequences. How much more dangerous might it be for us if we dare to venture into the realm of the supernatural without a prior command and authorization from the Lord? If we do this presumptuously and find ourselves in difficulty, the Lord is not “obligated” to heed us when we ask Him to save us.
Jesus did not explicitly command us to drive out powers and principalities
Such is the case with directly rebuking and attempting to drive out what are known as powers, principalities, and territorial spirits. (We are not referring to intercessory prayer to God here.) The nature of such beings is not clearly understood from New Testament Scripture. In Daniel 10 we are perhaps given a glimpse with the references to the “prince of Persia” and the “prince of Greece.” But nowhere in Scripture—whether Old Testament or New Testament—are we clearly commanded to engage such beings, let alone Satan himself, in direct frontal assault.
It is clear from verses like those found in Colossians that “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority (Chapter 2:9-10). Such verses, however, do not constitute a general and explicit command from the Lord for us to attack powers and authorities in a direct fashion by speaking to them and rebuking them in the name of Jesus Christ.
Even well-known verses from Ephesians cannot be used to support such actions.
Ephesians 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For 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.
First of all, these verses speak of a defensive posture, not an offensive one in which we attempt to rebuke and drive out the rulers, authorities, powers and spiritual forces in the heavenly realms. Secondly, the foot soldiers of one army do not directly go after the generals of the enemy army. No, they will attack and kill the foot soldiers of the enemy army—only in that way will the battle be won. In the same way, the main business of the body of Christ on earth with regard to the Great Commission is to heal infirm people, to drive out demons from people, proclaim the kingdom of God to the lost (Luke 9:1-2), and to disciple all nations. Our time and energy should not be focused on fighting beings in the heavenly realms—something we have not been clearly authorized nor commanded to do. Rather we should take care of business on earth where we have been given the authority to “heal the sick, and tell them ‘the kingdom of God is near you.’” (Luke 10:9)
We should take care only to attack those enemies whom the Lord has commanded us to attack. The Lord has clearly commanded us to heal the sick and cast out demons as we proclaim the kingdom of God to the lost. But to attack a powerful enemy without a clear and direct command from the Lord to do so can invite danger to ourselves from that provoked enemy. The military analogy is valid. Soldiers in the military only attack targets directly specified by their commander. They do not go about attacking the enemy indiscriminately, anyone or anywhere or anytime they wish. If they do so they are in violation of their orders and can face consequences.
What about the authority to trample on “snakes and scorpions”?
Luke 10:17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.
According to the context, Jesus had sent them out to heal the sick and proclaim the kingdom of God to the lost (Luke 10:9). This would have included casting demons out of afflicted people as they preached the gospel. When they returned victoriously from their mission trip, Jesus confirmed to them that he indeed had given them authority to drive demons out of afflicted people, referring to these beings as “snakes and scorpions.” These are demons whose activity, like the activity of non-flighted snakes and scorpions which symbolize them, is on the surface of the earth afflicting human beings. Their domain is not in the heavenly realms, and therefore they likely do not refer to “powers and principalities” whose activity is above. We have authority to overcome all the power of such snakes and scorpions, and they cannot harm us. But perhaps we cannot say the same of “powers and principalities.” If we attempt to engage these beings directly, the outcome could be in doubt—even dangerous for us.
It can be dangerous to try to walk on water if we have not been commanded to do so
Not only is it likely ineffective and a waste of resources to engage heavenly beings in direct combat, it can be dangerous. There are enough testimonies of servants of God who without authorization have gone after what are called powers and principalities in a direct fashion and suffered what could be considered counterattack. Some have suffered from infirmities and even death. They and even their families have gone through unnecessary trials because they have gone “beyond what is written.” They have gone beyond the realm of their authority and engaged an enemy in a battle the Lord did not command them to fight. This happened to the Israelites in the Old Testament.
Numbers 14:44 Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the high hill country, though neither Moses nor the ark of the LORD’s covenant moved from the camp. 45 Then the Amalekites and Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah.
Under such circumstances the Lord allowed the Israelites to be defeated by their enemies. He did not save them, even if they had called on His name. Similarly, the Lord is not obligated to save us from retaliation when we engage the enemy in a battle presumptuously, find ourselves in trouble and then call on His name. Even if there is no enemy counterattack, we might still face trials because we have made the mistake of acting in presumption before the Lord. In contrast, however, the Lord did save Peter from drowning in the water because he had in fact commanded him to step out of the boat. But the Lord was not pleased with Peter and afterwards rebuked him for failing to complete the miracle.
How can one know that such “spiritual warfare” is in fact effective?
There is no way to measure the effectiveness of direct spiritual warfare against territorial spirits. There is no way of determining whether results on earth (if there are in fact any) are actually a result of such warfare. However, if we obey the clear commands of the Lord to heal the sick, cast out demons, and proclaim the kingdom of God, we will see visible results: people are actually healed and saved. Churches grow. The kingdom of God on earth increases.
In December 2007 I was in ministering in Benin, West Africa—known as the very birthplace of voodoo and black magic. After the Basic Training we held an Evangelistic Healing Crusade in the open air. At this meeting powerful miracles of healing took place as the trained servants of God ministered. A harvest of souls was reaped for Christ at that meeting. The next morning the King of the region, hearing about what had happened, sent us five of his elders with a message from him. The King wanted to hand over his region to the Lord Jesus Christ!
This took place without any spiritual warfare being conducted for the region. We simply obeyed the commands of the Lord to heal the sick on earth and proclaim the kingdom of God on earth.
If one is concerned about powers, principalities and “territorial spirits,” one should pray to God about them. And if it is His will He may send properly-equipped and powerful angels to war against them as happened in the time of Daniel’s 21-day fast in Daniel Chapter 10.
We can be both safe and productive for the kingdom of God
It would be safer and more productive for the Church to hold to a more literal and conservative interpretation of Scripture regarding what we are to be engaged in here on earth. Clearly we should obey his explicit commands. And teachings involving actions that are not explicitly commanded by him we should consider very carefully. Not only they may be optional, they may be a waste of our resources and some may even pose an unnecessary risk to our personal safety. Today more and more such peripheral teachings are circulating within the body of Christ.
Have we nothing better to do with our time and energy? Should we not rather “be about our Father’s business”—saving the lost as Jesus did?
Acts 10:38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
So what should we do? (this section is added for those for whom the issue of “territorial spirits” is especially relevant)
When the people of a nation do not repent of their sins and do not believe in God and His Son Jesus Christ, by default they may in effect be “worshiping” the territorial spirits in the land. (A spiritual vacuum cannot exist for long—it will be filled by something.) This gives any such spirits the right to remain and to have authority in the land. In effect, it is of the free will of the people to allow the spirits to rule over the land. Where this is the case believers have no authority to drive out them out. God allows people to exercise their own free will and they will of course bear the consequences of it. The way to drive out territorial spirits—if indeed this is possible, for Scripture is not clear about their nature and does not specifically say that we can in fact expel them—is to preach the gospel with power and thus free the people of the land from the bondage of sin and unbelief. In this way, they will repent of their sins and thus no longer empower the territorial spirits if indeed this was the case before. The “powers and principalities” will lose their power and authority over the land.
We can understand this by looking at the 2008 Presidential election in the United States. American voters of their own free will chose Democrat Barack Obama as the one who would hold power and authority for four years. The Republicans and conservatives lost power by the will of the people and were forced to step aside. Since Barak Obama was legally elected according to the laws of the United States, the Republicans have no authority to tell him to leave office. We can see how it depends on the choice of the people. What is the role of the Church in this? We must preach the gospel with power and convert large numbers of people to Jesus Christ. In upcoming elections these believers will vote for the candidate who shares their values. In this way there can be a change of administration and direction. However, this wonderful scenario involving the Church will likely not take place.
Therefore intercessory prayer (and “spiritual warfare”) all by itself is insufficient. We must put feet to our prayers and obey Christ’s command to proclaim the kingdom of God with power to the lost and to disciple our nation. Only then “the kingdom will come” in America. The same is true for every nation under heaven. Whether or not the Church will actually do this is moot.
Why has this come about?
Perhaps we have become so involved with “optional” teachings because as committed and sincere disciples of Christ we truly want to advance His Kingdom on earth. But since we have not been taught how to obey the frontline commands of the Lord to win the lost, we busy ourselves with secondary concerns. At best they serve to distract us from doing what it takes to complete the Great Commission. At worst, they may be hazardous to our well-being.