The teaching on spiritual warfare directed against demonic beings in heavenly places is heavily dependent on certain verses taken from Ephesians 6. In view of the popularity of this teaching around the world and the potential danger to believers if the passage is not correctly understood, we should seek to interpret it properly. There is also a companion verse from James 4:7 which we will consider as well.
Ephesians 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.
12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
14 Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, 15 and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE;
16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
17 And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, (NASB)
What is the primary purpose of the armor of God according to this passage? It is to stand firm. Standing firm is obviously not what we do when attacking an enemy, but rather it is a defensive posture where we withstand the enemy’s attacks. The passage refers to such attacks as “schemes in the evil day” and “flaming arrows.” Keeping oneself from harm and injury has always been the primary function of armor in warfare.
Shields are obviously for the purpose of fending off enemy projectiles and attacks, not generally for attacking the enemy. Verse 16, teaching about the shield of faith, makes this very clear. Even a sword (“the sword of the Spirit”) can be seen as having a definite defensive function, as in warding off a thrust by the enemy.
Finally, verse 18 encourages us to “pray” at all times in the Spirit for all the saints. Now prayer is obviously directed to God, and not to territorial spirits for the purpose of driving them out.
The inescapable conclusion is that Ephesians 6 cannot and should not be used to support the practice of “spiritual warfare” as currently practiced by many believers. But what about the validity of James 4:7? In order to interpret this verse in its context, let’s first look at the verses immediately preceding it.
James 4:1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder.You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? 6 But He gives a greater grace Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.”
7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. (NASB)
It is clear from the context that we “resist the devil” by first repenting of our pleasures, our lust, our envy, our impure motives, our adulterous friendship with the world, and our pride. Before we resist the devil, we must submit to God in repentance. “Resisting the devil” here, therefore, has nothing to do with directly rebuking and attempting to drive out territorial spirits.
As recorded in Scripture, neither Jesus nor any of his disciples conducted spiritual warfare or prayer walks as currently taught by many in the Church. Therefore we must examine it more closely. If the practice is in fact unscriptural, then there is even potential danger for those who engage in it.
Jude 9 But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”
Even the archangel Michael did not have the authority to rebuke the devil directly and personally. Rather he simply said, “The Lord rebuke you!” There can be potential danger in personally rebuking and attacking beings in the heavenlies over which we have not been given personal authority, and whom we have not been commanded by the Lord to attack. The danger is that they can retaliate against us, and in a severe way. The attack can be against our physical or mental health, or against our family members in some way. Even our very physical lives can be taken.
The Lord is not obligated to protect us under such circumstances because we have “gone beyond what is written.” We have of our own accord, albeit unwittingly, left the umbrella of God’s protection by attacking the enemy presumptuously. We do this when we take direct and personal action against beings in the heavenly realms without a direct command from the Lord—whether from Scripture or from the Holy Spirit—and without prior authorization from Him to take such action.
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.
It is far safer and far more fruitful to obey the commands given clearly by the Lord in Scripture.