I have been teaching on spiritual warfare these past few weeks and one morning the Lord led me back to the Book of Acts. It is a book that I have always enjoyed and learned from as I truly admire the life of Paul. But this time I was struck by something that I had not realized before — or understood — and how it relates directly to our spiritual warfare.
The underlying theme of what the Lord has been showing me about spiritual warfare is that it is “individual” and that our warfare concerns “strongholds.” I don’t have time here to go into detail (it’s part of my upcoming book) but suffice it to say that the enemy’s goal is to establish strongholds in each of us from which he can accuse us, lie to us, distract us and keep us off the battlefield. He works in our mind as he knows that it is there that the battles take place. So, the goal of our personal spiritual warfare is to take up all the armor of God daily and use it to tear down those strongholds and prevent his establishing new ones.
Now with that background in mind let’s go back to the Book of Acts and let me share a revealing thought the Lord gave me that I believe directly relates to our daily battle.
Acts 7:57-59, 8:1 Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, 58 And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. 59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit… 8:1 And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem…
Here we have the stoning of Stephen and as we all know it was with the “approval” of Saul, who after meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus became God’s apostle to the gentiles. Note that in throwing their clothes at Saul’s feet they celebrated Saul, which made him the first persecutor of the church. From that point on he set about attempting to destroy the church.
Acts 8:3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.
This continued until that fateful day when Saul met Jesus on the way to Damascus, where he was headed to find those of “the way” and bind them and bring them to Jerusalem. But it was from that encounter that history was changed and Paul, the great apostle, was born. And what I want to focus on was how Jesus opened His conversation with Saul:
Acts 9:4-5 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? 5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
The word “pricks” in the Greek is kentron and it refers to the “ox goad” or sharp piece of iron at the end of stick. The reference was to Saul’s hard (skledros; fierce) opposition to the gospel; the sinners rebellion against God. Paul’s immediate and straightforward response was what wilt thou have me to do. He was convicted and turned immediately to the Lord for the answer. And when he went to the house of Ananias he began his journey.
Now jump ahead to Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians and I will show you what the Lord showed me and how it relates to each of us as we step onto the spiritual battlefield.
2 Cor 12:6-9 For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me.7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Let me summarize it this way.
Go back to the stoning of Stephen and remember that Saul (Paul) was honored by those who dropped their robes at his feet. Consider that after that he went on a rampage of persecution against the church. And then his fateful trip on the road to Damascus where he met Jesus and was convicted of his sins against the Lord. Now in this letter he complains to the Lord about the continued suffering in his flesh, caused by the “messenger of Satan” who “buffeted” him continually.
What the Lord showed me was that the “thorn” in Paul’s side was his guilt for persecuting the church. It was that sin that the enemy kept bringing back to Paul in constant “condemnation.” Imagine for a moment all the lives that Paul had ruined and the families he destroyed in the process — an incredible guilt to live with. But Jesus’ words hold an incredible truth not only for Paul but for each of us.
Satan had established a stronghold in Paul’s mind by attacking his weak point; the guilt of his past persecution of the church. He was unable to get rid of that guilt as he allowed the enemy to continually condemn him for his actions. What Paul failed to understand — and often we as well — was that Jesus is enough!
Paul’s sins had been forgiven and Jesus reminded him that His grace was sufficient. There was no more condemnation; Paul was no longer guilty. But failing to apply that grace in the face of the enemy’s attacks was causing Paul great difficulty … difficulty in kicking against the pricks! The pricks of the enemy are always related to strongholds and he knows all our weak spots; exactly where to establish those strongholds.
So how does that impact our spiritual warfare?
We, like Paul, each have places where we continue to kick against the pricks and like Paul we need to hear the words of Jesus … My grace is sufficient. We need to “put on” the armor of God each and every day and stand against the enemy’s onslaught with the Word of Truth. We are forgiven and no longer are we slaves to the past deeds of our flesh:
Rom 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
I wonder if in these words that Paul had gotten the message. Did he understand that the enemy was never going to give up the battle, never cease to condemn by “pricking” against his side; bringing up old baggage that Paul no longer needed to carry?
We all need to remember this lesson when the enemy brings up our past sins for which we are no longer guilty. When he hounds us with an accusing voice and attempts to beat us down and make our walk with Christ ineffective we cannot forget that the victory is already ours and his lies can’t change that fact. We don’t need to continually call on the Lord for deliverance because He has already accomplished that … My grace is sufficient. We need to stand on that fact!
Yes, Paul had his thorn in his flesh and each of us has our own. But we don’t need to allow it to continue to cause us pain. What is forgiven is forgiven and what was of the flesh is of the flesh. We are now of the spirit and the flesh is dead; it no longer has authority. But Satan knows that our soul is still susceptible to his accusations as it is to the past desires of our flesh, and it is there that he wants to establish his strongholds.
Our answer is the same one that Paul learned to give … My sins are forgiven and God’s grace is sufficient. The war has been won yet there are many battles for each of us to enter into. If we will put on His armor every day we will be able to stand and face the enemy with a solid foundation under our feet; the gospel. And it is the gospel — the Word of God — that will fly in the face of the enemy’s challenges. It is the Truth that will destroy and tear down his strongholds. It is the truth that will allow us to say with conviction … His grace is sufficient.