“We are at war,” writes John Mark Comer in Live No Lies. The war is neither military nor cultural, however; it is spiritual. As Paul writes in Ephesians 6:12, “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.”
When I read that verse, I tend to think of Jesus’ exorcism of the demon-possessed man in Mark 5:1–20. The man lived apart from society, a danger to himself and others. Asked his name, he said, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” (A Roman legion consisted of approximately 4,200 infantry and 300 cavalry, which may indicate the scope and intensity of his demonic possession.)
Jesus against a legion: Now that’s spiritual warfare!
Power encounters are an aspect of spiritual warfare, of course, but they are not its primary form. Instead, Comer writes, spiritual warfare consists of “deceitful ideas that play to disordered desires that are normalized in a sinful society.” The devil (“deceitful ideas”), the flesh (“disordered desires”), and the world (“sinful society”) are the unholy trinity that wars against our souls, and lies are the primary point of attack.
Spiritual warfare begins, then, with truth encounters.
Isn’t that what we see in Genesis 3? The Bible’s first spiritual battle began with an insinuating question, “Did God reallysay … ?” (Genesis 3:1). At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the devil approached Him with an intellectual challenge: “If you are the Son of God …” (Matthew 4:3).
Spiritual formation happens when we align our thoughts with reality. “It is by spirit and truth that we are transformed into the image of Jesus and set free to live in line with all that is good, beautiful, and true,” Comer writes. Spiritual disciplines that help us do that include silence, solitude, prayer, fasting, and meditation on Scripture.
The devil’s lies aren’t random, however. He directs them at the “flesh,” which Comer defines as “our base, primal, animalistic drives for self-gratification, especially as it pertains to sensuality and survival.” We want forbidden fruit, so we decide God is a Big Meany if He doesn’t let us have it. Deceitful ideas thus rationalize — or better, rational lies — our disordered desires.
Spiritual disciplines such as fasting and confession of sins help counter our disordered desires. “As we do this over time,” Comer writes, “we not only grow our own willpower muscles but, more importantly, we open our minds and bodies to a power that is beyond us — that of God’s Spirit.”
The importance of rightly ordered desires is apparent in Galatians 5:16–25, where Paul contrasts “acts of the flesh” (vices) with “fruit of the Spirit” (virtues). “Walk by the Spirit,” Paul concludes, “and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (verse 16).
When deceitful ideas build on disordered desires, they normalize sin throughout society. Comer defines the “world” as “a system of ideas, values, morals, practices, and social norms that are integrated into the mainstream and institutionalized in a culture corrupted by the twin sins of rebellion against God and the redefinition of good and evil.”
As the poet William Butler Yeats so aptly described contemporary society:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
According to Comer, fighting the world requires the spiritual discipline of “gathering with your church.” Church is the place where truth and rightly ordered desires form a “counter anti-culture” that has “the potential to not only survive but also flourish as a creative minority, loving the host culture from the margins.”
At least that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Sadly, too many American churches live down to their calling in favor of a lightly “Christianized culture” that is “a mix of Jesus and pagan or secular ideas.” This is especially true when Christians seek power over others, whether culturally or politically. We are not supposed to “lord it over” people, however. Instead, as Jesus said, “the one who rules [should be] like the one who serves” (Luke 22:26).
When you put it all together, spiritual warfare means living no lies — not telling them, not feeling their seductive pull, not putting them into practice in our relationships. It is a truth encounter first, though power encounters may also happen. And if they do, the best weaponry is truth, righteousness, readiness for peace, faith, salvation, and Scripture (Ephesians 6:14–17).
This is how we fight our battles against the world, the flesh, and the devil.
John Mark Comer, Live No Lies: Recognize and Resist the Three Enemies That Sabotage Your Peace (Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook, 2021).
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