STUDY 2 - THE BATTLEFIELD OF THE MIND
As we have seen, our enemy, the devil, is not only wicked, with murderous intent, but he is also cunning and relentless.
But exactly how much power does he have?
Be sober and vigilant, because your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion walketh about, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8 KJV)
This certainly sounds frightening, but notice how the Greek is translated in the King James Version. It says the devil prowls around seeking whom he may devour. He only has power where he is given power. He is limited by being a spirit, so in the material world, he needs the co-operation of a human being.
This is why it is important that we be aware of what he is up to because, unless we are fully alert to his wily schemes, we co-operate with him only too easily!
You might think that it is your spouse, or your parent, or your sibling, or your child, or your friend, or your colleague, or your boss who is coming against you. In reality, it is a battle being waged in the spiritual realm.
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. (Ephesians 6:12 NIV)
In the King James Version, it is even clearer.
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
As noted in the previous study, God has not left us defenceless. He has given us armour and weapons, but, in order to use them effectively, we need to understand when and where they are needed.
It stands to reason that if the battle is not a material one, then neither will the battlefield be material.
Let’s take another look at 1 Peter 5:8 as it is translated in the Amplified Version and the NIV.
Be well balanced (temperate, sober of mind), be vigilant and cautious at all times; for that enemy of yours, the devil, roams around like a lion roaring [in fierce hunger], seeking someone to seize upon and devour. (AMP)
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls about like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (NIV)
The Greek word used here is nepho, which literally means be sober, as in not drunk. Figuratively, it means sober-minded and discreet. Together, the Amplified Version and the NIV tell us to be well-balanced, temperate and self-controlled.
This shows clearly that the solution lies in our minds. In other words, the battlefield is in our minds.
At this point it is essential to understand the difference between the soul and the spirit. Contrary to generally accepted belief, from a theological standpoint, they are not the same thing.
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:23 NIV)
The body is an obvious entity. Being in the material world, we operate through our five senses - we see, hear, feel, taste and smell. Because we live in a fallen world, our bodies are subject to the law of entropy. Even if we live our entire lives with perfect health, we will eventually die. Our salvation does not include an immortal body in this world. That will only happen at the Final Resurrection when we will be given glorified bodies. In this sense our salvation is in the future. (See 1 Corinthians 15:35-58)
We were created spiritual beings, so every human being also has a spirit. (The exact location of our spirits is debatable.) When Adam and Eve sinned, they experienced immediate spiritual death. We inherit this spiritual deadness, and until we are born again, our spirits remain dead or unregenerated. (Simply put, spiritual death is separation from God.) When our bodies die, our spirits remain. A dead spirit is not like a dead body. It does not decay into nothingness. When we accept Jesus as our Saviour and Redeemer, our spirits are instantly regenerated and we pass from eternal deadness to eternal life. This aspect of our salvation is therefore past. Once done it is done. Once your spirit is born again, it cannot be unborn. It cannot die. You cannot lose your salvation accidentally by sinning. (See John 3:1-21)
The soul is quite separate from the spirit. When you are born your spirit is dead in sin (the so-called original sin), but your soul is very much alive!
The soul can be separated into three distinct areas - the will, the mind and the emotions:
- We use our wills to make choices, and to put these choices into action.
- Our minds have two areas of operation: There is reason/logic and there is imagination/creativity.
- Finally, we experience emotions.
One would therefore assume that our souls are in our brains. Dr Caroline Leaf, in Who switched off my brain?, explains that we also have neurons in an area of our hearts. (This explains why, after receiving a heart transplant, some patients undergo subtle personality changes.) The ancients were not so wrong to attribute our emotions to our hearts after all! (Think of the commonly used expressions, such as heartfelt, heartbroken, hearty, etc.) We also have neurons in an area of our colons. This explains why fear and tension can cause nasty cramps! (Consider expressions such as gut feeling, gutwrenching, butterflies in the stomach [strictly speaking the butterflies are in the colon], etc.)
It is therefore not so easy to say where our souls are exactly. When our bodies die, so do our brains, hearts and colons, yet our souls - our personalities and character - continue to live. It all makes for interesting philosophical contemplation and debate, but is not relevant to fighting off the attacks of the enemy.
Suffice to say that, with regard to our souls, our salvation is very much in the present. It is an area where, from the moment of spiritual rebirth, till the moment our bodies die, we are in a process of working out our salvation (Philippians 2:12) so that we can become more and more like Jesus. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
And this is where Satan aims all his attacks - under no circumstances does he want you to use your will to choose salvation, and if he fails in this, then he concentrates all his efforts on influencing your thoughts with the purpose of making you so miserable or angry that you cannot enjoy your salvation. And if he can prevent you from being an effective witness for Christ, so much the better!
He cannot touch our spirits - they are sealed by the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 1:13-14)
He also cannot control our bodies. He has no power to force us to do anything against our will. (He can afflict us with sickness, but that is a whole other subject. We will touch on it later.)
The only way he can influence us is through temptation. As we saw in the previous study, he does this through a combination of lies, half-truths and distorted truths, often wrapped up in a truth.
He cannot affect our choices and consequent actions, or our emotions, until he has influenced our thoughts.
The weapons we have been given are therefore for the sole purpose of protecting our minds.
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and all arrogance that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:4-5 NIV)
So, what is a stronghold? Verse 5 in the Amplified Version makes it crystal clear.
[Inasmuch as we] refute arguments and theories and reasonings and every proud and lofty thing that sets itself up against the [true] knowledge of God; and we lead every thought and purpose away captive into the obedience of Christ. (2 Corinthians 5 AMP)
Any thought or thought pattern which is contrary to the Word of God, and which becomes habitual, is a stronghold.
Consider that it is our thoughts which give rise to our emotions.
Most, if not all, negative emotions fall into two broad categories: anger and fear.
Now, both of these emotions were invented by the Lord for a purpose.
Righteous anger enables us to stand up for what is right. Our example is Jesus when He cleared the Temple area (see John 2:12-25), which had been turned into a cattle market where moneylenders plied their crooked trade. This is what is meant by Ephesians 5:26. When angry, do not sin…
A healthy fear (which is not obsessive) will preserve your well-being in many a situation. It will keep you from falling off a cliff, from putting your hand into a snake-pit, or walking alone in the dark in a dangerous spot. The possibilities are endless! Scripture also tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 9:10) In this sense, fear is both deep respect, as well as awe.
The problem arises when these emotions become either self-centred (inwardly directed) or selfish (outwardly directed).
The Bible has plenty to say about unrighteous anger.
Let all bitterness and indignation and wrath (passion, rage, bad temper) and resentment (anger, animosity) and quarrelling (brawling, clamour, contention) and slander (evil-speaking, abusive or blasphemous language) be banished from you, with all malice (spite, ill-will, or baseness of any kind) (Ephesians 4:31 AMP)
There is no similar list of forms of fear in the Bible, but you only have to consult a thesaurus to see what a wide range there is. It can be as mild as concern and doubt, growing into anxiety and suspicion, and exploding into outright terror. Timidity and shyness are forms of fear, as is jealousy. Depression is also fear-based. And the most devastating fear of all is guilt.
The Scriptures tell us over and over again to have no fear. Fear not, fear not, fear not, is a constant refrain.
Do not fret or have anxiety about anything… (Philippians 4:6a NIV)
God has not given us a spirit of fear… (2 Timothy 1:7a NIV)
(More about these two Scriptures later.)
It is important to face the unpleasant fact: Unrighteous anger and unhealthy or obsessive fear is disobedience, and disobedience is sin. As such, not only do they interfere with your relationship with God, they can actually destroy you.
If you habitually become angry because of offence or perceived offence committed against you, or if you are always anxious and/or depressed, or if you are plagued with guilt, you are developing, or have developed, a stronghold. Everytime you experience any of these negative emotions, you are, as it were, punching a hole into your soul through which a demon can enter to torment you. You will find that as time progresses, your emotions become more intense, until you can actually endanger the well-being of others (in anger) or yourself (in fear). These are demons having a marvellous time controlling you. And remember, they have one purpose: your destruction.
So, we have thus far established that negative thought patterns cause negative emotions, which become strongholds through which the devil controls you.
That brings us to the question: How do we set about eradicating these strongholds?
Let’s take another look at 2 Corinthians 10:4-5.
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and all arrogance that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ.
The answer is very simple: We have to take every thought captive to make it obey Christ. In other words, we have to stop those negative thoughts in their tracks!
While what we have to do is simple, the actual doing is not. It requires knowledge, faith, determination and perseverance, together with the skilful use of the defensive and offensive spiritual weapons at our disposal.
In the next study we will look at why and how we guard our minds.