For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)
How many times have you heard that verse? Have you ever really thought about what it means for your daily life?
I have been thinking about Ephesians 6:12 in a new light recently. Several months ago a classmate reminded me that our lives are not unopposed. The Enemy does not like to see Christians living well. I've come to realize that this spiritual opposition is much sneakier than I previously suspected.
It seems a common theme in Christian spiritual growth books, at least those aimed at women, is combatting the lies we have come to believe about ourselves and God. Caricatures of the "good Christian girl," "super mom," or the oft dreaded Proverbs 31 "wonder woman" are things with which many Christian women are familiar. We sometimes even giggle at who we've come to believe we are supposed to be. We also look at what society tells us about beauty — model thin, airbrushed, sexy, and all achieved with ease. Or perhaps we reject that image of beauty and go with strong and capable. Or maybe it is less about appearance and more about success — breaking through the glass ceiling, or having a job you can't wait to get to, or being needed and relied upon at work or at home, or making a lot of money, or maintaining a magazine-cover-worthy home, or being an excellent cook or a crafter extraordinaire, or being a "cool mom," etc. The images of success and having it all are not lacking. It seems everywhere we look there is some ideal for which to strive, some measure of what acceptability would look like. Quite rightly, these spiritual growth books are calling women to pay attention to their thought patterns. What messages were communicated in your past? What messages are you currently receiving? Do these line up with the truth of God's word? Do they reflect the heart of God? Do they reflect who He made you to be? The idea is to recognize the lies, reject what isn't of God, forgive as needed, and begin to live in the truth. As a counselor, I am all for this. Our past affects our present. The messages we receive from others in our present affects our outlook on life. We need to be aware of what is motivating us and toss it if it isn't true. We need to forgive those who have hurt us or whom we feel have misled us. Resentment is not biblically acceptable or psychologically healthy. Jesus said, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32). We need to be aware of the truth claims sent our way and make sure we live in actual Truth.
However, I wonder if we sometimes get the source of our faulty thinking wrong. At least I know I have. It is easy to feel ire at "society" or even "the church" for communicating these unrealistic standards I could not achieve. I would like to blame them for making me feel bad about myself. But, really, they aren't the problem. Yes, society, media, parents, teachers, the church, and myriad others have perpetuated lies or unachievable standards of acceptability. And often we need to forgive these people or entities in order to move forward. But I realize they did not do it out of malice or with bad intention. Society is made up of people like me. The church is made up of people like me. I might be a parent one day. I have perpetuated the same liesóboth by buying into them and by speaking them. I have held other people to unachievable standards. I have been a person others may need to forgive. I want to feel betrayed and angry, to be excused for my part in the whole thing by blaming the "others" who deluded me in the first place. But that is unfair. For the most part, people aren't out to get each other. There is not some conspiracy "out there" wanting me to have a warped perspective on beauty or success. We're all struggling to succeed, to be enough, to be acceptable. So we tell each other what we think works. Or we come up with some sort of standard that can make us feel better about ourselves.
The truth of the matter, though, is that it isn't just a confused groupthink phenomenon about how to live life well. There is an Enemy. And he is spreading lies. In every arena of life it seems. He's doing what he can to keep us from accepting the amazing Truth of God, that, as Timothy Keller puts it, "The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope." When we are not firmly rooted in the love of Christ and clinging to His Truth, the lies sneak in. They slip by almost unnoticed; and we start living a life that isn't based on Truth. Then for some reason or another we actually slow down, examine our thoughts, and often find some lies. Sometimes the lies seem pretty ridiculous, laughable even; but still, they've probably caused a lot of pain. So we acknowledge the lie and we deal with it. But rather than accept defeat, the Enemy takes another stab. He tries to get us blaming these "others." That's where forgiveness becomes an essential part of our healing. Even after we forgive, the Enemy keeps poking. If we aren't going to buy into his falsehoods anymore and we aren't going to hang on to resentment, then maybe he can at least distract us. If I'm combatting the messages of "society" or "the church" or any of these other places I've picked up unbiblical beliefs that do not reflect who God is or who He's made me to be, then Satan wins again. Now not only do I have to continue dealing with any ramifications of having believed a lie, I'm fighting the wrong enemy.
Don't get me wrong. We need to be aware of the messages we receive from others. Society needs to change its message on a lot of things. The church needs to pay attention to what it is saying. Parents need to be aware about what they communicate to their kids. Individually, we need to make sure we are not further perpetuating falsehoods either by implicitly buying into them or explicitly saying things that further the lies. Yes, our messages to one another do need to change. But we don't have to war with one another about it. What we need to do is learn the Truth and live it out.
Second Corinthians 10:3-5 says, "For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ." It starts with our own thinking. Know the Truth. Cling to it. Take up the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18). Judge all things by the Spirit and ask God to give you the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:6-16; John 16:12-15). Then speak Truth to others (Ephesians 4:15). Resist the schemes of the Enemy (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8-9). Speak out against the false messages of our society. But resist the urge to blame. Recognize that the battle is not against others. Others live in the same fallen world. They hear and battle the same messages. The struggles may look different. Some may appear to have achieved acceptability and to hold all the power. But the truth is that acceptance only comes from God. And the even better truth is that we have it in Christ (John 15:15-16; Ephesians 1:3-14). We can rest in God. Our identity is secure. Our eternity is secure (John 10:27-30). Nothing — absolutely nothing — can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8). So stand firm in the faith, in the armor of God, by the side of the Victor, and battle against the real Enemy in the way God has called you to. "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might" (Ephesians 6:10).