Spiritual Warfare or God’s Discipline?

I have talked to several people a lot this week about spiritual warfare. It’s caused me to take a step back and get a wider picture of this suffering that Job endured. So today our homework is over Job 27-37, but I’d like to zoom out a little bit and talk about the difference between spiritual warfare and God’s discipline and why it’s important to know the difference.
We know that the story of Job is a story about intense spiritual warfare happening in the heavenly realms between God and Satan. Sometimes we’re tempted to view Satan as God’s evil-equal, but it’s important to note that’s not the case at all. Satan definitely is evil, but he’s not at all equal to Almighty God. God is so much greater, so much wiser, so much more powerful than Satan ever could hope to be. Satan is a created being (created by God!) and he is pure evil. He roams the earth seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). He comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). He hopes to cause us so much suffering that we curse God and die, as suggested by poor Mrs. Job. But he is definitely not as powerful as God, nor is he omnipresent like God (able to be present in more than one place at a time), or omniscient like God (knowing all things).

2 Corinthians 10:3-4 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 got a glimpse into a part of this spiritual war that Paul tells the Corinthian church about when we read about Satan’s conversation with God in the book of Job so we can actually picture the negotiations between God and Satan. We know that Satan asked permission from God to attack Job and that he only got to do it because God allowed it to happen. This is a battle for Job’s faith, a battle for Job’s life. Job was able to stand firm in the middle of it because his faith in God was solid. And God, in his sovereignty, knew it would be.
Sometimes the suffering we are enduring is because of an attack from the enemy.

While there’s no debating that Job’s attacks were grounded in a spiritual battle in the heavenly realms, there is another form of suffering we sometimes face that is worth mentioning here. This form of suffering is God’s discipline. We must be able to distinguish between a spiritual battle being waged against us and the firm and gentle hand of discipline of a loving Father.
Hebrews 12:5-11 says:
              “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when   reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” 
Sometimes the suffering we are enduring is because God is disciplining us.
How can we tell the difference?
The first question to ask is “Am I submitting my whole life to the lordship of Jesus Christ?” If you can genuinely answer with a “YES” (not a yes because you go to church a lot or follow lots of rules, but because you are genuinely walking in fellowship with the Lord), then it’s likely that you are experiencing spiritual warfare. But if you answered “NO” to the above questions, the suffering you’re experiencing could possibly be due to the discipline and correction of the Lord. Often when a person comes to Christ, she readily accepts Him as Savior but is hesitant to make him Lord. I remember my mom putting it to me in terms an eight-year-old could understand – Jesus wanted to be my boss. If Jesus is truly your boss and you are submitting every part of your life to him, when bad things come your way you’ll be suited up in the armor of God, able to take your stand against the schemes of the devil. But if you’re struggling with the idea of making him your Lord, your boss, the struggles you’re facing could very well be the hand of the Lord’s discipline on you.
So what do we do when we know that we’re being attacked?
Ephesians 6:10-20 says:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 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. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

If we want to have any hope of standing firm against the schemes of Satan, we must have the full armor of God. We need the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the readiness of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit (which is God’s Word). When we are fully equipped and prepared, we are able to stand firm when the flaming darts of Satan’s arrows fly.

So why is it important to distinguish between spiritual warfare and discipline? The answer is simple – We must stand firm against Satan’s attacks but we must willingly submit to the Lord’s discipline. If we submit when we should be standing or stand when we should be submitting, we may miss the lesson God has for us or even worse, give the devil a foothold in our lives.

James 4:7 tells us, “Submit yourselves therefore to God, resist the devil and he will flee.” This submission requires us to die daily to ourselves, meaning that we no longer just go around doing whatever we feel like doing, whenever we feel like doing it. Total submission to God means that every morning we wake up and we surrender our days to His guidance. We walk through our days asking him to point us to the jobs he has for us and obeying when he tells us what to do. It’s a radically different way to live life because it requires a complete change in perspective from one that is self-centered, to one that is completely unconcerned with self. When we submit ourselves to God and then see trials come our way, we can easily be shaped into the women that God wants us to be because we can recognize the hardships as God molding and shaping us to look more and more like Jesus Christ.

John 15 compares us to branches growing on the vine of the Father. Jesus tells us here that any branch that does not bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. Learn to recognize the pruning process in your life. (Now is a good time to remind you about Job’s wife – remember her trials were due to the testing of her husband. God certainly was at work in her life as well, pruning her, molding and shaping her, even though the test of faith was specifically for Job. While we do know that her first response to curse God and die was not a “submissive” response or even a “stand firm against the devil” response, we have to wonder if old Mrs. Job ever had a change of heart as she watched her husband resist the devil. Who knows?)

We’ll need that full armor of God to be able to resist the devil. A soldier doesn’t quickly throw on his armor when the enemy arrives and expect to win. In order to effectively resist Satan’s attacks, we must already be dressed! Interestingly enough, if we ever hope to submit ourselves to God, the same amount of preparation is needed.

The preparation required to resist the devil is the same as the preparation required to submit to God.

Both acts of preparation require us to spend time in God’s Word and in prayer every single day, not just when the trials come. How can you be ready to submit to God and his discipline? How can you be ready to resist the devil when the attacks come? By spending time with the God of the universe every day in prayer and in His Word. Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee.

(Please also consider that sometimes we suffer due to medical problems – a condition that happens to every one of us because of the fall of man. Our bodies are our temporary homes, not meant to last forever. Sometimes our physical suffering has nothing to do with spiritual warfare or with the discipline of the Lord but from the very fact that this world is not our home.)

[1]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Heb 12:5–11.

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