Victory Over Spiritual Powers
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
It seems to be just more indication of the truth of the verse we have just been reading that we are not fighting against just flesh and blood. But we are fighting against principalities and powers, against spiritual leaders in high places that are inspiring people to do things that make no sense and are not related at all to the kind of people they seem to have been in the past. That of course is the verse that we are studying. So maybe you should take a Bible. It is, you remember, Ephesians 6:10-13, “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 wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” Then we will go on into verse 14 which we will deal with.
The strange thing is we hear that, and we hear even the words, “Take the whole armor of God.” But it seems that we don’t really understand how essential the armor is. And we regard it all as a general call, “Let’s oppose evil and support good.” And that tends to be our attitude to these verses. And it seems to me we are missing it. And I’ve just seen it a little more clearly today as I began to prepare for what I would say.
We are fighting against principalities and powers, but it does seem so often that we are fighting them with human weapons. I mean we are all pretty committed to trying to bring people to Jesus. We are pretty committed to trying to explain to people why he is really God’s Son, and why they should believe he is in them. And we tend to be using those human weapons, and the result often is frustration, if not defeat. Because it seems to me we are talking ideology or theology up here [points to his head] and these people are down here dealing with powers and being influenced by forces that we don’t seem able to touch.
We are certainly not happy with many of the circus antics we saw people go into who were busy about casting demons out of people. Yet we sense ourselves that we are dealing with powers that are not just human. And we are not dealing very effectively with them because this force is still there. And even we, as we talked about marching on Washington were, in a sense, trying to use some kind of human influence to break the deadlock that had developed — not only the deadlock, but the errors were being wrought and that were guiding people in Washington. So all in all, there has been a tendency for us to try to withstand these spiritual enemies with what are primarily human weapons of conversation, of witness to the truth of things, of discussing the “whys” and “wherefores” of different situations.
And I think there is maybe some little stream here of life in these verses that could be relevant to us. Let us just look at the verse that we are dealing with. It is verse 14, “Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth.” And we’ve talked about that before that the loins are the — well often they are the genitals often. But they are the source and center of life in a way within us, but certainly a very important part of our own personalities. And we’ve to gird them with truth. And we’ve talked about how the people in Palestine and in the Middle East would gird up their long gowns with girdles. And it has that kind of meaning to it. And, “Gird them with truth.”
We’ve emphasized that it means seeing things as they really are.
And we’ve, I think, talked a lot at other times, too, about things being very different from what they seem. We’ve talked about what gives rise to the old comment, “How could you believe in God when there is such a world as this?” And of course we’ve begun to deal with the truth that that is what this world is about. It is to show people what God is ‘not’ like, so that there would be a real choice, so that they would see that this ‘nothingness’ that governs this world is not God. God is different from that. And that is part of the reason Christ came so that we would see what God is really like, but it is also why God often blesses James Galway [James Galway, born 8 December 1939, a virtuoso flute player from Belfast, Northern Ireland, nicknamed “The Man With the Golden Flute”] as he plays the flute. He may not know God himself, or he may, but the important thing is God gives to him an ability to create some beauty that gives us a real choice: “Ah, that is what God is about. This is not what God is about, shooting school girls or school boys. This is what God is about.”
And so part of the purpose of God putting us in this world is so that we would see clearly what he is not like, and see how different that was from what he is. But it also has another purpose. So that we will not see the flat tire, or the noise coming from under the hood, or a bit of pain we have in the right knee, or a sale that isn’t going very well, so that we will stop seeing those as unpleasant experiences that we wish didn’t happen to us, so that we will stop seeing them as nuisances that are preventing God having his way in our life.
They are there, as the Bible says, “Greet it as pure joy when you enter into various trials,” knowing that this is a testing of your faith and it will strengthen you, knowing that it will bring about steadfastness in you. They are there to drive us into reality, because the other side of the reality is the world is not what God has intended it to be, but his Son is within us to bring about what his will for him in our life is. And the trials drive you beyond your own strength, beyond your own strength. And we always run into trouble when we try to overcome them just with our own strength. And yet despite that it is only now and again that we grab for him in desperation.
On the gurney going down to the operation when I wasn’t sure how the heart was going to do, clear! There was only Jesus. And you’ve all had experiences similar. I had it when my dad died. When someone dies that you think would be there forever at that time you are driven somehow beyond yourself. People will actually talk about it who aren’t even Christian. They’ll say, “I found a strength that I didn’t know I had.” Well, they didn’t have it. But there is a power within us that is Jesus, that is the strength alone that can touch the things that are not like God.
But I would submit to you, we are not totally at home with that approach to these nuisances. I mean, we will say to each other, “Greet it as pure joy when you enter into various trials.” But we’ll have some kind of idea that when we were in that situation we didn’t quite find joy rising in our hearts. And we say it to each other to encourage each other to do that, but it is not by any means the norm. I mean when the thing goes wrong, do you find a smile breaking out on your face? And I think it is probably true that, No, we don’t. In a couple of seconds we catch ourselves and pull ourselves together.
And I am not talking about it from the point of view of how bad we are or how good we ought to be. I’m beginning to see that God has something supernatural going on that we don’t really know about. And he has so arranged this world and allowed these things to come about so that we will be driven beyond ourselves into Jesus. And he will begin to conform us to his image and give us understandings that he has about things that are beyond what we have in our human minds. And he
will begin to reveal a whole new way responding to things like these, a whole new way to respond to the principalities and powers, to the leaders of this present darkness. And he will begin to beget in us a life and spiritual strength and faith that will begin to move against these things in a totally different way to what we have been using in the past.
I can think of a couple of things. When the money crisis comes, our first strong human response is to sort this out some way or another. But if the money crisis gets worse and is beyond what we can handle, we begin to turn to him who said, “Look at the lilies of the field. They don’t toil or reap. And yet Solomon in all glory was not arrayed like one of these.” And we begin to be pushed into ‘faith’, into working faith.
There are times when you get into social situations where the whole conversation and argument is in a sense opposing you and is contradicting you. And your first immediate response is a human one, to argue and to come back at it, and to say, “Oh well, that isn’t so. Darwin was not right there. This is really truth, too. And evolution is not the only way to go. This and…” Until there comes a time when you realize, it is not turning the tide, and you have to go deeper into somewhere or Somebody. And that Somebody is inside us. And he, at times, will give us a partial experience of this. Because you will stop your straining. You will stop your resisting their arguments. You will stop even your participation in the argument. And a strange quietness will come into the whole interaction. And they will not necessarily be persuaded, without any help from language, of the truth. But you will sense that there is a kind of tide turning, and there is a softness coming in.
In other words, could it be that God is here bent upon the task of allowing us to come into all kinds of situations that are beyond our human solutions, so that we will be driven deeper into him who is within us, and him who alone has the power to overcome these supernatural forces that we’re fighting? In other words, when it is said that he has overcome the world, and he has brought to naught the principalities and powers, is he not the only one who can manifest that in this world?
And if you say to me, “Well, do you mean we all ought to give up proclaiming the gospel and trying to explain it to people?” No, no! We should continue to do that because it is truth. But we should start seeing that the greater work we have is this supernatural working faith that is wrought in us by God himself through the experiences of defeat that we come into in our own lives. In other words, could it be that God is using those things that we think are nuisances or are preventing his will being done in our lives or are fouling up the plans that we have for success, either spiritually or professionally, could it be that he is using those things to drive us beyond our own human abilities and deeper into Jesus, and deeper into a total dependence upon him? So that then, when we begin to respond to these impossible situations in our world, we will begin to exercise working faith, the faith of Christ. “This life I live.” Paul said, “By the faith ‘of’ the Son of God.” Because, you must admit when we talk about Jesus’ works we always end up talking about him, not taking the person to the hospital — and I’m not opposing hospitals — but he did not do a lot of ‘human’ healing of sicknesses. He did a lot of supernatural healing of sicknesses.
And it may very well be that what we are facing in these dreadful crimes that are committed, in this dreadful attitude that is developing in our societies, we are facing not purely human things that we can overcome by better education, by better books or even — I’m all for us do all we can on the internet — but even clarity on the internet, but can only be overcome by Jesus himself within any of us here who have begun to allow him to exercise his faith, and to have faith in him doing that.
It seems to me he will not do it without us knowing. He will not do it over our will. He will not
do it apart from our will. He can only do it where we ourselves really believe that he is able to do it.
And if you say to me, “Well, really where does that come from?” Well Paul said, “Death is at work in us so that life will be at work in you.” I think every time you get the flat tire, every time your dad dies, every time something happens in your life that is something that you can’t handle the normal human way, that is a moment when God has light for you, and he is driving you deeper into his Son within you, so that that Son will be able to exercise his power and faith through you and overcome the other powers that god knows you will come up against. In other words, they match. God matches the power within you to the powers without that he is calling you to deal with. In other words there is a whole invisible spiritual exercise of faith that has no apparent outward expression at all, but goes on through mature men and women who allow Christ himself to grow in them and whose strength they allow to be made complete in the midst of their weakness, so that they in turn begin to be simply expressions of him.
And of course, to me the beauty of the whole thing is, it brings us right back to that reality, “Why are you here? Why am I here? Because Jesus inside each one of us wants to deal with something of the ugliness of this world through us in a way that he has not planned to deal with through any of the rest of us. So we are carriers of Christ who alone can — has not only destroyed these powers, but can express that and manifest it here in this time-space world.
It is a lot more relevant than just wringing our hands and saying, “What a terrible world this is!” I think he has called us to be expressions of himself and to be people who exercise faith as we meet these things. And that alone will ameliorate the situation, and will be an expression of the Holy Spirit whose task, after all, in this present world is not to remake the world but to hold back the chaos for as many years as God desires, so that his redeeming Spirit can complete his work.
And so each of us is part of that. We always talk about that preserving grace of the Holy Spirit as being expressed through law and the police and the hospitals. Well we are in a situation now where the police and the hospitals are no longer able to overcome it. They put Band-Aids on it most of the time. But what we are talking about here is the actual life of Christ, himself, as he expresses and exercises his faith through each of us.
It seems to me it just makes spiritual sense that the particular difficulties that you face are exactly right for your personality to be driven into a deeper place and trust and peace, so that from that particular place of faith and peace and trust Christ can then exercise his faith through you and overcome these powers. So that each one of us has a particular work to do.
So it does mean a whole ministry for each child of God that is different from every other person’s ministry. And it is reasonable, because the only way you could ever get 8 billion people into every corner of this world is if each of them were individually guided by God, himself, so that they could do the things that he has fitted them for through the experiences that he has allowed to come into their lives. A bit like Nee’s [Watchman Nee, 1903 – 1972, church leader and Christian teacher who worked in China] principle, you remember, “You cannot be used to reveal impatience in another person unless you yourself have been broken of impatience.” If you have not come into light about a certain issue, God cannot use you and your response to that light to reveal of expose that to someone else. Really, if you are greedy you can’t see greed in the other person.
So it ties up very much with our own experience and how willing we are to allow Christ to remold us
through the hardships that he allows us to come into, which is why we should “greet it as pure joy when we enter into various trials,” knowing that your faith will be strengthened and your steadfastness will be strengthened, and most of all so that you, yourself, then can become a conduit for Christ’s faith to work against these other powers.
So it is really talking about a supernatural ministry. I understand that. It is talking about something in a way that you can’t talk about much. But you certainly can take part in it in your own life. And it ties up with, of course, completely that you’re here to be conformed to the image of Christ and to be fitted for heaven. So it does seem to me reasonable to believe that heaven will be not only an infinite place, and we will not only have massive universes for which we will be somewhat responsible, but we will have powers that are beyond anything we know now.
I would encourage us then not to get down on ourselves and make the whole thing a purely human experience, “O yeah, that thing happened again! It is such a nuisance!” In a way that is such a childish level to be on. And it is the same childish level when, “Oh. Did you see what the people did to that little poor girl?” Well all it is, is hand wringing. It is not doing anything to change it. Yet God has always in his dear kind way, planned a whole remedy for the situation if we are willing to enter in.
So it is good. He is very kind to show us these things.
Let us pray.