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What is Spiritual Warfare? – Sam Storms

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Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Storms on the matter of spiritual warfare.

Topics of conversation include:

  • Why are people reluctant to acknowledge the reality of a spiritual realm?
  • Who is Satan, and where did he come from?
  • What are demons?
  • How should we understand demon-possession, and is this something Christians can experience?
  • What can we do to prepare for spiritual warfare?

Dr. Sam Storms is lead pastor of Preaching and Vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He holds a PhD in Intellectual History from the University of Texas at Dallas, and is the author of Understanding Spiritual Warfare: A Comprehensive Guide (Zondervan, 2021).

 

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Intro (00:01):

Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary—helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary,

 

Brian Arnold (00:17):

Charles Baudelaire once famously remarked, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” Today in the west, many people deny the spiritual realm altogether. Even Christians acknowledge the existence of God, but think very little about angels and demons. Yet the Bible speaks often of these rulers, powers, and principalities that are working in this world. Not only are they at work, they’re at war. Peter said that the devil prowls like a lion seeking someone to devour, and Paul spoke head-on about our struggle against the spirits. He wrote, “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.” Well, to help us understand spiritual warfare, we have with us today one of my favorite theologians and preachers, Dr. Sam Storms. Dr. Storms is the lead pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He earned his PhD from the University of Texas at Dallas in Intellectual History. He’s the author of lots of books, including Understanding Spiritual Warfare that is due out this year. Dr. Storms, welcome to the podcast.

 

Sam Storms (01:34):

Well thanks, Brian. It’s good to be with you. One correction, though—the book is already out.

 

Brian Arnold (01:39):

The book is out! Fantastic. Well, hopefully after this conversation, people will grab a copy of it. I appreciate you sending me an advanced copy so I could look through it. And it’s fantastic. So our big question today is this—what is spiritual warfare? About 20 years ago, I was listening to a sermon that you gave—in fact, one of my favorite sermons of all time—it was at the 300th anniversary of Jonathan Edwards’s birth. And you have done extensive work on Jonathan Edwards. And you preach this sermon on heaven, and you talked about the fact that Jonathan Edwards wrote a lot on angels, but that people don’t even pick that part up about Edwards because it’s an embarrassment to scholars in our day. And that’s always kind of stuck with me. And here you now have written a book on spiritual warfare, reminding us of this realm. Why do you think people are so embarrassed about the spiritual realm?

 

Sam Storms (02:33):

I think it’s probably due to a couple of factors. I think first of all, is the general anti-supernatural mindset of the Western world. We’ve become so technologically sophisticated, and so confident in our skills and our sciences, that we have lost sight of the fact that we are dealing with, not just material reality, but spiritual reality. And I think we just get conditioned to overlook the reality of the spiritual realm. I think in addition to that, there has, as you know, and I’m sure all our listeners know, there have been some people in various so-called ministries who have taken things to such an extreme, that they have brought reproach onto the name of Christ. And certain individuals will try to claim that every single human problem is due to a demon. If you’re addicted to nicotine, you’ve got a Spirit of nicotine.

 

Sam Storms (03:36):

And if you have anger, it’s a Spirit of anger. And not to suggest that the enemy can’t aggravate and intensify those sins, but sadly individuals around the world have taken that kind of viewpoint. Plus, I think most of us have often seen these so-called deliverance sessions or exorcisms, where maybe intentions are good—because I’ve been involved in a number of deliverance sessions with people that I believe were demonized—but they start throwing water on them, and chanting, and pressing a crucifix against their forehead, and pushing them over and screaming. As if Satan somehow is hard of hearing. And I think those factors, among others…it’s caused people to be reluctant. I actually tell a story in the book about my conversation with an uncle that I had—he’s now with the Lord—who was happy to admit that God is a Spirit, and he created us,

 

Sam Storms (04:36):

and we are spiritual beings as well as physical. He even acknowledged that God created angels. But the idea that there were fallen, rebellious, demonic, angelic beings was something he just didn’t want to admit. And I think a lot of that, honestly, was due to a bit of intellectual pride. I think he wanted acceptance among the academic elite, and to suggest that you believe that there is truly a being—a personal, thinking, willing, choosing being called Satan, with a multitude of demonic hosts to serve him—it was a threat to his standing in the minds of academia. So there’s a number of reasons, and there are probably several others as well, why people are a little bit reluctant to dive into this topic.

 

Brian Arnold (05:26):

And I see the very same things playing out, is that embarrassment of, “Okay, I can admit that there’s a God. But all this other stuff just seems extraneous. We don’t really need those pieces.” Well, let’s start there. Let’s…help us understand—who is Satan? Where did Satan come from? Who are demons? Where did they come from?

 

Sam Storms (05:46):

Well, there’s a lot of speculation on this point, because the two Old Testament passages that people often cite, that they think describe the rebellion, or the fall of Satan, are highly questionable. Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. And I dig into both of those passages in depth in my book. I’m not convinced that Isaiah 14 is talking about Satan’s fall. Ezekiel 28 may be alluding to it. But the bottom line is—we don’t know when Satan rebelled, but we know that he did. We know he was created good, because God doesn’t create evil. We know he was created—Colossians 1, verses 16 and 17 says that God the Son created all things. John 1 says very much the same truth. But when and how Satan rebelled is really somewhat of a mystery. I know it’s frustrating to people to hear that. They want answers.

 

Sam Storms (06:42):

The bottom line is—the Bible doesn’t give us a real explicit explanation for how a being, created good and righteous, could rebel. Same way with Adam and Eve. How could God’s good creation have yielded to the temptation of Satan there? But I do believe the serpent in the garden was Satan, whether it was a literal snake…I tend to kind of think it was, others say no, it’s just a figurative representation. The important thing is—that was Satan. Therefore, he had to have been created, and had to have fallen prior to Genesis 1. Demons—again, we aren’t given any explicit, biblical information as to when they fell, when they rebelled. We just know that they did. There are a lot of theories out there about the origin of demonic spirits. But my best guess—and again, I admit I’m speculating here—is that they followed in Satan’s path. That they fell when he did. Some say they still can.

 

Sam Storms (07:52):

I mean, I read one book not long ago, which said there’s nothing in the Bible that suggests that angels can’t still rebel against God. I find that hard to believe, given that Paul talks about the elect angels in his letter to Timothy. So again, we’re left with a little bit of speculation there. But undeniably, you simply cannot read the Bible and dismiss the reality, the activity, and the threat posed to the church of Jesus Christ by the demonic spirits. I have several chapters in my book based on the Book of Revelation. And I think most of the descriptions of these locusts, and these scorpions, and this 200 million man army—I think are all references to demonic spirits unleashed throughout the earth, designed to destroy the church of Christ.

 

Brian Arnold (08:46):

And it’s obviously presented as a very real threat in Scripture. That, as Paul said, this is the warfare that we are in. There are unseen forces of evil that are very much engaged against the church of the Lord Jesus Christ and his saints. And to not recognize that is to put ourselves at great peril, and open us up to the realities of spiritual warfare. And then we don’t even fight, because we’re not even recognizing it. So how is it that we…take something you said before, of people seeing a demon behind every cigarette, or any kind of sin that they’re struggling with. How do we know if it is our own flesh and our own evil desires, or it’s some sort of a satanic or demonic attack?

 

Sam Storms (09:35):

Well, oftentimes we can’t know. I mean, I think sometimes we are able to discern the difference. We have to…for example, you know, Ephesians 6 talks about these flaming darts of the evil one. And I’ve talked with people who will say to me things like, “Sam, just out of the blue, out of nowhere, I just had these perverse images just flash across my mind, or these overwhelming temptations that were unrelated to anything that I was currently engaged in.” And when that happens, I would say, that most likely is the enemy. One of his flaming darts being hurled in your direction. Another, I think, of the indications is—we simply have to pray. We have to ask for discernment. I think, for example, of…an explicit illustration is in Ephesians chapter four, where the apostle Paul says, “be angry and do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your anger.”

 

Sam Storms (10:36):

Now, anger there, Paul was attributing to fallen human flesh. He said—this is a sin that you need to address. And then he says in the very next phrase, “and give no opportunity to the devil.” Literally, no place for the devil. So it would appear that the sin of anger and unforgiveness—and you could probably insert any other kind of sin into this text—is due to our willful, fallen inclinations. But Satan, through his demonic forces, can come in, and as it were, once we’ve lit the match, he can blow on it. He can pour gasoline on it. He can aggravate it. We can open the door, as it were, to a demonic influence in our lives if we don’t deal with these kinds of issues with confession and repentance. And just one other thing I want to say, too. You mentioned this just a moment ago—it’s very important for people to remember that there are two truths in Scripture that we have to hold together.

 

Sam Storms (11:39):

They don’t cancel each other out. One is, for example, 1 John chapter five, where he says “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” And yet, also in 1 John 4, he said “greater is he who is in you, than he who is in the world.” And I think one of the ways in which Christians get derailed on this issue, is they elevate one of those truths to the exclusion of the other. They so embrace 1 John 4, and with such confidence say, “well, the Spirit of God who dwells in me is greater than Satan, who dwells in the world.” And they ignore Satan’s tactics. They’re oblivious to what he’s attempting to do. On the other hand, there are people who read 1 John 5—”the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” And they live in constant fear and terror. They don’t know the authority they have in Christ. So we have to embrace both of these truths. We have to hold them. They’re not in tension with one another. They do overlap, but we can’t afford to elevate one to the exclusion of the other.

 

Brian Arnold (12:44):

And when people do, they kind of fall off on a ditch, like you said, on either side and it makes their thinking about God and Satan askew in unhelpful ways. And they’re not going to be ready to battle spiritual warfare if they overemphasize one or the other. Well, so we’re talking right now about even what it means to even face temptation, and how can the devil take a lit match and throw gasoline on it and aggravate it. But what about actual demon possession? So one of the things we see frequently in Jesus’s ministry is he comes across somebody who’s demon possessed. What does that mean? Is that still happening today? What’s your experience with that? You alluded to something before. How can we understand this as Christians?

 

Sam Storms (13:30):

Sure. I personally don’t like the language of demon possession. I don’t think it’s found anywhere in the New Testament. It has come into the vocabulary of Christians largely through the influence of the King James Version. It is found in a number of contemporary English translations. But in almost every case, it’s the Greek word—it’s a single Greek word behind this translation. And it’s the word daimonizomai. So I prefer to use the language of demonized. I don’t know that Satan can actually possess anything, in the ultimate sense of the term. And I fear that when we use the words demon possession, it just conjures up images of, you know, Linda Blair in the Exorcist, you know, vomiting pea soup and her head twirling around. And I just don’t think it’s helpful. But when I examine all the instances of daimonizomai, or passages that talk about a person who “has” a demon, or they are “with” a demon—in every case, it’s describing an indwelling demonic spirit that is then subsequently cast out of them.

 

Sam Storms (14:42):

So the attack can come from without. You know? And someone once said, “does it really matter whether the demon is tempting me from across the room, sitting on my shoulder, or inside my head?” And the answer is no, it probably doesn’t matter. What matters is how you respond to it. So the major debate here—and I have an entire chapter in the book devoted to this question—is whether a Christian, a born-again believer, can be demonized or indwelt by a demonic spirit. And again, much to the frustration of many who read it, I acknowledge from the outset that there’s no text that explicitly says it one way or the other. There’s no text that can prove demonstrably that a Christian can’t be indwelt by a demon. Nor is there a text that explicitly says that one can. So I examine all the texts, all the arguments, both pro and con—I end up landing on a minority view.

 

Sam Storms (15:37):

I do think a Christian can be demonized, but I hold that with an open hand. But it largely comes—and I will admit this—from experience. From having actually dealt with individuals that I know are born again, they love the Lord Jesus, and yet, for whatever reason, they have opened the door into their life of an indwelling, demonic spirit that needs to be cast out. So that’s not the majority opinion among evangelicals, but I’ll leave it to my readers, as they examine those arguments in that chapter, to draw their own conclusions.

 

Brian Arnold (16:10):

Well you do have quite a few anecdotes in this book, and I know a lot of people would probably say that they’ve not had similar types of experience. In your years as a pastor, how do you weigh these kinds of stories? Because we do hear, sometimes, some fantastic types of stories, and we kind of question the sources. You mentioned this even at the beginning, the way that some Christian TV preachers have used these types of things in ways that may not be as faithful. And yet, we live in a fallen, broken world where Satan does have a lot of influence. And these experiences do happen. So how do you even approach a story that you hear of somebody in your church?

 

Sam Storms (16:57):

Yeah, that’s a great question. And I would say the answer is—cautiously. Hopefully with a good measure of discernment. Certainly, in every case of purported demonic activity, our authority is the Bible. If there’s anything in our experience that is inconsistent with what we read in Scripture, then we’ve misinterpreted the experience, or it’s been fabricated, or there has to be another explanation. So experience serves more to confirm what we’ve already determined to be true in the Bible. More than…I’m very reluctant, and I would caution everybody—don’t establish a theological belief, or even a ministerial style, based on your experience. But allow your experience to shed light on what you have already seen in Scripture. So in the instance of the several examples that I cite in the book—and I do tell a number of stories, not only in my own experience and that of my wife, but also many people in our church who have really experienced glorious freedom.

 

Sam Storms (18:10):

The bottom line is—did they get set free? Did they progress in their growth in Christ as a result of the ministry that we brought to bear in their lives? Whether or not, in the final analysis, it was due to a demonic influence or their own fleshly propensities isn’t all that important. What’s important is that they learn who they are in Christ, they find the power of the Holy Spirit to grow in conformity to him. So all that being said—yeah, I know some people reading the book might be a little freaked out by some of the instances that I cite, but all I know to do, Brian, is I just thought, “I just need to tell the stories as they happen, and to give the best interpretation on them that I can, and let the readers decide for themselves if they can identify with that or believe that that’s actually what was the case.”

 

Brian Arnold (19:06):

I find it really helpful to not just be a book that is geared just towards academic theology on this kind of topic, but really see how this plays out practically. And I want to kind of shift us there—what do we do to prepare for spiritual warfare?

 

Sam Storms (19:24):

You already cited in your introduction, perhaps the most important passage of all in Ephesians 6. And the armor of God that is delineated there. That’s an incredible text. You know, we stop and think—wait, just a minute. This is Paul the Apostle writing that his battle, his wrestling, is not with flesh and blood. And I want to say—Paul, are you kidding me? You know, read 2 Corinthians 11, and the beatings, and the floggings, and the persecution, and the imprisonment that he endured. And you’re telling me that your primary battle is not with human beings, but rather with, as he says, the rulers, authorities, cosmic powers over this present darkness, the spiritual forces of evil? So I would tell people to start with Ephesians 6. And then, I think, perhaps the most important passage after Ephesians 6 for all Christians to understand is in Luke 10.

 

Sam Storms (20:20):

You remember in Luke 10, Jesus sends out 72 disciples. And it’s important to know this—they’re not apostles. They’re not elders. They’re not seminary graduates. These are average followers of Jesus, who are unnamed. And he commissions them to go and to proclaim the good news of the kingdom. And when they return, we read down in verse 17 of Luke 10, “So they returned with joy saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name.'” And of course, Jesus then says, “I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy and nothing shall hurt you.” And of course, serpents and scorpions is traditional Old Testament language for demonic spirits. The reason why that’s so important, is because my guess is—a great many of those listening to this podcast do not understand their identity in Christ, or the authority they have been given by virtue of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

 

Sam Storms (21:19):

You know, in Ephesians 2…or at the end of Ephesians 1, Paul says that “Christ has been exalted to the right hand of the Father, and all principalities and powers—again, that’s New Testament language for demons—have been placed under his feet.” But then in Ephesians 2, Paul says, “We have been seated together with him in heavenly places.” So there is tremendous authority and power that is available to the born-again, justified believer in Jesus. And unfortunately, a lot of Christians confront instances of demonization, or attacks from the enemy, and they cower in fear, because they don’t understand who they are in Christ. You know, Jesus…they said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name.” You stop with the us, you’re going to get in trouble. No, it’s in the name, and by virtue of who Jesus is and what he has done, that we have this authority. And that, I think, is the most important thing for Christians to remember.

 

Brian Arnold (22:18):

I think that’s a really powerful word of—yeah, if he who is in us is greater than he who is in the world, it’s because Christ indwells us. And what is true of us in Christ gives us that ability to march forward and get the armor of God on, and to stand firm, as Paul says in Ephesians chapter six. And I think it’s good to fast-forward to the end of the story, and the end of Satan, and the end of demons, is to be vanquished at the bottom of a pit of hell. God will ultimately deal with our enemies, with finality, at the end of the story.

 

Sam Storms (22:55):

Absolutely. Yeah, that’s the thing we need to remember. This is a battle, in which we are genuinely engaged, that has already been won. You know, Jesus said the ruler of this age has been judged. He’s been cast out. Now that doesn’t mean he cannot, as you said, prowl about like a roaring lion, seeking people to devour. It doesn’t mean that he has ceased to tempt us, and fire his flaming darts at us. But we have the resources, and the power of the indwelling Spirit, who is greater than all, and the truth of God’s Word, to wield our weapons of warfare in a way that we can be assured of victory. And we know not only victory now, but as you said, ultimately victory at The Great White Throne Judgment, when Satan is cast into the lake of fire.

 

Brian Arnold (23:45):

Amen to that. What are some resources that you find really helpful? Maybe just one or two books, in addition to yours, which I hope everyone gets, that you have really found helpful in forming your own view of spiritual warfare?

 

Sam Storms (24:01):

I would recommend Clinton Arnold’s book—I think you probably know him, teaches at Biola and Talbot. And he wrote a book called 3 Crucial Questions About Spiritual Warfare. It’s extremely helpful. I think that Graham Cole’s book Against the Darkness, came out two years ago from Crossway, is very good. Neil Anderson’s books are helpful as well. I have a couple of disagreements with him, but by and large, I think his Steps to Freedom is really helpful. Perhaps the individual who’s written more on this before my book came out, is Michael Heiser. And he has an entire book on Angels, and also another separate volume entitled Demons. His are challenging books. They can be somewhat technical at times, and I don’t agree with all of his conclusions, but he does a very good job of unpacking the biblical language for angels, demons, and, in his original book, called The Unseen Realm, the reality of the supernatural realm that we talked about at the beginning, that so many people will ignore.

 

Brian Arnold (25:11):

Well that’s really a helpful list, that I think points our listeners in the right direction. Well, spiritual warfare is real. The enemy doesn’t rest, but Christ is in us as believers. And we can stand firm, cinched up in the armor of God, against his attacks. Well, Dr. Storms, thanks so much for leading us through that discussion today.

 

Sam Storms (25:29):

My pleasure.

 

Outro (25:31):

Thank you for listening to the Faith Seeking Understanding podcast. If you want to grow more in your understanding of the faith, consider studying at Phoenix Seminary, where men and women are trained for Christ-centered ministry for the building up of healthy churches in Phoenix and throughout the world. Learn more at ps.edu.

 

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