We are in spiritual warfare. You see, God has a great plan for you and I. His plans are for our welfare and His plans give us a future of hope. But satan wants to distort these plans. Satan plans for our woe so that we can only envision a future filled with despair. This spiritual battle can only be won when we prudently fight against the deception of satan and do God’s will.
Satan’s goal is to separate us from God and dull our consciences so that we are more prone to sin. When we have fallen, he will then inflict a feeling of guilt to convince us that God can never forgive us. Once we entertain a lie from satan, it becomes the gateway for future lies. These new lies reinforce and build upon the initial lie. After a while, our judgment is clouded. We can no longer discern right from wrong. We begin to consider some sinful behavior as acceptable, even though it is diametrically opposed to God’s commands.
Saint Paul gives us a clear strategy for winning the spiritual battles in our lives: “Put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires … and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth” (Ephesians 4: 22,24). He directs us to take every opportunity to say no to whatever is opposed to God and to say yes to everything that will please God. A change in self precedes a change in deeds.
As we seek to lead a holy life, we should keep a few things in mind: first, we must acknowledge that each day we are in a battle for our souls; second, we must take up the “armor of God” in these battles; and last, we must remind ourselves that victory belongs to us. We will win this battle because the One who is in us is far greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4: 4).
Know God, Know Your Enemy
Knowing our enemy (weakness) is as equally important as knowing God (strength). If we fail to understand the magnanimous power, plan, and potency of God, we may fall into baseless fears and meaningless illusions. In the same way, if we fail to know our enemy, we cannot prepare ourselves for the fight. As Saint Paul says, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8: 38-39). God created us not to fail, but to succeed. The enemy, no matter how strong his power to tempt us may be, is doomed to fail.
In scriptures, it is the familiar story of David that best exemplifies our own spiritual battle. The giant, Goliath, championed the Philistines in their fight against the Israelites. No Israelite dared challenge the behemoth Goliath because of his strength and because he had been a warrior since his youth. But David, a mere shepherd boy, came forward and accepted the challenge to fight.
David said to King Saul, “Let your majesty not lose courage. I am at your service to go and fight this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17: 32). This was the voice of a shepherd to the King of Israel! But Saul, fairly certain this boy would stand no chance, tried to discourage David from going on the battlefield. In Saul’s eyes, David was no warrior and he had no discernable strength.
But David could not be discouraged. On his very appearance in the battlefield, Goliath began by insulting him, saying, “Come here to me, and I will leave your flesh for the birds of the air and the beasts of the field.” David never lost his courage. He knew for Whom he was fighting and to Whom he belonged. David confidently replied, “You come against me with sword and spear and scimitar, but I come against you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel that you have insulted” (17: 44-45). Then the Lord helped David strike down the enemy. Everyone wondered how the small David could defeat the gigantic Goliath.
You see, Goliath was the god of the Philistines but it was the Lord God who was the God of David. Remember, God takes control over every battle. We are called to draw our strength from the Lord and from His mighty power. As Saint Ambrose once said, “The devil’s snare doesn’t catch you unless you are already nibbling on the devil’s bait.” Goliaths are bound to be upon the path of our spiritual journey, but the God of David is there to strengthen us in battle. Victory will be ours.
The Path to Victory
Saint Paul tells us that in order to win the battle, a good soldier must “put on the armor of God, that you be able to resist on the evil day and, and having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6: 13-17). Saint Paul’s catch phrase “the armor of God” comes from his own experiences. Both as a Roman citizen and later as a prisoner under Roman guard, Saint Paul had become quite familiar with the soldiers of Rome. He took this military imagery and applied it to Christian life as a way of teaching how to fight against the works of satan. Saint Paul wanted believers to learn how to hold their spiritual ground so that they could stay close to God.
Out of these six images—breastplate, shield, helmet, loins girded, footwear and sword—the first five are defensive weapons and the last one is an offensive one; it is actually the sword of the Spirit. To put on the armor of God means to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh. Called truth and righteousness, our Savior is our belt and our breastplate. Called the living word of God, He is the sword who is sharpened on both sides. The armor of God involves the elements of grace given to protect us in times of temptation. The Word of God is a powerful weapon in our warfare. This is a call for us to develop, if we have not already done so, the habit of reading and learning the Bible. Never fail to carry this weapon. The magnificent truth is that through Christ, God has given us everything that we need to win the battles we will encounter. Jesus never looses the battle.
Victory is Ours!
We must recognize that we are soldiers of Christ. Sometime ago, as I was engaged and busy as a university professor, I began to lose the meaning of my priestly life. When I discussed this with my spiritual director, he asked me a question: can a soldier live like an ordinary teacher? I was reminded that I am a soldier of Christ. You may be a teacher or a computer specialist or a medical doctor or a minister. But our profession is primarily as God’s soldier. We need to prioritize our duties according to this knowledge.
A soldier has to be rigorously alert, day in and day out. The battle is worth it because the prize—eternal life—is so valuable. A soldier works for her or his master’s kingdom. Our lives are something special and, moreover, our death will be considered as martyrdom when given for our Lord. We all are soldiers of Christ and so we cannot live as ordinary people. “A soldier does not become entangled in the business affairs of life” (2 Timothy 2: 4). This means that a soldier has to keep a proper balance between this world and the next. We do what is essential in civilian affairs, but our main concern is with our military duties in our spiritual battles.
Once we truly understand this call to duty of ours, we try to always stay in the presence of the Master. We will never get tired. Writing in his encyclical on “The Holy Spirit,” Saint John Paul II pointed out that it is not only the evil one who is involved in spiritual warfare, but the Holy Spirit, as well, is “equally involved or more involved” in it, bringing people of good will to overcome the evil in their lives, so that they also can say, “where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more” (Romans 5: 20).
Let us continue daily to prepare ourselves for the spiritual battles in life, armoring ourselves with God and reminding ourselves that, “The one who is in us is far greater than the one who is in the world. If God is for us, who can be against us? Since God stands with us in battle, satan cannot succeed. Victory is ours!”
FATHER ROY PALATTY, C.M.I., received his doctorate in philosophy from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium. Father Palatty serves as spiritual director of Shalom Media. He guides Shalom retreats and conferences around the world.