TEARING DOWN SPIRITUAL STRONGHOLDS III: CHRIST'S COSMIC CONQUEST.
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
People of God:
In our previous studies on Joshua, we have found that before Israel could enter into the blessings promised them through their father Abraham, they would have to defeat the stronghold of Jericho. We found that the battle of Jericho was a physical demonstration of a spiritual reality that is true for us. Our battle is against spiritual strongholds, demonically sourced world views, mind sets, arguments, intellectual and emotional walls of defense that keep people/us from the knowledge of God and the truth.
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)
We found the walls of Jericho were demonstrations of the fear of the God of Israel. After all, Israel's God had destroyed the nation of Egypt. Jericho paled and trembled knowing that they were nothing compared to Egypt. So to, our theme for this morning is that we also battle against spiritual strongholds from a stand of victory in Christ. Our focus this morning is Christ's Cosmic Conquest, and to bring our that theme, let's read Colossians 2:9-15.
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.
In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
In order to understand the nature of Christ's Conquest from this passage - we have to understand a little bit about Paul's view of the world, or Paul's Spiritual Cosmology. Paul's view of the world comes to us from the letter to the Ephesians, especially chapter 6:12. (Overhead below) There is says
"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."
That phrase "Heavenly Realms" happens 5 times in the scriptures, all of them in the letter to the Ephesians. The phrase is a term by which Paul describes those unseen forces above us that influence our lives. When we think of a evil spiritual force, we tend to think of the devil or an unclean spirit sitting on our shoulders influencing us individually. Paul's view of these powers has a much broader scope. These forces have a profound influence over conduct, perspective, world views, cultures, religions and even nations.
With this overhead, I am trying to picture the way Paul viewed the world and all that surrounds it. Notice first of all that his Cosmology does not just include heaven and earth. There are unseen realms in the heavens, the highest of which belongs to the ascended and enthroned Jesus Christ. As Paul writes in Colossians 1:16 puts it: "For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him."
But between us and the throne of God there is a realm of spiritual forces that influence this world. Once we are aware of this, we see this cosmology popping up all over the place in Paul's letters. Two clear examples: Ephesians 2:1,2
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. (NIV)
2 Corinthians 4:4
The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (NIV)
Paul tells us that our battle is against these forces, and in Ephesians 6:12, he gives a list of those forces - I have placed a phonetic equavalent of the original Greek words on the overhead.
ArXos = ruler, authority - as in archangel
eXousias - power, authority
Kosmo (where we get our word cosmic from. In Greek it stands for the world keeping in view the realms above, or the heavens) kratoras = ruler (as in bureaucrat) of darkness (because their deeds are evil)
Pneumatika (spiritual forces) and he adds the adjective that they are evil.
Paul tells us that these forces are our true enemy. The church is handicapped unless we see that these world influencing forces are the enemy that blinds, distorts, corrupts, makes society bent on decay. If we see those whom we love blind to the truth, they are not our first problem, they are symptomic of the influence of these forces throughout the whole world, throughout our culture, our education systems, our thought patterns and world views. James Callus in his book called "A Satanward View" calls this whole realm the excluded middle in our western mindset. The church has been handicapped because we have been blind to the influence of these evil spiritual forces on our time and our cultures.
One of the questions that might be in some of our minds is the question : Where did these spiritual forces come from? We know from Colossians 1 that they were angels created by God and it appears that they received an original mandate from God to make this a law abiding creation. From Stephen's speech in the book of Acts and from Paul's letter to the Galations, we know that the laws of God were put into effect by means of angels - ministering spirits that had the responsibility to see that the law of God for creation was kept, that the seasons would continue, that the cycles of life would be maintained. From the scriptures we discover that the moral law of God is also enforced by angels, angels that would bring blessing for obedience, angels that would bring the curse when people disobeyed. (Deut 27,28) And so it was when Adam and Eve fell into sin by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they themselves not only experienced the curse of separation from God, all of creation experienced the curse with them because their act of disobedience had a profound influence in the heavenly realms.
Now there are some themes in scripture that are difficult for us to understand. One of them is the fall of the angels - when and how that happened. Isaiah 14(13-15) is often referred to as the chapter that depicts the fall of Satan and his coherts, who for reasons of pride rebelled against God. What we do know though, is that a significant portion of the angels who were once charged with the administration of the law of God, became evil and true to their nature, they used the laws of God to accuse God's people and curse their lives, even all of creation.
This theme comes out very clearly in our passage (Colossians 2). In the city of Colosse, there were spiritual influences affecting how the church was perceiving what was right and wrong. Their world view was becoming profoundly legalistic. "Do not handle. Do not taste. Do not touch." Along with that was the influence of what was called the circumcision sect which argued persuasively, especially for Jewish Christians, that the rite of circumcision still had to be followed to be truly a child of God inheriting the blessings of Abraham. The grace of God in Christ was not enough, more was needed to be right with God. Just add a few additional human works, abiding by certain laws enforced by the angels, that would accomplish salvation. These teachings were not just false teachings, they were themes, perspectives, world views, and accusations with powerful effect on early Christians because they were being influenced by dominating cosmic spirits that had legalistic evil intent. These cosmic rulers in the heavenly realms were blinding Christians to the glory of Christ and the free gift of salvation. So Paul goes on a direct attack, agreeing with the truth that the law was put into effect through angels, but then telling them that the law, which is rightfully in their hands, has been made powerless. With regard to circumcision - that was done in Christ with regard to putting off the old nature. With regard to the accusation about our sin - the written code is canceled, literally the writ of indebtedness, the debt we owed to the law is canceled and because it was canceled these spiritual forces no longer have any ammunition against God's people. In the cosmic realms, they are disarmed, Jesus has defeated them. For the Christian they have no truthful accusation, their persuasions are lies, their only tools are deception. They have no ground in reality against God's people. In every way, their work, their power has been spoiled. Jesus, the ascended Christ who defeated death and hell has led them captive. We see their destruction in our lives.
The cross is the power of salvation because the cross disarms our mortal enemy, the accuser of God's people, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus for the law of the Spirit of Life has set us free from the law of sin and death. Those angels turned evil who once were given the charge of enforcing the law of God with its punishments and curses can no longer hurl any truthful accusation at God's children. "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit." (Galations 3: 13,14)
The forgiveness we have received in Christ is the cosmic victory that disarms our spiritual enemies. On that truth, we are to take our stand, and struggle. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 that this is a hand to hand combat. The word he uses happens only one time in the New Testament (pale), it literally pictures to wrestlers wrestling against one another and the fight is intensely serious, for in Greek culture the loosers of this kind of battle got their eyes gouged out.
This is for us the battle, the battle for the truth that it is through Christ, only through Christ, and Christ only that we have received complete forgiveness of sin and we enter into the blessings of Abraham, the promised Holy Spirit and eternal life.
There is much more that we will look at on this theme, the next time we will focus on the battle of the word preached, and prayer. Let me conclude by a simple application of Paul's truth in this passage.
In Christian Reformed culture, (yes we do have our own culture), there has been the influence of dark spiritual forces. Even our culture is not immune to the evil forces in the heavenly realms. One of the ways that this comes to expression is in those quiet doubts that sometimes come out of our mouths.
"I'm not sure I'm good enough for God to accept me."
"I haven't done enough to please God - there is so much more that I should do."
"If you knew who I really am, you wouldn't love me. Since God knows what really goes on inside my heart, he certainly doesn't love me."
"I feel like a spiritual failure. God should reject me."
Though our theology of law and grace has been scriptural and accurate, in our practice, in our emotions, in our thoughts, there are times when our emphasis on law has blinded us to the glory of God in Jesus Christ, blinded us to the riches of his grace, blinded us to the depths of our forgiveness, blinded us to the victory we have.
And so this morning, instead of your doubts, take your stand in Christ and say No MORE.
In the name of the Lord cut off your enemies.
Proclaim "I am forgiven," "Nothing can separate me from God's love." "I am God's child and I can cry out ABBA, daddy, because through Christ I am his favoured child." "I am a victorious warrior because the battle is not mine - the battle has been won by Jesus, my Lord." Claim your stand in Christ, think it, meditate upon it. Battle and struggle against the spiritual forces of evil that with lies accuse the children of God. Say no more to them. In the name of the Lord, cut them off. Set your mind on things above where Christ is seated in heavenly realms over all rulers and authorities, claim your position in Christ, seated with him in heavenly realms, completely, utterly, totally, your life from beginning to end forgiven, washed perfectly clean in Christ. You are not quasi forgiven, partially forgiven where there is more you have to do. You, in Christ are washed perfectly clean, thoroughly clean, inside and out through the cross of Christ.
He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (NIV)
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.