Fight the good fight of the faith.
— 1 Timothy 6:12
What comes to your mind when you think of the Christian life? Perhaps you picture going to church with your family on Sundays. Or maybe the first image that appears is spending time in the Bible and in prayer with God. Or it might be that you envision serving others and helping those in need. All of these are aspects of the Christian life. But it’s likely that what you don’t picture are soldiers on a battlefield waging a war against a powerful enemy.
Many of us today are actually uncomfortable with viewing spirituality as a struggle or using any type of military metaphor to describe our journey of faith. But the writers of the New Testament had no such qualms. Again and again, we find them associating the act of following Christ to a kind of war for our soul. We see this particularly in the writings of the apostle Paul, who warned one group of believers that their struggle was “not against flesh and blood, but against... the spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12). He urged them to “suit up” for the fight by putting on the armor of God so they could demolish the strongholds of evil.
We find similar imagery used throughout the history of the Christian church. Many of the early saints saw the Christian life as nothing less than a battle against three forces of the devil, the flesh, and the world.
While we may be tempted to roll our eyes at such an idea, the reality is that these three enemies are still at work today to not just disrupt our lives but to actually destroy us. As Jesus said, “The devil... was a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). While it’s fine for us to be skeptical, uncertain, or even uneasy about viewing ourselves as fighters for the faith, we dare not dismiss the reality of this truth. So, in this first session, we will begin by learning how to recognize these enemies and their assaults. As we do, we can be assured that God does not leave us defenseless against these foes. We have been given the power to defeat them! By following the example that Christ has set for us, and by learning from His teachings, we can experience peace and overcome any force that comes against us.
If you or your group members are just getting to know one another, take a few minutes to introduce yourselves. Then, to get things started, discuss one of the following questions:
• Do you consider yourself more of a peacemaker or someone who doesn’t mind jumping into the fray at home or at work? How do you typically respond?
— or —
• What usually comes to mind when you hear combat language applied to faith and spirituality? Why do you suppose you have those associations?
Invite someone to read aloud the following passage. Listen for fresh insights as you hear the verse being read and then discuss the questions that follow.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 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. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
— Ephesians 6:10-18
What image or description stands out to you in this passage? Why do you think it resonates with you so much right now?
Do you agree that your greatest struggles are spiritual and not material? Why or why not?
Play the video segment for session one. As you watch, use the following outline to record any thoughts or concepts that stand out to you.
Life, as good and rich as it is, is full of suffering and pain. No life is up and to the right nonstop. At times, it is just a struggle to keep on. Pain is what is — the death of a loved one, a diagnosis, a divorce, a failure, a betrayal we just can’t shake. Suffering is how we feel about what is and the meaning we make, or we don’t make, from going through our pain.
The New Testament authors did not fear using military metaphors. They likened following Jesus not only to a struggle but also to a kind of war for the soul.
The early church fathers and mothers viewed the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness in a different way than we would expect. They saw it as the devil speaking a lie over Jesus — and Jesus refusing to listen to or believe that lie.
Evagrius Ponticus, a desert father, said our struggle in spirituality and in life, as a whole, is with three basic enemies:
1. Our thoughts (the devil)
2. Our passions (the flesh)
3. Our world itself
Followers of Jesus are at war with the world, and the flesh, and the devil. These three enemies use deceptive ideas (the devil), that play to disordered desires (the flesh), that are normalized in a sinful society (the world).
As you consider what you just watched, use the following questions to discuss these ideas, their basis in Scripture, and their application in your life with your group members.
1. What stands out in the video teaching that seems especially true right now in your life? How do you see this truth manifesting itself in your present circumstances?
2. What do you struggle to accept or outright reject in the teaching you just watched? Why? What prevents you from agreeing with this point?
3. How do you feel about being a spiritual warrior who is up against these three enemies of your soul — the devil, the flesh, the world? On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “very skeptical” and 10 being “very certain,” what score reflects your level of certainty about the existence of these enemies in your life today?
4. In our world today as you see it, what are some specific struggles that result from the attacks of the devil? From the flesh? From the world?
5. Which of these three enemies troubles you the most right now? When and where do you struggle the most to follow Jesus, love others, and maintain faith in God?
6. When have you experienced a spiritual attack that you recognized as an enemy assault? How did you handle that situation at the time? What did you learn from it?
Refusing to live the lies perpetuated by your enemies requires deliberate attention, strong convictions, and mindful awareness of spiritual truth. In this first session, you’ve started the process of exploring what it means to recognize these enemies in order to defeat them. As you reflect on the group discussion and what you will take away from this session, consider how you can remain open to new ways of thinking about spiritual battles and spiritual defense tactics.
Toward the end of each session, you will find an exercise designed to help you remain open to the teaching and to grow stronger in your faith as you reclaim your peace. This practice is also a way to help others in your group as you learn and grow together. For this first session, look at the passage you read aloud earlier, Ephesians 6:10-18. Think about each piece of spiritual armor and its purpose in battle against the powers of darkness. Next, with this list in mind, consider your own spiritual arsenal and where you feel most vulnerable or weak right now.
Finally, think about your expectations for this group study and what you desire most in your relationship with the Lord. Consider what it means for you to identify the lies in your life right now and refute them with eternal truth. Try to identify what you need most in your life presently in order to see the lies, overcome the enemies, and enjoy intimacy with God.
Conclude your session by sharing any requests you would like the group to lift up in prayer. Thank God for bringing you together for this study so that you can help and encourage one another as you seek to recognize your spiritual enemies and to resist their attacks on your soul. Ask God for protection against any of the enemy’s tricks and lies as you complete this group study. Trust God to give you eyes to see and ears to hear the truth of His Word.
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