David Powlison was a biblical counselor, a faculty member and in recent years executive director at CCEF. He wrote this book during the final months of his life while he was battling stage 4 pancreatic cancer. With forty years of experience, he gives the church valuable insight into what it means to wage spiritual warfare and how to do it in the lives of our counselees and even for ourselves.
Part 1: What Is Spiritual Warfare?
Powlison spends three chapters examining Paul’s list of battle armor in Ephesians 6:10-18. What he brings to the front is seeing how this is not merely defensive armor. It is offensive battle gear. Paul is looking back to Isaiah 59:14-21. I’ll just write verse 17 here:
He [the Lord] put on righteousness as a breastplate,
and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.
There is no justice, righteousness, or truth in the land of his people. God would work amongst his people to bring trust and righteousness. Isaiah begins with Jerusalem in bloodshed, deceiving and cheating even themselves. But through God’s work, Isaiah ends by looking forward to a new Jerusalem. The bloody Jerusalem becomes a new and clean bride (see Revelation 21:2).
God is at work in us through the truth of his gospel, brought about by the death and resurrection of his Son, and worked into us by his Spirit. God works in his people to know him through his word and to encourage and grow each other. Who is your Shepherd, and whom will you resemble? The whole of Ephesians is about the body of Christ. We do not wage spiritual warfare on our own, but with the rest of Christ’s body, specifically those in our local church.
Part 2: Counseling in the Reality of Spiritual Warfare
Here Powlison covers different aspects of how biblical counseling looks when you encounter different problems. First he briefly looks at how anger, fear, and escapism can be countered by God’s word. Who’s voice are you listening to? That of your flesh, the world/culture, and the devil, or are you listening to God’s voice? The devil brings fear and shame, yet God speaks to us through his word by telling us we are his and he cares for us. Powlison writes, “We learn to do Christ’s work of deliverance in Christ’s way: breathing forth the fragrance of kindness, speaking relevant truth, being patient when others wrong us, correcting gently, relying on the Lord” (53).
What was perhaps most interesting to me was when Powlison picks up the theme of battling the occult (chapter 7). Is this when we need to bring out our deliverance ministry? Perhaps not in the way we might think. Powlison gives three examples of biblical characters who dabbled with the occult, but who were only called on to repent to the Lord: Manasseh (2 Kgs 21:6), Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:), and even “most first-century Christian converts came from a background of idolatry, polytheism, occult practices, and demon worship” (63). What is Paul’s advice to the church? Should we try to cast demons out? We aren’t given any instructions in either testament. Rather, we speak the truth in love. Truth that is convicting but full of God’s mercy, honest prayers, worshiping together and living out our beliefs, repenting of our sins toward one another and God, and looking to him alone (63-64).
Powlison writes about someone doing these biblical works in West Africa and how it made actual progress, whereas his old deliverance ministry did not. He writes another chapter about a close friend of his who was a respected elder in the church and how he counseled a woman who “seemed” to be having a demonic encounter in the hallway in their church. She wasn’t actually possessed though. She had a long history of fear due to abuse, and when she was overwhelmed she had multiple personalities. There were some unexplainable things about what happened that Sunday morning, but through speaking biblical truth into this woman’s life, her real problems and hard history came to the surface, and Christ worked in her life. Her world became more organized, and she was free.
Powlison ends with an appendix on the mode of Jesus’ ministry and how it differs from how we minister to others.
This book was short and terrific. When we counsel (which is really intense, focused discipleship), we need to know that we are in a spiritual battle. The devil has a stronghold on the world, but we see it more in our culture, our flesh, and what goes on around us than we do in people being possessed or having a demon on their shoulder. What people need is for someone to come alongside them and to walk with them patiently, to endure with them. We need to speak gospel truths to each other and live them out. God is at work in his gospel, and we can trust him to be faithful.
- Author: David Powlison
- Paperback: 160 pages
- Publisher: New Growth Press (September 16, 2019)
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