The Sword of the Spirit

Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. (Ephesians 6:17)

In the Star Wars movies, what is the ultimate weapon? The light saber. The best warriors are the Jedi knights, and their chief weapon is the light saber. When we turn from the make-believe world of movies to the real world of spiritual warfare, the ultimate weapon is also a light saber. To battle Satan and his demons and the forces of evil, you need something that is both a sword and a light—in other words, a light saber.

“Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). “The word of God is sharper than any double-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). God’s Word is a sword, and at the same time, it’s a light. Biblical writers declare, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path… The unfolding of your words gives light” (Psalm 119:105). “For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light” (Proverbs 6:23). “Pay attention to it as to a light shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:19). The Bible is the light saber we need to battle the dark emperor, Satan, and his evil empire.

In some ways, the sword of the Spirit is like some special swords in J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings. Frodo the hobbit had a special sword called Sting. When evil orcs were anywhere near, Sting sensed their presence and glowed with bluish light, warning Frodo that an attack was coming. In a similar way, when you have the Holy Spirit and your thinking is in tune with the Bible, the sword of the Spirit detects evil for you. Someone presents a non-biblical teaching, and it just sounds wrong to you—your sword is glowing. Someone suggests a tempting course of action, and it feels wrong to you—your sword is glowing. You can sense when evil is near, even if you can’t explain exactly what’s wrong. A biblical writer says, “The commands of the Lord are radiant… By them is your servant warned” (Psalm 19:8,11). If anyone is trying to lead you astray, the Holy Spirit’s presence and the truth of his Word impressed on your heart keep you from being easily fooled. “The anointing you received from God remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you… his anointing teaches you about all things” (1 John 2:26-27). Frodo knew orcs were coming when his sword glowed, and you can know evil is attacking when the sword of the Spirit glows.

The sword of the Spirit doesn’t just alert you to evil; it also defeats evil. Think of another shining sword in The Lord of the Rings, Anduril, the sword of the future king, Aragorn. In Tolkien’s words, “The bright blade of Anduril shone like a sudden flame.” Long ago, this very sword had cut the ring of power from the hand of the dark lord, Sauron. When the sword was active again in the hand of Aragorn, it meant the dark lord would soon meet his final defeat. As the sword Anduril had a history, so the sword of the Spirit has a history. The sword of Tolkien’s tale had defeated the fictional Sauron, but the sword God gives us has defeated Satan himself, who is real and more terrible than any dark lord of fiction. God’s Word defeated Satan before—and it will do so again. It is the weapon Satan fears most.

I don’t know how much of this Tolkien had in mind when he wrote The Lord of the Rings. As a Christian author, he certainly believed in the great conflict between good and evil, but his epic trilogy isn’t an allegory. Tolkien didn’t mean each detail to have a biblical parallel. Even so, the ability of the sword Sting to detect enemy attackers, and the history of the sword Anduril in defeating the dark lord, can give us hints of what the sword of the Spirit can do in the battle against Satan.

The Master Swordsman

Do you know the power of the sword God has given us? Do you know what mighty victories it has already won? Do you know who used that sword before passing it along to you? The sword God gives us is the very same sword that Jesus used. To know the full value of this sword and to learn how to use it, we should see how the master swordsman has used it.

Just before Jesus began his public ministry, he faced Satan directly. Before he healed others and freed them from demons and brought God’s loving reign into their lives, Jesus first had his own showdown with the evil one. Before he helped anyone else, Jesus first proved that he himself could stand up against Satan’s temptations and defeat him. How did he succeed? By using the sword of the Spirit! With the Holy Spirit in his heart and the Word of God on his lips, Jesus defeated Satan.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit… was led by the Spirit into the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’”

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:1-13)

Satan staggered away, defeated by the sword of the Spirit.

Jesus slashed apart all three of Satan’s temptations by quoting the Bible. When Satan tempted Jesus to misuse miraculous powers for selfish purposes and to put bodily desires over his relationship to his heavenly Father, Jesus struck back with, “It is written!” When Satan offered Jesus a pain-free path to power, telling him he could bypass God’s way of suffering to reclaim the world and could have world domination simply by honoring Satan instead of the heavenly Father, Jesus struck back with, “It is written!” Finally, Satan tried to use the Bible itself against Jesus, tempting him to take a suicidal leap and see if biblical promises of angel protection were really true. But the Bible is not the sword of Satan; it is the sword of the Spirit. Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, knew right away that Satan was misusing Scripture, and Jesus struck back by quoting the biblical truth which really fit the situation: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” All three of Jesus’ quotes came from the Bible book of Deuteronomy. Some of us hardly know that part of the Bible, but Jesus knew it. Because Jesus knew his Bible so well and because he used it in the wisdom and strength of the Holy Spirit, he could recognize what was wrong with Satan’s temptations and could slash those temptations to pieces.

When the Bible says that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil, I’ve sometimes wondered why the Holy Spirit would put Jesus in such a position. But I’ve come to understand that the Spirit did it not to endanger Jesus but to deal a blow to Satan and to make Jesus most effective in bringing God’s kingdom to others by first winning his own personal battle against Satan. If you are a Spirit-filled follower of Jesus, sometimes the Spirit will do something similar with you: he will lead you into a desert of difficulty and temptation, not to put your soul at risk but to deal a blow to Satan, and to make you most effective in bringing God’s kingdom to others by first winning your own personal battle against Satan. You can defeat Satan and make him flee. He will try again some other time, just as he kept watching for other opportunities to tempt Jesus. But if you take God’s armor as your protection, and the sword of the Spirit as your ultimate weapon, you can keep driving Satan back.

Jesus, the master swordsman, has beaten Satan and has shown us how it’s done. Now he puts the sword in our hand and directs us to use it in the strength of the Holy Spirit. During Jesus’ time on earth, he preached the gospel of God’s kingdom, healed the sick, and drove out demons—and he wasn’t the only one to do those things. Jesus sent his followers to do the same. He started with his inner core, the twelve apostles.

He gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick… So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere (Luke 9:1-6).

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “…Heal the sick… and tell them, ‘The Kingdom of God is near you’ … he who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven (Luke 9:1-16, 10:1-20).

In all of this, Jesus was “full of joy through the Holy Spirit” (Luke 10:21). His friends’ names were recorded in God’s book of life, and the sword he had put in their hands was defeating the enemy and opening the way for others to enter God’s kingdom.

These are not just things that happened long ago. They can keep happening right now. If you follow Jesus and put your confidence in him, the very same Holy Spirit who empowered Jesus and his first missionaries will empower you. The very same sword of the Spirit, the Word of God written in the Bible and spoken in your testimony, is the sword you can use to fight off temptation, make Satan fall with a crash, and win more people and more territory. Jesus, the master swordsman, offers you the very sword he used so successfully against Satan. Become Jesus’ apprentice. Learn from the Master how to use this sword most effectively.

A Neglected Weapon

If we take an honest look today at people who own a Bible and say they believe in Jesus, it might not appear that they have the ultimate weapon against evil. Many people who own Bibles are not fighting off Satan or defeating him; instead, Satan is defeating them. Is that because the Bible isn’t a strong enough weapon? No, it’s because people aren’t using it. The Bible isn’t a weak weapon; it’s a neglected weapon. If you own a Bible but lay it on a shelf and don’t use it, and then go into a sin-dominated world without God’s Word as your weapon, it’s like walking into the enemy camp and laying your weapon down. The army of the Lord has the ultimate weapon, the sword of the Spirit, and we can’t afford to lay that weapon down. But that’s what far too many people are doing.

Nowhere in the world do more people own Bibles than in North America. But in most of the homes, the Bible stays on the shelf, with the result that Satan is defeating many Americans and Canadians. The level of divorce, despair, pornography, selfishness, greed, addiction, error, and violence is high in these countries where so many own Bibles and call themselves Christians. Polls find that most Canadians and Americans believe in God and in Jesus as the Son of God. God may be doing well in polls, but polls don’t amount to much in spiritual warfare. Replying to a survey is one thing; defeating Satan is quite another. Many Canadians and Americans believe in Jesus and own Bibles, but far fewer are triumphing over Satan, overcoming temptation, discipling others, and making their culture more Christ-like. A huge part of the reason for this failure is that most are not using the sword of the Spirit. They own Bibles but don’t read them. They consider themselves part of a church, but seldom attend or hear biblical preaching.

Of the huge number of American teenagers who say they are Christians, two out of three think Satan is not a real being but just a symbol of evil. Over half say Jesus committed sins while he was on earth. What confusion! How can Jesus be divine and still commit sins? How can anyone claim to take the Bible seriously and yet say that Satan is only a symbol? Such ideas would sound ridiculous to anyone who really knows the Bible, but many who claim Christianity are almost clueless about what the Bible actually says. Most people own Bibles, but how many really read the Bible and believe it and see it as the ultimate weapon in a war against a deadly, demonic enemy? We have the sword of the Spirit, but we have no idea how to use it against Satan because we don’t know the Scripture, and we don’t recognize the enemy.

The problem is not a shortage of Bibles but a shortage of Bible reading and biblical living. As fewer people read the Bible at home, and as fewer churches uphold biblical truth, they become spiritually weaker. Their marriages become less stable, their children become more prone to trouble and less interested in church, and various other problems become more frequent. If more people would live by God’s Word and bring it to others, the result would be more divine blessing and fewer casualties of Satan’s attacks.

Churches and denominations that neglect biblical doctrines and morality have mostly been shrinking, while those that teach biblical truth and high standards of holiness are attracting people. Those who neglect the sword of the Spirit are losing, while those who use the sword are advancing in the battle against sin and Satan. This is true not just in North America but in Africa and in every other part of the world. Countless people claim to be Christians, but only those who faithfully read the Bible and live by the Spirit can overcome Satan and live differently from the world around them.

Fight with Confidence

When I mention the widespread neglect of Scripture, I’m not just saying, “Naughty, naughty! Shame on you for not reading your Bible more often!” Reading your Bible is not a matter of doing your homework to get a gold star from your teacher. It is a matter of using your light saber to fight off the enemy and drive him back. My main concern is that so many people are losing to Satan when they could be winning. Retreat and defeat could turn to victory if only they would start using the sword of the Spirit.

Let’s forget the polls and surveys and talk about you. How often do you read the Bible? How well do you know it? Do you know specific truths that drive back error and fight off temptation? If the Son of God himself depended on Scripture to fight Satan, how can you possibly fight Satan without it? Take up the sword. Get a grip on your light saber. Read your Bible faithfully—not just weekly, but daily. Listen to the Bible preached faithfully in church. The better your grip on the sword of the Spirit, the more you can defeat Satan. Husbands and wives who read the Bible and pray together daily almost never get divorced. Children who are trained each day in God’s Word are much less likely to fall into Satan’s clutches. Sin isn’t just a matter of naughtiness and guilt. Sin wounds and wrecks your life. And God’s Word is the ultimate weapon against sin. As a biblical writer puts it, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). So arm yourself and your family and your friends with the ultimate weapon. If you have a Bible, use it!

When you fight Satan, use the very sword Jesus used. Fight in the power of the very Spirit who empowered Jesus. The Bible is the sword of the Spirit because the Holy Spirit produced it, the Holy Spirit guides you in how to use it, and the Holy Spirit energizes it and makes it effective. The Bible “never had its origins in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). The Holy Spirit made this sword, and the Holy Spirit teaches you to use it. Without the Spirit of God, you can’t understand the things of God, and you can’t put his weapon to good use. But the Spirit gives you “the mind of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:11-16). The Spirit brings alive the words of the Bible, enabling you to think like Jesus, understand spiritual truth as Jesus does, and to defeat Satan as Jesus did. And when Satan attacks, the mighty, limitless power of the Spirit enters your sword, defeating Satan and destroying his strongholds. “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 10:4-5). The gospel is the power of God for defeating Satan and bringing salvation to all who believe (Romans 1:18).

When you use the sword of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit may lead you into some hard situations, just as he led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by Satan. The Spirit may do this to help you prove your strength and grow toward maturity.

I read about a village in which a boy would be considered a man when he turned thirteen. On the night of his thirteenth birthday, some villagers would blindfold the boy and lead him far into the forest. When the blindfold was removed, the boy would find himself alone in total darkness. There he would spend the night. Unable to see much of anything, he might hear the howl of a wolf, the growl of a bear, the snarl of a mountain lion. He might hear twigs cracking and branches snapping nearby and not know what sort of enemy or predator might be approaching. Then, as dawn got closer and the light increased, he would begin to see the green of leaves and the color of flowers. And then he would see something else: a strong man, a heavily armed warrior, standing guard a short distance away. It was his father. The father had been there all along, ready to defend his son from any dangers that lurked in the dark. The boy became a man by going through the danger, but even as a man, he was still not alone. He had a guard and defender.

You may go through something similar. You may feel alone, surrounded by the powers of darkness. That can be scary, but it can also be an opportunity for greater maturity. As the Bible says, “Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13 NASB). But even as you grow stronger, more mature, more skilled in using your sword, the Holy Spirit is right there, beside you and within you. That’s all the more reason to live with confidence and to fight with confidence. The Spirit not only gives you the ultimate weapon; he himself is the ultimate friend and defender.