We Do Not Wrestle Against Flesh and Blood

The apostle Paul wrote, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). However, many Christians today struggle with truly understanding or appreciating the reality of spiritual warfare. We often dismiss or gloss over biblical references to demonic forces, the unseen realm, and spiritual battles. Why is having an awareness of these things important? How should we think about the forces of evil and darkness described in the New Testament?

This discussion centers around biblical teachings on spiritual warfare, including passages like 2 Corinthians 10 and Ephesians 6. It explores the nature of our battle against the devil and demonic forces, rather than against flesh and blood. Biblical concepts are examined, such as Christ’s ministry being focused on reclaiming what belongs to God from Satan’s domain. Today’s guest, Kerry Williams, shares insights into adopting a spiritual mindset and understanding the overlapping realms of the physical and spiritual worlds.

Kerry Williams serves as the Dean of Graduate Studies at Sunset International Bible Institute. He is also director of the Tahoe Family Encampment. Williams has over 30 years of preaching experience and has written books on the topic of spiritual warfare, aiming to inspire greater passion and knowledge about standing firm against the schemes of the devil.

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Transcript (Credit: Beth Tabor)

Welcome to the Radically Christian Bible study Podcast. I’m your host, Wes McAdams. Here we have one goal: Learn to love like Jesus. Today we’re going to be talking about spiritual warfare. What does it mean to engage in warfare? What does it mean to wrestle against the demonic forces in the heavenly realms, but not against flesh and blood? Our guest today is Kerry Williams, who is the Dean of Graduate Studies at Sunset International Bible Institute. He is also the director of the Tahoe Family Encampment. 

I know that you’re going to enjoy this conversation, but before we get to that, I want to read from 2nd Corinthians chapter 10, starting in verse 1. Paul says, “I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ ‑‑ I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away! ‑‑ I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.” 

I hope that today’s Bible study and discussion is encouraging to you, and, as always, I hope that it helps all of us learn to love like Jesus.

WES: Kerry Williams, welcome to the podcast, Brother.

KERRY: Thank you. It’s really good to be here.

WES: Well, it’s great to have you. I got to listen to a sermon that you did ‑‑ I think it was probably last year, so it’s been a little while since you did it, but I just got to listen to it recently, and it was fantastic, about spiritual warfare, and it’s interesting that that seems to be a theme that I keep coming back to on the podcast. So there’s been a lot of discussion about sin and about evil, and evil even beyond the evil that we can see in the world, which is kind of where I want to start the conversation is, you know, there are so many mentions in the New Testament about spiritual evil, evil that we can’t see, demonic forces. I think about what James says about wisdom that is earthly, he said is unspiritual, and he even uses the word demonic. Paul obviously talks about the forces of evil, the rulers and authorities and powers. 

But I think sometimes, or at least the way that I grew up, we just kind of read over those as sort of a rhetorical flourish or just some sort of rhetorical device, and we, you know, just take it to mean that it’s really bad or something like that. But we don’t often, I think, think about and are aware that there are forces of evil and darkness. And you mentioned in your sermon about demons existing in the spiritual plane and that sort of overlapping with the physical plane, so let’s talk about that for just a little bit, if that’s okay. Just why is it important for us to have an awareness of demonic forces, spiritual evil forces, and what should we think about that?

KERRY: Well, kind of building on what you said about why it is, perhaps, that we don’t dive into this very deeply, I think that it does have to do with just glossing over things that maybe we don’t fully understand, but I think there’s kind of a root reason for that, and that’s kind of in our very identity of how we approach, homiletically and hermeneutically, the scriptures, how we ‑‑ I mean, we’re Restorationists and we come out of the Restoration tradition and the Restoration background, which you and I both believe in strongly in that homiletic to be able to restore New Testament Christianity.  But in my studies, it kind of opened my eyes because in my doctoral work, I did a lot on Restoration fathers and kind of the background of where that all came from, and it just kind of clicked with me we’re not comfortable with anything we can’t clearly define because we come from that Lockean, Baconian, logical tradition where we’re trained to find, well, if the Bible says it, that’s what it means. But what do we do with the subjects ‑‑ and pretty much, across the board, every subject where there’s vagueness in scripture, where it’s a gray area of, “Well, it seems like this or it might be this,” rather than concretely? We’re not good with that. I mean, we struggle with it.

And what I found was that, you know, you look back in our background and we very much want to give people concrete answers. We’re very formulaic in how we approach the scriptures, which I think is not a bad thing at all. In fact, I think it’s caused us to arrive at truth that needed to be found and brought to the religious world and to the lost. So it’s not a critique of it, but I think we became so adjusted and used to that, that we get to the point where, if it’s not something we can give a clear yes or a clear no ‑‑ I mean, we all know how formulaic we are about things. I mean, “hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized.” I mean, those steps ‑‑ you don’t find that in any place in scripture where those are ordered in that way, but yet extremely formulaic. Some of our old preachers, I’ve heard lessons from them about the five steps very plainly, and you can’t get the steps out of order. 

Well, how does that even work when it comes to, like, repentance and confession? Some of that stuff is lifelong. It begins, you know, but we just want it to be so clear, step by step by step, that ‑‑ you know, five acts of worship. I mean, we are great about formulas, but there are some things in scripture that just do not fit into any type of formula, and across the board we’ve been this way. Think about the Holy Spirit. I mean, some of the arguments that are made about the Holy Spirit, when you talk about “word only” versus whether there’s an actual indwelling and all of that ‑‑ I mean, we try to approach a subject that we just can’t really fully understand in all of its completeness, and, in that, we come up with all sorts of trying to find concrete, absolute yes or no’s.

WES: Yeah, yeah. Do you think ‑‑ and I heard in your sermon that you taught philosophy, I guess, at a college level.


WES: And do you think that this is ‑‑ that a lot of that ‑‑ you mentioned several, you know, reasons we think this way, but do you think that this is sort of a Western mindset that we have as we approach the scripture as opposed to more of an ancient Near Eastern/Eastern mentality that they would have had when they wrote the scriptures that we are trying to ‑‑ I almost feel like we’re trying to analyze and break down like you would if you heard a poem or a song and we’re trying to look at it scientifically or mathematically. It’s like, that’s not how it works. That’s not how poetry works or that’s not how this genre of literature works. And so do you think we have that tendency to read it through a very Western lens?

KERRY: I definitely think that, you know, our Western virtue/ethics type of philosophy ‑‑ I mean, our way of looking at life, even today, is so very different than the Eastern world. You know, they have a very, very Confucian mindset where harmony matters. I mean, you know this when you go and you watch a baseball game in Japan today. They don’t tell ERA; they don’t tell batting averages. They aren’t concerned with the individual at all. They’re concerned with the whole, with harmony, and your place in the larger society or group, or whatever it may be, where we come from a very Western mindset that comes from the Greeks and Romans, primarily, and they had more of a meritorious type of approach to things, a meritocracy, you know, that you need to achieve the very best individualistically that you can, and we adopted that. 

That’s even true in our founding documents. I mean, Benjamin Franklin was a virtue ethicist, and we see that so much. It runs through our society top to bottom. And so, yes, I think that has ‑‑ you know, the scientific method came about, John Locke, Bacon, those guys who influenced our thinking. And if you read Campbell, I mean, he was powerfully influenced by those kind of people, and Stone, to a little less degree, but pretty heavily, as well. And so they searched the scriptures, and reason is what is promoted over and over and over. Reason, reason. And so that kind of comes to almost, like you said, a scientific method of how do you pull out evidences and ‑‑ I mean, think about even the hermeneutic of command, example, and necessary inference. Well, the idea of necessary inference is that you can come to a reasonable, logical conclusion from evidences that is applicable and binding. 

And so, yeah, those are good things. I mean, I think we’ve ‑‑ I appreciate them and love them and will never abandon them. However, some of this stuff in scripture, they were looking at from a mystical perspective, and there is not much room for mysticism in how we currently ‑‑ or at least how I grew up and how it sounds maybe you grew up ‑‑ in how we were taught to look at scripture. We were taught to find the concrete, to find the absolute, and just not really given any tools to be able to look at things that we know, from the start, don’t fit in that box. 

Here’s a great illustration. So I teach a doctoral class on Revelation, and, really, all of the classwork that we do is trying to find a date because, as you know, the entirety of Revelation changes based upon how you date the book. And as we’re diving into that, one of the things I emphasize in the first class is that when you write your final project ‑‑ because in a doctoral course, it’s, you know, 35, 40 pages; it’s a big project ‑‑ I will dock you on your grades if you write to me like most of our brothers do when they write in their commentaries, which is like this: “Well, this is a hard subject, but I found the answer.” I mean, you’ve read commentaries on Revelation.  Have you seen that kind of thing before? “I mean, I found it. This is what it means.” I’ve been teaching and studying that book all my life since I’ve been in ministry, 30‑plus years, and I’m not willing to say I know what it means. I mean, I know what I think it means and what is most logical and reasonable for me to assume on it. But even on stuff like that, we have to approach it like, “Okay, here’s the formula. Here’s the answer.” There’s no room for questioning, no room for, “Well, it might be this, but we just can’t be sure, but the overall message of the book doesn’t change.” We don’t do that much. We want to tell people exactly what those horns mean, exactly what those beasts are, without question. I mean, that’s how we approach stuff. And when it comes to spiritual warfare, just like the Holy Spirit, just like apocalyptic literature, that formula just ‑‑ it doesn’t work very well, so you know what you do? A lot of people just avoid it.

WES: Yeah, because I think we assume that if there’s not certainty on something, if there’s any sort of ambiguity about it, it must not be important. And if I can’t ‑‑ if the Bible doesn’t lay out in XYZ, ABC, very, very clear terms what is a demon, where do demons come from, why are there demons ‑‑ you know, if the Bible doesn’t lay all of that out, then it must not be important. 

I was thinking, as you were talking, about the way that I grew up reading the gospel accounts and how different it is now for me, because when I would read the gospel accounts, you know, I was just looking for, you know, what did Jesus do? You know, he was born, he lived, he was perfect, he died, he was buried, he rose.  That’s it. And then what do I need to do in response to that? You know, I need to repent and be baptized. Well, when you just sit down and read the gospel accounts, it’s kind of shocking now to me how much of it is about spiritual warfare, how much of it is about Jesus reclaiming what belongs to his Father from the domain of Satan, and so much of it is about casting out demons and the demonic, and we just sort of gloss over all of that, and we say, well, you know, yeah, that happened, but it really isn’t important for the story. 

Not too long ago I was preaching a sermon about the cross and about atonement theories, and I asked people, what part, if any, does the demonic world play in your atonement theory? Like does that have any ‑‑ is there any space in your imagination for what is the cross all about and what does that have to do with Satan and the demonic forces of evil? Because for Paul and for the gospel writers, for Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, I think it had a lot to do with what Jesus was up to, what Jesus’ ministry was all about, what the cross was all about, and what the resurrection is all about and even his current and present reign. And so we have just sort of dismissed all of that and we’ve made everything about just me and God and forgot that there are other spiritual forces that exist in the heavenly places, in the unseen places that we just are not aware of, and we sort of dismiss the significance of them.

KERRY: Well, the discomfort is real. I mean, I’ve been doing seminars on this. I’ve written a couple books on spiritual warfare and a novel on it, and I’ve done these seminars around the country. I remember, several years ago, I’m preaching in a place and my mom and dad were able to come, and there were several classes going on at the same time. And you’ve got to understand that, to my mother, the greatest preacher who ever walked the earth is Jesus, and number two is her son. I mean, she’s my mother. Okay? And my mom didn’t come to my class. My dad did, but my mom didn’t come to my class. And I asked her afterwards, I said, “Mom, what” ‑‑ she said, “Well, I went to the other class.” I said, “Mom, what” ‑‑ she said, “Well, if you’d just teach on something else except for that hocus‑pocus stuff,” she said, “it just makes me uncomfortable,” and that’s my own mom, who would come and hear me read out of the telephone book. But she is uncomfortable with it because you just can’t get clear, defined answers, and that’s what she’s been taught to expect and to find comfort in.

WES: Yeah. Let’s talk a little bit about 2nd Corinthians 10, because that was one of the texts that you used in your sermon. For Paul, as he’s explaining his ministry and the way that he operates, how do you think that he sees himself engaging in spiritual warfare? I think what we sort of imagine sometimes that that means, “spiritual warfare,” or what spiritual warfare entails is kind of different than what the New Testament writers have in mind, what Paul has in mind in Ephesians 6 or in 2nd Corinthians 10. But how does his apostolic ministry ‑‑ how is that spiritual warfare, do you think?

KERRY: Well, he makes very clear there that the weapons of our war are not carnal, and I think that is so powerful historically, that the Lord’s church was persecuted and the government powers that be, the most powerful empire that’s ever been on the face of the earth tried for hundreds of years to stamp out Christianity intermittently. You know, different emperors were worse than others, but at the end of that 300 or so years, you find the Emperor Constantine is converted to Christianity, and not one sword that we know of was ever drawn in the name of Christ because this war is of a spiritual nature, not physical. And the thing is, is that we’ve made so many things so physical ‑‑ which this is true in scripture. I mean, you can’t miss all the holiness passages. You can’t skip over, you know, not to live like the world and be like the world. There’s no doubt that there is a physical component to what we do and who we are and who we’re called to be. But I think we focus sometimes so much on that physical component: stay away from ungodliness, live a holy life, you know, strive for righteousness. And all of that is true and good, but it still kind of restricts it to the things that we can interact with with our five senses, and if we can’t interact with our five senses, we don’t think of it as being powerful. 

And I wonder if the most significant moment in the real world ‑‑ I mean, I say this all the time, you know, that we’ve seen all sorts of science fiction and things that try to describe the idea of living in two worlds. I think like The Matrix and things like that are probably pretty good. I mean, when I saw that film for the first time, I was kind of floored because I’d already studied a lot of spiritual warfare, and I’m like, this is kind of what it’s like. You know, we live in a very, very clear world to us, as far as what we can see, but there’s another world that we can’t see, hear, taste, touch, or smell that is the real world. And the scriptures tell us that we live in both ‑‑ concurrently in both. And so as we go about our days, it may seem like a very insignificant thing when we’re sitting across a table at Starbucks with our Bible open, but the way I understand what Paul is saying there about the casting down of arguments, and then he says in Ephesians 6 that our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against princes ‑‑ I mean, the war is not against wicked people in Washington who are casting [votes], you know, and producing all these laws that are ungodly. In fact, I see Christians so worried about that all the time and, like, you know what? We really should expect wicked people to do wicked things. It shouldn’t surprise us. And we get all involved in all that when it’s probably more significant, in the spiritual world, sitting across the table at Starbucks with your Bible open than even what you do in the ballot box or what we do civically or ‑‑ I mean, that is the war that the Bible says matters, the war over the souls of people and then the war that goes on within us. 

I mean, I often say the devil ‑‑ and I talk about the devil all the time because of the spiritual‑warfare emphasis, but the devil is our second greatest enemy. I mean, the greatest enemy is the one that we have to master within ourselves, and that is a spiritual war in and of itself. That is the powerful ‑‑ I mean, Romans chapter 7 ‑‑ talk about a passage that we gloss over ‑‑ where Paul talks about “The things that I do are the things that I hate and the things that I even practice,” some versions use.  “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” He’s not talking about the Paul that he used to be, because the context is he’s talking about his own struggle, and he didn’t have a conscience problem before he became a Christian. He says, “I did everything with a clear conscience.” Now he’s aware of his struggle, his sarx, his flesh, sinful nature, whatever word you want to use, and the war that is within him. We’re talking about, arguably, one of the most mature Christian men that any of us could ever aspire to, right? But yet that war is going on within him. 

And I think, to understand spiritual warfare, we have to think spiritually. We have to try our very best to imagine ‑‑ that’s why I’ve tried to write on this even some fictional things. Not because ‑‑ and I make very clear it’s probably not this way, but at least these things are consistent with scripture, and I want to get people’s minds thinking about what could be going on around me. Am I really here alone? You know, I think people think that we’re alone. But are we alone? Are we ever alone? I mean, angels, demons, the devil ‑‑ I mean, the Bible says that they’re here, and there are so many instances where they’re witnessed. You know, like every time you see something like Balaam’s donkey ‑‑ the donkey saw him, saw the angel when Balaam couldn’t, and the Bible doesn’t say that part was a miracle. Now, the whole talking thing is ‑‑ yeah, that gets miraculous, but he sees it. Elisha, when the servant comes up on the wall, opened his eyes, and then he sees them ‑‑ they were there before he saw it. They were real, just couldn’t interact with our five senses.

WES: Yeah, I love the way that you describe that as sort of this overlapping world and that they’re both here, they’re both present. In fact, you used the words “real world,” and we do tend to think about the physical world, the things that we can see that ‑‑ the seen world, we tend to think of that as the real world, but there’s a sense in which the unseen world is ‑‑ for us especially, is more real. It is where our hope lies, is in this unseen world, and also where this battle is being conducted.  And, you know, I think about Ephesians 6, and I think about the way that Ephesians 6 was always taught to me when I was growing up and this spiritual armor that we put on, the armor of God that we put on.  

KERRY: Burger King crowns, right? And trash‑can‑lid shields. 

WES: Yeah. And I always saw the poster that we would put up in Bible classrooms. In fact, there’s probably still, you know, tons of those even at this building right now, and, you know, it’s always kind of bothered me that we focus all of our attention on the metaphor of the helmet and the breastplate and the sword and the shoes and the belt, but that’s not Paul’s point. His point is that salvation and righteousness and the gospel and the word of God, these are the things that protect you. These are the things with which you are doing battle. And I always tell people, if you read Ephesians 6 and you come away afraid, you’re not reading it right. Either that or you’re not armed; you’re not wearing the armor. But if you are equipped with salvation and righteousness and the Word of God and the Gospel of Peace, then we have nothing to worry about and we can engage in this war, even a war that we can’t see but that we are aware of, but we engage in it in a way that might seem rather ordinary. 

I was talking to college students one time and talking about spiritual warfare, and I said, really, we engage in it through Bible study, through prayer, through fasting, through worship.  You know, all of these things are acts of spiritual warfare, and it seems rather mundane and ordinary, and in a way it is, but we have to, I think, put on these spiritual lenses, as you were saying, and I think that’s ‑‑ I think you’re exactly right. Like, not only The Matrix you mentioned, but I think about C.S. Lewis and the world of Narnia that he sort of painted, that that world exists and that we actually exist in it and are doing things within that world by doing these things that seem ordinary but are anything but ordinary.

KERRY: Right. Well, and people don’t ‑‑ I think the way we read it is that ‑‑ I’ve asked people before, in seminars and things, who do you think the devil is personally working on today? You know, because the way I read the New Testament, he just kind of followed Jesus around for three and a half years, right? But the devil ‑‑ I mean, if you understand him to be a fallen angel, which I think Ezekiel and ‑‑ you know, even when it says “don’t fall into the same condemnation as the devil” when it’s talking about an elder must not be a new convert and his pride that matched up with his ‑‑ I think there’s just a lot of evidence that he was an angel, if not the archangel ‑‑ I kind of suspect the archangel ‑‑ before. And, indeed, if that’s true, if he fell, then he’s certainly more powerful than any human being, less powerful than God by infinite measure, but he would be bound by the rules or the laws that affect angels.

Well, in Daniel chapter 10, you have him ‑‑ Daniel prays for interpretation to a vision, and this angel appears to him three weeks later, and the angel says, “Well, I couldn’t get there, but I was held up by the Prince of Persia and I couldn’t get free for 21 days. And then Michael, the archangel, came and fought with that Prince of Persia, and now I’m able to bring you this message.” But that tells us something. Angels are bound by time and space. In other words, they can’t be in two places at once, and it tells us that their perception of time is exactly the same as ours because it was the same three weeks for the angel that it was for Daniel. 

Now, what that means is the devil is in one place right now on this earth. And so I’ve asked people, well, who do you think he’s working on right now? And the answer is always a president or Beyonce or something. You know, people always say something like that, and I’m like, why? He’s got them. You understand the world kind of runs on autopilot because of our own flesh, right? So who’s his enemy? Is the president his enemy? No. Beyonce is not his enemy. I mean, you know, whether it’s a movie star or a politician or whoever it may be, no, that’s not the war. The Bible says the war is between Christians, us, and the devil, and that all those people out there are not the enemy. I mean, he says our struggle is not against flesh and blood, period. 

I understand the devil uses the enemy powerfully and that he can use people and make them very dangerous to us, but they are still not the ‑‑ it’s kind of like Omaha Beach in World War II. That was a dangerous place for our soldiers to land because they had land mines, they had barbed wire, they had mortar emplacements. But even though the beach was dangerous, the beach was the objective, not the enemy, and so you might have to fight against the beach in order to win the beach back. And that still happens, right? That’s the nature of ‑‑ so I think what would help Christians more than anything else is to get out of their mind that people are the enemy. People are not the enemy. I mean, yes, people are wicked and they’re being used mightily by the enemy sometimes, but they’re not the enemy. But you see, that’s how we see spiritual warfare, in such simplistic terms that are inconsistent with everything the scriptures teach, which is that it is us versus him, the devil, and his minions, and the most significant thing that can happen happens over coffee tables or at Starbucks or happens over email, if you’re studying with somebody. Our weapons ‑‑ going back to the 2nd Corinthians passage, our weapons are not carnal but for the tearing down of arguments. Why? So we can win the souls of people back to him.

WES: Yeah. Well, that’s why I always like to tell people that we should think of people that have positioned themselves as our enemies, have positioned themselves against us, unbelievers and people in the world ‑‑ we should think of them as prisoners of war. We should think of them as prisoners of our enemy rather than our enemy, that our goal ‑‑ as you said, they’re our objective. Our objective is to liberate them, and so if we were, you know, in a physical battle, in a physical war, we would recognize that the prisoners of war ‑‑ even if they’re being used or leveraged against us, they are people to be liberated and freed from their captors just as we once ‑‑ we once were those people. We were on the enemy’s side because we had been captured by those lies and by that deceit. Not that we were innocent in it, of course, we gave into it, but we were captured by the devil to do his will, and so we should have compassion on those that are so enslaved to the evil one and we should be seeking to set them free, to liberate them, rather than to destroy them or fight against them.

KERRY: Well, you know, evidence that we see this wrong is when you ask another question ‑‑ I ask a lot of stimulating questions, and one of the questions I also ask is, well, so who’s on the offense and who’s on the defense in this war? And I’m telling you, most believers get that wrong, right? Because they think of us as being on the defense, and, indeed, we’re surrounded by ‑‑ we’re way outnumbered, but according to Ephesians chapter 6, I mean, the true dynamic is we’re like special forces that are armed better, right? And yes, we’re behind enemy lines and we’re surrounded by the enemy every single day, but we’re better equipped and we’re ‑‑ if we have our scriptures and we know them, we’re better trained. But yet people see ‑‑ that’s why I think sometimes the church today ‑‑ and you know this; you speak places, and things ‑‑ brethren are beaten down and they think that the world’s never been worse than it is. 

That is ‑‑ historically, as a historian, that is absolutely not true. If you look at the scale of where the world’s been ‑‑ I’m talking morally, righteously, however you want to describe it, we’re still on the top edge. I mean, it could be a lot worse than it is, but yet, we just have our experiences, and we think it’s so bad. And so we have kind of a circle‑the‑wagons kind of mindset, that we gotta survive, we gotta defend, we gotta survive. But what does Matthew 16 say? Jesus says, you know, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” And I’ve studied a lot of military history, and what I’ve never read is any offensive army carrying their gates with them. That is not a tool of offense. That is a tool of final defense. And Jesus doesn’t describe his churches on the defense. He describes his churches taking the fight to the very gates of Hades, and that’s what we’re called to be, because in the end, I mean, it’s abundantly ‑‑ we can’t lose unless we quit. I mean, that’s just the ultimate truth of ‑‑ if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we can’t lose unless we quit. I mean, we’re invincible to the enemy. In the real world, now, yes, we could suffer and we could face all sorts of problems in this life and we could even have our lives taken from us physically, but we cannot lose. And so all he tries to do, everything ‑‑ the devil’s strategy, it’s summed up in this: Get us to either turn ourselves over to him or to quit. That’s it. That’s his entire objective. So if he can tempt us with sin, where we abandon our faith, well, then he gets us. If he can get us to be so afraid or not do anything or be so distraught about what’s going on in the world that we just sit back and worry about ourselves, then we’re no threat to him. That’s his entire strategy.

WES: Well, that’s sobering. That’s really sobering. Kerry, you work a lot with the church in various ways, with preachers and teachers and evangelists, and even with members and Christians of the Tahoe Encampment and through Sunset, and so I want to just talk practicality here. How do we help those people that are our leaders, whether they’re leading in a congregation or they’re leading in their home ‑‑ how do we help them to see the battle that’s going on and to be engaged in it, to be on the offense and to go in wearing the armor of God and prepared to do the work that we’re called to do? How do we help get the church across the globe engaged in the battle?

KERRY: Well, you know, of course, from my perspective, I think it has to do with education, but more than that. We hear that word as the solution to every problem in the world, right? “Well, if we just have more education.” Well, yes, but what I’m meaning more by that is knowledge and passion. I mean, our people have to get passionate about this and be able to understand who the enemy is. I mean, you know, I think, theologically ‑‑ and we don’t have time to talk about all that today, but there’s some underpinnings of why spiritual warfare is hard for us to grasp, and I can prove it to you by this. I mean, I’ve been preaching 30‑plus years; you’ve been preaching a long, long time. I have never, ever, in all of the grief that I’ve seen in people’s lives, which I would never, never disparage that or ‑‑ I mean, we hurt for people, but I have never seen a believer, when they’re going through pain, blame the devil, but you know how many times I’ve seen them blame God? There is a deep theological problem with that. Clearly, we don’t understand God and we don’t understand the devil, because God is not the enemy, right? But yet, theologically, that’s where people go. I don’t know, have you seen that kind of thing before?

WES: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there’s books and there’s seminars and there’s all kinds of things about God and sort of dealing with and grappling with and wrestling with our anger at God when bad things happen. But yeah, again, the whole point of the scriptures is that this is not the way that our good God intended the world to be, nor the way that ‑‑ nor his intention for the future.

KERRY: Well, and we’ve bought into a subtle Calvinism that almost makes us think that everything that happens in the spiritual world, the devil has to get direct ‑‑ now, there’s a difference between direct permission and indirect permission. You know, if you give your kid the keys to the car and you say “Go,” I mean, just because you didn’t tell them they couldn’t go there, that’s kind of indirect because you made the circumstance, right? But direct permission, where, “Well, Dad, can I go here? Yes or no?” ‑‑ it’s almost like people think that the devil sends an email to God every time he wants to do something awful, and God gives him permission or he can’t do it. That is just not true in Scripture. I don’t know where we got it, but people believe that en masse. 

So I think, first of all, we have to get people to see God. It hurts me so much for God. I want to defend his character. I don’t think that anything ‑‑ now, he does chasten us, he does discipline us, but the big, bad terrible things in life are not God. I don’t believe it. And, you know, if you can get people passionate about this, then maybe when they’re hurting ‑‑ I mean, I talk to God every day, but I talk to the devil every now and again, and what I mean by that is I’ve screamed out his name and said, “This hurts, but you will never win. Bring on the rain because you will never win,” because I see him involved in these processes in my life, and I don’t think people see it. I mean, maybe they could intellectually when they’re hearing this podcast or whatever, but when their life has fallen apart, it’s like the devil’s out of the equation and it’s all God. And what does that do to his character? I mean, the God who loves us so much he’d give himself for us. No. And so I think that’s the first thing ‑‑ that’s what I try to do, is inspire passion about these things in people’s lives to show God’s character. He’s on our side. In everything, he’s on our side.

I’m the Dean of the Graduate School at Sunset, teach a lot of classes there, master’s and doctoral. I have a class on spiritual warfare because if I can get preachers to be passionate about it, then that’s the process of getting members to be passionate about it. I direct the Tahoe Family Encampment. We always have something on spiritual warfare every year because I think it’s such an important topic. As I said, I finished a novel. It’s called Angel at War, and it’s kind of the ‑‑ I call it the opposite of The Screwtape Letters, if you’ve read that, because that’s about a demon, and my novel is about an angel as he’s defending a Christian and everything that happens in there. And I don’t know that that’s exactly how it is, and I make that clear in the foreword of the book, but I want to get people’s minds rolling on this, and then, of course, through seminars and things. 

And I think that’s where we start, is we have to be passionate about it ourselves, and, you know, you won’t be passionate about something if you don’t have a powerful reason. And my reason is I’m tired of even Christians who disparage ‑‑ unintentionally much of the time, but disparage the character of God because, you know, it’s almost as if we didn’t ‑‑ you know, we read all those Old Testament stories and we just see the horrible details sometimes, but we don’t see the God who ‑‑ when Abraham lied about Sarah for the second time, Abimelech’s the one that’s gonna be punished, and why not Abraham? Well, that doesn’t even seem just. Because Abraham was God’s friend and Abimelech wasn’t. And you look through David ‑‑ I mean, what a colossal sinner, what an immensely flawed man, but yet he is that man after God’s own heart because, you see, that’s all the way through scripture. Spiritual things are what matter the most. Now, the other stuff matters, too, but they matter the most. But it’s like we push those to the side and ‑‑ no. I suppose it’s possible to get passionate about the details, but when you see the big picture, I think that’s where my passion comes from, is I want to defend God, who is my Lord, my Savior, and my friend. I want to defend his character, and I want to show that he is not the enemy. He is our great help, our great comfort. He is our great weapon as we face against an enemy that, frankly, he hates us and he’s malicious. And it’s funny because he’ll give people wealth and power and influence only to pull it out from under them and laugh in their face. That is his character.

WES: Well, I think about how practical everything you’re saying is, and I think about Job’s friends. And even though they were sort of blaming Job for the tragedies that he was going through, they were probably well‑intentioned guys. That’s the way so many of these things, I think, begin, is with well‑intentioned comments in the face of tragedy and horrible things that have happened in people’s lives. And so often people will say things like, “Well, you know, God needed another flower in his garden and that’s why this person died,” or we’ll say things to people, “I don’t know why God took them, but I’m sure God has his reasons.” And I want to stop ‑‑ and I constantly say in funerals ‑‑ I remind people what Paul says in 1st Corinthians 15, that death is an enemy. Now, we know, as Christians, that the sting of death has been removed for us because we’re forgiven, because we don’t have to be afraid of death, but that still doesn’t change the fact that it’s an enemy that God longs to destroy. This is an enemy that Satan has used in his arsenal and that God is going to destroy death, and we long for that day, but so often we take and we act like God is the killer, that God is the one who is using death. It’s not God that’s using death. God is on the side of life. God brings life into the world and God longs to raise his people from the dead and liberate them from the hold of death. And so I think, so often, we get the picture backwards because we’ve taken Satan and the demonic forces and even the personification of death out of the picture, and so we have no one else to blame but God.

KERRY: And we so missed it because ‑‑ I mean, the first memory verse probably everybody learns is the shortest verse in the Bible from John ‑‑ what is it, John 11, right? And, you know, it’s like we missed the point of that altogether, because when it says Jesus wept ‑‑ he has no reason to weep. In like five minutes he’s going to raise Lazarus from the dead. And all of those ‑‑ I mean, have you ever had a circumstance with somebody and they kind of thought it was going to be one way, disappointed, but you got a great surprise for them, right? I mean, it’s good. They’re about to ‑‑ in fact, it’s sweeter to see the joy when they’ve kind of been disappointed first. Well, imagine Jesus knew he’s about to raise Lazarus from the dead. All those tears ‑‑ he knows that. He’s about to do it. Why does he weep? Because he weeps that we have to ‑‑ you know, he’s raising Lazarus, but they’re going to go through it again, and everybody who lives in this world is going to go through it again. He wasn’t weeping for Lazarus. Yes, Mary, Martha somewhat, but not in that immediate because they’re about to be really happy. He weeps because we have to face that enemy, and God cares. 

You know that old song, “Does Jesus care when I’ve said goodbye to the dearest on earth to me?” John 11 is just so powerful because he cares. He’s not the enemy. But yet, how must it hurt him the way Christians look at it? And it’s because, I believe, we’ve been influenced by ‑‑ people kind of think God is the chess master, that every single thing that happens, happens with his permission, his direct ‑‑ I mean, that can’t be so. It’s not a war, then. I mean, if Ukraine has to call and ask Russia’s permission for every single missile they send, that is not a war. And understand, that gets into deep theological wranglings. Well, maybe we shouldn’t run away from the deep. Maybe that’s what maturity is about, growing, wrestling with things, struggling with them. But I know that any conclusion that we come up with that makes it God’s fault and maligns his character is the wrong conclusion.

WES: There’s such a difference, I think, when you read the Psalms. There is sometimes frustration with God, even when you read Revelation and the martyrs are crying out, “How long?” But even in that, it is either celebrating the deliverance of God or anticipating the deliverance of God because the psalmist is saying, or the dead in Christ are saying, “How long?” because they’re looking to God for their deliverance, for their salvation. Rather than blaming God, they know that God is capable of bringing all of this pain and suffering to an end. The only question is, “Why are you waiting?” And I think that’s sometimes a really good question, but it’s not a good question if you think God is the one who caused the pain and suffering in the first place. It’s not God who caused it, but God who’s going to bring it to an end. It’s good and right to ask, “God, I don’t know what you’re doing, and why are you waiting and why don’t you fix this?” Of course, Peter gives us the answer, because he’s patient and he wants more people to come to salvation. But we have to know that God is the one who weeps with us. He hates death and disease and destruction infinitely more than we do. He weeps when we weep. He weeps even more than that because he can see what we can’t see. And so often we think that God is just stoically watching all of this happen and so disconnected from that, and that is so the opposite of the gospel. The gospel is that we have a God who suffers with us, who empathizes with us to the nth degree, who became human so that he could suffer with us and liberate us from the suffering.

KERRY: Well, and I think the other thing that will help people see spiritual warfare is when you move past religion into relationship because ‑‑ I mean, we do practice a religion, but, I mean, when you seek not just to follow God and do the right things, when you seek to be a friend to God, to be close to God, to ‑‑ like Paul says, I want to know Christ, not just know about him ‑‑ to know him, and then things ‑‑ boy, things open up for us because, you know, what’s interesting is Old Testament characters would pray things that we would not pray. I mean, they said things to God that are ‑‑ Jeremiah’s my favorite. I’ll never write a commentary because I’m not that smart, but if I ever did on Jeremiah, it would be entitled “The Moody Prophet,” because I’m telling you, the guy would have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder if it was today. I mean, he is up and down. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,” right? But then he also writes, in Jeremiah, “You, O Lord, are like an unreliable stream that, when I go to drink, you leave me dry,” in essence. I mean, how could he say that to God? And God doesn’t rebuke him. Elijah just lays it out to God how he feels. God doesn’t rebuke him, because you know what? He’s our Father. And when my kids came ‑‑ even when they were mad at me, as long as they weren’t disrespectful, I care what they feel, right? I want to hear it. But we don’t see it that way. We don’t see it through those eyes of relationship, and I think it trickles down and affects everything else we see or don’t see.

WES: I think that’s a great way to sort of couch it, between religion and relationship, that there is a faith of religion that is just a matter of let me get all of the facts straight and let me figure out what all of the things are that I believe and just get all of those things straight in my mind, and then there’s a faith of relationship that says, “I trust you to do the right thing, to do the best thing, to do the good thing even when I don’t know what that is, and even when I don’t know when that is going to come to pass.” That’s what Hebrews is all about. I mean, there’s so much for all of us ‑‑ in every era of our life, in every era of human history and the history of God’s people, there has been so much ambiguity and just lack of knowledge of what’s gonna happen and why am I going through this and what does the future hold? But faith is seeing beyond what is seen and trusting in him and saying, “I don’t know what God is going to do or when he’s going to do it, but I know he’s going to do what is good and what is right, and I know that he’s going to keep his promises.” And with that, we can be comfortable, for lack of a better word, in the uncomfortable. We can be content with the pain, with the suffering, because we know, in the end, this is the way everything’s going to work out.

KERRY: Absolutely. I mean, just examine sometime ‑‑ and I know you have, but for your listeners, examine sometime suffering in the New Testament and how it’s viewed. “Consider it pure joy when you face trials and temptations of all sorts.” I’ve never seen anybody do that, ever, in 30‑plus years of preaching. I’ve never seen anybody walk the aisle happy and say, “I’m going through this really hard thing. I just want to thank the Lord.” Never. I mean, that’s not the only passage that talks about it. Philippians chapter 1, “For it’s been appointed to you not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake.” I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and to share in his suffering. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” “Blessed are those, you know, when they revile and persecute you and speak all manner of evil against you falsely, but rejoice and be exceedingly glad.” I mean, in spiritual warfare, suffering is like a medal of honor. It matters. Why do you think he says “Be faithful unto death”? That doesn’t mean till you grow old and die. “Be faithful unto death and you’ll receive a crown of life.” “No greater love hath any man than this, that he’ll lay down his life for his friends.” “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” 

All of that stuff is saying that how we see it is so very essential. And this stuff has affected so many things because you ‑‑ I mean, I assume that would be true for you, too. People don’t see suffering ‑‑ and I don’t see suffering that way yet, but I want to. I’m trying to. In fact, when ‑‑ I was just in a car accident this weekend. It was kind of scary, and I ‑‑ indeed I prayed to the Lord, thanked him that it wasn’t worse than it was and I wasn’t hurt and all that, but I want to express to him, also, thank you for trials and difficulty so that I can ‑‑ because, Lord, when things are hard, I can show you how much I love you and that you’re first to me, and that really is what life is all about. It’s choice. Him or ourselves. Him or the world.

WES: Yeah. Well, and I think that even those acts of rejoicing in faith when we encounter various trials, that, in and of itself, is an act of spiritual warfare, where we are pushing back, we’re fighting against what is seen and we’re saying there is more to this than what can be seen. There’s more than what can be felt. And we’re not denying the pain and that it’s actually bad, that these painful things are actually bad, but we are saying that ‑‑ by rejoicing in them, we’re saying God is bigger, God is greater, God can even redeem this situation. And it is an act of faith, an act of spiritual warfare to push back against those things. I think even about ‑‑ to kind of wrap this up and go back to where we started, that it’s even in loving our enemies, in loving the people who position themselves against us, the human beings, the flesh and blood, that when we love them, that, in and of itself, is engaging in spiritual warfare. When we love them, we’re heaping burning coals on their head. 

So let me just ask this as we kind of wrap up, that I think there’s a difference ‑‑ and I want to see if you think there’s a difference ‑‑ between destroying arguments and being argumentative, because sometimes I think we read 2nd Corinthians 10 and we read, oh, yes, we’re supposed to destroy arguments, and we sort of pat ourselves on the back for, quote‑unquote, owning the other person or dunking on them or scoring points against them, and we’re just being argumentative rather than actually destroying the arguments, rather than winning them to Christ and helping them to be liberated from the enslavement that they’re suffering.

KERRY: Oh, yeah. Well, one of the things that’s kind of a great example of how we misunderstand this sometimes is our use of the term ‑‑ well, some of our use. I mean, I wouldn’t say everybody does this, but sometimes, in the church, people refer to “false teaching,” and you’ve probably been called a false teacher; I’ve been called a false teacher. I mean, it depends on where you are on any subject; there’s somebody to the right of you that’s going to think you’re a false teacher. But what I’ve found to be so interesting about that is that people make that application to folks outside the church. They’re not false teachers. That topic ‑‑ that title is reserved in scripture, but it’s not even reserved to people who teach things that are false. I mean, have you ever done that? I mean, I’ve changed through the years big time, right? Does that mean I was a false teacher? It can’t mean that, right? But there’s an interesting thing when you dive into every instance where you have a Diotrephes, or whatever, in scripture. There’s always one connecting concept, and it reads something like this, “For their God is their own belly.” It’s not talking about a person who is teaching something false mistakenly. It’s talking about a person who knows they’re teaching something false and are doing it for their own selfish ambition and gain, which is a very small group of people, right? 

I mean, but yet we take and we feel like victors because we blast somebody into next week because they don’t see it the way we believe the scriptures teach, and that ‑‑ we don’t see that attitude ‑‑ Jesus was real hard on the Pharisees because they fit that description very well, but he was pretty soft with everybody else, including Romans, including Gentiles, including his boneheaded disciples. I mean, he was patient and loving. He got frustrated at times, but ‑‑ and this is the thing, is that Paul, the same one who said “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal,” he’s also the one that says, “I become all things to all men.” He said I will compromise everything except the gospel, except the truth. I’ll compromise my wants, my desires, my own personal preferences, all of that because ‑‑ you know, what about passages like, “If at all possible, live at peace with all men”? That’s what we’re called to be, but yet somehow we’ve gotten this idea that being at war means we have to be combative. It does. We need to be combative to the devil, but not to people, but yet so many brethren have the mindset that the right way to do it is to be combative to people. And are there rare cases where there is a false teacher? Sure. But by and large, most of the time, we just are ‑‑ I mean, I like to think about what would convince me if I was in that person’s shoes? What would reach me? Now, it’s gotta be ‑‑ you can’t water down the truth. It’s gotta be told. But you can tell it with love in your heart and with compassion on your voice and a tear in your eye, and that’s different than sometimes how people want to win the argument. So I don’t know if that’s what you were looking for, but that’s kinda how I see it.

WES: Couldn’t agree more, Brother, and I think that’s a great place to wrap up. Before we close, let me give you an opportunity to tell people where they can find out more about Sunset or the Tahoe Encampment or anything that you’d like to point people to.

KERRY: You bet. Well, first of all, on the Sunset front, our graduate school, we have two doctorate degrees and we have three different master’s degrees. It’s very, very affordable. You can go to Sunset.Bible and there’s a graduate school page. What we’re really excited about is we just started last year ‑‑ this is our second annual Sermon Symposium in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. It’s for anybody who wants to come. You can register at Sunset.Bible, and then, under “Events,” it’ll be right there, and that’s June the 6th through the 8th at Lewisville Church of Christ, and we’d love to see anybody who can come be there and be a part of it. 

I also direct the Tahoe Family Encampment, as you mentioned.  That’s been going since 1946. It used to be the Yosemite Family Encampment continuously except for one year, and everybody knows what year that was, so ‑‑ but we’ve been going at Lake Tahoe from about the year 2000, and our dates this year are June the 15th through the 21st. We have a web page and a Facebook page, Tahoe Family Encampment. You can find it very, very easily. So love to have y’all. Anybody who wants to be involved, the more the merrier. 

And then I mentioned the novel that I wrote. It’s available on Amazon. It’s called Angel at War by Kerry Williams, and if anybody has an interest in that, maybe it’ll help to expand our minds, so if there’s something there you don’t like, let me know, because I’d be curious.

WES: Well, thank you, Brother. Thanks for this conversation and thanks for your work in the kingdom.

KERRY: God bless. Thank you so much for having me on. Appreciate it.

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