The True Struggle of Life

By Mark D. Roberts

January 7, 2020

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.

Ephesians 6:10-12 (NIV)


All of us struggle in life, at least some of the time. Even folks whose life is filled with blessings face occasional struggles. Others struggle most of the time—whether with illness, poverty, injustice, prejudice, loneliness, or emotional wounds.

A man in darkness covering his eyesWhen we struggle, we naturally want to identify the cause, the perpetrator, the enemy. If I’m having a particularly hard time at work, for example, I might blame my boss, or my company’s financial woes, or a lack of support from my colleagues. If I have a bad self-image, I might blame the way my parents raised me. When it comes to larger societal struggles, we look for larger causes—perhaps historic or systemic injustices or maybe global or natural forces.

To be sure, many things contribute to the struggles of our world. But Ephesians 6 looks underneath the surface, even beneath systemic social issues, to identify the deepest struggle we face. Verse 12 reads, “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.” Behind and beneath the battles of our lives is a fundamental spiritual battle between God and the forces of evil. We are caught in this fight.

This may sound strange to many Life for Leaders readers; perhaps it feels antiquated or unscientific. Most of us in North America don’t readily think in terms of the devil and his “schemes” or the “spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 2:11-12). We seek to explain the world, including our struggles, in in terms of science, history, psychology, sociology, economics, and other academic disciplines. These modes of explanation are not necessarily wrong or irrelevant. But they miss a deeper dynamic, one that is real though it cannot be measured in ordinary human ways.

I will freely admit that I don’t naturally think of life in terms of spiritual warfare. In fact, sometimes the antics of Christians who engage in what they call spiritual warfare turn me off completely. But I also want to take Scripture seriously, to be guided, taught, corrected, and inspired by God’s Word. So I don’t dismiss Ephesians 6:10-20 because it doesn’t fit my natural worldview.

During this past year, I supervised a directed reading for an extremely bright Fuller Ph.D. student. Miguel grew up in the United States, graduated from a top law school, and spent the next twenty years of his life living and working in Brazil. In that country, Christians experience the spiritual dimensions of life more overtly. They think rather like Paul in Ephesians 6:10-20. Miguel ended up writing a fascinating paper on how the reality of spiritual warfare might affect our understanding and practice of faith and work. I appreciated Miguel’s thoughtful presentation and realized I have much more to learn here.

Soon we’ll get to the question of what difference the spiritual warfare dimension of life makes to how we live each day. For now, let me invite you to ponder the following questions.

Something to Think About:

How do you respond to the notion that our true battle is spiritual?

In what ways have you experienced (or not experienced) life as a spiritual battle?

If we are truly engaged in spiritual warfare, how might this affect our daily living, even in our workplaces?

Something to Do:

Talk with your small group or a Christian friend about Ephesians 6:10-20. Discover how others make sense of this passage and its implications.


Gracious God, sometimes I find Scripture to be reassuring, almost obvious in its teachings. And sometimes I am perplexed and unsure. I’ll confess to you that my response to Ephesians 6:10-20 is in the second category. I’m not quite sure how to think about the spiritual battle in which we fight. And I’m quite sure I don’t like the idea that there are spiritual forces of evil lined up against me.

So, Lord, I confess my ignorance and hesitation. I ask you to teach me what is true. Give me eyes to see what cannot be seen visibly. Give me an openness to learning and growing. Help me to know how I might live differently in light of the spiritual dimensions of life.

All praise be to you, King of kings and Lord of lords, sovereign over everything in creation. Amen.

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online
Walking in Newness of Life (Romans 6)

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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