Spiritual strongholds begin with a thought. One thought becomes a consideration. A consideration develops into an attitude, which leads then to action. Action repeated becomes a habit, and a habit establishes a “power base for the enemy,” that is, a stronghold. (Elizabeth Elliot)
I read this quote recently. It made me want to dig into Scripture to discern exactly what spiritual strongholds are, and allow God to examine my own life for any that I do not recognize.
Here is a key scripture on spiritual strongholds. What can we learn?
2 Corinthians 10:3-6 – For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.(NASB)
What is a stronghold?
A stronghold, or fortress is a weapon of our enemy, Satan. It is something he uses to attack and destroy the believer. But what exactly is a stronghold?
Look at verse 4 as it reads in the KJV:
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds.
Strongholds(3794) [ochyrōma] – a castle or fortress; anything on which one relies; of the arguments and reasonings by which a disputant endeavors to fortify his opinion and defend it against his opponent. It is a derivative of the Greek word echo (2192) which means “to have or hold, to own or possess.”
Ephesians 4:27 warns us “Do not give the devil an opportunity.” It’s a little more visual in the KJV: “Neither give place to the devil.”
When we allow strongholds to be built in our life by the enemy, we are essentially opening the door and inviting him into our life. It usually begins in a way we do not even notice or recognize. Our enemy is a deceiver (Revelation 12:9), and is a master of lies. By definition (above), it is a place in our spiritual life where the enemy sets up his camp, and begins to take hold of our thoughts.
How do we know a stronghold begins in our thoughts, rather than our actions?
Look at verse 5. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.
Speculation (imaginations/KJV) (3053) [logismos] – a reckoning or computation, a reasoning, a judgment or decision. Used of the consideration and reflection preceding and determining conduct. It means to deliberate.
Lofty thing (high thing/KJV) (5313) [hypsōma] – a thing elevated, an elevated structure such as a rampart, bulwark or barrier; figuratively of a proud adversary, a lofty tower or fortress built up by the enemy.
So, essentially, a stronghold is any thought or reasoning that goes against the knowledge of God (truth). Whenever we begin to believe something that is not true about God, no matter what the reason for that belief, we are allowing our enemy to gain ownership and sway over us.
How does our enemy begin to set up a stronghold in our spiritual life?
Our enemy is not foolish enough to attack directly. He is far more deceptive and cunning. He is the master of lies. Let’s look at just two areas that are specifically mentioned in relation to spiritual warfare against our enemy’s tactics.
2 Corinthians 2:10-11 – But one whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did I for your sakes in the presence of Christ, so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.
The context of Paul’s statement was the relationship between him and the Corinthian believers. He had written a previous letter (1 Corinthians) which was quite strong against the sin in the church, and probably had caused some hurt feelings, and some embarrassment as fellow believers responded to Paul’s letter. His heart was hurting for them, and he was assuring them that there was grace for repentance, and that they need to affirm one another by forgiveness. Here we see that unforgiveness can be used by our enemy as a tactic to establish a stronghold in our life. He can take our hurt feelings and whisper lies to us that result in bitterness. Before we know it, the ugliness of an unforgiving spirit has taken root in us.
How does unforgiveness begin with our thoughts? We nurture our hurt feelings and tell ourselves that we are in the right. We allow a barrier (a lofty thing) to be raised up between us and our brother or sister (or an unbelieving friend), which exalts itself against the knowledge of God. The knowledge of God tells us that we are all in need of mercy and grace. The knowledge of God tells us that none of us deserve forgiveness. But an unforgiving mindset can keep us from seeing the truth.
Ephesians 4:26-27 – Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.
Anger (3710) [orgizō] –to provoke or arouse to anger; to become exasperated
The word here is used in the passive tense, which means the subject receives the action of the verb. In other words, something happens which causes you to become angry or exasperated. I would understand this to mean that Paul expects that throughout life, some things will happen that will cause you to respond in anger. He is not “commending” anger, or saying that anger is good. He is simply making a statement that in our fleshly, physical bodies, there will be moments when we will become angry. The key is, what will we do with that anger?
First, we cannot sin in our anger. Anger is simply an emotion. It is a feeling. It is what we do with the anger that becomes the action, and can result in sin. It is not a sin to “feel” angry. But we choose to respond, and Paul is warning us not to respond in a sinful way. He gives us examples of the wrong way to respond in the following verses (Ephesians 4:28-31): stealing (taking what is not yours…perhaps in response to feeling like you are treated unfairly), unwholesome (rotten) words, ignoring the conviction of the Holy Spirit, words of bitterness, wrath, clamor (empty noisy meaningless words), slander (harming someone’s reputation in spite), or malice (doing/saying things with intent for evil).
Paul also tells us how to respond: Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. In other words, GET OVER IT. Deal with the emotion of the moment, forgive (see #1!), and move on. To hold on to our angry thoughts and feelings is to give our enemy a “place” or “opportunity” in our spiritual life.
How do we defeat strongholds?
I love that Paul does not just warn us about our enemy’s tactics, but gives us practical application on how to defeat him. But that’s the topic of the next blog!
In the meantime, here’s something to ponder:
“What consumes your mind controls your life.”
What consumes your mind?
Are there any places of unforgiveness and anger that are giving the enemy a stronghold in your life?
Ask God. He will surely show us.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24
As I scrolled through images on Google in response to a search for “fortress” it occurred to me that the most common idea of a “fortress” is those places along a walled city where the guards stood. If this is true in a spiritual sense, how many of us are captives in little “walled cities”, surrounded by strongholds that the enemy has placed in our life? Christ has called us to freedom. Are we living in it, or are we held captive by our enemy?