“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled” (II Cor. 10:3-6)
As I mentioned in the first post on this topic, this is a verse that I’ve always struggled to make super meaningful in the past. High things that exalt themselves against God, sure, that makes perfect sense to me. Even casting down arguments, assuming those are arguments against God’s way and truth, I can wrap my head around. But strongholds aren’t a concept that is immediately tangible to me.
A while back, though, I did have a little bit of a breakthrough where strongholds are concerned, and what they can represent in our lives as followers of Christ. These strongholds or “walled cities” can be external—the obstacle in front of us that we see as bigger than God (covered in the previous post)—or they can be internal.
The internal strongholds are where we have built fortresses protecting pieces of our carnal nature from being conquered. Both types need pulled down. This part of the study deals with the hostile spiritual strongholds quietly occupying our hearts and minds.
Enemy strongholds in the heart and mind
While the strongholds in front of us are generally easier to see (if still difficult to overcome), spiritual strongholds’ power lies in their ability to fly under the radar. If you consider yourself a disciple of Christ or a Christian, at some point in your life you decided to turn from your previous life and asked God to put His spirit in you. You repented and were baptized, and ostensibly gave Him unlimited access to every part of your heart and mind—asking Him to transform your carnal mind into one led by Him.
Every one of us that has gone through this process did so with the complete intention of letting God conquer everything in His path, burn it down, and start from scratch. But every one of us also—mostly unknowingly—built walls around a few particular areas to fortify them against this process.
We don’t like to admit it, but it’s generally true of every person. We’re pretty good at identifying and rooting out certain kinds of sins and correcting wrong behaviors. We can refrain from lying, avoid adultery, keep the Sabbath and holy days, and maybe we even had to quit smoking or stop eating certain meats when we came into the knowledge of God. But despite all of this, we still have trouble recognizing or acknowledging the spiritual strongholds located within the deepest regions of ourselves.
When an army conquers a land, they must breach and take every single one of the strongholds, because if an enemy-occupied stronghold remains in the land then the native people there can continually attack whenever they sense weakness. The battle will rage on and peace can never come—the land will never be fully conquered.
Recognizing a stealth spiritual stronghold
Once God calls us and we begin the process of conversion, the ultimate goal is to allow His holy spirit to work in our hearts and help us overcome our inherently carnal natures. Satan, of course, wants us to fail in this endeavor and has a number of weapons in his arsenal to use against us. His weapons fall into three main categories:
- Sin and temptation – using our own carnal nature against us
- “Accusations” – sometimes used against us, but mostly whispered in our ear, such as “God has left you”; these generate anxiety and other feelings that lead us away from God. The “walled cities” in front of us, described in the previous article, often fall into this category.
- Spiritual strongholds – rather than an overwhelming obstacle, these are planted like little terrorist sleeper cells that lie dormant until they’re needed
That’s what makes this last category so hard to find. But God expects us to actively pursue the destruction of these strongholds when they’re found, to lay siege and relentlessly pummel those walls until nothing remains.
When the Word (who later became Jesus Christ) first came to the prophet Jeremiah and gave him his marching orders, He said, “‘See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant’” (Jer. 1:10).
There are so many action verbs in this verse, it’s crazy. The root meaning of these words closely mimic the ones Paul uses in II Corinthians. God told Jeremiah that he had a duty to actively search out and destroy things that opposed God’s way. As our starting verse tells us, God requires the same of us today.
But He won’t accomplish this by Himself—we are expected to take the initiative here and then He will help. King David (who knew a little bit about this topic) gave us a prayer as a blueprint for seeking out these silent strongholds.
“Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me” (Ps. 19:12-13)
The word here translated “secret” means hidden or concealed. This speaks of something we’re concealing from others out of shame or guilt, as well as sins our hearts are hiding even from ourselves. This is a terrifying prayer, but one that’s critical for identifying the areas to which we still aren’t giving God access. And identifying the problem is the first step in overcoming it.
How do we defeat spiritual strongholds?
For us to be victorious in following Christ and preparing for God’s kingdom, we must actively wage war on the remaining strongholds in our lives, rather than waiting for Satan to leverage them against us (which puts us in a defensive position). To make matters even worse, we ourselves are often sitting there behind the stronghold walls and sabotaging our own efforts to conquer.
We have to use the weapons that we’ve been given and also remember that we’re not doing it alone—the conquering Holy Spirit God has given us is leading this campaign if we allow it to. So how can these inner strongholds be breached? Here, we can take a page from military history.
Some strongholds are out in the open, we just choose not to look at them. Others are cleverly camouflaged in the rocks, hidden in forests, and we have to go hunting, like in our terrorist sleeper cell analogy.
To take down strongholds the conquering force had to do some reconnaissance…how is it being supplied and strengthened? What weapons does it have? How high and thick are the walls? The more you’re able to uncover about the stronghold, the better prepared you’ll be in defeating it.
Copy David’s prayer for God to reveal your hidden sins (I always add “and please be gentle with me!” to this request). Then keep your eyes and ears open as the days go by for how He will do that. It will often be through other people, and if we’re not paying attention then we won’t see results.
Another thing I’ve found helpful over the years is to take inventory of your perceived strengths and see where hidden sins may have latched on. Strongholds are often built in strong places, since these are more easily defended. You’re less likely to be looking there, because you tend to have more self-confidence or a sense of self-sufficiency in these areas.
For example, a person might be really great at serving other people, but over time they can develop too much pride in being the “go-to” person for it or the feeling they get from other people praising them for it. Eventually they’re not doing it for the right reasons and it’s become a vulnerable area rather than the strength it was at first (my HR partner at work would call this an “over-leveraged strength”).
Paul tells us, “Likewise the spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26).
If you don’t feel comfortable praying David’s words or aren’t sure exactly what to ask for, start there—ask God what you should be praying for, and see where His spirit leads you.
Once you’ve identified a stronghold, the first step is to cut off the supply routes and isolate it so it can’t get any stronger. This is an oversimplified example, but I’ve had friends who, if they’re trying to stop smoking, don’t go out and drink with their friends because they always end up with a cigarette in their hand. In other words, remove the triggers and the enablers to help yourself break the habits.
If you’ve discovered a tendency toward gossip, or negativity, or anger (the latter two are things that I often struggle with), I’d recommend taking some time and consciously observing what factors may be contributing to, encouraging, or exacerbating the problem. Is it certain people, certain types of thoughts that send you down the path, or situations you find yourself in? Then brainstorm how you can actively avoid those types of things.
Similarly, for less tangible sins like pride, stubbornness, or lack of thankfulness (the last in particular is a challenge of mine), I’ve found a “fake it til you make it” path to be helpful. Basically, I identify opportunities to go to the other extreme and then follow through regardless of how I’m feeling.
I leave myself reminders on my phone at intervals throughout the day, create opportunities to show thankfulness, send myself articles and verses that help constantly remind me to make the right choices during the day, and sometimes have to forcibly make myself mentally change gears when I find I’ve fallen down a mental spiral of unthankfulness (which leads to anger and bitterness).
One way to keep yourself honest on this is by figuratively building a base camp nearby to keep an eye on the stronghold—including having a close friend or family member support you and keep your accountable.
Remember that these are “hidden” sins, which means we also usually hide them from others. And that’s not healthy. By sharing our struggles with others, the burden feels lighter and they can gently remind and encourage us when we’re having trouble making progress.
Our inner carnal strongholds can’t be painted over, remodeled, or gussied up. They must be completely torn down, burned to the ground, and the ashes scattered. God can choose to rebuild there from scratch, or build somewhere else, but you can’t leave the old shell of the fortress there.
This is where we tend to resist the process the most, because we’re okay with slapping some paint on it and laying new carpet and saying everything’s as good as new. But complete demolition is another story.
When Israel was entering the Promised Land, God commanded them to “utterly destroy all the places where the nations which you shall dispossess served their gods” (Deut. 12:2). This was where Israel and Judah and their rulers fell down time and again. They kept allowing the vestiges of pagan worship to remain in the land, and often even overlaid their worship of the true God on top of them. Since they never truly destroyed the hold this world had on them, they always eventually turned away from God.
Today, our body is the temple for the holy spirit, and so if we allow these inner carnal strongholds to remain we are effectively doing the same thing as building God’s tabernacle on top of an altar dedicated to Ba’al (I Cor. 6:19, Deut. 12:8).
We have to take a sledgehammer to the pagan altar and smash it into pieces. Completely obliterate it until nothing but dust remains, so God can build something purer, stronger, and more eternal with better materials. There can’t be an ounce of compromise with the world, because it allows Satan to maintain a toehold—that’s the hostile sleeper cell in the land you thought was conquered.
We can’t do this on our own—it does require prayer, study, meditation, and sometimes fasting. These are the weapons at our disposal. And if we do these things and stay close to God, Paul reminds us that “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (II Cor. 10:3-6)