“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are divinely powerful for the destruction of strongholds.” 2 Corinthians 10:3-4
These are certainly verses that speak of warfare. These verses speak of conflict and struggle and battle. Instead of placidly drifting along, Paul presents the Christian life as one in which there is a striving against sin and a striving against the forces of evil as the believer presses toward holiness. And at the very center of this warfare are strongholds. The disciple is to be destroying or pulling down strongholds. So I want to speak about strongholds.
What are strongholds? When some speak of strongholds, they have in mind an ethereal realm of angels and demons waging a cosmic battle over earthly geographies to see whether good or evil will prevail. While this idea of “stronghold” may apply in some situations, there is in it very little practical value. It sells books with its fantastic clashes in the heavenlies, but it does not help the disciple in his or her daily striving toward holiness. So this is not the stronghold I have in mind.
Instead, here is my definition of “stronghold:” A stronghold is “an area in a believer’s life where the flesh still has enough strength to consistently cause the believer to sin and to be disobedient to the revealed will of God as commanded in His word.” There are many areas of sin where this can be manifested: fear (of any kind), anger, lust and immorality, drunkenness, greed/coveting, lies and deception, laziness, wasting time, pleasure-seeking, wasting money, and evil-speaking are some of the sins that come to mind, but this list is far from exhaustive. A stronghold in your life is an area of moral evil and sin that you built in your past and that still has the power to take you into that sin today. These strongholds must be destroyed.
How and when are strongholds established? Strongholds are established and constructed in the years that the person is an unbeliever. The flesh is the project manager in these “stronghold construction projects,” and your environment and your personality will determine the particular strongholds that you will build. Some build fortresses of greed and stealing and cheating and lying. Others build strong towers of lust and immorality and revel in the sensual wickedness of this world. Some build fortresses of fear or anger or drunkenness that wreak havoc in their lives. The point is that while you are an unbeliever, the flesh is actively constructing these strongholds of sin and training you to indulge in these sins. When you indulge in the sin, the walls and the foundation of the strongholds are made more secure and are made less vulnerable to attack. And so by this process of building the stronghold of sin and then drawing you back into that sin over and over again, the flesh establishes these strongholds in the unbeliever’s life.
But then the person hears the gospel of Jesus Christ and they confess their sins and repent of the evil of their past and repent of their sins and they commit to follow Jesus no matter the cost for all of eternity. What happens to those strongholds that the flesh so carefully constructed in your life? What happens when the Holy Spirit comes into your life at salvation? The truth is that initially very little happens to the strongholds. For the new believer, these sinful habits and automatic evil responses of the past remain just as active and just as powerful as before. Yes, it is true that your desire for sin has been radically decreased and your hunger for righteousness has been birthed, but the flesh is still right there to oppose all godly actions and to draw you back into those carefully constructed strongholds of sin.
What, then, must the new believer do with these strongholds? Are they to remain in control of the new believer as they were in control when he was an unbeliever? May it never be! The believer has the power of the Holy Spirit to conquer the flesh and the new believer has been set free from their slavery to sin (Romans 6), so the new believer is no longer at the mercy of the sinful desires of the flesh. Rather the new believer (and the young believer and the mature believer) must set about a lifelong series of “stronghold demolition projects,” with the Holy Spirit as the project manager. (Consider Judges 6 when Gideon rose to pull down the altar of Baal or 2 Kings 23 when Josiah broke down the high places and the altars and the sacred pillars and the Asherim in Judah. These are Old Testament pictures of pulling down strongholds in the life of the believer.)
So one of the most important parts of the process of sanctification is “stronghold demolition projects.” As the unbeliever cooperated with the flesh in their construction, so the believer works with the power of the Spirit in the demolition of strongholds. Some of the strongholds will come down quickly and remain heaps of rubble, but others are resistant to all but the most determined efforts to pull them down and to destroy them. The demolition of these stubborn strongholds requires persistence and ongoing repentance and prayer. All the most potent demolition weapons need to be employed for some of these strongholds, but they must be pulled down if the believer is to live a holy life that pleases the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).
In the next blog we will explore a project plan for destroying strongholds.