Spirit Wars

In the Bible, there is a connection between your position in life and your clothes. Wearing certain clothes sends a signal that you have authority, whether it’s kingly robes, priestly linen garments, or the mantle of a prophet. What happens to clothes, or what people do with them, is also very meaningful. Because of this connection, an exchange of dirty for clean clothes pictures the gospel, and both testaments describe people as being “clothed” with the Holy Spirit.

With this connection in mind, keep an eye on the clothes in Acts 19. After the Spirit shows up in Ephesus, spiritual warfare erupts throughout the city. Paul, clothed in the power of the Spirit, heals people, even through his own clothing. Just like what happened to the woman with the flow of blood, and just like Elisha with Elijah’s cloak, even the clothes of Spirit-filled people work miracles.

Some Jewish exorcists decide to try out this new source of spiritual power for themselves. But like Saul trying to clothe David in his own armor, they place their confidence in the trappings of power and authority, rather than in God Himself. These exorcists don’t have a relationship with Jesus or the Holy Spirit; they selfishly want to borrow power to win glory. But it is not enough to do something in the name of Jesus, you also need to do it in the power of the Spirit of Jesus.

The evil spirit saw right through them, and in an outburst of supernatural demonic power, the possessed man overpowered seven men, and they fled from the house wounded and naked. Follow the clothes: Paul’s aprons overpower the evil spirits, because Paul is clothed in the Holy Spirit. Pretenders try to use that power, and are un-clothed and revealed to be powerless.

Here we see the difference between “magic” and spiritual power: magic is an attempt to access power without having the Spirit. The Bible constantly warns God’s people not to pursue magic. You cannot “use” magic; magic will either use you or it will harm you. But if you have faith in Jesus Christ, the Spirit that you’ve been baptized with is more powerful than evil spirits. In the “Spirit Wars” of Ephesus, the Spirit of Jesus wins.

This caused many people in Ephesus to give up on magic. They openly confessed their sin, and made a burnt offering out of the tools of their magical trades. Many foolish people claim that this began a long tradition of book-burnings by Christians who were afraid of knowledge or science, but this is not at all what happened. This book-burning is not a fear of knowledge; it is the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of knowledge. It is a public repudiation of evil motivated by a holy fear of God.

The Ephesians set a costly example: when the Holy Spirit moves into our lives, other things must go. Of course “sin” must go, but sin uses stuff to get to your heart, and those things must go, as well. If your computer or phone has brought sin into your life, get rid of it. If certain apps have a negative effect on your holiness, delete them. If More Wonderful Homes magazine has made you discontent and greedy, throw it out. If certain foods or drinks or drugs have enslaved you, cut them out of your life. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off.

“Things” are not sinful in themselves, but sin can use them to destroy you, just as surely as handkerchiefs and aprons can be used to heal you. To whatever extent sin has found a home in your life through certain things, it’s time to have a bonfire. As Matthew Henry said about this passage: “If we desire to be in earnest in the great work of salvation, every pursuit and enjoyment must be given up which hinders the effect of the gospel upon the mind, or loosens its hold upon the heart.” 1

Do you desire to be in earnest in the great work of salvation, or are you borrowing someone else’s spiritual power? Is there something in your life that loosens the hold of the gospel on your heart? Burn it, and turn to Jesus, and the word of the Lord will prevail mightily, and the name of the Lord Jesus will be extolled.

1 Henry, M., & Scott, T. (1997). Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary (Acts 19:13). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems.

Posted on Wednesday, March 11, 2015 by CJ Bowen