Writing about strongholds is not easy; in fact, I think for most of us, acknowledging areas of vulnerability in our lives is quite unsettling. However, it usually isn’t long after receiving Jesus as our Savior that we are confronted with ample evidence—from our words, our attitudes and thoughts, and our behaviors—that, even though we have the assurance of a home awaiting in heaven, we are far from perfect!
In the Old Testament, a study of the word “strongholds” presents a picture of defensible positions, not easily conquered, though untenable before the purposes and might of God (see Isaiah 23:11; Ezekiel 33:27).
God is also a stronghold for those who trust in Him: “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:2 ESV)
The word “strongholds” is only used one time in the New Testament: “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4 ESV). [Works based religion, used as a back-up plan to salvation by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), causes us to confuse will-power with divine power—and when that happens we may end up bruised and feeling defeated or self-righteous and condescending.]
The Holy Spirit, through the apostle Paul, also in his letter to the Ephesians, indicates an approach the enemy uses to gain access to our lives. “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26-27 ESV) Not confessed sin, rather, cultivated sin grants the enemy access to our lives; fortunately, we have an advocate with the Father who intercedes for us… “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins…” (1 John 2:1-2 ESV)
Also, we are reminded that Jesus “…holds his priesthood permanently because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:24-25 ESV)
It is the effects of sin that opens doors to the enemy, giving him access to our lives. And this is where I have struggled. Guilt is a gift that draws our heart to Jesus and to repentance—it is a pathway, not a destination. Unfortunately, abuse—both childhood and adult—tends to cement an abiding sense of guilt and shame into the souls of those wounded by the sin and brokenness of others.
We are inclined to see our own brokenness as irreparable, making us of little value or usefulness for the kingdom of God; and the enemy eagerly whispers into our thoughts words of hopelessness, discouragement, or condemnation to perpetuate those lies. Shame is very confining, and when demons initiate pockets of fear and shame (they seem to go hand in hand), then the gospel of grace is restrained from shining through—because satan is effectively hindering us from recognizing the fullness of God’s amazing grace.
Scripture acknowledges the driving force behind fear as spiritual (demonic), not coming from God; “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:6)
Sometimes, there is another unsuspected “guest” lurking behind shame, one that took me by surprise because it seems so incongruent—Pride! I can’t exactly explain how it managed to grab a foothold in my heart, but when a situation came up where I needed to ask for help, it wasn’t only shame that tugged on my heels, pride also jumped out from behind a corner.
I am so grateful to have the Bible and the words of Jesus to speak forgiveness and restoration to the souls of all those whose confidence is in Him! He also speaks compellingly through His silences: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7 ESV)
“Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, ‘Are you King of the Jews?’ Jesus said, ‘You have said so.’ But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate said to him, ‘Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?’ But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.” (Matthew 27:11-14 ESV)
It was our sins that led Him to trial; and in His silence, He bore our shame!
Jesus, on our behalf, faced the very worst that could happen (and the very treatment we deserved), and sin was crushed, fear was defied, pride was subjugated, guilt was borne, and shame was dismantled.
That is our freedom. That is the truth and it destroys the lies of the enemy and the strongholds where he attempts to lay claim in our lives.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)