The war in Ukraine drags on into its sixth bloody month. Instead of a swift Russian victory as Putin expected, the conflict might continue for years.
From the beginning, Russian President Vladimir Putin has told the Russian people that the invasion of Ukraine is merely a limited “special military operation.” To sustain that deception, he wants to avoid a national draft. But Russia is desperate for more manpower, so they have enticed new recruits with large paychecks, focusing their attention on rural, impoverished areas.
As Russian troops “liberate” Ukraine by shelling cities and occupying towns, the low-income Russian soldiers loot houses in suburban areas. Instead of finding a backward country in need of Russian rescue, they find the Ukrainians more well off than themselves.
Russian soldiers were shocked at Ukraine’s middle-class wealth
Testimony for this reality comes from an account given by Yegor Firsov, a medic in the Ukrainian military. He served on the Ukrainian Parliament for two years and now serves on the front lines. Firsov highlights stories from civilians in once-occupied territories in a New York Times opinion piece.
In Bucha, a Suburb outside of Kyiv, the Russian forces asked locals if they were already in Kyiv. They couldn’t believe that “such idyllic parks and cottages could exist outside a capital.” The soldiers were confused that someone living alone could have a two-bathroom house. Locals also apparently said that the Russians seemed “perplexed by the robotic vacuum cleaners.”
Firsov writes defiantly, “Every day for months I have been carrying Ukrainians who have been wounded in the fight to protect what we’ve built. Now the invaders have seen what we’ve built, too. That’s a truth that they can take home with them.” Ukraine and Russia were both a part of the USSR, and Russia’s shadow falls heavily on Ukraine’s history. We covered the violent history between Ukraine and Russia in another article.
Their paths diverged, and Ukraine developed quickly.
Russians commit war crimes in Bucha
While occupying the suburban town of Bucha, the Russians committed acts of horror. Around four hundred civilians were killed, and many were evidently tortured and raped. Mass looting and chaos reigned in that town until Ukraine resecured it. Russian troops buried the bodies in mass graves and denied committing the egregious war crimes.
Authoritarian regimes like Putin’s are marked by deceiving their own citizens, manipulating language, fabricating facts, controlling the media and elections, and silencing opposers. Russia has limited sources of information from the outside world (restricting social media) and has flooded its people with propaganda. And the Russian people broadly believe in Putin’s vision for glory and his lies about Ukraine.
Yet thousands of Russian troops are dying. Their advance has stalled. And perhaps eventually, honest soldiers will return home with reports from the frontline that contradict Putin’s narrative.
Where is the frontline of spiritual warfare?
This story from the Ukraine war sets up an analogy for a different kind of conflict.
Paul informs Christians that we also fight in a war, but not against others. Paul writes that we “do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
Because of these spiritual attacks, we must armor ourselves with truth, righteousness, readiness to advance the gospel, faith, salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (the word of God). When we think of spiritual warfare, we might picture angelic battles or ethereal, disembodied spiritual forces. While there might be literal angelic battles that go on unseen (like in the famous novel This Present Darkness), that’s not necessarily what Paul is talking about.
While it’s certainly true that spiritual activity populates our world, with the devil “scheming” and sowing lies wherever he can, where is the battle for souls waged?
Not in some kind of disembodied soul (that idea is not biblical—it’s rooted in dualism), but in every area of our lives. Following Christ is material and immaterial, internal and external.
We need to fight this spiritual battle in our embodied, real lives. When we are rooted in the Spirit, the fruit of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” grows for others to see (Galatians 5:22–23). Our neighbors can see Christ’s work in us, imperfect as we are.
Jesus became human, an incarnated person with a physical body so that people might touch and see him (1 John 1:1). All of us will receive renewed “spiritual” and “immortal” bodies at the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:35–58). Jesus accompanies spiritual teaching with physical healing, examples, and miracles. Dr. Mark Turman and Dr. Jim Denison discussed the pitfalls of Christian dualism in this episode of The Denison Forum Podcast.
How can we fight against Satan’s lies to the world?
Satan lies and tempts us by saying our lives are better by our own plans and desires. He promises us goodness, but we get evil instead. People who are of the world, who are sons of darkness, are being led astray (Ephesians 5:8). We don’t fight against them—they are not our enemies. We too were once in the darkness. Instead, we fight against Satan’s deceptions and philosophies of darkness.
In the same way that Russian troops believe many lies about Ukraine, Satan lies about what it’s like to follow Jesus. Our culture believes Christianity is backward, unhappy, outdated, dangerous, and hypocritical. So, how will our unbelieving neighbors see through these lies?
By our actions.
By our real, embodied lives, lived according to Jesus’ teachings.
If they see flourishing marriages, generous hearts, free-flowing kindness, down-to-earth humility, loving families, and purposeful living, then they just might see through the lies about following Jesus. When the Russian soldiers found success instead of poverty as they expected, they were surprised. When non-believers see Christians show love, they are also often surprised.
We can’t be perfect, but we can find joy in Jesus and readily share that joy with others. The light of the gospel pierces through the darkness of Satan’s lies. Like a twisted authoritarian leader, Satan lies to his own “people,” claiming that self-gratification and denial of God will lead to satisfaction.
Christ can undermine those lies through our lives.
You and I are jars of clay holding the treasure of Christ’s gospel. We carry the death of Jesus “so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:10–11).
Shine your light for the world to see.