Lesson 11: Overcoming the Strong Hold of the Flesh
All scripture citations are from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise noted.
This is the real 'battlefield' of the course where we will explore the major emotional strongholds that disconnect us from the peace of Christ and all too often hold us captive to stress (as anxiety) or distress (as depression).
The spiritual strongholds we will explore are generational sin, unbelief, accusation, bitterness, trauma, rejection, self-rejection, envy, the occult, fear and addictions. That's quite a list! First, however, we will have to study what strongholds are, how they are formed and how they can be brought down.[i]
Jesus is our true stronghold—the Rock that we run to when threatened by sin or danger, our new shield of protection against the enemy's encroachments. David couldn't say enough about trusting the Lord as His Protector, Provider and Pardoner.
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
How Spiritual Strongholds Are Formed
The enemy creates counterfeit strongholds in our flesh. These are un-surrendered, un-healed or un-crucified areas of the old nature or self-life. They rise up and resist the Spirit-given life. Self-protectiveness built them and maintains them, aided by the lies and temptations of the enemy.
We resist them by pulling them down. Like David we don't need self-protection any longer - we have the Lord to protect us! His grace is all-sufficient!
For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the throwing down of strongholds, throwing down imaginations and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 WEB
Strongholds are habit structures of thought. The new birth gives us a new heart, but we have to change our former mental and emotional habits.[ii] We do this by working with the truth and grace God supplies.[iii] Habits are thoughts or actions repeated so often over time that no conscious thought is required for them to take place. Thoughts begin as seeds but, if unchecked, can become as firmly rooted as trees.[iv]
Strongholds are built upon seemingly apparent truths which are actually distortions of eternal truth. Our continuing agreement with them keeps them built up, strengthening the grip upon us of the negative emotions which they engender. Stronghold thinking is 'stinking thinking!' [v]
Two Hearts to Choose From
Such thinking springs up from the murky depths of the heart of our fallen nature which is 'deceitful above all things and desperately wicked' according to the Lord, who alone can search it out.[vi] Yes, as if the new life weren't complicated enough, we now have to deal with the reality of having 'Two Hearts' in One Believer.
It is very comforting to know that the new heart we have received is entirely good.[vii] Indeed, it is Christlike for it comes from Him and stays ever ready to power up the New Creation life, whenever we break free of the strongholds that entrap it.
The old heart, however, is the 'stronghold maker.' It draws its power from all of the deeply cherished (false) beliefs and (unchristian) coping strategies we developed along the way with the enemy's help. These become the wellspring for our negative emotions, for any emotion is merely the passionate expression of a deeply held belief.
This helps explain why living the new life is so easy whenever we are free of negative emotions (it flows gracefully from our new heart) and yet so difficult whenever negative emotions hold us in their power (their power comes from our old heart's most cherished beliefs). We are literally wrestling within ourselves at times over which belief system to believe - the one that comes with Jesus or the one that we lived by apart from His leadership.
If you are wondering which is which, then know that believing from the new heart always produces life and peace in any moment; believing out of the old heart's strongholds doesn't.
The Power of Strongholds
The stronghold is fortified by false beliefs which we are to pull down by carrying those thoughts captive to Christ, once the hidden lie has been exposed by the truth of God's Word. This requires diligence, especially in the beginning.[viii]
In the stronghold we encounter the self-life's negative power coming against us as feelings and as unbelieving thoughts. Be on guard if you find yourself thinking: 'I feel it so strongly, it feels like it must be true.' To counter this we need to wake up and realize that our feelings are lying to us. Never rely upon your feelings to declare the truth! In fact the more powerful the negative feeling is, the greater our belief still is in the lie that is at its core. However, not all positive feelings can be trusted either (see Negative Emotions in the Life Applications section on the main site).
A second problem arises whenever we 'hear' ourselves thinking: 'I just don't see how God's truth can be right about this situation.' Realize that in certain situations your understanding is going to be worthless to you. His ways and His thoughts really are higher than ours.[ix] We are told in Proverbs to get understanding, but not to lean upon it.[x] Cast down what you think you know if it keeps you from trusting, for trust is the highest wisdom. You can at least understand this: He loves you, He is not lying to you and He will never fail you. Tell that to your doubts and fears!
Spiritual strongholds are fortresses of thought built up within our flesh which can be used by the enemy to harass and oppress us. Generational sin patterns that left gaping holes in our covering and the unhealed wounds of traumatic events often cause strongholds to form. Usually they have been built 'stone by stone' (thought by thought) over a long period of time, so long in fact that we have forgotten that we ever believed or felt anything else or that life was ever different from how the stronghold now makes it seem. In that area of experience we have come to see life from the perspective of the stronghold.
Like the keep of a medieval castle it is well-fortified. We feel protected by believing it, but it 'keeps' us a prisoner on the inside. We are held captive by our own walls, and these walls also keep others from leading us out. Choose to take your walls down and let others (and the truth they bring) in.
Discerning a stronghold area in your life is a necessary first step towards bringing it down. If you can't just say no to the flesh, you are dealing with a stronghold built upon that area of your fallen nature. Another way of picturing these strongholds of the flesh is like having your arm gripped by someone dragging you along with them against your will. The enemy gains a strong hold upon our flesh in areas where we have repeatedly given our beliefs and actions over to his twisted words and ways.
Strongholds are habit structures of thought, not evil spirits. A stronghold may be occupied or unoccupied—this is by no means easy to discern. Try to attack someone else's stronghold head on and it may seem well-occupied and well-defended against all the reasons you bring. This may be an indication of the enemy's direct involvement. Likewise, if a spirit is oppressing you through a stronghold of your own, you may sense the power of the negative feelings it stirs up and the tenacious hold those thoughts and feelings have over you.
Evil spirits are very stubborn, not easily giving way to truth and to the exercise of our wills to resist them. Fortunately, it is not necessary to know if a spirit is oppressing you. Let the Holy Spirit show you what sins to confess and what false beliefs to renounce, then choose to submit to God and His truth. Genuine submission to God undercuts the evil spirit's right to remain, and determined rebuking makes them flee.[xi]
Strongholds take advantage of the enemy's great lie that you can never really feel good about yourself or be at peace within yourself unless everything is going your way and the people you care about are all affirming you. What a formula for disaster that is! Stemming from this kind of thinking we may find ourselves living under an inner demand to
a) never goof up,
b) never get rejected and
c) always be capable of solving problems (a) and (b) if they do occur.
Protestant Reformers called this 'works righteousness'—tying to advance our cause by our own works. We call it perfectionism and performance orientation. Either way it's a snare of the enemy. The truth is that you can feel incredibly good about yourself whenever you choose by a living faith to get your eyes off yourself and back on to the One who remains steadfast at loving you and patiently leads you step-by-step whenever you trust Him enough to do it. See this illustrated as Get the Look!
Pulling Down Strongholds
How are strongholds brought down? The things that bring strongholds down are the very things that would have kept them from forming in the first place—having sufficient understanding of how to apply the truth of God's Word to the hurtful situation or wrong desire. So now in the present moment when new situations trigger the stronghold, we can do what we didn't do then and begin taking the stronghold down one victory at a time, under the Spirit's power
We do this by carrying their 'high' thoughts captive to Christ.[xii] This is primarily a truth encounter on our part. We choose by an act of our will to cast down our understanding and break agreement with our feelings. As we agree with the truth (that the enemy's stronghold is a lie and God's Word is the truth), then the Holy Spirit strengthens and raises us. Confessing truth and renouncing the lies need to be done by the one seeking freedom—thought by thought, 'stone by stone.'
Either we will carry wrong thoughts captive to Christ, or those wrong thoughts will carry us captive to do their will.[xiii] Therefore, there is a great need to pray for revelation because if we lack discernment the un-recognized thoughts have greater power.[xiv] Recognizing stronghold thinking and being willing to challenge it with the truths of God's Word, gives us the weapons needed for victory. Truth is always liberating—if you truly believe it.
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, 'If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.' John 8:31-32
Basic Discipleship and Inner Healing
Basic discipleship and inner healing dismantle strongholds. Basic discipleship is the part we play by doing our best with the faith and self-discipline that we have available to us. Disciplines act as a restraint upon the power of temptation and of our fallen nature and its strongholds. If you think that restraining your flesh isn't working, just imagine abandoning the discipline or the faith you still have left to you and 'see' how disastrous that would likely become. In the grip of a very trying time, we usually can't see how to make things better, but we certainly can make them worse!
What are the disciplines? Regular prayer, Bible study, worship, fellowship and service to others combined with seeking to trust and obey the Lord form the backbone of basic discipleship. We call these the 'Big Five Connecters' and they are our life-line to Jesus.
Basic discipleship enables us to prune unwanted fruit off our spiritual tree; inner healing gets at the root issues that caused strongholds to form bad fruit in the first place. Where there is bad fruit, there is almost always a root issue to deal with.[xv]
Inner healing lessens or removes the power of temptations and of our fallen nature by bringing relealse from the pain and ungodly beliefs trapped inside due to past traumatic events (see Mending the Broken Heart). Now that we understand the need for 'pruning shears' and 'garden spades' we are ready to explore specific stronghold areas in each of the lessons that follow.
The Way to Freedom
There is an underlying pattern to finding freedom from the negative emotion strongholds. It is the way of 'returning and rest,' of repentance and restoration by entrusting the whole of our life to God, especially in the area of our present trouble.[xvi]
1) The first step to freedom from any stronghold is realizing that you have lost the peace of Christ, are being held captive instead by a negative emotion, and that this is a spiritual problem.
2) The next step is to take full responsibility for agreeing with the enemy in that area which the stronghold represents: Repent, renounce and carry it captive to Christ until you see something in Him that restores your trust in God and willingness to obey.
3) Turn to the Father and release gratitude to Him for the mercy, love, power and promises He showers upon you by His grace!
'Stinking thinking' leads to sinking feelings—cast it down!
Father, I have lived inside the walls of my strongholds for so long they have become a part of me, but I do want to find out what life in Your Kingdom is like on the other side of these walls. Lead me in the way of childlike trust and simplicity of heart! I ask you to help me take all of my strongholds down, untruth by untruth, and rebuild with Your truths the godly walls of love and mercy, faith and grace around the renewed heart You are giving me through Jesus. What I can't tear down, will You? Come charge my walls! Send, allow, withhold—do whatever it takes so that our two hearts can meet and beat as one in this life.
Take It to Heart!
Don't just give these truths a 'head bob'! For further study and for help working these truths into your heart and life, see The Head to Heart Guide for Spiritual Strongholds and 'work out' with exercises, discussion questions, review of main points, digging deeper, more scriptures, model prayers, renunciations/affirmations and practical steps of life application.
Or Keep Reading
[i] 'Strongholds' as emotional and spiritual blocks: Dr. Henry W. Wright, Be In Health®, Thomaston, GA, seminar notes, October 2000.
[ii] Ezekiel 36:26
[iii] 2 Thessalonians 2:13
[iv] Hebrews 12:15
[v] For strongholds as 'habit structures of thought': Jack Frost, Shiloh Place Ministry, Myrtle Beach, SC, cassette series. The phrase, 'stinking thinking' is attributed to Zig Ziglar.
[vi] Jeremiah 17:9
[vii] Ezekiel 36:26
[viii] Proverbs 4:23
[ix] Isaiah 55:8-9
[x] Proverbs 4:5-7; Proverbs 3:5
[xi] James 4:7-8
[xii] 2 Corinthians 10:4-5
[xiii] 2 Timothy 2:24-26
[xiv] Isaiah 5:13; Hosea 4:6
[xv] Matthew 15:18-19; Mark 7:21; Hebrews 12:15
[xvi] Isaiah 30:15