One World, Two Realms
The Bible teaches that our world is more than what we see with our natural eyes; there are two distinct realms—the spiritual and the natural.
In our first session, we identified God's original design for humanity, and we looked at what was lost because of the Fall. How did God design us to live? How does he want us to operate? What is the world supposed to look like? In our second session, we talked about the fundamentals of transformative living. Transformation is made possible by the cross, by Jesus Christ's death and resurrection. We also identified two fundamental principles of Christian living. The first one: God works through a human-divine cooperation. What does it mean? We described it like this: God does what only God can do when humans do what they are responsible to do. If we want to live free, we can't be passive. Numerous biblical examples reinforce the point, but we'll only look at one.
When Israel fled Egypt under God's promise, they were chased by Pharaoh's armies because Pharaoh realized that he didn't want to lose his slaves. As Israel continued their journey, they were quickly trapped with no way forward. They saw nothing in front of them but desert. To the right was a treacherous mountain range, on the left was the Red Sea, and behind them was Pharaoh's army. The Israelites started complaining to Moses: "Did you bring us out here to die?" Moses said no, but also started to lose hope. Pretty soon he started whining to God. He said to God, "Did you bring us out here just to kill us?" And God basically said, "Don't whine, Moses. I already told you what you're supposed to be doing. What's in your hand? Take your staff and hold it out over the sea." So Moses held his staff out over the sea, the wind parted the waters, and the Israelites crossed through the Red Sea on dry ground.
Could Moses part the waters by himself, with his own power? No, only God could do that. Was God going to do it before Moses extended his staff over the Red Sea? No, God did what only God could do when Moses did what he was responsible to do. That's human-divine cooperation.
The second principle about living free that we talked about was spiritual transactions. When we align ourselves with God's truth and make declaration to that truth, a spiritual transaction takes place.
Our world has two realms
We're going to talk about the practical way in which spiritual transactions take place. To begin, let's discuss the concept of "one world, two realms." The world that we live in has two realms. There is the natural realm, with which we are very familiar—our five senses help us navigate this natural realm. But our world also has an invisible, spiritual realm. Unfortunately, most of western culture denies this reality. However, we need to realize that this world does have two realms, and that both realms interact with one another and influence one another on a daily basis. The book of Job is one of the most pronounced biblical accounts that helps us to understand this reality. Listen to Job 1:13-19:
One day when Job's sons and daughters were feasting at the oldest brother's house, a messenger arrived at Job's home with this news: "Your oxen were plowing, with the donkeys feeding beside them, when the Sabeans raided us. They stole all the animals and killed all the farmhands. I am the only one who escaped to tell you."
While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: "The fire of God has fallen from heaven and burned up your sheep and all the shepherds. I am the only one who escaped to tell you." While he was still speaking, a third messenger arrived with this news: "Three bands of Chaldean raiders have stolen your camels and killed your servants. I am the only one who escaped to tell you."
While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: "Your sons and daughters were feasting in their oldest brother's home. Suddenly, a powerful wind swept in from the wilderness and hit the house on all sides. The house collapsed, and all your children are dead. I am the only one who escaped to tell you."
Also, we'll read Job 2:7-10:
[Satan] struck Job with terrible boils from head to foot. Then Job scraped his skin with a piece of broken pottery as he sat among the ashes. His wife said to him, "Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die." But Job replied, "You talk like a godless woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?" So in all this, Job said nothing wrong.
It's an understatement to say that Job had a bad day. Messenger after messenger came to him with terrible news. Have any of you ever had a day like that, when one bad thing after another continued to happen? All of Job's material things are gone. Not only did he lose his livestock, his source of living and income, he lost his servants and his children. He even lost the support of his wife. His security and his reputation were lost. His life seemed to unravel completely.
If we looked at Job's situation simply through the lens of the natural realm, we would probably give Job advice that only pertained to natural things. We'd tell him to get a financial advisor, a grief counselor, some antidepressants, a marital counselor, and so forth. We would try to comfort him with physical remedies. Those things aren't bad, but that's where we'd stop if we only believed in a physical realm. But Job 1:6-12 enhances our understanding of Job's situation:
One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan the Accuser came with them. "Where have you come from?" the Lord asked Satan. And Satan answered the Lord, "I have been going back and forth across the earth, watching everything that's going on." Then the Lord asked Satan, "Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and will have nothing to do with evil." Satan replied to the Lord, "Yes, Job fears God, but not without good reason! You have always protected him and his home and his property from harm. You have made him prosperous in everything he does. Look how rich he is! But take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!" "All right, you may test him," the Lord said to Satan. "Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don't harm him physically." So Satan left the Lord's presence.
Furthermore, 2:1-7 says,
One day the angels came again to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan the Accuser came with them. "Where have you come from?" the Lord asked Satan. And Satan answered the Lord, "I have been going back and forth across the earth, watching everything that's going on." Then the Lord asked Satan, "Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and will have nothing to do with evil. And he has maintained his integrity, even though you persuaded me to harm him without cause." Satan replied to the Lord, "Skin for skin—he blesses you only because you bless him. A man will give up everything he has to save his life. But take away his health, and he will surely curse you to your face!" "All right, do with him as you please," the Lord said to Satan. "But spare his life." So Satan left the Lord's presence, and he struck Job with a terrible case of boils from head to foot.
Nearly ten years ago, our family was given a pre-owned television. It would have made a great boat anchor; it was one of those big console TVs. The cannel-changing knob didn't work, so we had to use pliers in order to change the channel. Finally, cable TV was developed, and our kids said, "Please, Dad, it's so embarrassing when our friends come over, and we have to change the channel with the pliers. Can we get cable TV?" I acted in mercy, and we bought cable. We actually had a remote. But after a bit, my daughters convinced me that we needed to get a new TV. Cable wasn't enough. I broke down, against my better judgment, and bought a new TV. To be honest, I wanted a new TV, too. So we got a new TV. It had all kinds of new features. Now it's old technology, but at the time it was called PIP: Picture in Picture. I was able to watch two channels simultaneously. It was amazing. I could watch a baseball game on one channel while watching a golf match on another channel.
This technology helps us understand the world that we live in. As believers, we need to have a frame of reference that will enable us to look through two lenses simultaneously—a lens that deals with the natural, physical realm, and a lens that deals with the spiritual, heavenly realm.
What happened to Job was not just a coincidence. There was something going on in the invisible, spiritual realm that affected the visible, physical realm. Satan was at work. Job 1 and 2 tell us that Satan had the ability to affect Job's life. He was able to take Job's possessions. Satan is a thief. John 10 says he steals, kills, and destroys. Satan also affected Job's health. He affected the weather, too. Satan also affected how people regarded Job. We see this with his wife. This text teaches us that Satan roams around the earth, looking for trouble.
The interrelationship of the two realms
The book of Ephesians unpacks several fundamental truths for Christian living. In this book, Paul mentions the word heavenlies (heavenly places in some translations) five times. I think heavenly realms is the best translation. The New Testament gives detailed attention to the invisible, spiritual realm—the heavenlies. Although we make a distinction between the two realms, we need to understand that they are not isolated from each other. Instead, they overlap each other.
So what does Paul mean by heavenlies? Heavenlies is not a place; it's a realm. As westernized believers, it's not always easy for us to recognize and identify what's in the heavenly realm. What is in the heavenlies? Certainly, there are angels and demons. They have spiritual bodies. God the Father, who is spirit, and those who worship him in spirit and in truth would also be in the heavenlies. Curses and blessings and prayers engage the spiritual, heavenly realm. All of these things have impact on the physical realm.
Where is the heavenly realm located? It's all around us. It's everywhere. When you and I received Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit took his residence within us. So where is the heavenlies? It's within us. If we could have our eyes opened like Elisha's and Gehazi's, what do you think you'd see in this room right now? You'd likely see angels and demons.
Let's look at Daniel 10. Daniel has been reading the book of Jeremiah, and he comes across the account of Israel's destiny, but he doesn't fully understand it. In prayer, he asks God about the meaning of the text. He ends up praying for three weeks. He removes himself from luxury and focuses himself on prayer. After 21 days, an angel pays him a visit. Like everyone else who experiences an angelic visitation, Daniel is extremely frightened. He falls down as if he were dead. The angel picks him up and says, "Don't worry. Don't fear." Daniel writes:
Then behold a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. And he said to me, "O Daniel, man of high esteem, understand the words that I'm about to tell you and stand upright for I have now been sent to you." And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling. Then he said to me, "Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days. Then behold Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia (10:10-13).
An angel was sent immediately when Daniel began praying, but he was delayed 21 days, not because he took a vacation or wanted to stop for coffee, but because he was engaged in battle with the prince of Persia—a demonic being that had oversight of that kingdom. The enemy didn't want him to get to Daniel. He had to fight until Michael came to help him.
Where was that battle taking place? I have no idea, to be honest, but I'm sure it occurred in this world, in the spiritual realm. What the angel has to say is very interesting:
Then he said, "Do you understand why I came to you? But I shall now return to fight against the prince of Persia; so I'm going forth, and behold, the prince of Greece is about to come. However, I will tell you what is inscribed in the writing of truth. Yet there is no one who stands firmly with me against these forces except Michael your prince" (10:21-22).
This angel was engaged in continual battle. He said he was going to encounter the prince of Greece. Greece would not become recognized on the world scene for another 200 years. That means that the battle between this angel and the demon of Greece took place 200 years before Greece became a significant nation.
Does that raise some questions in your mind? We live in a world that appears to be merely physical, but there is another realm, a spiritual realm, that interacts with the physical. The spiritual realm affects your life and my life. It affects families, marriages, churches, nations, you name it. So here are a few questions we need to ask ourselves regarding our circumstances:
- Is this difficult situation just happening?
- Is my bad mood just happening?
- Is my strained marriage just happening?
- Is oppressed corporate worship due merely to weather and seasons?
- Do selfishness, stinginess, lying, and deceiving occur for no reason?
- Is a persistent lack of joy and zeal due merely to personality?
- Do bigotry, prejudice, and ethnic cleansings just happen?
- Does bad health just happen?
- Do wars just happen?
- Do famines just happen?
- Do financial downturns just happen?
- Does depression just happen?
We could go on and on. We're in a warzone, and we can't escape it. There are many people who aren't doing well in the war, because they don't know Jesus yet. They're giving into the world's values, and they're living under Satan's rule. Many of these people have dysfunctional lives, poor health, broken marriages, addictions, crimes, or conflict with others. Some of us Christians aren't doing well in this war either, because we don't recognize that there is one world and two realms, that there's more going on in our lives than what we experience in the physical realm with our natural senses.
Embracing the biblical worldview
The enemy wants to destroy our lives. He wants to ruin God's plan. That's why there's so much brokenness in the world. Satan wants to steal, kill, and destroy. But God wants us to live in triumph. He wants us to live vibrant lives, filled with hope and power. We need to understand how this world operates, so we can live according to God's original design.
We were ministering in Puerto Rico a few years ago, teaching these principles to a church. The pastor and his wife talked candidly to us about the severe tension they were experiencing in their marriage. We could see it; we could feel it in their relationship with their kids. They didn't hide anything from us. We ministered to them and addressed their situation. The pastor had an eye-opening experience. He realized that the spiritual realm was affecting their marriage; the enemy was trying to ruin something good.
There is a lot of activity in the heavenly realm that we don't see, don't pay attention to, because we're not discerning. God has given us spiritual gifts to help us discern what's going on in the heavenly realm: the gift of discerning spirits, the gift of words of knowledge, the gift of wisdom, the gift of prophecy, and so forth. Hebrews 5:14 tells us that God's truth enables us to recognize what's going on in the spiritual realm. We have to be sensitized to this realm in order to combat it.
Unfortunately, the western mindset is resistant to the biblical worldview. We like what we can see physically. The western mindset makes conclusions according what can be measured empirically. Most of us only recognize the existence of the physical realm. Have we been inflicted with humanistic rationalism? Have we given into the ways of our culture? Do we only think "logically"? Do we struggle to embrace the unempirical or what is seemingly illogical? Do you believe angels and demons, blessings and curses, are nonsense? Do you find it hard to see with the eyes of faith? Do you underestimate the power of God to bring change? Do you look for an invisible, spiritual reason for physical problems like illness, relational strain, or financial downturn? When you experience opposition or trouble, do you think, God, what is going on here? What's going on behind the scenes? We need to recognize that the invisible realm is real. It influences our lives on a daily basis.
We're tempted to believe all sorts of lies: Do you really believe there is a spiritual reason for everything? Are you going to become a person who believes there's a demon under every rock and in every bush? Satan wants us to minimize the reality of his existence, so that he can have a greater freedom to do what he wants. I don't believe there is a demon under every rock or in every bush. But whether there is or isn't doesn't bother me, because my focus isn't on them. My focus is on Jesus Christ. But when one of them surfaces, I know what to do. We can't let ourselves be deceived by the enemy.
Can you imagine a nation engaged in war that totally ignored using surveillance and intelligence? How could a nation like that, blind to the movements of their enemy, have a realistic chance of winning the war? Our enemy wants us to live like that. The idea of angels and demons isn't primitive, superstitious, or irrelevant. If you believe the enemy isn't real, if you minimize the reality of the spiritual realm, then you are at a disadvantage. Dealing with our own personal, sinful issues is only one aspect of living free. Mere behavior modification isn't the whole picture. If we don't deal with issues at the spiritual level, we won't experience the spiritual transactions that will enable us to live in victory and freedom. As westerners, we have to retrain our thinking. We need to see life through a different lens.
The enemy is coming for you and me, but we have the Holy Spirit and angels to protect us. Do you remember the story about Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5? Peter asked them, "Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?" Did Ananias and Sapphira act solely on their own initiative? No, they were deceived by Satan. Let me be clear here, we will stand before God on judgment day, and we won't be able to blame demons for our sin. We are responsible for our own choices and actions. But we need to realize there are demonic influences trying to keep us from God's design. We live in both realms simultaneously. We need to discern what's going on in each realm.
Living in the power of God's Spirit
We must also realize that we have the great privilege of living in both realms with the power of the Holy Spirit. We live lives of freedom by being filled with God's Spirit. God has provided everything we need to live our lives in both realms. He's given us divine power that tears down strongholds. We need to understand who the Holy Spirit is. We need to understand the Holy Spirit's role. We need to understand how we engage with the Holy Spirit in our lives. We cannot live in total obedience before the Lord without the infilling and empowering of God's Spirit.
In our last session we talked about Jesus' ministry, particularly his mission to save what was lost. His work was supernatural. He set people free from demons. He healed the sick. And he transformed people's lives. In order to continue Christ's ministry, we must be filled with the Holy Spirit.
The empowering of the Holy Spirit is necessary for Christian living, and every believer is commanded to be filled with God's Spirit. Ephesians 5:18 says, "Do not be drunk with wine, which will ruin you, but be filled with the Spirit." This is not an option. It's a command. We have a responsibility to be filled and controlled by God's Spirit. This verse implies that being filled with God's Spirit is an ongoing act. We don't simply approach God and ask for the filling of his Spirit when we experience crises. We have a daily responsibility to be filled with and empowered by God's Spirit.
There will be times when we need to minster to other people around us. Whatever the case might be, we will need God's grace. We will need the filling of God's Spirit. Being filled with God's Spirit needs to be a regular exercise in our lives so that we can minister whenever there is a need. The filling of the Spirit should not be an occasional experience. It isn't limited to altar calls and so forth. If we're not being filled with God's Spirit day by day, moment by moment, then we're disobeying God's command. Being continually filled with God's Spirit is a fundamental element of living the Christian life.
This means that we should always be ready for an extra measure of the Holy Spirit's infilling. There will be times—perhaps a challenging situation at work, a relational situation, or a ministry situation—when we need to be filled in an extraordinary way, so that God can do his work. We see this in Acts 4. God's Spirit gave Peter and John special power to answer the religious leaders. After that, the Christians asked God to continue performing supernatural works in order to defend the proclamation of the gospel. Immediately after they prayed, God filled them with the Holy Spirit. There are times in life when we need that kind of empowerment. When we encounter ministry situations, we need to depend on God's power and infilling of the Spirit.
There are also times when we need the infilling of God's Spirit for personal encouragement and refreshment. I've had experiences when I've needed a special touch from God. They were times when I needed God's grace and strength. In those times, I asked for God's Spirit to work in me, and something inside of me changed. I felt different. I can't describe it, but I knew it was an infilling of God's Spirit.
But don't seek out the manifestations of God's power for their own sake. To be sure, God will manifest his power in your life. But seek Jesus Christ, not a manifestation. Manifestations can become idols in our lives if we don't seek and worship God. If we truly seek God, we will experience his power. The Holy Spirit will give us deeper intimacy with God; we will be flooded by his love, joy, and all the fruit of his Spirit. We will be triumphant over sin. We will become bolder in our witness, and we will be able to live out the life and ministry of Jesus as we see it in the Gospels.
However, this doesn't mean that we don't have expectations. We need to expect to experience God's Spirit in various, profound ways. God works in all sorts of ways, and I don't want to put any limit on how he might demonstrate his presence and power. We can't limit our expectations. We need to be open to however God wants to work. However, there are several ways, as seen in Scripture, that God's power is typically displayed. One of those ways is prophecy.
Some time ago, my wife, Cindy, and I were ministering to a lady and praying with her. We prayed that God would fill her with his Spirit. When we finished praying, she began to share some prophetic words, and Cindy started writing them down. I watched in amazement. Several months later, all of those prophetic words came to pass.
We see God working like this all throughout Scripture. One time, Cindy and I were praying with someone who was a relatively new believer. As we prayed, we could sense God's presence in the room. Suddenly, this person began singing a song in a language we didn't know or understand. We later found out this person didn't even know the language. God's Spirit came on this person so powerfully that this person's life was radically transformed by the experience of speaking in tongues.
We've heard many stories about the infilling of God's Spirit. We need to expect that God will work in powerful ways. He wants us to move in his power. Can you imagine if we all made this our prayer: God, I don't want to care about what other people think. All I want is you. I want you to fill me up in a fresh way.
Isn't that how we received Christ at the moment of salvation? As you received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk in him (Col. 2:6). Is there anything in your life that keeps you from living in the fullness of God's power? As you think about that question, as the Lord reveals things that need to change in your life, keep the four R's in mind: repent, resist the devil, replace your former way of life with God's way, and receive the infilling of God's Spirit.
I want to close by reading an account from D. L. Moody:
One day in the city of New York—Oh what a day—I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it. It is almost too sacred of an experience. Paul had an experience, of which he never spoke for fourteen years. I can only say that God revealed himself to me, and I had such an experience of his love that I had to ask him to stay his hand. I went to preaching again. The sermons were not different. I did not present new truths, and yet hundreds were converted. I would not now go back where I was before the blessed experience, if you should give me all the world.
Used by permission of Mike Riches and Sycamore Commission sycamorecommission.org
Mike Riches is pastor of Harborview Christian Fellowship in Gig Harbor, Washington, director of the Sycamore Commission, and author of Living Free.