You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness- Ephesians 4:22-24 NIV
One definition of a stronghold is: fortress. A fortress is defined as a place of safety, shelter and protection. A spiritual stronghold is a place of safety (a fortress) in our lives where sin has shelter to grow and flourish. If left unchecked a spiritual stronghold will eventually control much of our lives, destroy our spiritual effectiveness and steal the joy of our salvation (Psalm 51:1-12). Just about any sin can become a spiritual stronghold. Some of the more common strongholds are unforgiveness, lust, jealously, dishonesty, pride, greed, covetousness, insecurity, control and sexually immorality.
Christians are susceptible to spiritual strongholds because Christians live life in a place of tension. We are saved (redeemed by Jesus) but also at the same time still very much in the process of being saved. Jesus is our Lord, heaven is our home and the Holy Spirit lives in us. Nonetheless, all Christians still possess a sin nature and are therefore capable of becoming entangled in all sorts of sin (Hebrews 12:1).
Prior to salvation people are literally powerless over the impulse to sin (Romans 7:21-24). The Bible calls our sinful compulsions “being a slave to sin”. Once a person puts their faith in Jesus they are no longer slaves to sin and do not have to sin (Romans 6:6, Romans 7:25, Romans 8:1-2). Nonetheless, because our sin nature is still a part of our operating system Satan is able to set up shop in particular areas of our life and run the show. The Bible calls this “giving the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27).
Sometimes a person is very cognizant of the spiritual strongholds in their lives. Other times they are almost entirely clueless to their existence. For example: a Christian who is addicted to pornography is likely very aware they have a stronghold of lust impacting their life in a significant way. However, a person who has a problem with control, fear, pride or insecurity might not even see these spiritual strongholds as problems. We can be so deceived by sin we actually begin to believe our sinful stronghold is somehow a healthy and beneficial part of our personality. Many a control freak has convinced themselves their efforts to control others are “helpful” rather than sinful and harmful to themselves and others. Those who have sinful strongholds of insecurity, covetousness or fear can easily deceive themselves into believing they are watchful, cautious or wise rather than fearful, greedy or jealous.
The roots of the strongholds can run deep, often going back to our childhood or early adult years. Sometimes strongholds take root because we were sinned against in some way. Abusive or neglectful parents can sow the seeds in a child’s life for strongholds of insecurity, mistrust, control and fear. Exposure to pornography and sexually abuse often help form a stronghold of lust. Being sexually abused, neglected or exposed to pornography is not a sin—we are not responsible before God for the evil or stupid choices other people make. However, most people rarely turn to God to deal with hurt or trauma. Instead we turn to sin in an effort to numb our pain and help us cope with life without God. We are very much responsible for those choices.
Strongholds can also be a consequence of sinful choices we make all on our own. A person can have an idyllic childhood and still have a myriad of sinful strongholds in their life. Anytime we willfully chose to do wrong instead of right we harden our hearts, give the devil a foothold and make space for Satan to construct a stronghold in our lives.
Any stronghold can be broken.
Christians are never condemned to live a life of sin. John 8:36 is clear: those who the son sets free are free indeed. This verse means no one who knows Jesus as Lord has to be a slave to sin.
That being said.
It is critical we understand Satan’s number one goal for all people is to keep them from entering a relationship with Jesus Christ. If he cannot meet that goal, he will do his best to keep Christians bound up in sinful behaviors that limit their effectiveness and steal their joy. Once Satan has been given space to build a stronghold he does not give up that ground easily. All that to say: it is never easy to break a stronghold but it is one-hundred-percent possible (Matthew 19:36).
In order to get free from a stronghold we must first acknowledge strongholds for what they are. We cannot make excuses for our sinful behaviors or attitudes by saying or thinking things like:
“I was born this way”
“This is just a part of my personality”
“All abuse victims do this”
“Everyone in my family acts like this”
Instead we must confess our sin as sin. It does not matter how our stronghold got its start. All that matters is what we do now. Once a sin is confessed to God we must invite God into our struggles through prayer. We should pray first thing and throughout the day the Holy Spirit gives us the power needed to overcome our strongholds. Inviting the God of the universe into our battle against sin deepens our relationship with Him and gives us the super natural power to overcome our struggles with sin.
And finally, if we really want to break a stronghold, we must make no provision for the flesh (Romans 13:12-14). Instead we must do whatever needs to be done to obey God in everything (John 3:36, Romans 6:16), then freedom will be ours.