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Stronghold: The Word Doesn’t Mean What You Probably Think it Means

In the classic movie The Princess Bride, kidnapping mastermind Vizzini frequently utters the word “Inconceivable,” even when he is presented with evidence that what is happening is, indeed, conceivable. Finally, Inigo Montoya says, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

I could echo Inigo’s words when it comes to the word stronghold as used by many Christians today. I frequently hear phrases like, “Fear of failure has always been my stronghold,” or “I have to get over the stronghold of my weight issue,” or “I have to break the devil’s strongholds on my life.”

The term is almost always used in the negative of someone or something having a strong hold on someone, synonymous with being bound in chains by it, or imprisoned by it. This has been a popular theme of some Christian speakers and authors. Addressing those areas of weakness in our life is important because they often keep us from living the full, abundant life Jesus promised.

However, if you use the word stronghold as described above, it does not mean what you think it means. In fact, it means the opposite.

If you are under attack, you want to go to a stronghold to stay safe.

A stronghold is a fortress, a refuge, a place of protection and safety. If you are under attack, you want to go to a stronghold to stay safe. It is a positive word.

Depending on which version of the Bible you’re using, stronghold appears between 47 and 66 times in the Bible – all but once in the Old Testament, where it always refers to a place of protection and safety. The lone reference in the New Testament is in 2 Cor. 10:4: “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” The Greek word translated as strongholds is ochyromaton, which means fortress.

While this could be interpreted to mean breaking free of the chains that are binding us, it is clear from the context that Paul is encouraging believers to wage an offensive war against the enemy. Satan doesn’t have a stronghold on us (substitute the word fortress or refuge and see how silly it sounds), but he does have a fortress of lies and accusations he hides in. The resurrection of Christ, though, has given us a powerful offensive weapon to destroy the enemy’s place of safety.

In Matthew 16, Peter gives his great confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Jesus replies that it is on the rock of this confession that he will build his church “and the gates of hell will not overcome it.”

Gates, of course, are part of a defense, part of protection. So what Jesus is implying here is that we as believers will be on the offensive against satan and his stronghold, and we will win. Jesus the Messiah will be our battering ram to raze satan’s fortress and leave him defenseless.

God can be and is our stronghold. The psalmists and prophets get it right when they repeatedly tell us this.

So it is wrong to say that your struggles with your weight are your stronghold. You could say that overeating is your stronghold, if that is what makes you feel safe in the face of attack. But your struggle cannot be a stronghold. Nor can the devil have a stronghold on you unless, again, he is where you find your sense of safety and protection.

However, God can be and is our stronghold. The psalmists and prophets get it right when they repeatedly tell us this. In Psalm 37, for example, David says, “The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in time of trouble.” The prophet Joel declares, “But the Lord will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.”

Satan does attack us at times, as do earthly bad guys, and when that happens we can retreat into the safety of God’s protection, a stronghold that can withstand even spiritual attacks. But we are also to use our salvation in Christ to go on the offensive against these attacks with the expectation of winning. As Jesus said in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

When we take the offensive, satan’s stronghold will crumble in the face of the Word of God. To think anything else would be inconceivable.

Gary Kauffman is a writer, photographer and Bible teacher living in North Augusta, S.C.