[The first in a series of articles designed to show how we can fight and win the battle for faith and joy by being strong in the Lord and by using the spiritual weapons he has provided.]
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Eph 6:10-12
“Spiritual warfare made the Puritans what they were. They accepted conflict as their calling, seeing themselves as their Lord’s soldier pilgrims, just as in Bunyan’s allegory, and not expecting to be able to advance a single step without opposition of one sort or another.” J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, p. 22]
It is not hard to see why we moderns fail to picture Christianity as a warfare and ourselves as the “Lord’s soldier-pilgrims.” First, we have heard the weird claims of some who point to demons stopping up toilets and of others who blame the devil for making them kill their children. Then, we have seen the movies which portrays evil in the form of a young girl, speaking with a Boris Karloff on-steroids-voice, intermixed with effusions of pea soup like fluids. We add to that the all too familiar picture of the TV evangelists who strut across the platform claiming, “That if you will just send in a twenty-five dollar seed gift, you will give that sneaky old devil a big punch in the eye.” All of that seems so far removed from our own religious experience that we find it difficult to accept “warfare” as the operative term defining the essence of our faith.
But, that is precisely how God defines Biblical faith- it is war! The following are just a few passages that display faith in terms of conflict. Moses is the first to give us this insight, as he presents God’s judgment on the serpent: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers.” [Gen 3:15] David spoke of his own conflict: “Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.” [Ps 27:3]. Jesus warned Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail.” [Luke 22:31-32] Peter would later write, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” [1 Peter 5:8] James gives this counsel: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” [James 4:7] And John described the conflict in this way: “Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring — those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” [Rev 12:17].
In the future articles, we will be taking up a very comprehensive study of what it means to be a soldier in this spiritual conflict. We will let Ephesians 6:10-13 be our launching pad, but we will travel throughout the scriptures in search of biblical truth that will enable us to fight and win the battle for faith and joy in Jesus. But before we begin, let me make some general comments that will guide our study together.
First of all, Satan, the adversary, the devil, is never front stage in God’s revelation. God is the main character of his story and we, his people, are the focus of his workings in history. Satan, is a powerful, but side-character, working in the shadows, seeking to disrupt and even destroy God’s purposes. But, he is a created being, although evil to the core and powerful, remains totally under God’s control. In the words of Luther, he is “God’s devil”. God uses his worst evil to bring about God’s glory in a most awesome and surprising way.
Second, Jesus Christ is the ‘Star” and the “Hero” in the spiritual conflict on earth and in the heavens. It is Jesus who crushes the head of the serpent [Genesis 3:15] and drives out the prince of this world by his death on the cross. [John 12:31-32] It is through Jesus that we have been delivered from the dominion of darkness and brought into the Kingdom of the Son. [Col. 1:13]. Because of God’s grace, we who believe have been raised up with Christ and sit with him in the heavenly realms. [Ephesians 2:6]. The same power that resurrected Jesus from the dead and seated him on the throne, “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion,” now pulsates within us! So great is that power, so complete the victory that Paul can boldly affirm for all of us, nothing can separate us from the love of God won for us in Christ:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom 8:38-39
Third, although our victory has been won and nothing can ultimately separate us from the love of God, we still need to fight. In the eternal wisdom of God, he determined to be glorified through redeemed sinners, who by trusting in Jesus Christ, by obedience to his Word, by prayers for his grace and mercy, and the ministry of His Body, defeat the devil’s darkest deceptions, bringing glory to the Name of God and unhindered joy to our soul.
Fourth, fighting the devil is something we must learn to do. That is why Paul writes: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” [Eph 6:10-11]. All power and might is in the Lord. He rules. But we must be strong in the Lord. So, there are things we must do. Winning each day is not “letting go and letting God.” It is aggressive action. It means being self-controlled and alert. [1 Peter 5:8] It means watching and praying so that we won’t fall into temptation. [Mark 14:38] It means living like a soldier and not like a civilian. [2 Timothy 2:3-4] It means demolishing every argument and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and taking every thought captive, making it obedient to Christ. [2 Cor. 10:4-6] It means knowing our enemy so that we are not fooled and snared by his wiles and schemes [2 Cor. 2:11; 1 Tim. 3:11]. Most importantly, it means knowing our position and our possessions in Christ. The more we know, the more we understand God’s will and ways, the more confidence and authority we will display on the field of battle.
Fifth, it is essential that we prepare for battle. Bobby Knight was once asked the secret of his team’s success. One of the reporters asked, “Is it their desire to win?” “No,” Knight replied, “It is their desire to practice.” That is why the disciplines of prayer; Bible study, [meditation, memorization, reflection], worship, and fellowship are so crucial. They prepare us for the evil day when all hell breaks loose.
Finally, being a soldier means that we think like a soldier. Four times in Ephesians 6:11-14, Paul admonishes us to “stand” or “withstand”. That means that our wrestling must include a resolute, tuff, stubborn, confident and bold attitude in the face of conflict. Faith and fighting go together. That is why Peter encourages his persecuted friends with these words: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. [1 Peter 4:12] It is not strange for a soldier to be shot at. We are in a battle. Self-pity and complaints about how hard it is are out of place. Wrestling, struggling, resisting, and standing in battle are what soldiers do.
That is why I shudder at the way the “therapeutic” philosophy has been allowed to invade the church. People are treated like victims who just can’t make it and need a life of counseling or medications just to get by. There is a place for gently helping the struggler in our midst, but there is no place to leave them there. “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” [Romans 8:37] That has to mean something now, as well as in eternity. We will struggle with temptations and depression and bitterness and anxiety and anger and self-pity, but we won’t fall down. We will stand and withstand, because we are soldiers in Christ.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, tells of a time just before WW II, when England was living in a time of relative peace. But there was one man, Major-General Sir Ernest Swinton, who used to speak on the radio once a week. Although there was no obvious conflict, and many thought Hitler was content in his victories, Sir Swinton kept on saying each week, “We are fighting for our lives. Make no mistake about it, we are fighting for our lives.” He saw, where many could not, the subtlety of the enemy. He knew that the present lull was only a covering scheme for the coming onslaught. Of course, he was right.
It is the same with us. Our present day may seem like a happy time of church going and vacation planning. But Paul warns us of “spiritual forces in heavenly realms” who are dead set on ripping away our faith and joy in Jesus. They care little about our church going and they take no vacations. They are now planning an evil day for us. It will come without warning. They will spray us with his fiery darts and subtle schemes. If we do not prepare, we will not stand in the day of battle. But, the good news is that in the strength of the Lord and in his mighty power, fitted and equipped with spiritual weapons, we can stand and we will win!
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