“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, Sovereign over all, does not cry: Mine!” Abraham Kuyper

We have been trying to show that the walk of faith is in fact a fight for joy. This is crucial to know so that we can prepare for battle, and when we find ourselves in the midst of a fire fight, we can know that it is not something unusual that is happening to us. Instead, we can fight and rejoice and persevere, knowing that God is still in charge; the devil has been defeated; Jesus is returning; and when he does, all of the battles and all of the scars we have received will be swallowed up by overflowing joy in the return of Jesus. [1 Peter 4:12-13]   

So, we must not be surprised by the intensity of struggle we face. Jesus did warn us: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  [John 16:33] Paul made the same point in Ephesians. “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.” [Ephesians  6:10-13].

Paul’s use of the word “struggle”/”wrestle”, comes from the world of athletic games. A competitor would seek to overcome his opponent by knocking him off his feet. Paul is depicting our walk as a hand-to-hand combat with real and powerful forces who seek to push us over by robbing us of our faith. Six times in verses 10-12, Paul repeats the preposition pros [“against”], so that we will not miss the fact that we are in the ring, facing and fighting real spiritual forces. There are no civilian believers. There is no resignation or retirement from the contest. Either we fight and stand or we surrender and fall.

Because we wage war with a weak body, in a wicked world, against a wiley devil, Paul tells us we must put on the full armor of God. We need God’s armor because nothing we have in ourselves can successfully defend our position from being overrun by our enemies. We need the full armor because the devil is very clever and versatile in his attacks. Sometimes he tries to push us off our feet by using pain to cause disappointment in the promises of Jesus. Sometimes he will seek to pull us off our feet by using pleasure to cause distraction from the beauty of Jesus. Whether he is pushing or pulling his goal is the same: to rob us of our faith and joy in Jesus.

Because the enemy prowls around like a lion seeking whom he may devour, Peter warns us that we need two crucial attitudes to resist him. First, we need to be “sober.” [1 Peter 5:8]. As a soldier we are in a life and death struggle. We are forced to think differently than a civilian. Our focus is not upon contentment, entertainment or retirement. We are called. We are on a mission. We have been positioned. Not only is our life at risk, but so are many other lives that we are called to protect. As soldiers at war, we don’t ask, “Why is life so tuff? “Why do we have to do all the training, disciplining and sacrificing?” “Why are they shooting at us?” “Why can’t we retire on a golf course in Santa Barbara?” No, as soldiers in the Lord’s army we have a different mindset. We are serious and sober about life and its consequences.

Second, Peter tells us that we must be “alert.” We are always to be “locked and loaded” [Military slang referring to an M-16 rifle having its ammunition cartridge inserted and ready to be fired.], so that the enemy never catches us by surprise and unprepared. That means that we must be ready to “resist him, standing firm in the faith.” [1 Peter 5:9] Here, Peter is not referring to our personal faith as belief, but as the body of truth that is described in Jude 3: “I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” It is the deposit of truth that has been given to us by God through revelation and set down in writing in his Book. It is this “deposit of faith” that is our weapon against the wiles of the devil. It is the “full armor” that Paul tells us to put on [Eph. 6:10]. It is the truth that sets us free [John 8:31-32]. It is the gospel of our salvation [Eph. 1:13]. It is the doctrine that if we persevere in it, saves not only our soul but the souls of others [1 Timothy 4:16].

The word “alert” means to be awake and on our guard. It refers to the same kind of alertness that a marine patrol exhibits while walking through an Al-Qaeda stronghold in Iraq. We expect attack. We are looking for any sign of movement from the enemy. Our weapon is in our hands. Our strategy for all contingencies has been worked out. Months and years of training have prepared us for this situation. Although we are not foolish, we are confident in our mission and resources. We are ready for battle.

May I suggest that we, who are soldiers in God’s army, are on patrol, walking through a “spiritual” enemy stronghold? Let me explain what I mean. In America, 2009, we are living in a very dangerous environment. Some are evident dangers. Some are subtle ambushes. Our society is no longer guided by Biblical truth. In fact, the very existence of ultimate truth is being challenged. What is “true” for you may not be “true” for me. We live in a pluralistic society. We now rub shoulders with belief systems from around the world. Preferred “values” have taken the place of moral absolutes. Loss of sexual restraint has released a torrent of pornography into our very homes through videos and the internet. In the midst of this there is an open attack upon the authority and reliability of the Scriptures.

What do we do in such a hostile environment? That depends on whether you are thinking like a soldier or a civilian. If you are a civilian, you are probably trying to ignore the danger, but that will not shield you from the danger. I know how hard it is to fight against the flood of untruth that permeates our media. Sometimes I wish I could escape to a Sierra cabin alongside a mountain brook and spend the rest of my days fishing trout. Controversy is not fun. War is not fuzzy. Truth is not soft but has hard edges that divide and offend. Being constantly alert is a drain and a strain on our lives. It just doesn’t fit our American dream. But, what are the alternatives? What is a soldier to do?

We must contend without being contentious. It is what we are called to do. First, we must know the truth. The Bible must be our daily rations. It must control our head and our heart. We must strive to know and understand the great doctrines upon which we stand. How can we recognize error is we don’t know the truth? Second, we must be willing to speak the truth. We are sent out to engage the enemy. You see, being a soldier does not mean that we are called only to defend the faith, but empowered to defeat the foe. We are not called to sit in the security of our base but to patrol the enemy’s strongholds. Jesus has already overcome the world. Our peace is secure. But, we must declare that good news. People’s eternal lives are at stake. Yes, there are risks. We will be called intolerant. Our faith will be trivialized if not ridiculed. We may be marginalized and stigmatized. But our love for Christ, our concern for our world, and our faithfulness to our call, demands that we fight, locked and loaded for the Lord.