On the far side of every risk- even if it results in death- the love of God triumphs. This is the faith that frees us to risk for the cause of God. It is not heroism, or lust for adventure, or courage or self-reliance, or efforts to earn God’s favor. It is childlike faith in the triumph of God’s love- that on the other side of all our risks, for the sake of righteousness, God will still be holding us. We will be satisfied in him. Nothing will have been wasted. John Piper, “Don’t Waste Your Life,” p.95
On Sunday, March 29th, Police Officer Justin Garner, 25, was the first responder to a report of gunshots at a nursing home in Carthage, North Carolina. As he arrived on the scene, he heard shots coming from the facility. Recognizing that lives were at stake, he chose not to wait for back-up and rushed to the sound of the gunfire. In the hallway, he confronted the shooter, who had already killed seven of the elderly patients. The two exchanged shots. Both were wounded, but the carnage was stopped. Later, Carthage Chief of police, Chris McKenzie, credited Garner with saving many lives and then added, “I don’t think you could classify anything yesterday other than heroic.”
I am sure that if you talked to the young officer, he would say he was just doing his duty. Risk was part of his vocation. When he answered the call to be a peace officer, he was intentionally subjecting himself to a lifetime of danger and the possibility of a short life and a violent death. But, gunfire meant lives were in jeopardy, and it was his call to run to the sound of battle. It never occurred to him that he should play it safe and wait for back-up. Several helpless seniors were saved because of his selfless actions.
I think you can guess where I am going with this. Every believer is called to be a peace officer. We all battle 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 6:12] who are committed to the destruction of our peace. Not only are we fighting for our faith, we are also positioned to fight for the faith of others who are weak and vulnerable to the schemes and strategies of the enemy.
I think I am not wrong to suggest that most believers do not really see themselves as soldiers or peace officers. Many, if not most, are focused upon just surviving. Others are too busy chasing the American dream and planning for retirement than to be personally concerned with distant gunfire. But, I have a sense that is about to drastically change. In the coming days, we are going to enter into such a dark and perilous time that “religion as usual” won’t get it. Either we will fight or we will fall! Either we defend the weak or the weak will be destroyed.
That is why we have to prepare for battle now. When the police officer puts on the uniform and badge, he is given authority and power. When we come to faith in Jesus, we are clothed with the authority and power that comes from Jesus. It is founded on the historical work of God in Jesus Christ, on the cross and at the resurrection. Our strength in battle is determined by our understanding and confidence in what Jesus has done for us. That is why Paul does not counsel us to bind powers and cast out demons. He cautions us to put on the full armor of God- the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit.
Justin Garner was not a mere passer-by that just happened to hear the noise and pulled a pistol out of the glove compartment and then ran into the building firing his weapon. He was a trained, equipped and authorized police officer who was commissioned by the government to “protect and serve.” He knew who he was. He knew whom he served. He knew his duty. He was fully equipped. He was ready when faced with the crisis. When he saw the need, he put his life on the line.
The first three chapters of Ephesians is Paul’s attempt to show us who we are. The content of the last three chapters tell us what we are to do based upon who we are. It is only after those two essential truths are laid down, that Paul turns to the nature of the battle we fight. At Ephesians 6:10, he reminds us that our battle is not with flesh and blood. So, our great and ultimate enemy is not people or governments or armies or even a deranged shooter. Our great enemy is a spiritual being, the one who is out to destroy our faith. We are fighting to keep our faith and joy in Jesus.
So, how do we prepare for spiritual battle? Paul tells us to put on the full armor of God. Before we can fight and stand, before we can protect and serve, we have to get the basic uniform on. We “put on” what Jesus won for us at Calvary: truth, righteousness, peace, faith, hope and the sword of the Spirit. If we are to fight and risk and protect and serve, we must understand how these pieces make us secure in Jesus. Unless we are convinced of this, we will not be able to withstand the devil’s schemes, much less rescue the helpless and hopeless of this world. Conviction leads to confidence and confidence leads to courage.
How can “normal” believers in Jesus, like you and me, become “heroes” of the faith, willing to risk our very lives for the sake of honoring Jesus Christ? The answer is so obvious and so simple that you may think it too elementary. When Paul was preparing us for spiritual battle, he did not try to shape us into “black belts” in the arts of spiritual warfare. Instead, he took us back to the basics. Paul taught that the efficacy and effectiveness of our life will be in direct proportion to our trust and confidence in the completed work of Christ in our lives. Our salvation is to be the hard rock foundation for a joyful, victorious and heroic life on this planet.
The belt of truth points to the objective reality that was revealed to us in Jesus Christ. What he said is truth, whether we believe it or not. It stands firm in the heavens. We can put our trust upon what he said and it will not move. The breastplate of righteousness is a testimony to God’s imputation to us of Christ’s perfect obedience. When God looks at us he sees the righteousness of Jesus. The gospel of peace reminds us that we are at peace with God. The great war is over! Guilt is gone. We are now free to battle with agility in every situation. The shield of faith is the ability God gives through his word, to trust in his promises, no matter what problem confronts us. The helmet is the sure hope that keeps us going when we walk through a very dark and painful world. This life is not the end. It is the beginning of the end. Jesus is coming for us! Finally, God has equipped us with an offensive weapon that has the power of heaven within it to expose and defeat all of the lies of the enemy.
These are the truths we must meditate upon and pray over. We must grow in our understanding of them and their application. A Sunday School faith may get us through childhood, but that faith must mature to handle the great challenges that adult life will bring. If we don’t know who we are, we will be robbed of the joy that gives us strength to win in every situation. That is why Jesus told his disciples, “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” [Luke 10:20] Our strength is founded not upon our ability to bind the powers of the enemy, but upon Jesus Christ and his victory for us on the cross. We are safe and secure in his love and grace. So, we can risk.
For some of us, “risking” may mean continuing to trust God when our husband has betrayed us; or, when we have lost our job and the bills are piling up; or when our kids rebel and are caught up in the terrible consequences of their sin. For others, “risking” may mean leaving the comforts and securities of America for the dangers and delight of serving in the third world. For others, it may mean abolishing the promises of a “fifth wheel” or “golf community” retirement for the chance to end your days in a blaze of glory loving orphaned children in Malawi, Africa. A few, like Jim Elliot, may become martyrs for the joy of spreading the fame of His name to the ends of the earth. Knowing who we are in Jesus radically changes our desires and passions. Here is how Elliot prayed, “God, I pray Thee, light these idle sticks of my life and may I burn for Thee. Consume my life, my God, for it is Thine. I seek not a long life, but a full one like you, Lord Jesus” Yes, to risk is right, but in Jesus Christ it is not risk, it is pure joy! No loss. All gain. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”
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