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A while back I wrote a post about the inescapable aspect of warfare–spiritual warfare–in a Christian’s life. I wanted to follow up on that thought in a little more detail today.
Spiritual warfare is not something that I hear about very much in Reformed circles. Yet it is something that I think is very real. This stands somewhat in contrast to what I find in Puritan works. (I love the Puritans, though I don’t read them as much as I might like.) One of the things that I notice in Puritan writings, alongside their “eternal perspective,” is their fundamental understanding of spiritual warfare. This provides a foundation, a framework of reference, for much of what they have to say about sanctification (in my limited exposure).
Not only is the life and death nature of Christianity a hallmark of Puritanism, it is characteristic of Scripture. How often do we read passages like this and not stop to think about what it really means? “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” ~Revelation 12:11
This is the language of war. “Conquering” implies struggle and defeat. “Death”–this was a severe conflict. And the prevailing weapons are named–the blood of Christ and the testimony of the holy ones.
And how about this passage? “Ask, and it will be given to you; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” ~Matthew 7:7-8
What in the world does this have to do with warfare? I answer with another quote from the Sermon on the Mount: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” ~Matthew 6:24
My last post on warfare spoke of the Christian as under God–a soldier, a representative of someone greater. Here is a summarization of that post so the rest of what I say here is in context of the thought that precedes it: soldiers are (generally) under stricter discipline that other citizens of a nation because they are representative of something greater than themselves or the company they work for–they are representative of a nation, a way of life, and a religion–whether they realize it or not. Christians are members of God’s Kingdom–but all the citizens of God’s Kingdom are soldiers at all times–his standing army, if you will.
Additionally, as a soldier, a Christian is a person under submission. (See Matthew 8:5-13. Remember the faith of the centurion?) This is where the passage about the impossiblity of having two masters comes in–the thing which you will not betray at the last is your master. The thing to which you look for the accomplishing of your desires is your lord. The good soldier does not submit to anyone other than his superior, (unless he has been issued an unlawful order). This is also where the passage about asking and receiving comes in–the one to whom you pray is the one to whom you are in submission. (I wrote a post about that while back, too.)
What do We Fight?
I will choose just one track to carry this analogy further along today. As the servants of God in the world, who are our enemies? After all, the job of a soldier is to break things and kill people–what are the objects of the Christian soldier’s destruction?
Probably the most famous answer to this question is Ephesians 6:12–“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” But what is that talking about? Paul doesn’t tell us we are to fight against sin in personal sanctification here, I don’t think. If I hear anything from Reformed pulpits about “spiritual warfare,” it usually has to do with personal sanctification. I certainly agree that that is part of it!
But I also see that Paul has a broader scope and vision. He looks at Christians with a strategic eye and says this in another famous passage: “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and taking every though captive to obey Christ.” ~II Corinthians 10:4-5
Admittedly, he is here speaking as an apostle defending himself to the Corinthian church–but is there not perhaps something here that we can learn about the warfare to which God has called his people?
Evil–spiritual darkness–falsehoods–the lies of the Deceiver–spiritual powers and rulers–are as much our foes as the sin dwelling within our own hearts. Our foes? Hasn’t Christ already conquered that? Isn’t that the job of the pastors? Why do we need to even think about this?
Why? It is not just the book of Job that refers to Satan as a roving lion, seeking whom he may devour. It is not just Paul that said that he delievered a couple of straying brothers over to Satan that they might learn the truth. The Bible shows the greatest story of history is God’s gaining the glorious victory, in Christ, over those who rebel against him. Some he conquers with wrath–some he conquers with love. Even though Christ put the powers of darkness to shame as he hung on the cross, receiving the complete justice of God for the sake of his elect, their power was not removed all at once. Lies still abound in the hearts of all men. Spiritual darkness and great evil yet dwells in vast swathes of this world.
How do We Fight?
Every Christian holds the weapons that Paul used to level strongholds. Every Christian holds the offensive sword that disables our archenemies. Every Christian has the sanctifying Holy Spirit in his heart that he may not fail at the last. Every Christian is covered in the blood of Christ and has the testimony of God in his heart. We may not all know how to use these weapons that we hold, but we have them available to us, nonetheless.
Does this mean that we should go about slinging Bible verses around like confetti? Do we seek out evil spirits and try to demolish them? Is that how we use the divine weapons? Really?
Rather, the Word of God is a sharp, two-edged sword. We do not need to seek out enemies–we just need to open our eyes. They are already all around us. Lies of the Devil abide even in our own hearts. Confusing dilemmas confront us on all sides. People surround us who despise the testimony of God. Even in our “advanced” day, evil spirits are not absent. Tossing Bible verses at things like hand grenades often does nothing more to the strongholds of evil than dent the varnish–and sometimes the ricochet is self-destructive. Seeking out evil spirits is worse than foolhardy. No, these are not the ways the divinely-provided weapons are intended to be used.
What then is the way? If you read Ephesians 6 and II Corinthians 10 again, perhaps you will see some of the answers…. Obedience. Steadfastness. Prayer. Disciplining our minds. Knowing his word. Relying on God. Rejecting the flesh.
Obedience is warfare? Studying the truth? This is what the King commands. This is his law. This is what our enemies hate. This is what our enemies wish to see stopped. This is where they press us the hardest–whether we realize it or not.
If you grant what I am saying is true, why do I emphasize “spiritual warfare” as somewhat more than personal sanctification, since that is what obedience directly has to do with? Very simply, it is because the Scripture abounds with the seriousness of what it means to be a Christian. The analogy of the soldier is a Scriptural analogy and one that is very apt at conveying the resoluteness required of the believer–beyond his personal morality. Of course, some people reading this will assume that this covers everything one does, but other may not. Paul himself mentions that the one in training is self-disciplined in all aspects of his life. This is why I used this analogy here today. Do you agree? I would be very happy to hear your thoughts on the matter.
“Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” ~Psalm 124:8