Among the many figures of speech characterizing the Christian life, the metaphor of warfare is one of the most common. The idea of life as a struggle involving life or death is certainly apropos. Anyone who attempts to live the Christian life soon finds that there are numerous enemies to his present happiness and future successful outcome of this way of living. There are forces continually attempting to pull him down, discourage him and cause him to give up the struggle.
Our relationship with the Lord is described as that of a soldier in his army. Twice Paul emphasized this to Timothy.
“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2:3).
“No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” (2 Timothy 2:4).
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul urges him to…
“Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:12).
This exhortation served to put Timothy (and us) on notice that the Christian life is no “bed of roses.” It is, in fact, a very real struggle against very real, very powerful enemies. Peter, like Paul, puts Christians on notice of the danger confronting every one of us. We fight against the enemies of the Lord and his truth as well as against fighting our own personal battles against evil.
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8).
The conflict is real and so urgent that the apostle Paul warns Christians to get ready for the battles we will have to face by putting on “the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11). In this context he says that we do not “wrestle,” (struggle, battle, fight, war), with flesh and blood enemies, but with spiritual ones; “rulers, authorities, cosmic powers over this present darkness, spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12). These enemies are real though not visible, and as the terms applied to them indicate, they are powerful and dangerous. For this reason the Christian is to be prepared to meet and overcome them.
The fact that our enemies are spiritual, and thus unseen, causes many to scoff at the idea of spiritual warfare. Materialists only believe in what they can see. That a thing can’t be seen doesn’t mean that it is not real. That a thing can’t be seen does present difficulties, however. For instance, how do Christians do battle against enemies we can’t see? How do we know we are being attacked? How do we defend against the unseen?
We can know that we are being attacked by being able to identify where and how the attacks of enemies are aimed. There are generally three ways the enemy is identified; the world, the flesh and he devil. These categories overlap in many ways and Satan uses both the former to accomplish his nefarious designs. John warns Christians about these in 1 John 2:15-17 ….
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
“The ‘world’ is that whole value-system which dominates whatever form of society may be our lot to experience, and it is contrary to the ways of God.” (“The Christian Life And Its Warfare”). Who creates this “world”? It is not God who does so. There is one who is identified as the “god of this world.”
“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
This world is, in fact, at enmity with God. It discounts his value system as being worthless. If value were seen in God’s way of life, there would be no continually changing value system such as always characterizes the world in every age.
The danger of the world to the Christian is that we are continually exposed to it and therefore under pressure to buy into its ideas, ideals and values. We are submerged in the “present world” and in more ways than we realize or are ready to admit, we have absorbed many of the ideas that are held as valuable and indispensable for happiness and success. How many Christians really actively fight against consumerism, secularism, materialism or self-centered individualism? It is not uncommon at all to find those who profess to be followers of Christ living like and thinking like their worldly neighbors. These have been overcome by the enemy. They are in no position to fight against the encroachment of the world. They have become active agents of the enemy!
In order to successfully overcome the world ….
- The Christian must steadfastly refuse to be guided by the principles of the world. These principles are ultimately of the devil. There is nothing of value in the value-system of the world. As far as the present thinking is concerned, all values are equal or “value-neutral.” We can’t buy into that lie.
- We must avoid close, intimate contact with the people of the world (1 Cor. 5:9-13). To do so is to invite the possibility of compromise and the corruption of our own values. Anyone who violates the moral or spiritual values that come from the Lord is a threat to us.
- We must not be ashamed to let others know where we stand on moral and spiritual issues. We must stand up for that in which we believe. This is the only way we can compete in the marketplace of ideas. There is nothing to fear when we have the truth – there is nothing that can overcome us when we are steadfast in our defense of it.
- Loyalty is required of a soldier. The Christian’s first allegiance is to the Lord Jesus Christ, not to human traditions or man made creeds and doctrines. We should be loyal to those who are likewise faithful to him because of our common faith. This loyalty makes for a united front against the enemy.
- The good soldier of the cross is to be committed to the cause for which he is called to fight. One of the most tragic aspects of today’s “me” centered, feel-good religion is that there is no commitment except to self. We are engaged in a campaign that reaches far beyond ourselves. It is God’s eternal purpose to undo all the effects of sin in his good creation. We are enlisted in that great work. We are to do what we can in this present world while we live and have the strength to do his work.
Another enemy of which we should be aware is the flesh. This is not our physical body, but that within us that has not been subjected to the control of God. It is that within us that urges us to have our own way instead of doing God’s will. Paul describes it this way in Gal. 5:17 ….
“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”
Even the most noble of efforts of the Christian are often tainted by selfishness and pride. We want to reap the glory for the things we do so we give money or do good deeds in order to hear the acclaim of others instead of doing good for the good it does others. Often we are envious of the good things that happen to others or of their spiritual attainment or good works. The flesh tends to self-admiration of our abilities or our good looks and inclined to slothfulness or it may be quick to judge and condemn others. It is a constant battle to overcome such tendencies within us.
Satan is constantly watching for signs of weakness so that he might place a snare, a pitfall or a stumbling block in our path. We must be constantly on guard against his devices – the tricks he uses to deceive and lead us to sin. He attacks us with “fiery darts” of baseless accusations. He sneaks temptations into the most innocent circumstances. He catches us when we are most susceptible to his suggestions. He causes us to rationalize and justify wrong actions.
Indeed, the Christian life is like warfare. We are always on the battlefront – always under attack. There is never a time when we can let down our guard and never a time we can retire from the Lord’s army. It is a battle to the very end. The Lord requires no less of us. He said ….
“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10).