Friday, December 23, 2016

Spiritual Warfare

“Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, With the cross of Jesus going on before! Christ, the royal Master, leads again the foe; Forward into battle, see His banner go!” 
– S. Baring-Gould, from the hymn Onward, Christian Soldiers

Frequently throughout Scripture we find our spiritual struggles likened to earthly warfare.

Christians understand that this is not a literal call to arms, a militant commandment to bend the wills of others to Biblical ways of thinking.  Rather,  it's an analogy, a very appropriate one as we will see.

Ephesians 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

The spiritual battle so often discussed in the Bible takes place in the heart/mind/soul of each individual Christian.

Know Your Enemy

Every good military strategist will point out that before any beginning any fight that it is necessary to have an understanding of your enemy.

Around 2100 years ago, the Chinese general Sun Tzu wrote the following in The Art of War:

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” 

In our spiritual battle, our enemy is no less than Satan himself, a rebellious fallen angel bent on destruction of all that is good.

1 Peter 5:8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

In order to attain victory, good strategists familiarize themselves with their enemy’s methods.  We know that the devil typically tends to appeal to our desires through various temptations.  He turns us against ourselves!

James 1:14-16 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

We read that in order to achieve his goals Satan’s primary method is to deal in deception.

John 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.

One of Satan’s greatest advantages is the number of ways he can win, for we know that “broad is the way that leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13).  The “lord of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) has many agents throughout the physical realm, in our own nation, state, city, and even sometimes in our own homes and churches!

Our society has been constantly trying to entice us with temptations of a wide variety from the day we were born.  Make no mistake, as Christian soldiers, we are in a battle whether we like it or not – and we are behind enemy lines!

1 John 2:15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

However, as we will see throughout this lesson, one of the greatest weapons we can use against our unholy adversary is the Truth of God.  It is only through committing ourselves fully to God can we hope to defeat the devil.

James 4:7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

Preparing for Battle

“Gird your loins!”  

If you’re like me, you’ve probably found yourself wondering what in the world this saying meant when Peter wrote the phrase.

It turns out that in ancient times, tunics were the common fashion.  The loosely flowing garment was not exactly ideal for intense physical activity of any kind – certainly not for the battlefield!  Could you imagine launching into war stumbling over all of that loose fabric?

Therefore, when battle was imminent, warriors would gird their loans:  They would collect the loose fabric and tighten it up around their waist, re-purposing their garb into something more suitable for action.  Taking this into consideration, let’s reread Peter’s words…

1 Peter 1:13-14 Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance…

Basically, if we hope to have any kind of chance in whatever spiritual battle we face, we must take a cue from the warriors of old.  Rather than tighten our garments for physical battle, our mind must be properly prepared.  We have to focus fully on the matter at hand.  We have to commit full obedience to Christ, letting go of the cares of the world that could trip us up.

For victory to be assured, preparation is key.  Let us examine the ways in which we must prepare for the spiritual battle at hand.

The Armory of God

Earthly soldiers recognize the importance of the proper gear with which they are outfitted.
As Christian soldier, we are not being sent into battle naked and empty-handed!

Ephesians 6:10-18 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness,  and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;  above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;  praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints...

Let us briefly examine each of the components of the armor:

First, truth serves as a belt.  It may not seem like it, but the belt actually a very important piece of equipment as it serves to secure all other pieces of armor.  Additionally, wearing a belt indicates that a soldier is ready for battle, only loosening his belt when off duty.  In the spiritual sense, Truth is just as integral.  Surrounding us like a belt, God’s Truth directly deflects the lies of Satan.  It’s interesting that Paul chose the belt to signify Truth since it is the part all the other pieces hinge upon.

Next, our breastplate is righteousness.  Obviously, a breastplate protects the chest region which contains one of the organs most central to our survival: the heart.  This shouldn’t be surprising since we well know that God desires our hearts to be pure and righteous.  A Christian giving in to sin without repenting is the equivalent of rushing into battle without a breastplate!  One wouldn’t last too long without this vital piece of armor!

Shoes might be easily overlooked as they are probably the least exciting piece of armor, but I would imagine that a bare-footed march across harsh terrain would likely make one realize just how necessary proper footwear must be for going to war!  We are told to shod our feet with “the preparation of the Gospel of peace”.  Just as one’s shoes help them to stand firm, the Gospel serves as a stable foundation for the Christian soldier.

Faith is our shield in spiritual warfare.  A shield is primarily used for defense, repelling weapons that may be used against a combatant.  Our faith acts in a similar manner, guarding us from spiritual attacks such as temptations.  Shields may be used in offensive maneuvers as well, especially in great numbers.  Roman soldiers employed a strategy called the phalanx in which their shields were joined together in close formations.  Pressing forward as a single unit, the army could repel enemy forces and gain ground.  Likewise, Christian soldiers draw strength from one another through their common faith and love.

A helmet is necessary for protection against blows to the head.  One wouldn’t make it far with an unprotected skull!  Damage to the brain can temporarily stun a soldier, inhibit their judgement, or – at worst – kill them instantaneously!   Our helmet in the spiritual battlefield is hope.  In the spiritual sense, it is our mind that needs protection.  In the tumultuous world we live in we need all the hope we can get!  A Christian focuses on Christ’s love and His assurance of an eternal home in Heaven.  This great hope guards our minds from the discouragements and despair we face on a daily basis.

For the most part, each of the components of God’s armor is defensive in nature.  However, God also gives us a powerful offensive weapon to utilize as well:  The sword of the Spirit!

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

It is interesting to note that the word of God is likened to a “two-edged sword”.  To me, this implies that this weapon can be used against us if we are unskilled in our wielding of it.  We must be knowledgeable in God’s Word, yes, but more importantly, we must live it day in and out (James 1:22).  How often is a Christian discredited due to their being a hypocrite?  Therefore, we see that not only is it important to have a knowledge of Bible content and “theory”, but also to be skilled in applied “practice”.

However, as long as our skilled in the use of this sword, God’s Word can be used to devastating effect against even the most powerful foe.  Recall in Matthew 4:1-10 that Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by the devil himself.  Satan tried every enticement he knew in attempting to corrupt Christ, but remember how Jesus responded?  Each time the devil sent a volley of temptation at Him, Jesus simply responded with, “It is written…

Indeed, Jesus defeated the devil by simply quoting Scripture!  How often do we take for granted this wonderful weapon God has provided us with?

How Do Attain Victory?

Once you are outfitted for battle, preparations still aren’t quite complete.  In order to win a battle, a solider must have a strategy.

Proverbs 20:18 Plans are established by counsel; By wise counsel wage war.

Thankfully, as we well know, God has provided us with a guide.

2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,  that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

As we read here, the Bible lays out God’s wisdom in such a way that we can follow it and be assured of victory in any battle.

Conclusion: God is on Our Side

In addition to all of the personal preparations we ourselves can make, we cannot allow ourselves to forget that we have an ally who is all-powerful!  That’s right; God Himself is on our side!

Remember in the Old Testament how the Israelites could march bravely into physical battles with the knowledge that God would provide them with victory?

Deuteronomy 20:4 For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.

It’s no different in the spiritual battlefield.

Romans 8:31-35 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

In spite of the potentially overwhelming odds we face while living in this world, God will deliver us!

Romans 8:37-39  Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,  nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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