Christians And Battle


The Bible sets up the Christian’s life as as one of confrontation. The Apostle Paul says things like, Put on the full armor of God. And compete to win the prize, discipline your body, box as if you are not pretending. The writer of Hebrews even says

You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin (Heb. 12:4).

So there’s striving and there’s bleeding.

Of course the great mark against Christians is also battle—the bloody and futile crusades of the Middle Ages. Add to that the hymns of old, like “Onward Christian Soldier” and “Am I A Soldier Of The Cross,” and we Christians have been pegged as a contentious bunch.

I think in some ways, we play into that stereotype. Protestant denominations, for example, have experienced splits and splits of splits. Of course, Catholics have their own cross to bear because of their doctrine of excommunication. Some protestant churches also practice church discipline in such a way that the battle very much seems like one between believers.

Paul clearly stated in the spiritual armor passage that our battle is a spiritual one and our enemies are not other people.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12)

The opposition Christians face necessitate the spiritual armor. No one would walk into a physical battle with nothing but truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God. Those provide spiritual protection against spiritual confrontation from spiritual foes.

Too often in the history of the Church, it seems we have become entangled in physical struggles. Most people today recoil at the “holy wars” intended to win Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Muslims. There really wasn’t anything holy about the attempted extension of power and influence by those aligned in the Crusades.

The same might be said about a number of other instances in which religious struggle was merely a cover for physical dominance and had nothing to do with the spiritual conflict the Bible points us toward.

I have to wonder if today we aren’t still missing who we are to be fighting. Let me put it bluntly. The LGBTQ community is not the enemy. Sin and Satan and the temptations to pride and rebellion are the enemy.

Disney is not the enemy. The media is not the enemy. Liberals of any stripe are not the enemy. The enemy is not flesh and blood. Our enemy is spiritual. World forces of darkness. Spiritual forces of wickedness.

People, humans with sin natures just like yours and mine, are not the front line soldiers in the battle. Rather, each of us is in need of rescue. We’re trapped by the world forces of darkness unless our God redeems us and transfers us to the kingdom of His Son (see Col. 1:10).

The child game of capture the flag comes to mind. As I recall, each team had something to protect and something to gain. In the process, team members might be captured and thrown into “prison” where they awaited rescue from someone on their side. The enemy at that point was the “system” that held them in “prison” awaiting rescue.

Of course the metaphor breaks down at that point because the game was played against other children and obviously had a physical component. But the image of being held captive and awaiting rescue is helpful, I think, in understanding mankind’s condition.

At various times in this game, players can become so intent on capturing other opponents that they take their eye off the flag they are supposed to be guarding. At that moment, they are most vulnerable to attack.

In the Christian life, we are told repeatedly to stand firm, to be alert, to guard against. In other words, our role in the battle seems so . . . defensive.

The work we’ve been given that is not battle oriented is to be ambassadors for Christ, to be ministers of reconciliation. to love our neighbors and our enemies.

I think too often we get our tasks mixed up. We don’t protect against the spiritual forces because we are too busy going after those we are to love and serve.

I’ll be honest. I don’t know how loving LGBTQ members is suppose to look. I mean, as soon as the word sin comes out of our mouths, someone is accusing us of hate speech. But the truth is, if we hate a sinner, we’re actually hating all of humankind because there is none righteous, no, not one. If in doubt, take a look at the end results—Scripture says the wages of sin is death, and people are still dying, one out of every one.

But here’s the thing. LGBTQ members or drug addicts or prostitutes or porn queens or any other person involved in a sinful lifestyle will not face judgment because of their lifestyle. They will face judgment because they have rejected God’s answer to their need: the Savior He sent to rescue them.

He who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18b)

I suggest, then, that to do our work as defenders of the faith against spiritual forces of wickedness and to be ministers of reconciliation, we need to point to Jesus Christ. He is the one who came to save, and He is the one who stands in the gap against the evil one.

Advertisements
Published in: on March 9, 2017 at 4:45 pm  Comments (6)  
Tags: , , ,

Render To God The Things That Are God’s


In a well-known passage of Scripture, Jesus responded to a group of Pharisees trying to trap Him somewhere between the Jewish and Roman laws with this principle: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matt. 22:21b)

Often we focus on the first part of the principle. Yes, we are to pay taxes, to serve in the military or in an alternate service, to vote. But it seems to me the greater question is, are we rendering to God the things that are God’s?

But what exactly is not His?

Elsewhere Jesus tells His disciples to take up their crosses and follow Him. That idea makes perfect sense if we understand that we are, in fact, to give God our all. Even in our giving to Caesar, we are doing so as an act of service to God.

Some years ago, our pastor said the way of Jesus is the way of surrender, giving up my agenda for His. Yet too often in our culture we come to Jesus with the idea that He can add value to our lives. In fact, we want to negotiate with Him, create our own personal covenant with Him: I’ll do all the Christianly things, and God will then bless me as He promised His chosen people of old—promised land, abundant food, protection against enemies, success at every turn.

It’s appealing, but we neglect a fundamental point: Jesus Christ is not our risk manager. He is our Master. We are to sanctify Him—set Him apart—as Lord in our hearts (1 Peter 3:15a).

As Master, He tells us what He wants of us, not the other way around. And clearly, He wants our all. We are to lose our life so that we may find it, give our life so we might save it. We are to die to self that we might live.

The way of Jesus is surrender. And yet, look at all the finding, saving, living.

So the deal-makers are right that the Christian life promises reward. They just miss completely what that reward is—Jesus Himself. He is the one we enjoy now and will enjoy even more in the future, at His banquet.

This post originally appeared here in October 2012.

Published in: on July 5, 2016 at 5:30 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , ,

Beyond Plateaus


Mountain climbers are familiar with reaching plateaus. You don’t get to one without a lot of serious work. Often when you arrive, you’ll find a scenic view and certainly a good place to rest. But if you have set a goal for yourself, staying on the plateau will defeat you.

Staying on plateaus can be tempting — for mountain climbers, for writers, for Christians. One of the things the long journey of writing novels and waiting to find an agent and publisher has taught me is to keep working. There was a time I thought my work was ready for publication. In fact I confidently read other books and believed my writing equal or better.

Apparently I was the only one. Yes, I got good responses from critique partners and others in mentoring groups. But there is still that elusive “We want you to be our author” phone call. Something, therefore, needs to be better. It pushes me forward to improve.

But what happens when I don’t have that incentive any more?

Lady Gaga (bet you never thought you’d hear me quoting her here, did you 😉 ) said in anticipation of her next performance, she (mentally) takes the awards she’s won off the wall and stuffs them in the closet. In other words, she’s determined not to let past success affect her goal. She’s not going to stay on the plateau.

I think some writers are content with the plateau. Publishing was their dream. Now they have books out and enough sales to get the next contract. Who cares if they improve their writing or become better at plotting their stories? Who cares if their characters are retreads? I mean, those sales show the fans are there.

I think it would be easy to fall into that attitude, but the plateau isn’t the mountain top.

Plateaus can become traps for Christians in our spiritual walk, too. Our friends all believe pretty much the same way we do. We become comfortable with our church. We tithe and attend, and even participate in special work events in the neighborhood.

God is good. He’s forgiven us by His grace and we’re thankful. So very thankful.

And there we stay.

But look at what Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica:

Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. (4:1)

What a statement! You’re doing a good job, now go out and do better!

In the next verses, it becomes clear that Paul has in mind, in particular, their sexual purity. But then in verse nine he turns a corner and commends that church for how they love other Christians. And yes, he follows up with the same admonition:

Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more (4:9-10)

A couple things I learn from this. The Christian life isn’t a “let go and let God” proposition. There is a “work out your salvation” aspect, and that doesn’t deposit us on a plateau at some point, where we can sit back and enjoy the view — not, at least, if we’re to take what Paul said seriously. Rather, the Christian life is dynamic.

Excelling still more is a logical goal for those who stand next to perfection. It’s impossible to rest and think I’ve arrived when I look at God. He is the gold standard of purity and love.

Finally, though I’m an active agent in this excelling process, so is God. Look at what Paul said right before his first “excel still more” statement:

and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints. 3:12-13

The Thessalonians were to excel still more in the area of loving believers, but Paul prayed that God would cause this. The Thessalonians were to excel still more in the area of sexual purity, but Paul prayed that God would establish their hearts without blame in holiness.

It’s kind of like the really serious mountain climbers who are tethered together as they make their way up a rock face. One moves forward but not without the other. The first enables the second and the second supports and secures the first.

We have an incredible God who thinks and plans far beyond the ways we would choose. One part of that would seem to include our enjoying the plateaus He leads us to, but then we must keep going, thankfully, not alone.

Published in: on August 10, 2015 at 6:00 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , , ,

Who’s Doing The Work?


One day at church I overheard an older man giving his testimony to a group of friends.

In short, he came to Christ when he was ten, but then he got involved with people who weren’t the best influence on him. Until he married his wife, he led a life that was far from God. He stated emphatically, though, that he believes he was a Christian during that time. He’d made that profession of faith that was genuine. How can you undo being born again, he asked. Never mind that his life showed no evidence of a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Some people call this “easy believe-ism” and don’t think such a person is saved.

Christians know that nobody is made right with God by what we do. No work of ours can erase the sin in our heart. Through Jesus alone can we be brought into relationship with God. What we must do is confess with our mouth and believe in our heart:

that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Rom 10:9-10)

This believing issue is the one that gets a little sticky. James says the demons also believe (that God is One) and they shudder (James 2:19). They are, however, not saved. He uses them to illustrate that the person with genuine faith is the person who by his actions demonstrates what he believes.

A tangential issue has to do with how we can possibly do works of righteousness, which seem to be the evidence of faith.

Are the works ours? Or do they come from the Spirit within us?

Paul seems to indicate in Colossians 2 that, as we began in faith, we are to live by faith: “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord [by faith], so walk in Him [by faith] (Col. 2:6).”

Yet he also says we are to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord [action], to please Him in all respects” (Col. 1:10b).

So which is it, God’s saving work in us and our faith in what He’s done, or our works demonstrating the faith we profess?

The Holy Spirit gives gifts and He also supplies fruit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:22-23)

Yet the Christian is commanded not to quench the Spirit or to grieve Him, which seems to indicate we can stifle His influence in our life (and so not show His fruit or use His gifts). Are we then, not Christians?

Not at all. Too many verses in Scripture indicate that God does not lose those who are His own. So either the wayward person was never a Christian or he will change his behavior in due time, like the mouthy brother who said he wouldn’t obey his father, only to end up doing what he was told after all (see Matt 21:28-29).

Still, there is the question about our works. My former pastor was constantly reminding us that we live by grace. Alistair Begg, who I listen to on the radio, is also diligent to explain that we don’t go to church to get a pep talk, to learn what it is we’re supposed to do, then go out, pull up our socks, and try harder.

Rather, “it is God Who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13).

Do we have no responsibility, then?

Peter seems to say we do. “Like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior because it is written, ‘You shall be holy for I am holy’ ” (1 Peter 1:15-16).

This is one of those issues, I think, where a great case can be made for living by grace—a “let go and let God” approach when taken to the extreme. But at the same time, an equally good case with supporting verses can be made for working out our salvation.

In such instances, I think the best approach is a both/and acceptance. Somehow God does work in the life of the Christian and at the same time expect the Christian to obey. Not by his own strength (“strengthened with all power according to His glorious might,” Paul says in Colossians). Nevertheless, somehow—volitionally, perhaps—we’re involved. We don’t (or ought not) sit around waiting for God to pull our wallet out of our pocket and give to our needy neighbor. We already have His command to love our neighbor as ourselves, so we don’t need another, personal, individual invitation to do what God has already told us to do.

What about the flip side of the coin, those disobedient things like lust or greed or anger? We have clear directions about those issues already, so are we to obey or are we to wait for God to make us obey?

Both.

It’s a both/and issue, remember. We first pray, confess our sin and our inability in our own flesh to deal with the issue. Then we thank God that we don’t have to, that He’s already given us the Holy Spirit to empower us to do the very thing He has asked us to do. Then we take a step in the right direction. One after another, trusting that God will give us the strength each time to lift our foot and keep going where He’s shown us we should go.

I think learning to live in God’s strength is harder than it sounds. It is for me anyway. But at the same time, I don’t feel so defeated as I once did. I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m the one who doesn’t make New Year’s resolutions because I was so tired of trying to do the same things over and over, year after year! It gets … discouraging. But God’s promise of strength and provision of His Spirit gives hope.

On that note, Happy New Year!

– – – – –

This post, with minor editorial changes, first appeared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in March, 2012.

Published in: on December 31, 2014 at 4:42 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Render To God The Things That Are God’s


In a well-known passage of Scripture, Jesus responded to a group of Pharisees trying to trap Him somewhere between the Jewish and Roman laws with this principle: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matt. 22:21b)

Often we focus on the first part of the principle. Yes, we are to pay taxes, to serve in the military or in an alternate service, to vote. But it seems to me the greater question is, are we rendering to God the things that are His?

But what exactly is not His?

Elsewhere Jesus tells His disciples to take up their crosses and follow Him. That idea makes perfect sense if we understand that we are, in fact, to give Him our all. Even in our giving to Caesar we are doing so as an act of service to God.

On Sunday, Pastor Mike said the way of Jesus is the way of surrender, giving up my agenda for His. Yet too often in our culture we come to Jesus with the idea that He can add value to our lives. In fact, we want to negotiate with Him, create our own personal covenant with Him. I’ll do all the Christianly things, and God will then bless me as He promised His chosen people of old–promised land, abundant food, protection against enemies, success at every turn.

It’s appealing, but we neglect a fundamental point: Jesus Christ is not our risk manager. He is our Master. We are to sanctify Him–set Him apart–as Lord in our hearts (1 Peter 3:15a).

As Master, He tells us what He wants of us, not the other way around. And clearly, He wants our all. We are to lose our life so that we may find it, give our life so we might save it. We are to die to self that we can live.

The way of Jesus is surrender. And yet, look at all the finding, saving, living.

So the deal-makers are right that the Christian life promises reward. They just miss completely what that reward is–Jesus Himself. He is the one we enjoy, now and even more so at His banquet.

Published in: on October 16, 2012 at 6:07 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: ,