The Christian’s Warfare
I will rejoice in thy salvation! The Lord has done great things for us! He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, united us to him who is our head and covenant, so that in him we have a full and free salvation, without any fear of being lost. We have fellowship with God through the forgiveness of sins, the grace of adoption, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We have bold access to the throne of grace through Christ our righteousness and peace. In Christ we are become God’s dwelling place, living stones in his church. By the strength of the Spirit, Christ dwells in our hearts, so that we come to know his love and are able to separate from the world and live holy lives unto God. So transforming is his presence that every relationship and duty is sanctified as we live “unto the Lord.” We are not to think that these precious gospel gifts give us uninterrupted bliss. Between the commencement of our salvation and its consummation at our Savior’s return, we are called to “fight the good fight of faith.” In the Garden of Eden, God declared war against sin and Satan (Gen. 3:15), and when we become part of his family, we enlist in his service. To show his power in our weakness, to conform us to our Head, and to turn our affections heavenward, he calls us to bear his cross. There is no other way to obtain the crown of life than through waging a faithful fight for the glory of God and the honor of our enthroned Savior.
Our warfare is fundamentally spiritual. It is not directed primarily at the men and human institutions that are led captive by Satan at his will (2 Tim. 2:26). They are fronts behind which he attempts to veil his murdering, God-hating malice. Although he has been cast out of heaven, he now roams the earth seeking whom he may devour. He is filled with great malice. He knows he cannot win, but he will do all he is permitted in his bound state to attack and harass the church and to deepen the blindness of his captives. He is skilled at destroying men’s lives, for he is a murderer from the beginning. He has a full arsenal of temptations and strategies, and many great ones have been slain by him. Thus, our war is primarily against sin and Satan, against the thoughts and imaginations of the fallen heart that are opposed to Jesus Christ.
Because the war is spiritual, only spiritually alive men can see it. The children of the world see life only in terms of their pleasures and interests, getting what they want, and avoiding as much pain as possible. That our warfare is spiritual does not make it any less real or dangerous. It is actually more real and more dangerous than two opposing armies arrayed against one another on the battlefield. What is at stake in this war is not political supremacy, an earthly kingdom, or simply retiring with enough to close one’s life as comfortably as possible. At stake is one’s eternal soul. Fighting and winning this battle is absolutely necessary to arriving finally at God’s heavenly kingdom and receiving the crown of life (2 Tim. 4:7-8; Rev. 2:10). We do not merit heaven by fighting faithfully, but we shall not arrive there unless we fight. Even the thief on the cross had to fight the mockery of the world, if only for a few hours. Thus, the alternative before us is to be a slave of the evil one or a soldier of the cross.
Christians in our day must learn again to be much more specific about the nature of their warfare. A great deal is said about “culture wars” or “worldview wars,” and there is much truth in these descriptions. Yet, this must not lead us to think of the warfare purely in terms of competing political parties or ideologies. To be a “conservative” does not necessarily means that one is fighting wisely or with the weapons God has provided. Not every “liberal” is a lost soul. More important than convenient labels is whether or not we are depending upon the arm of flesh or the arm of the Lord to fight what is essentially a spiritual war. This kind of war – for the hearts, lives, and souls of men, for the glory of God and defense of his truth, for the kingdom of Jesus Christ – requires heavenly weapons. They are set forth here. We can use them everywhere, from personal skirmishes against sin and temptation to the work place, the town hall, and the death bed. Use them we must, however, for they are the only weapons that are “mighty through God the demolishing of strongholds” that are raised in opposition to Christ.
In many respects, the church has not yet learned to rely wholly upon them. When the church’s theology is built upon Greek philosophical categories, its worship borrows from the theater, or its interpretation of Genesis is supplied by unbelieving higher critics and scientists, we are not relying upon God’s arm. They are the modern equivalents to the horses and chariots, which David the warrior did not trust. We cannot fight God’s war with the various strategies that unbelieving men approve. We are to rely solely upon God’s power and wisdom, so that if we utilize common grace blessings such as science, philosophy, or sound business practices, we do so in self-conscious, humble reliance upon God’s strength and wisdom, proving all things by his eternal word. We cannot measure success by the world’s approval. We are called to resist the devil. This is our main objective in fighting. The earthly manifestations of the higher war going on between the church and the principalities and powers, Christ and Satan, are won through the very despised and ill-used weapons of faith, the word of God, gospel hope, and prayer. These must direct and quicken all that we attempt. These are strange and despised weapons, admittedly, but God will be seen as the Mighty Man of War that he is. The battle belongs to him, and we must obey our General, cease relying upon man’s wisdom and strategies, and place ourselves under his arm of protection alone. Then, we shall use his weapons with confidence, waiting upon him to give the victory in his own time, and be assured of his blessing upon our efforts.
The Christian’s Strength (v. 10)
“Finally” marks the end of the letter, but it also sounds the war trumpets. To believe and practice the gospel places us in the thick of the fight. One cannot be a friend of the world and a friend of God, a servant of self and a servant of the Lord. The world does not love us because we are Christians, and the more faithfully we endeavor to be, the more Satan whispers, attacks, and stirs opposition against us. But we have the same confidence as Abraham (Gen. 15:1) and Joshua (1:9): “I am your shield and strength.” We must measure the prospects for faithfulness and ultimate victory by the power of God. As wives are to submit to their husbands in the Lord, children obey their parents and servants their masters in the Lord, so each believer is commanded to be strong in the Lord. The command should encourage us. It means that the Lord commands us to fight in his strength. It means that he offers himself to us as our strength. He dwells with us and is willing to help us. Our enemies are many and strong, but “God with us” is mightier (Ps. 93:4). “In the Lord” also means that in communion with him, we can do valiantly: against the temptations that besiege us, the troubles that vex us, and the world that hates us. The key to strength is to walk with Jesus Christ. We have already been told to pray that he will “dwell in our hearts by faith” (Eph. 3:17), and he brings his mighty power into our lives. We do not set out to war doubtful of success. Abiding in his word and trusting his promises, we enter the fray clothed with God’s indwelling omnipotence. We must seek him and his strength continually (1 Chron. 16:11). We can do nothing without him, (John 15:4), but we can do all things through his strength (Phil. 4:13).
So many godly voices already enjoying their inheritance unite in their encouragement to make the Lord our strength. Repeatedly we have seen God exert his mighty strength on behalf of his weak but trusting people: Gideon’s three hundred, David before Goliath, Elijah facing Ahab, Daniel in the lion’s den, the early church against the combined malice of apostate Judaism and statist Rome. Modern examples are not lacking: the Waldenses, Hus, Wycliffe, Luther, the Scottish Covenanters, believers today suffering terrible persecution in African, Middle Eastern, and Asian nations. Past and present, God’s people have overcome because they trusted his strength. They would not compromise his truth. Their enemies were dreadful and determined, but Jesus Christ is mightier. It must be our habit, as it was in the lives of each of these mentioned, to walk in communion with our Lord. It is at their lowest that God’s people are strongest, as they are emptied of self, calling upon the name of the Lord, and making his glory their chief aim. Our times are different, as are our enemies, but the Lord is the same. He calls us to trust in him and fight against our consumerist temptations, lusts and fears, and feelings of exilic isolation from the spirit of our age. We must walk with him and make him our strength in the little things and trust him to make us ready if he calls us to make larger stands for his truth, kingdom, and church.
The Christian’s Protection: Put on the Whole Armor of God (vv. 11-12)
Failure to trust God’s strength is one reason for compromise with the spirit of our age. It is one reason that we do not call upon him for help and live with joyful expectation of his fighting for us. By commanding us to be strong in him, he is telling us to walk by faith in his promises. Then, we may look upon the world of fallen men, with all its hatred of Christ and fomenting of rebellion against God, and instead of quailing in fear have composed minds and hearts. We see God on his throne. “His eyes behold, his eyelids try the children of men.” “God judgeth the righteous; and God is angry with the wicked every day.” “One man of you shall chase a thousand: for the Lord your God, he it is that fighteth for you, as he hath promised you” (Josh. 23:10). If this God, the true and living God, fights for us, it matters not who fights against us. It does not matter that the full fury of Satan is aimed at us. God is our strength and refuge, our high tower and refuge. He is a “man of war” (Ex. 15:3), and he has provided us with invincible armor.
“Armor” is the full complement of war equipment. A soldier going to war is careful to be armed as fully and strategically as possible. The lack of any piece of vital equipment means defeat and death. Throughout verse 10, plural verbs and pronouns are utilized. The idea is not single combat. We have imbibed far too much of the heroic “lone Christian warrior” mentality. It is true that each soldier must be fully equipped and ready for battle, but the church as a whole must be so armed. Not every disciple will be equally strong in all areas, so we are dependent upon one another to make up what each lacks if left to himself. The gifts and graces of our Savior are spread through the body. At the same time, sinful weakness in one part of the line will harm the whole front. If one member says, “Well, I simply will not fight against this sin in my life,” or if he absents himself from the preaching of God’s word without good reason, or refuses to join in the fellowship of the saints or corporate prayer times, then the other soldiers will have to fight harder to make up for his laziness. We should think of ourselves not as solitary soldiers but as members of Christ’s great army. We stand in different places; not all have the same mastery of the individual pieces of God’s armor. Yet, each is requires of our great Captain to do his part in the battle.
There is urgency in this command to put on God’s full armor. We are called to “withstand,” to stand against sin and Satan. This begins by each Christian taking seriously the Lordship of Christ over his thoughts and actions. The stand continues in our homes, as parents teach, model, and provide oversight of their children in such a way that sin is resisted and godliness encouraged. The church must stand by preaching and teaching the whole counsel of God, guarding against the wolves in her midst, practicing church discipline against the wayward, and proclaiming God’s truth against the myriad of errors and false philosophies taught by ungodly men in the world. Since we stand together, we must take far more seriously our need to build up one another in the truth, share God’s great works in our lives, pray together, and never forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as some even in the early church were doing. Each businessman must consider his desk, each craftsman his tools, and each teacher his lectern as the place God has called him to make a stand against sin and Satan. We are not all called to stand in the same place, but each place we stand must be a little corner that we occupy for Christ and his kingdom.
That our enemy is the devil increases the urgency of putting on God’s full armor. Satan works in the children of disobedience (Eph. 2:1) and leads his slaves captive to his will (2 Tim. 2:26). Modern men laugh at this, but the western world looks as it does because of his clever scheming against God’s truth – the enthronement of pseudo-science and deification of technology as the new priests of society; murderous statism and globalism as the solution to man’s problems; lies as the new truth; perversion as the new morality; tolerance as the new love. The devil’s hand is directly behind each of these. His influence is growing not because he has unlimited power but because God’s people question his armor more than they use it. God tells us that only this armor will enable us to stand against him. We must take him at his word. God’s armor alone will enable us to see the danger and be prepared to resist it. He may be resisted and overcome, for our Savior has crushed his head, but he roams about looking for easy prey. He has found it in unprepared young people and lust-ensnared men. He looks for his prey among the bitter and despairing who forget that the joy of the Lord is their strength. He is especially dangerous for young and old who neglect the word of God and prayer, whose busy lives afford them little energy and heart to seek the Lord. Behind the entertainments and distractions and feverish drive to have fun, the heavy taxation and burdensome living styles, there can be no doubt that Satan is agitating.
And he has a whole host of malevolent spirits to assist him in his vain attempt to overthrow the kingdom of Christ. It is against them ultimately that we are wrestling, not flesh and blood. That we see evil men scheming, lying, killing, and perverting all that is good must never lead us to forget that a demonic host is at work. The metaphor changes briefly from a fighting soldier to a wrestler to remind us of the very personal nature of this combat. Wrestling calls for total concentration, total muscle control, and constant effort to gain a better position against one’s opponent. Does this mean that every Christian is directly wrestling with Satan and demons? Yes, provided we understand that Christ-indwelled Christians cannot be possessed by demons or overcome by them. Yet, they are at work. We have to fight against them. In the blinded minds and hard hearts of men, their influence is not far away. They have power and work evil. Jesus Christ has conquered them, so we may resist them in faith and put them to flight if we are clothed with God’s armor (James 5:9; 1 Pet. 5:9). We may not, however, ignore them. They are behind the furious march of globalism, the intrusive spying and suffocating legislation, and the increasing resistance to the Christian faith. They are behind the movie producers and script writers who find little ways to blaspheme the name of God and of his Son. They are behind the lawlessness of our age and the infatuation with science and government to explain and improve the world. Wherever men are turning their eyes off God, denying his existence, and defending the most absurd ideas as sacrosanct truth, Satan is lying and deceiving. And closer to home, wherever the church turns one inch away from God’s word, tries to make it more palatable to men in their sins, Satan is at work. The only thing he fears is the word of God, the unadulterated word of God.
Remembering our true enemy does several things for us. First, it creates in our hearts pity for the world of lost men rather than angry, cynical vengefulness. They may be God’s enemies and destined for hell, but those who are driven to the heights of boldness against God are driven there by the evil one. Second, it also must make us extremely vigilant. Wherever lies are enthroned as truth and meaningless wars are waged, Satan is deceiving and killing. Is Babel being rebuilt? Satan is the chief architect. Yes, men’s foul, deceived, and greedy hearts leave them without excuse, especially since God’s gospel has gone throughout the world, but the real enemy in all that we see occurring in our land is the devil. He does not care about the Constitution, Republicans, or Democrats. He is concerned only with killing men, deceiving the unwary, and attacking the Bride of Christ (Rev. 12:17). Third, we must be clothed with God’s armor. Only his truth, faith in his word, hope in his power, all animated with fervent prayer, will overcome him. The failure to believe and practice this is the reason we see evil progressing in our day. It is not because the worn out ideas of humanism have suddenly gained new credibility and power. It is because Christians have compromised with the world and adopted the methods of bad theology and accommodation to unbelief rather than pressing the claims of God’s truth upon men, in love, but without embarrassment or reduction. In all our legitimate conflict against national sin and evils, we must remember that Satan’s hand is behind them. To resist him and his dupes, we must use the armor that withstands the one inspiring and driving them to their rebellion.
The Christian’s Duty: Stand and Fight (v. 13)
Our duty is clear. We must fight against him fully armed. God’s truth must saturate our minds and our children’s minds. Favorite tools of Satan to distract and deceive must be shunned. Whatever desensitizes us to evil – language, the theater, worldly company, Sabbath breaking, corrupt literature, gender bending toleration, laziness, fear, despair – separation must be our watchword. Each day has its own particular evils, and we must especially stand against them. This is a heavy responsibility, to be sure. Is there no rest? Not yet. The glory of God, the defense of his truth, and the kingdom of our Savior calls for our faithfulness now; eternal rest and the crown are held out before us. We must do all in our power, in our Savior’s power, according to his gifts and grace to us individually and as congregations of believers, to enlist fully in his cause. While we must avoid unnecessary drama, there is a real drama unfolding. It is not who will win the next election. It is whether the church will fight faithfully with God’s full armor and trusting him as our shield and the God of our strength.
Arm yourself, child of God! Do not think you will be able to slide through without fighting. We might prefer to do so, but God knows what is best for us, and he clothes all his true children with the livery of the cross. Know God’s word. Hold fast to the hope of the gospel. Be ready at all times to speak, defend, and, if necessary, suffer for God’s truth. Satan is clearly prowling in our land and especially where believers are seeking to be faithful. Elders, ready yourselves to be faithful unto death. Parents, sharpen your gospel sword and get on your knees. Young men, overcome the wicked one by God’s indwelling word (1 John 2:14). To all, fight in the strength of the Lord. He has prevailed. We are privileged to fight for him, and victory is certain because he fights for us, for his own glory revealed in us and prepared for us through the gospel, for the future of his church and kingdom, which will prevail over all the strategies of the evil one.