Summary: We enter spiritual warfare trained and ready, and confident in our equipment and our Commander.
For this sermon series, if you hear something that stirs you, don’t say “Amen” but “Hooah!”
Our world is “enemy-occupied territory” (C.S. Lewis). The Christian life is not a playground but a battleground! There is much opposition raging against people of faith. Like it or not, we are engaged in spiritual warfare, an irreconcilable conflict--not a life of ease. We need to take a stand. In I Timothy, Paul issues a wake-up call: “Fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience” (1:18-19). The word “fight” means to “agonize”; the Christian life is a struggle. Those who refuse to fight will fall in the heat of battle. The Prince of Peace says He’s come to bring not peace, but a sword. We are reconciled to God, at peace with Him--but at war with the powers of darkness.
Nations spend enormous amounts on national security and defense. Yet there is little protection against moral avenues of attack. Our worldview as believers is under assault in schools, through music, movies and television, and the internet. Secular ideologies are permeating society, altering our culture and convictions. We’re so unprepared we don’t even notice that we’ve been trapped by falsehood and taken as prisoners of war. “We base our lives on some ultimate allegiance--either to God or to some God-substitute” (Tim Keller). We need to resist secular influences and make an impact for God in our world. Evil must be named and confronted. “We can refuse to permit the culture to dictate the way we go about our lives” (Eugene Peterson). All areas of our culture need our Christian influence.
No one engages the enemy in combat without being prepared and protected. When I went to war in Iraq, I was issued Kevlar body armor, a helmet, goggles, chemical suit, gas mask, and desert boots. When we engage the devil, God doesn’t expect us to do so unarmed. The battle gear issued is not optional. Every piece is essential. We don’t use our own, self-devised equipment; we clothe ourselves with the “whole armor of God.” Plus, the armor we wear shows who we are, soldiers of the Lord.
On our own we’re weak, and we’d easily be defeated; but God has provided for us. Our strength doesn’t come from within…we are “strong in the Lord” and in the power He supplies. In II Chronicles, Jehoshaphat prays: “We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You." (20:12). And facing the armies of Syria, Hezekiah proclaims: “With us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles” (32:8).
Many people embrace passive Christianity. It is tempting to “hand over” our struggles to God, thinking that He does it all and we have nothing to do but abide in Him. Yet we are told to put on armor and face the foe. We are actively involved in a cosmic struggle. We hand over to God our burdens, but not our responsibilities.
As soldiers of God, we will face many hardships, and at times we’ll feel besieged, overwhelmed, exhausted, wounded, and fearful. Winston Churchill stated: “Fear is a reaction; courage is a decision.” Our objective is more important than our fear. The most often repeated command in Scripture is: “Fear not.” God will empower us; we “can do all things through Christ who strengthens us” (Phil 4:13).
No army enters battle without understanding the threat forces. At the Army Command & General Staff College I studied Soviet threat doctrine. Intel is gathered, along with an assessment of the enemy’s capabilities, so that we have a clear tactical understanding of what we’re up against. Harold Ockenga (former Pastor of Boston’s Park St Church) insisted, “Any misunderstanding, any underrating, or underestimating of the enemy we fight is fatal. He is powerful, worldwide, tenacious, ruthless, brutal, persistent, and seeks but one end--the destruction of our soul.” It is the height of folly to enter battle unaware of what the enemy is capable of. We need to know the methodology of the foe in order to fight intelligently and effectively.
Too many believers naively assume they won’t be attacked by hostile forces; they figure they’ll be left alone. Not a chance. The world, the flesh, and the devil want to destroy us, in a continuous conflict. The phrase “put on” in verse 11 means “once and for all time.” The life of faith never ceases to be warfare; we’re locked in an ongoing struggle. And there are no deferments; no one is exempt. I may be a retired soldier, but I am not a retired Christian soldier.
God doesn’t issue His armor until we’ve enlisted and have taken the oath; then we’re soldiers of God! When we turn to and receive Christ as the Captain of our salvation, we join God’s Army. David Wells of GCTS notes: “There is no life without birth and there is no Christian faith without conversion and regeneration. Conversion is from an old way of life and to a new and opposite allegiance.” C.S. Lewis pointed out, “How little they know of Christianity who think that the story ends with conversion.” When we come to Christ, our military career has just begun, and it doesn’t end until we are promoted to glory!