It is amazing how much the Bible speaks about the walk of the believer as being one of a life of battle. And it is equally amazing how many believers are either oblivious to these battles waging around them, or how desirous they are of opting out of these fights altogether.
The truth is, living in a fallen world in which God and Satan strive for the souls of men, how can we expect anything other than relentless and ferocious battle? Yet many believers live as if there is no such struggle going on. They seem far too much at home in the surrounding world, and thus know little about the battles taking place all around them.
Yet Scripture is full of language describing the life of the believer as one of constant warfare, battle and fighting. The believer’s walk in a hostile world is not meant to be a picnic. It is a battleground, and anyone seriously discharging his duties as a follower of Christ will testify to the hardships of battle.
The Old Testament features many actual battles: Israel taking on the Canaanites, dealing with hostile neighbours, battling against false gods and idols, etc. Mostly it was actual physical warfare. But of course it was also symbolic and typical of the spiritual battle which lies behind these earthly struggles.
We are clearly told in the New Testament that our battles are spiritual in nature, fought in the heavenlies. But a powerful spiritual foe provides as much opposition and antagonism as any earthly enemy can. Thus we must be just as serious in our spiritual struggles.
Two new books which I just bought speak to this very issue. While they are not aimed directly at this theme, I found it quite interesting that the pages I had just randomly flipped open as I was checking out the books zeroed in on this exact issue. Thus I will highlight some of these passages in more detail.
The first book is an expository commentary on 1 Samuel. Written by John Woodhouse of Moore Theological College in Sydney, it is a collection of 49 sermons on the book. It is part of the helpful series put out by R. Kent Hughes called “Preaching the Word”.
The page I happened to flick open to was about the battle Saul had with the men of Jabesh. On the page I had opened it said this: “Christian evangelism has this in common with Saul’s conflict: the enemy is real. Precisely because the enemy in this case is not a physical enemy, evangelism, cannot and must not be physically violent. However, we do not take the gospel into a happy marketplace, selling an idea to eager customers. There is an enemy. An evil enemy. An enemy hostile to God, God’s purposes, and God’s people.”
He continues, “The enemy has an army: unbelief, godlessness, pride, ignorance, sin. And the proclamation of the gospel is a war against the enemy and his forces. Do not forget that the war is not a worldly war. Our weapons must be the weapons of righteousness – and no other. But do not think that what we go to do can be painless.”
He introduces this section (1 Sam. 11:1-11) in this fashion: “Have you noticed how often the New Testament employs military and warfare language and images for the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ? . . . The proclamation of the gospel is war. As we take the word of Christ to an unbelieving world, we go to do battle.”
He goes on to note how we have drifted away from this understanding: “In many ways the business world has replaced the battlefield as a source of categories for thinking about this work. Gospel work is then not war but commerce: we go to sell a product, not to fight a battle. We face potential customers, not an enemy. We are out to expand our market share and increase our customer base, not to capture, defeat, and destroy a foe.”
So what do we now do? “We form a business plan, not a battle plan. The conflict we face arises from the competition in the marketplace of ideas where our product is not the only one offered, rather than the hostile wiles of the enemy. The language of war, weapons, and battle is too extreme for the way we think about evangelism. We are more like advertisers than fighters.”
The second reference to this battle motif is found in a new book on the theology of the Pastoral Epistles. Andreas Kostenberger and Terry Wilder edited Entrusted with the Gospel, and one of the essays looks at “The Ethics of the Pastoral Epistles”. The page I happened to flick open was offering some concluding remarks.
What caught my eye was this: “We might notice the cost that these letters attach to being a Christian, especially for someone who leads. That is, the Pastoral Epistles imply that ministry entails almost constant struggle against false doctrines, false disciples, and cavalier disobedience. . . . Accordingly, the aspiring country-club Christian gets no encouragement from these letters, to say nothing of the others.”
The Pastorals especially emphasise perseverance in the face of adversity and opposition: “No one escapes it for long, and highly visible members of the church – people like Paul, Timothy, and the overseers who follow them – will suffer disproportionately, no matter how kind, gentle, and respectable they might be. These themes line up exactly with what Paul says elsewhere about following Christ. . . . We have a charge to keep, guarding a trust given to us. The task will seldom be easy, but it will always be wonderful.”
There are of course numerous other texts that could be appealed to here. But these should suffice to remind us that any theology which says the Christian life is a life of leisure and ease is not biblical. Throughout the Bible we find that the walk of the believer is a struggle, a battle, and a contest, with many obstacles and hindrances in our way.
Indeed, there are many enemies, many barriers, and many threats to the fruitful faith life. But the good news is we are promised divine assistance as we endure these struggles and face these battles. And just as importantly, we are assured of final victory in the days ahead.
Given how important these themes are, I take it that this was more than mere coincidence that I happened to buy these books and flip open to the pages that I did. It was a good reminder to me of some vital biblical truths, and something which we all need to recall and take to heart.
So off to battle!