Fight the Good Fight
Hastings. Waterloo. Gettysburg. Iwo Jima. Great battlefields once alive with the shouts of combat, the clashing of swords or the thunder of artillery.
All our lives have been affected by the outcome of such crucial military contests, often in ways we cannot know.
What if Napoleon had won at Waterloo? Or what if the Spanish Armada had prevailed, or the South had won America's Civil War? How would today's world be different? We can only guess.
There is one conflict, however, where the consequences of winning or losing are clearly revealed long before the fighting is over. For you personally, if you are a Christian, it is the most important war in history. It is the warfare raging in your mind and character.
This war is not fought for physical territory, resources or possessions. It will not leave behind a scarred landscape littered with the corpses of men and spent weapons.
No, we are talking about the spiritual warfare that involves your destiny. At stake is eternal life. Win a clear victory and the prize is yours. Lose or stalemate in this war and you lose everything forever!
Jesus promised to reward those who "overcome" (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26, 3:5, 12, 21, 21:7). The word translated "overcome" means "conquer," "prevail," "get the victory." This means combat. Make no mistake about it. If you are a Christian, you are engaged in a struggle-real warfare.
The Dominion of Darkness
But when did it all begin? Who fired the first shot?
Each of us was born with a neutral nature or spirit-neither bad nor good. But shortly after our birth, Satan the great archenemy of God and the ruler of this present world began to instill his selfish, carnal nature into us. Most of what we often call "human nature" is not really human at all. It is devilish in every sense of the word. That evil nature that dominates the affairs of mankind is the source of all the suffering and misery that has plagued humanity for nearly 6,000 years.
That is the nature we grew up with. We were victims caught in "the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will" (II Timothy 2:26).
We were Satan's captives. We were subjugated before we even knew what was happening. We were taken without a fight. Adam and Eve lost that round for us, and all humanity has been in bondage ever since.
This, then, is the situation we found ourselves in when God called us into His truth. We were comparable to people living in a country that had been overrun and occupied by an enemy. As long as such people do the will of the occupying forces, there is no conflict, no warfare.
Conflict begins when a person becomes part of the "resistance" movement and tries to throw off the yoke of servitude. In the world such events have happened time and again throughout history.
"Resist the devil," the apostle James exhorted (James 4:7). True Christians make up, in the spiritual sense, the "resistance." Not physically. Not politically. In fact, as far as human politics are concerned, we are to be subject to the governments under which we live. But as far as Satan and his demons are concerned, it's a different story, "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" (Ephesians 6:12).
It is when a person becomes a Christian that his spiritual war begins. And it is one of the most difficult kinds of conflict because, remember, it is not a question of two forces meeting to do battle for territory neither side possesses. One side-the enemy-has control of the territory and must be repulsed.
Upon conversion a Christian belongs to God, no longer to Satan (Ephesians 2:2-3). But human nature, one of Satan's allies, still occupies us and has to be driven back.
It doesn't happen all at once. It is accomplished slowly, painstakingly. But rid that territory of the enemy's influence we must, bit by bit. Frankly, we could never do it without outside help. God gives us that help. "Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory." How? "Through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Corinthians 15:57).
Jesus Fights For Us!
Jesus is a seasoned veteran of the spiritual warfare in which we are engaged. True, He was never a captive of Satan and Satan's evil nature, as we once were. But He nevertheless had to do battle with the same foes we face. The most significant confrontation of all time-between Jesus and the prince of darkness, for the rulership of the whole world-is described in Matthew 4 and Luke 4.
Jesus faced a far more critical situation than we face. Unlike us, He had to remain absolutely invincible. He couldn't lose a single round. He couldn't cede the minutest portion of territory to the enemy. Ever! For if He lost just one battle-if He gave in to the power of evil and sinned just once He no longer would have been the sinless Lamb of God. He would have lost the whole war.
We, on the other hand, alas, do lose some of the battles. We shouldn't. But we do (Romans 7:14-25). Thanks to the mercy and forgiveness of God, though, losing a battle now and then does not have to mean we lose the entire war.
Jesus, the undefeated Captain of our salvation (Hebrews 2:10), knows how to fight and win this life-and death struggle. When it comes to situations beyond our control, such as opposition or persecution from other humans, God fights our battles for us. But we ourselves must get into the thick of it and fight as though it all depends on us. God makes up the difference, strengthening us and doing what we are not able to do.
More Than Just Defense
Any military campaign needs to have an objective. The overall objective of a Christian's struggle is to win victory over sin (the transgression of God's laws) and resulting penalties, thus preparing to enter God's Kingdom. That's the ultimate goal.
The immediate objectives are, one, to defend and to hold on to the territory you now occupy that is to say, the progress you have already made in defeating sin in your life; and two, to conquer and secure more territory to vanquish and root out more sin, always advancing and never retreating.
The Christian calling, you see, is not a matter of just being on the defensive. That will never gain the victory in spiritual warfare! Defense is important, of course. Ephesians 6:13-17 lists the pieces of armor that make up a total defense for a Christian. But there is more to it than that. A Christian also has weapons. Not weak weapons either, but weapons "mighty in God" (2 Corinthians 10:4). For what reason? For "pulling down strongholds"!
This is not defensive action. It is going on the offensive. It is attacking and conquering!
Two of our mighty weapons are mentioned in Ephesians 6:17-18. They are the Scriptures, our knowledge of which we need to have ever sharpened and ready for use, and prayer. Another weapon for vanquishing evil, and one that is often neglected, is fasting (Matthew 17:21). Still. another is purposeful meditation-filling one's mind with what is pure, virtuous and praiseworthy so that evil thoughts are simply crowded out (Philippians 4:8, Romans 8:5).
Bible study, prayer, fasting, meditation. It always seems to come back to those four.
And for good reason! They really are indispensable tools - weapons - a Christian must use to overcome and grow in righteous character.
A War On Many Fronts
The Bible makes clear that our enemies are actually three, all of them under the direct sway of Satan the devil: the carnal self (Romans 7:23), the world (John 16:33) and the great adversary, Satan himself (I Peter 5:8-9). They attack us and seek to drive us back on a multitude of fronts. And the many pulls and weaknesses of the flesh are all soft spots that invite attack.
Sometimes we actually work against ourselves by compromising with the enemy, seeking a "truce" or "cease-fire" at any cost. We try to coexist with sin.
The physical Israelites made this serious error when they invaded and occupied land given to them by God. God had instructed them to totally drive out the idolatrous, heathen inhabitants (Numbers 33:51-52). It seemed to the Israelites, however, that that would be a bit extreme. They thought they could compromise and coexist with sin in their midst. They thought they could control the situation. It amounted to them thinking they knew better than God, their commander-in-chief.
How wrong they were!
The heathen who were allowed to remain in the land led many Israelites into idolatrous practices and were a constant source of trouble (verses 55-56).
The obvious lesson? We must root sin out of our lives completely. Be ruthless against sin. Whether you have a problem with smoking, drinking, illicit sexual desires-whatever-don't allow yourself to get into situations where you are tempted. Don't be a traitor to your cause.
As Paul exhorted, we should "make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts" (Romans 13:14).
Another front in this great war is the struggle for control of our time. Satan has this society rigged and booby-trapped to fill our time with unprofitable, futile pursuits. If he can't get us to throw down our weapons, he tries to occupy our time, to keep us too busy to use them.
Satan throws anything at us even things that in themselves are not wrong-to keep us too busy, too preoccupied to tend to the important things in life: growing closer to God and learning His ways more perfectly.
Do you need to get tougher on yourself? Do you need to apply some military-like discipline in your personal life, giving your interests, involvements, desires and amusements less importance or emphasis?
It is not always easy, but "you therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier" (II Timothy 2:3-4).
War is serious business. No soldier can afford to be entangled in affairs that hinder the ability to fight.
Still another front in this war is the battle over our minds and what kind of thoughts occupy them. We have already seen that purposeful meditation on right thoughts is a powerful weapon to banish the wrong thoughts. Not all thoughts, however, are immediately identifiable as wrong. We must be on guard. "Watch," the apostle Paul urged, "stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong" (I Corinthians 16:13).
Scrutinize whatever you allow to come into your mind. Bring "every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (II Corinthians 10:5). Be especially careful when you allow into your mind ideas or suggestions from television or other media of the world. Our enemy is an expert in camouflage. Be on the alert!
And don't just concentrate on putting out the wrong thoughts; think right thoughts. "Seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth" (Colossians 3:1-2).
As you can see, we have our hands full tending to the war being waged over our own persons. But our responsibility is much greater than just that.
When we were called by God (John 6:44), we were, in a sense, drafted. God pointed His finger at each of us and said, "I want you!" He has chosen us to help in His Work of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God in all the world and of preparing a people for God. We not only have to drive Satan's influence out of our own lives, we must actually invade his homeland, his realm.
"Go into all the world," Jesus commanded His followers, "and preach the gospel" (Mark 16:15). Those are marching orders and that's Satan's territory, for he is the god of this world (II Corinthians 4:4)!
All humanity is living in servitude and bondage to sin. Humans have been in that condition so long most of them don't even realize how badly they need to be spiritually liberated.
God's Work liberates-spiritually, not politically-those who are called to the knowledge of the truth now, and also prepares the way for the great liberation that will take place at Christ's Second Coming.
As Christians we must use the weapon of prayer to create openings for God's Work to proclaim the truth (Ephesians 6:18-19). We must let our lights shine so people can see God's ways in action.
Besiege The Gates Of Death
Death is Satan's ultimate wish for all of his captives (Romans 6:23). He knows sin produces death. That's why he does whatever he can to get people to sin.
But thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we have the message of salvation-forgiveness of sins, making possible a resurrection to eternal life victory over death and the grave (I Corinthians 15:54-57).
Jesus referred to that victory in Matthew 16:18. He said, "I will build My church, and the gates of Hades [the grave] shall not prevail against it." It is not the gates of the grave that are doing the attacking here. Gates don't attack. The gates of the grave are being attacked by those called of God and they shall be victorious, for those gates "shall not prevail against them."
Are you doing your part as a faithful soldier of Jesus Christ?
When you are in the heat of battle, don't become weary. Fight on! One day soon; the war will be over. And when it is, commendations and awards for valor will be handed out (Revelation 22:12). You will never regret any of the effort you put into the battle now.
We all, more than ever before, need to heed the combat orders God gave through Paul: "Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life" (I Timothy 6:12).