The Christian Warfare | Ephesians 6:10-20
Brian Hedges | January 13, 2019
Turn in your Bibles this morning to Ephesians chapter 6. We’re going to be reading in a few minutes verses 10 through 20.
It’s been well-said that the Christian life is not a playground, but a battleground. I don’t know if you’ve recognized it or not, but we are at war. We’re not at war with other people, we’re not at war with other nations, we’re not at war with other ideologies per se; we’re in a spiritual battle, and that’s a battle between the forces of evil and the forces of righteousness.
The Scripture describe this fight in all kinds of ways. It describes it as “the good fight of faith.” The apostle Paul, you remember, tells Timothy that he is to be a good soldier and to endure hardness for the sake of Jesus Christ. All of us are called into this warfare; we’re all called to be soldiers of the Lord.
This morning I want to look at a passage that focuses on this. In fact, this morning is just going to be the first message in a series of messages on the Christian’s warfare. I’m calling this series “Dressing for Battle: Gospel Armor for the Fight of Faith.” What I want to do over the next ten weeks or so is just dig deeply into this passage of Scripture, Ephesians 6:10-20.
This has been one of those passages that has been used in church history as sort of a window into the whole of Christian life. There are a number of these great summary passages in Scripture that are like this: the Lord’s Prayer, the fruit of the Spirit is like this, where great theologians and pastors in church history have looked in detail at these and have built an entire body of practical divinity, a whole theology of the Christian life, out of just a short passage of Scripture. This passage is one of those passages.
So what I’d like to do is look in detail at the Christian’s warfare, at our enemy, the schemes and strategies of the evil one; about what it means to put on the armor of God; and then each piece of the armor as it is given to us in this passage. So, Ephesians 6:10-20:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”
This is God’s word.
In recent days I’ve been reading a book about President George W. Bush and the war that immediately followed the attack of September 11th, 2001. It chronicles those days and weeks immediately following the terrorist attack, and how the U.S. invaded Afghanistan as the War on Terror began.
One of the interesting things about this chronicle, which includes these detailed reports of the Cabinet meetings and so on, is that once they got into Afghanistan they were really having a good time finding good targets. They knew that Osama Bin Laden was at large, they wanted to fight this war on terror, but they got into Afghanistan trying to find good targets, and there just weren’t great targets. They’d never really fought a war like this before, a war against terrorists rather than against a specific nation. In fact, some mistakes were made, where they thought they were bombing either military type of places, compounds, or things of that nature; they were actually bombing Red Cross supply centers. Fortunately, no people were killed in those. But the point here is that they were mistaken in their targets, and they were having difficulty finding good targets in this war.
As I’ve thought about that, I think a lot of people in the world are like that. We know that there are problems, we know that something’s wrong with the world; we sense that. We sense that there’s conflict, we know that there’s evil in the world, we recognize these problems; but sometimes we are mistaken in the target, we’re mistaken in the precise nature of our enemy.
So I think something that will help us this morning as we dig into Scripture is to just get some detail about who our enemy is and the nature of the war that we have to fight. So I want us to look at three things this morning. We could just name them simply with single words. I want us to look at the war, at the enemy, and then at the victory. So, three points that are really built around those three words. As we do, let’s pray that God will open our eyes and give us spiritual sensitivity to see what kind of battle we are engaged in.
I. We Are Fighting in an Ongoing War
So, point number one is this: we are fighting in an ongoing war. We are fighting in an ongoing war. You see the warfare language that is used here in this passage; there are all kinds of words that are related to war; words like “power” and “might” and “strength,” but also wrestling and then this description of the evil one, and then, of course, the armor that has been given to us. All of it is descriptive of the war that we are in.
As I’ve already mentioned, this war is called “the good fight of faith,” and it’s a war to which all of us are called, which all of us should be fighting. I want us to just look at several things about this war.
(1) Here’s the first thing: this is a spiritual war, it’s a spiritual battle. Notice that the text says that we wrestle not “against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers…” It gives this list of the different categories of these principalities, these powers, these rulers, cosmic forces of evil, spiritual wickedness, spiritual evil in the heavenly places. It is a spiritual war rather than a war against flesh and blood.
You remember how the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10 that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but they are mighty, they are spiritual, to the pulling down of strongholds.
So we have to not make a mistake here. As soon as we begin to think that the enemy is someone else out there, some other human being, we’ve made a mistake. As Christians, we are not to be engaged in warfare with other people.
One of the great mistakes in the history of Christendom has been the Crusades, where people took up arms in the name of Jesus in order to try to thwart other religions with the point of the sword. Well, everything Paul says in this passage and everything in the New Testament would speak against that. Our warfare is not a warfare against flesh and blood; it is a spiritual warfare, it’s a spiritual battle.
(2) But notice, also, it is a personal battle. It’s personal for every single believer, and I think we get that from this little word in verse 12, where Paul says that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against these rulers and principalities and powers, and so on.
It’s an interesting word that he chooses there, because it’s not really a military word, it’s an athletic word. It’s a word for a wrestler. You might think of someone who’s in a wrestling match. Paul is perhaps thinking about the Roman games, maybe even the ancient Olympic games, and how wrestlers would be in close hand-to-hand combat with one another. But he uses that word here to emphasize the fact that this is a personal battle. We’re not sitting in some bunker fighting our enemy; we are engaged in close, personal, hand-to-hand combat with the evil one. We wrestle against these powers.
So it’s personal. It’s not just something that is true corporately of the church; it’s true of every single believer. Have you recognized that in your own life? Have you recognized that there is a personal, spiritual force that’s working against you? When you would do good, you find that evil is present with you? You find yourself in this ongoing conflict, this ongoing battle against indwelling sin; but not just against indwelling sin, but against the evil one, who monopolizes our flesh, who monopolizes on indwelling sin, in order to exploit it to bring about our ruin. This is a personal, spiritual battle, and every single believer is involved in this battle.
(3) Then thirdly, this is a dangerous battle. It’s a dangerous battle. Now this, I think, needs a certain amount of emphasis, because it’s easy for us, and I think especially in our theological context, where we have such a strong belief in the sovereignty of God, we have such a strong belief in the sufficiency of Christ and of the atonement, these things which I believe with all of my heart; but it is easy for us to put so much emphasis there that we underemphasize what Scripture actually says about the warfare that we are in and the stakes, which are really high.
We have to understand this. The stakes are high in this battle. I think you can see just how high the stakes are in 1 Peter 5:8, where Peter tells us to be sober-minded, to be watchful, for “our adversary, the devil, is walking about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour,” and then he goes on to say, whom we are to resist, steadfast in our faith.
Now, notice that image that he uses here. Peter doesn’t say that our enemy is like a domestic animal. You know, he’s not like a house cat. He doesn’t say that our enemy is like, you know, cattle grazing out in the field. No, he uses a very ferocious metaphor here: a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour! He’s out to kill somebody. He’s a predator, and he’s out to devour, he’s out to kill, he’s out to destroy something.
What is it that he wants to devour? Have you ever thought about that? What is it that the enemy wants to devour when he’s prowling around? He wants to devour faith! He wants to devour your faith. He wants to devour your commitment to Christ. He wants to eat that up. He wants to destroy that. He wants to completely undermine your faith and your confidence in the gospel and in Jesus Christ.
I think one of the most disturbing trends that we can see in the present day is the presence of what we call “deconversion stories.” Have you ever read deconversion stories? It’s the opposite of a conversion story. A deconversion story is a story of someone who once held faith in Christ, but doubts begin to come, and eventually they turn away from the faith, and they become apostates. They’ve turned away from Christ. There are lots of these stories. You can find them all over the place, you can find them in books, you can find them online. Deconversion stories. Some of you know people who have actually walked this path. They at one time were professing followers of Jesus Christ; they said they believed, and now they don’t believe.
Now, that all raises all kinds of theological questions. Were they truly believers to start with? Have they lost their salvation? There are incredible questions to ask there. I believe, and I think there are good reasons to believe in Scripture, that someone who is truly saved, who is truly born of the Spirit, can never lose that salvation and will never turn away from the faith. But let this be clear, that if someone apostatizes, if they turn away from Christ, there is no evidence of salvation; there can be no confidence that there’s salvation. And if someone at one time says they believe and then they turn away and they no longer believe and they die in that unbelief, they die in a lost condition.
That’s what the devil wants to happen to you. He wants you to turn away from Christ. He wants you to turn away from the faith. He wants you to become an apostate. That’s what he’s after.
So the stakes here are really high! He is sowing the seeds of discord, he’s sowing the seeds of doubt all the time in our hearts, seeking to undermine the very heart of our faith and our confidence in Jesus Christ.
You remember those words of Luther?
“For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And armed with cruel hate;
On earth is not his equal.”
We have to understand that the stakes are really high, that we have a dangerous enemy who will do whatever he can to militate against our faith and to lead us away from Christ.
Some time ago I read a report - it wasn’t really a report, it was kind of an illustration based on a report, I guess - of a U.S. army training officer from Fort Still, Oklahoma, who noticed the incredible difference between two classes, the class of 1958-60 (so, a group of people who were entering into the military during those years), and then a few years later, 1965-67. The first group weren’t too engaged in the lectures, they weren’t too engaged in the preparation; they weren’t paying really close attention. They were just kind of half-heartedly engaged. The second group hung onto every single word. You know why? Because they knew that in six weeks they were going to Vietnam. When they knew what the stakes were, they paid better attention.
That’s why Peter says, “Be sober,” or, “Be sober-minded.” Be serious about this. Be watchful when you recognize what the stakes are.
So we have to understand the danger that attends this warfare and how high the stakes are for each one of us.
II. We Have an Evil and Malicious Enemy
That leads right into the second point: we have an evil and a malicious enemy. We thought about the war; let’s think for a few minutes about this enemy. We have an evil and a malicious enemy.
I think sometimes we underestimate just how powerful and how evil this enemy is. One time a great general said that “the worst of mistakes when entering into a war was to underrate the enemy and try to do a little war”; in other words, to under-prepare and to underestimate the power of the enemy. I think that we often do that. We don’t really think about how powerful Satan is, we don’t think about what he’s actually up to. So I want us to consider that for a few minutes. Let me just point out four things about our enemy here.
(1) First of all, it’s a real enemy. Do you believe the devil is real? Do you believe Satan is real? A lot of people don’t believe that. Some people who even confess the name of Christ would say when you get to these passages of Scripture, “Well, that’s just a metaphor for evil.”
But did you know that the Scripture speaks of Satan, speaks of the devil over and over again, multiple times? Seven times in Old Testament books, including the largest books of the Old Testament, he is spoken of, described. In 19 books in the New Testament our enemy is described for us or spoken about, and that includes books from every one of the New Testament authors. Jesus speaks about the enemy 15 times.
He is called the devil - that means the slanderer or the accuser. He is known as “the accuser of the brothers.” He is known as “the tempter”; he is the one who brings temptation our way. He is the Satan, that is, the adversary or the enemy. He is known as “the ancient serpent,” connecting him all the way back to Genesis 3, with the temptation in the garden. He was the one that was behind that whole temptation scene. He’s seen in Revelation chapter 12 not only as the ancient serpent, but as a great dragon. So it seems that his power has grown; he’s grown from a serpent into a dragon; he’s amassed this massive force of evil. He is spoken of as a deceiver, “one who deceives the whole world,” and the scope of his power is great.
(2) This is a real enemy, and he is an evil enemy. He’s evil. Look again at verse 12: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
He’s a spiritual enemy as well. Don’t think of the devil as someone in red tights with horns and a pitchfork; that’s not the idea at all. This is an intelligent, spiritual being, a fallen angel, an angelic being, someone with spiritual power, with incredible intelligence, and with thousands upon thousands of years of experience in strategic spiritual warfare against God’s people. He is evil, he is wicked; he is out to do us harm.
(3) Not only that, but he is cunning. Notice in verse 11 Paul says, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” That little word “schemes” is the Greek word from which we get out word “method.” He is methodical. He is strategic. He’s cunning. He’s wily. He’s smart. He’s really smart, and he knows how to come at us! We’re going to spend a whole week, next week, just thinking about the strategies of Satan, the strategies of the evil one. What are the things that he does to try to trip us up? What are those things in detail?
One of the things that I’ve appreciated in reading pretty widely in church history, especially reading in the Puritan era, is how much time and devotion and space they gave to exactly this thing, trying to understand our spiritual warfare and understand the evil one.
There’s a great book that was written - I guess this would be over 400 years ago now - by a man named Thomas Brooks. The book is called Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices. Remember how Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1 that “we are not ignorant of his devices”?
So I want us to think about the devices of Satan, the strategies. What does he do? How is he actually trying to take us down? We’re going to consider that next week.
(4) He’s real, he’s evil, he’s cunning, and then he’s powerful. Again, I don’t need to read it again, but verse 12 gives this breakdown of the different categories of these evil powers. The idea here is that there is an entire hierarchy, there is a host of evil against us: principalities and powers and rulers, cosmic powers, spiritual evil; all of it arrayed against us.
I’ve been reading recently - and I mentioned this before, I’ve been reading through Tolkien’s great novel The Lord of the Rings, and just about a week ago I finally finished the second part, The Two Towers. I was reading one chapter, and I was just struck at how vivid the portrayal of evil was in this chapter. It’s as these two hobbits are coming into Mordor, which is the evil land, and there’s a description of this huge black tower, and so on, and the feeling of evil, the trepidation that they feel as they’re coming in.
I thought, “Why don’t we feel that way about evil?” We don’t see evil that vividly, do we? I think it’s because we have dull spiritual sensitivities.
I’ve had a cold for almost two weeks; it’s almost gone now, but you know when you get a cold, you have a cold in your nose, you can’t smell what other people can smell. You know, you can’t smell food, you can’t smell the good smells, you can’t smell the bad smells, you can’t smell the dog in the house, whatever. You can’t smell when you have a cold in the nose.
I think all of us, it’s sort of like we’re sick spiritually, and our spiritual sensitivities are dull, so that we’re not able to discern the incredible power and threat that our enemy has.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, that great preacher from Great Britain (he was Welsh but pastored in London in the 20th century) told a story about when he was pastoring a little church in Wales, and there really was revival in that church. I mean, the Lord did some really remarkable and amazing things. But there’s a story, when one day this woman, who was known in town as a medium (she was a witch, she was a medium), and one night, for some reason, she decided to visit this little Welsh chapel, where Lloyd-Jones was preaching.
She came in, and she felt something that felt similar but different. She described it to Lloyd-Jones later in this way: she said, “I was immediately conscious of power, and it was the same kind of power that I was used to dealing with, but with one difference: it was clean power.”
I think sometimes we’re very indifferent, we’re very unaware of the powers that are at work in the world, the spiritual powers that are in the heavenly places, the spiritual powers that are at work, both good and evil. One of the my hopes is that in this series our sensitivities will be awakened and that we will come to be more sensitive to these spiritual realities, both the threats that are against us but also the wonderful spiritual realities of God’s Spirit, as God works to help us in this battle.
So we’ve considered two things so far: the war and we’ve considered the enemy.
III. Christ Has Shown Us the Way to Victory
Then, number three, I want you to see this, the victory. I want you to see that Christ has shown us the way to victory.
Everything I’ve said so far might be somewhat discouraging, might even be a little bit intimidating. You think about, “Oh, wow, I have this target on my back and the devil’s out to get me!” Yes, he is - I don’t want to do anything to underplay that - but what I want that to do is make us feel needy, so that we recognize how much we need the Savior, and then I want us to see that there is a clear path to victory and to triumph, and that Christ has shown us the way.
There are so many passages in Scripture that talk about the triumph that is ours in Christ. You might think about Romans 8:37, “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” More than conquerors! Not just conquerors; we’re more than conquerors!
In the book of Revelation, the letters to the seven churches, you remember how each one of those letters ends? It ends with a promise that those who have ears to hear, that those who will heed the instructions that the risen Lord Jesus gives to his church, that they will overcome, they will be victors, they will triumph.
In 1 John 5:4-5 the apostle John tells us that “this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.”
So we have reason to believe that there is victory and that there is triumph. We have every reason to have confidence that if we believe in Christ, if we trust in Christ, if we walk in Christ, that we will not be overcome by the evil one! Yet the battle is real, and what we need to see is that there is a path to victory. There is a way to victory, a way to triumph. I think that way is described for us very clearly here in Ephesians chapter 6, and we’re just beginning to look into it. It’s going to take us weeks to really unpack this. But what I want you to see are just the three commands that Paul gives us from verses 10 to 14. He gives us three commands, and I think each one of those commands are important, and each one of those commands tells us something about how we are to engage in this battle as we move towards victory and to triumph.
Here’s what I want you to get: the only way to triumph is to obey these commands. Alright? If you don’t do what the passage says, there’s no reason to think you’re going to overcome the evil one. He’ll overcome you! That’s why Paul wrote this, right? Does that make sense? I think it will really make sense when you see what he says. Let’s look at these three commands.
(1) Here’s the first one, in verse 10: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” Don’t you love that? Immediately he redirects our confidence from ourselves to Christ. “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.”
We’re not strong in ourselves. Paul is not giving us a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps kind of message here. He’s telling us that our confidence must be in the Lord. He’s telling us that our strength is found in the Lord. He’s telling us that the only way we will stand is if we are in Christ.
As you know, the book of Ephesians is full of this theme of union with Christ, in Christ. I think it’s over 30 times that the book of Ephesians uses that phrase “in Christ” or “in Christ Jesus” or “in him.” Ephesians 1 talks about how we are “blessed in him in the heavenly places with all spiritual blessings,” and we are “chosen in him,” and we are adopted and redeemed by his blood, and in him we are given wisdom and insight. We are sealed by his Spirit.
Over and over again there’s this theme of being in Christ. In Ephesians 2, you remember how Paul says that “at one time we were dead in our trespasses and our sins, in which we once walked, we followed the course of this world, the prince of the power of the air,” that’s Satan, “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience, among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
That’s what we were, but then notice what he says in verse 4; he says, “But God, being in rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…” That means we were resurrected with Christ. It means that when Christ rose from the dead we rose with him, everyone united to Christ by faith. Not only are we raised up, but we are raised up with him “and seated with him in the heavenly places.”
Our union with Christ. When Paul says, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might,” what Paul is telling us is that all of our strength is found in Christ. I’m still learning this, folks. This is something I think every believer has to learn, is that every single day - every single day - we have to abandon self-confidence, we have abandon trust in ourselves, we have to look away from ourselves to the Savior, we have to say to him, “Lord Jesus, I need you, and I won’t get through this day holy without you.” How many days have we failed to do that?
There are so many days when I’ve been depending on myself instead of depending on him. I haven’t felt the vulnerability of my faith, and I’ve learned by painful experience again and again and again [that] when I depend on myself, I’m going to fail, but if I’ll turn to the Lord, if I’ll be strong in him and in the strength of his might, that is the path to victory. “Be strong in the Lord.” We must depend on him.
(2) But then notice, there’s more. It’s not just “depend on him,” but it’s also, “Put on the armor of God.” Verse 11, “Put on the whole armor of God…” Notice that there’s a purpose clause that follows. “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” In other words, there’s a connection here, right? There’s causality. “Put on the whole armor of God” in order that you’ll be able to stand. Implication: if you don’t put on the whole armor of God, you’re not going to stand.
Some of you are wondering, “Why do I keep falling flat on my face in my struggles?” I’ll tell you why: you’re not putting on the armor. You’re not wearing the armor. You have to put the armor on.
He says it again in verse 13, using slightly different language here, but he says, “Therefore, take up the whole armor of God…” again, there’s a purpose, “...that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”
Then he goes on, of course, in great detail to tell us what that armor is. It’s an armor of grace, it’s an armor of virtue. It’s an armor that really is all about the appropriation of what is ours in Christ, that we put that on. That’s the way this language is used in Scripture, similar to putting off the old man and putting on the new; putting on a new set of clothes.
Romans 13 uses this language twice. He says, “Put on the armor of light,” and then, a couple of verses later, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
You remember that old hymn, “Put on the gospel armor / Each piece put on with prayer”? That’s what we’re called to do. We’re called to put on the gospel armor.
You know what this means? It means that the gospel has to be appropriated. It means that the truth must be applied. It means that there’s something we have to do!
Now, do you see the balance here? I just got through telling you that you can’t depend on yourself, and now I’m telling you there’s something to do. There’s a balance, and I think we’re always going to one extreme or the other. You know, I’ve said this many times: Martin Luther said that the church is like a drunken peasant. He climbs on his horse and he falls of one side; then he climbs on and he falls off the other side.
We’re doing that all the time, and some of us fall off on the side of passivity. We basically believe, “Let go, let God. Christian life is not my responsibility, it’s my response to his ability.” We have all these slogans, you know? We essentially think that “if I’m trying, if I’m expending effort, if I’m doing something, I must not be trusting the Lord.” No, you’re taking it too far. You trust in the Lord, but then you do something. What do you do? You put on the armor of God.
Some of us fall off on the other side, and we’re so focused on our spiritual disciplines and on what we do and on trying to keep our thinking straight and so on that we’re actually ignoring dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ and on his Spirit.
Well, this passage gives us a wonderful balance. We are to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might,” and we are to “put on the whole armor of God.” Both of those things must be true, both of those must be done.
(3) Then, finally, number three here, here’s the third command in verse 14: simply stand. Stand! Notice what he says. “Stand, therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness.” It’s a call to stand.
Again, this is a military word. It’s the idea that we are taking our stance against the enemy, that we are resisting him, that we are firm in place, that we are sticking to our post, we are taking our stand. We must do that. We must resist evil, we must resist the evil one, the enemy, and we must take our stand as we have clothed ourselves with the whole armor of God.
As we do these things, as we are strong in the Lord, as we put on the armor of God, and as we take our stand, if we follow those orders, we follow that instruction, then we live in the victory that our captain came to bring us.
Now, maybe a question’s bothering you here. Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, I thought Jesus already defeated the evil one. I thought Jesus already overcame the evil one! Didn’t Jesus, in John chapter 12, when he’s looking to the cross, didn’t Jesus say that ‘Now is the hour when the prince of this world will be cast out,’ or the judgment over the prince of this world? Didn’t he say something like that? How is it that Christ has defeated the evil one, he’s defeated the enemy, on the cross and in his resurrection, and yet we’re still in a battle?”
Let me give you an illustration. This is something that helped me years ago when I first saw this, and I think this will help you as well. In my first pastorate in west Texas - this was really in the sticks in west Texas, this was in the west Texas big country - we were about, I don’t know, 45 miles, 60 miles away from Sweetwater, which is where you have rattlesnake roundup (it’s really a thing). People actually come for recreational purposes to hunt rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes all over the place, in Texas.
In my first church, there was an old lady in our church, and she is the toughest lady I think I’ve ever met. She was sweet, she was really sweet, but she was tough. Her name was Merleen; she even sounds tough. Merleen was an old rancher’s wife, and she’d been a widow for many, many years. It didn’t stop her a bit. She had all these stories about rattlesnakes! It just fascinated me. I don’t like snakes at all. I don’t like snakes, I don’t like spiders...we had a bunch of both at our little parsonage there in Texas. So, we don’t mind the north too much; snakes disappear for nine months out of the year.
So, anyway, I was really fascinated with a story she had about snakes. She said that one year she had killed on her ranch 20 rattlesnakes, in one year! I’ll never forget one story she told, that she found this snake - it was a rattlesnake - and she didn’t have her hoe to chop its head off with. She used a hoe. She wouldn’t waste bullets, you know, on a snake. She’s getting in close quarters here.
She didn’t have the hoe to chop the head off with, but she was not about to let that critter go, so she grabbed this big boulder and she dropped it on the snake; she pinned it to the ground. Then she went back to her barn and she got her hoe, and she came back and she cut the head off the snake.
I’ve thought many times that that’s a wonderful illustration of what Christ has done. You see, Merleen, when she put the boulder on the snake, the decisive victory was won. . It wasn’t going to get away. It was wounded, but it was still dangerous. If you get too close, it’s going to bite you. But she came back the second time to take off its head.
Christ, when he died on the cross, he dethroned the evil one. When he died on the cross, he won the decisive victory against Satan, sin, and death, the prince of this world cast out. He judged the ruler of this world; he did that! But Satan is still alive, and he’s still dangerous. His authority is limited. He can’t do anything apart from the sovereign permission of God, yet he’s dangerous, and if you get too close to sin and you don’t follow your captain’s orders, you’re going to get bitten. But there’s coming a day when Jesus is going to come back a second time, and he’s going to take the head off the ancient serpent once and for all, he’s going to cast him into the lake of fire, into eternal damnation; and that’s what we wait for.
So we’re living in this tension, aren’t we? We live between the “already” and the “not yet.” We live between the decisive victory of Christ over the evil one and the victory that is yet to come, and there is a clear path of victory for us, and that path is a path of faith. It’s a path of dependence on him, it’s a path of obedience, it’s a path of holiness. It’s not that we’re saved by obedience, we’re not saved by our holiness; we’re saved by the righteousness of Jesus Christ, but we are saved through faith in him! So we are called to walk along this path of faith, where we trust in him, where we are strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. I wonder if that describes you this morning?
In conclusion, I think there are perhaps four kinds of people in this room, and I want you to just do a little bit of diagnosis as we draw to a close. Four kinds of people in this room.
Some of you are armed and you’re at your post, faithful soldiers in the army of Christ. You are engaged in the battle. You are watchful, you are prayerful, you are in the word, your sword is sharp, you’re fighting the battles, you’re winning many of them, if not most of them; you’re walking in holiness, you’re walking in victory, you’re filled with the Spirit. You’re engaged, you’re serving, you’re evangelizing, you’re praying; you’re soldiers at your post, you’re being faithful. I just want to say, keep being faithful. Hold fast. Hold fast, and be watchful. Recognize that a target is on your back. That’s some of you.
Some of you are AWOL - absent without leave, right? Absent without leave. You’ve enlisted, you’re a baptized Christian, but you’re not engaged in the fight. You’re not watchful, you’re not prayerful, you’re not in your Bible, you’re not doing any kind of devotional life, you’re not engaged in service, you’re not sharing your faith. You’re not really in the fight; you’re absent without leave.
The word of the Commander to you is, “Fall in!” Right? “Get back in ranks!” Get back in ranks and be a part of the battle. You are called to be a part of this war. Some of us need to re-engage; this is a great time to do it, beginning of the year, great time to re-engage in personal and spiritual disciplines, in service, community, small groups, evangelism. All the things that God has commanded us to do - I mean, we’re just trying to do basic Christianity, right? That’s what we’re trying to do! Some of us need to engage, because we’ve been AWOL.
There are some people who don’t fit either one of those categories, and you’re rather POW, you’re prisoners of war. You’re still under the dominion of the evil one. You’re not wrestling against the rulers of this world and the cosmic powers and the forces of evil; instead, you’re wrestling with God. You’re wrestling against him. Instead of actually submitting to the Lord and resisting the devil, you’re submitting to the devil and resisting the Lord.
You may not realize you’re doing that, but listen, if you are just making it easy for yourself to sin, if you’re giving in to temptations right and left, if you don’t know any victory at all, if you don’t know the reality of what Paul talks about when he says, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law, but under grace,” and you say, “Well, that doesn’t describe me. Sin has complete dominion over me.”
The reason is, you’re a POW, you’re a prisoner of war, and what you need is to be born again, you need to change sides, you need to move from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. The wonderful news of the gospel is that God freely offers, to everyone who’s in this condition, he freely offers and says, “Come to me. Come to me.” Change sides with serving the evil one; repent, believe in the gospel, and he will freely save you, forgive you, set you free.
Some of you maybe are in none of those categories, but you are, maybe, what Spurgeon one time called “the fainting warrior.” You’re faithful, but you’re just hanging on by your fingernails. You’re tired, you’re weary in the battle; and what you need this morning is just an infusion of strength and of grace and of hope and encouragement. My prayer is that God will give that to you this morning, that he will encourage you, that he’ll give you strength so that you’ll keep on, that you will not lose heart.
Maybe what you need is to share that battle with someone else, so that you’re not doing it all by yourself. If that’s the case, I’d love to talk to you, our elders would love to talk to you and pray with you. We want to help you to fight this battle.
Wherever you are in the battle this morning, could I encourage you to take the battle seriously? Look to the Lord, trust in him this morning. Be engaged as a soldier of Jesus Christ. Let’s pray together.
Our gracious and merciful heavenly Father, we come to you this morning in Jesus’ name and we acknowledge our great need for your grace, our great need for your mercy. Lord, if we’re honest, all of us would have to say that too many times we have been easy prey to the evil one. We have not been watchful, we’ve not been prayerful, we have not been on our guard, we have not had our armor on. We ask you to forgive us for that.
We ask you this morning to renew our sober-mindedness, to renew the seriousness, the urgency; but not in a fearful way. Instead, Lord, we pray that you would renew us in faith, that there would be great confidence in Christ and in all that Christ has done for us, that we would really take heart as we look at the victory of Christ our Savior in his cross and resurrection, that we would see that Satan, sin, and death have been overcome in the decisive victory. V-day has already come, and we just need to learn to live in the power of that victory, to appropriate it for ourselves. I pray that you would help us to do that.
Lord, as we come to the table this morning, we come remembering the self-sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, we come proclaiming his death until he comes, looking back to what he’s done, even as we look forward to the second coming of our Lord, to that day when Christ will come and all things will be made new. We pray that in these moments, as we come to the table, as we take these elements, that we would renew faith in Jesus Christ, that we would renew our commitment to him, our devotion to his kingdom and to his cause, and that these would be moments of a solemn and yet joyful recommitment of ourselves to him. May this be our response to the gospel and to the teaching of your word this morning. So draw near to us in these moments as we continue to worship; we pray this in Jesus’s name and for his sake, Amen.