Spiritual Warfare


Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

Romans 8: 35

It might seem that there are forces at work in our world that want nothing more than to keep people away from being close to God. For things just happen to us, around us, and to those that we care about. It can become relentless at times, and the assault certainly does not ever cease for very long. Paul is speaking to the reality of life as he knew it personally, and he is also warning others about what he observed and anticipated in the lives of others. These cold water in the face words are intended to set us free from the sudden assaults of the unexpected and unanticipated, and they are also here to give assurances to each of us that the things that we are experiencing are normal and are a part of the natural course of life in this world where brokenness and sin are cured only by the blood that Christ has shed for us.

A response to the thoughts that have just been expressed might be to question why I see a form of warning or expectant caution in the Apostle’s words of encouragement here. Paul’s point in this section of Romans 8 is that there is nothing on earth or in the heavens above or in the powers of those who dwell in Hell below that can rip, tear, or pry one of Christ’s own souls from His grasp. Christ holds onto the people who come to Him with both tenacity and overwhelming power. Yet, that long list of forces that are attempting to work their potions of trouble, disbelief, and pain upon Christ followers is, in fact, just a sampler or partial list of all that works against us in this world. The faith that we hold in Christ will be tested over and over again as we go about living, and the more that we exercise this trust in Christ by engaging in doing His will and serving His kingdom, the more that various forces around us will see us as targets to be attacked mercilessly.

So, the assurance that God is providing for us is founded in the nature and the character of His own heart. The Lord not only desires for us to draw near to Him and to enter into a relationship with Him that will be active and alive today and for all of eternity, but He also will do anything that is required to protect our souls and to defend our place in His kingdom of grace and glory. There will be days when it will feel almost irrational for us to continue to cling to faith in Christ and to stay true to His calling to serve God by seeking out Him and His truth and righteousness; yet, those doubts are nothing more than tools that an enemy is using to develop separation from Christ in His people, and these are times when we are called upon to turn the doubts into trust by submitting it all to Christ in prayer, meditation, and the fellowship of His body of faith. In the end, Christ’s love is so deep, so prevalent, and so all pervasive that it is never far from us, and His hands that are placed upon us in loving embrace cannot be pulled or pushed away from us.       

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Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

1 Peter 4: 12

The idea of a fiery trial does not seem pleasant in any sense. At least in my experience, being burned is very painful, and so, the thought of enduring some form of testing that comes by virtue of an activity that has the sort of intensity that fire provides sounds like something that I would prefer to skip over or avoid by almost any means that I can summon up to do so. I am aware that, except for a relatively few examples, Peter is using a metaphor here; he does not expect that he or other followers of Christ would actually be burned. What he is telling us is that there is an almost absolute certainty that we will encounter forms of opposition that are intense and that may very well harm our bodies as well as our hearts and minds. The surroundings where we live and into which Christ sends His people to serve Him are not friendly to people who bring with us the truth of the Gospel of Christ and the light of His unrelenting Word of Life.

In fact, it would be my guess that Peter might have asserted that if we are not running into some very real push back and antagonism as we go about living as people who think, speak, and act out Christ’s calling for us, then, we are not truly and fully doing that. There is no place on this earth where Christ is needed and where He is readily and completely accepted. So, those same places where the need is great and the acceptance is questionable are locations where the inhabitants are going to fight back against the presence of Christ in their midst. Satan demands denial of Christ from his people, and this denial leads to push back against the Gospel. Push back when resisted or countered by Christ’s followers can bring about more open forms of rejection that do, at times, lead to aggressive and even to violent responses. People do lose their lives over sharing the message of redemption that is found only in Jesus Christ.

Now, most of us do not face this sort of physical risk that comes to us because we are committed to proclaiming Christ in the world where we live. Still, there are risks involved in doing this. We will encounter people who do not want to hear about our faith and who will shut us down or cut us off from fellowship with them if we persist in doing this. There are places in our world where the rules attempt to bind us so that Christ is not permitted to be spoken there. These places may be connected to our employment or they might be associated with some other important aspect of daily life. In all of these situations and relationships there are ways to remain true to Christ’s calling while honoring the people and society’s rules. We must never renounce Christ or minimize His place of prominence in our own lives, but we can seek to demonstrate love, care, and compassion as Christ-like qualities that open doors to discussion of the reason for the loving care that we exhibit. We can still pray for and with others even in settings where the rules minimize our ability to do so before a gathered crowd. We can and should continue to share the truth of God’s Word as the source of our wisdom in all situations. Finally, we can be people of prayer who bring love and Christ’s acceptance to the lives of everyone that we encounter. The flames of trials may not be literal and they probably will not consume our flesh with their heat, but the opposition that we will encounter for the sake of the Gospel of Christ will be heated and delivered with the fury of Hell. Yet, Christ is with us, and He will strengthen each of us to withstand all that might come our way. 

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;

   let them ever sing for joy,

and spread your protection over them,

   that those who love your name may exult in you.

Psalm 5: 11

There is something really strange going on here. It is the sort of thing that I cannot remember ever having seen in film or encountered in a book, either. The. Author is facing some sort of dangerous adversary, and it would seem that the opponent is gaining the upper hand in the moment; yet, this same imperiled person starts singing. The song that is sung is not one of those nervous and tenuous sorts of tunes that are intended to demonstrate courage and a calm heart but actually show the exact opposite, either. This is a song of joy, peace, contentment, and even one that speaks out about victory in the current situation long before any rational person would have seen that victory was possible. This is the type of song that may not be expressed in audible fashion, for it is a song that starts and that resides deep within the singer’s heart.

A song like this is something that is formed out of the words that God implants within His people. These lyrics are the hope, joy, peace, and confidence that are shaped up out of the eternal certainty that comes from knowing God through and by being in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Yet, this sort of knowledge of God is useful and helpful not only as assurance of life beyond this world but it is also something that can be relied upon to provide strength, wisdom, and courage to face into all of the challenges, fears, and risks that come our way during the process of living out our daily lives. The song on view here is individual and personal for each of us as we engage in walking through our days with the Lord, but it is also something that we can join together with other followers of Christ in singing. Christ invites us to join in His choir of faith that is continuously formed up by all people who know Him. The words to the songs that it sings are supplied through God’s Word and are made accessible to the chorus by the presence of the Holy Spirit in its midst. God is the author of these lyrics of joyous praise, the Spirit trains and coaches the singers in their deep meaning, and Christ is the director of this heaven-focused band.

All of this would sound great, but it would be practically useless if it were not for the reality of God’s involvement in the lives of people. We may not even realize the extent or the nature of His involvement in our days, but the Lord is with each of us in the various situations and circumstances that form up the substance and the structure of each of our days. This protection and care are usually not highly apparent, for God’s hand is operating all of the time in the background of our world as He holds together the fabric of this chaos-bound environment. Still, there are times when God and His ministering angels are the only truly rational answer to what has transpired in a moment or during the process of the day. Still, hard, harsh, and painful things happen in our world. There are instances when the hand of God seems to reach out and stop the dangerous or the harmful event in its course. There are other situations wherein God’s presence brings comfort in the wake of the injury or the illness. In it all, we are always granted the hope of our assurance in Christ that there is nothing that can come our way in this world that can truly and eternally harm our souls. In all situations and through each circumstance that life tosses at us, we can join the choir of faith in singing out in exultant praise the name of the Lord who protects and whose love has saved us from all harm.   

But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Mark 8: 33

These are harsh words. These is the sort of thing that most people are very uncomfortable with saying to someone else; especially, to someone that we are close to and that we care about greatly. Yet, this was exactly what Jesus needed to say to Peter and to the rest of His close group of followers. When Jesus had stated the reality of where they were headed and of what that destination would mean for Him, they were troubled to the point of completely rejecting the idea of sacrifice. They seemed to be pleased with the miraculous healings and even with the way that Jesus managed crowds and fed their physical bodies while filling the souls with new life. They didn’t necessarily understand most of this, but they were delighted to participate in it all. But now Jesus reveals the balance of the story, and with that image of suffering and of pain came the sobering prospect of their own participation in that same self-sacrificing service to God.

Yet, that sacrifice is what was to be required of Jesus in order to overcome humanity’s sinful rebellion against God. The antagonism of the world would need to be poured out upon the perfect love that God gave to Creation in the form of the spotless lamb of glory, the Christ. By extension and by virtue of inclusion this same antagonism is something that all people who follow Christ do encounter. In conjunction with healing, deep joy, peace, and fellowship with God and with His body of faith comes pain, rejection, grief, and real loss. So, these last elements of life in Christ are things that Satan would have us join with Peter in attempting to reject. “Surely an all-loving and caring Father, God would not demand that His beloved children undergo such hardships. Either you are misunderstanding what God is requiring of you, or He is not all that great and caring a being. Regardless of which is true, God’s commandments and His direction for life and about living it are to be questioned and set aside when they disagree with personal comfort, pleasure, or happiness.” So, spoke the Serpent to Eve and Adam, and so too we hear Satan’s whispered lies in our ears.

In the light of this reality, Jesus does not sound so harsh. As I consider that the alternative to listening to Christ is following Satan’s guidance, even a verbal slap in the face from the Lord is not too much to handle. In order to truly live as a child of the Risen King, I must be willing to set aside the easy and the comfortable things of this world and follow Christ to His cross and beyond it into a life that is guaranteed to be unpopular and troubled. In so committing myself to serving Him, I am placing truth above conformity, love as greater than safety, compassion in the role of guiding principle for embracing people, and loyalty to justice as supreme to any other form of allegiance that might attempt to call my name. Jesus loved Peter and His disciples greatly, and He loves each of us with the same depth of passion and absolute commitment to caring for our hearts, minds, and souls as He did them. That is why He was so direct with them in matters such as this, and this is why the Lord is also direct with us. We must be willing to trust Christ enough to follow Him into the sacrificial living that seeking to make a difference in our world requires. We are called upon by the Lord to love when that is unpopular, to give away what we hold dearest, to speak and live out truth even as it is held in disdain by our culture, and to give up all human rights for the sake of eternal glory. These are the sorts of actions that leave Satan and his whispered lies behind and that relegate him to the dust of his destiny.      

For who is God, but the LORD?

   And ho is a rock, except our God—

the God who equipped me with strength

   and made my way blameless.

Psalm 18: 31, 32

David may have been able to claim to be blameless, but I certainly can not. There are so many misdeeds and mis adventures woven into the tapestry of my life that the story it tells is ragged and rough to the point of near ruin. From what I know about David’s life, he was by no means saintly in his conduct of life, either. The point is that we humans are a troubled and a troublesome bunch of creatures. We give God fits by the ways that we ignore His will, set aside His way of conducting life, and act in direct opposition to His Word. Still, the Lord is engaged with us, and He is involved in our lives, even in the broken and chaotic aspects of them. Even David, living so many years before Jesus, was aware of God’s desire to save us from the totality of death that separation from God brings about, for none of the claims that King David makes here are true if not for the work of the Lord in his life and upon the nature of his journey through it.

For us, Christ has continued this divine work of eternity, and He has taken it to the place where God’s plan of redemption and restoration is completely developed and is set fully into motion. We are blameless before the Father when we are in Christ, for it is His blood that was shed as the requisite sacrifice for the forgiveness of all of our sinfulness. Jesus gave all that was required by God in order to set people free from the penalty of death that we so fully deserve, and all that He gave is more than sufficient to set us in right and holy standing before God. This is how our ways have been made blameless. In knowing Christ, we are known by God to be His people, and His people are granted the gift of life now and throughout all of time to come. The reality of this gift should be life changing for us as we are removed from the rule and the authority of this world and its death-bound culture of deception, lies, and the destruction of all that is good, pure, and just.

In Christ, we are granted strength with purpose as our feet are given a place to stand upon the solid rock of God’s Word with truth as its main component and love as the glue that holds all of life together. This strength that the God grants to His people is intended to be used in service to the Lord as we seek to care for the world that He has placed us within and the people that He has put us in contact with. As we do these things, we will misstep and even think and act in ways that are unworthy of our calling as God’s people. However, we are now blameless in God’s eyes in Christ; so, we are set free from the need to remain guilty and to be defeated by these times of wandering away from God’s path. Christ accepts our repentance for what we have thought, said, and done that is contrary to His will, and He provides correction and guidance for us to continue on in the journey that He has set out for us. This is where we are called upon by Christ to put to use the various forms of strength that He has given to us. Here, in the conduct of life, we can stand unafraid and confident upon the rock that is God’s Word as Christ’s gift of strength is poured out into the world in the form of love, grace, mercy, justice, and peacemaking.   

When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.

Mark 6: 34

Sheep are remarkable animals. They can be very productive as they grow that woolen coat that can be made into clothing and many other useful items. They are also used for food, and their skins make great cold weather clothing. Sheep are smaller and so eat less than cattle and more can be kept on a parcel of land. Yet, they do need care and management. Sheep will not take care of themselves and thrive. One of the most impressive sights that can be seen in my part of the world is that twice a year migration when sheep are moved from winter pasture to higher elevation summer ones and its reversal in the fall. Then, large flocks of sheep are moved by a team of shepherds and sheep dogs, and these flocks are so large that their entire group cannot be seen at one time. Still, even in large numbers, they are not safe or secure without that human and working dog care, management, and direction.

People are similar. We may not seem to need the presence of that highly instinctual and well-trained herding dog nipping at our heels to keep us moving in the proper direction, or the skill and knowledge of the shepherd who leads us to places where good water and abundant forage are available. But, when I look at the sorts of challenges, trials, and struggles that people generate for themselves, I am not so convinced that we don’t need a little herding along the course of life. We might fight against the idea of management or control, for we are thinking and perceiving creatures and can sort out the best ways to handle whatever it is that life sends our way. However, it is my observation that people simply don’t always pick the best path, make the righteous decision, or seek to think, speak, and act in a manner that brings honor and glory to God. We need to be taught, we require correction, and we thrive when we are receiving nurture and encouragement along the way.

Christ provides all of this to His people. His Spirit takes us into the deep truths that are contained in the text of God’s Word, and He opens up our minds and our hearts to understanding the application of those words of life to the situations that we are encountering today. When we look at Mark’s account of the events that were happening in those days when Jesus was actively teaching and healing on earth, we see the Lord directly engaged with people in meeting their needs and providing care and comfort to them. This same real and tangible presence of our Lord is with us now, too. Christ gave us His Spirit, and He is at work in and with us on a continual basis. Our Great Shepherd walks through life with us, and He never fails to safeguard our souls or to feed our spirits. The Lord’s truth guides our steps and protects us from the deceptive traps that Satan attempts to set for us. As we navigate life’s journey with Jesus, we are no longer those lost sheep who are without a shepherd, for we are continually cared about and cared for by the one true and eternal shepherd, Jesus Christ, God With Us.    

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man, Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

1 Timothy 2: 5, 6

Paul has just made the statement that God wants all people to be saved; so, he states the reason and the way that this is to come about. Now the subject of salvation is one that should be of interest to virtually everyone, for we all find ourselves in situations and circumstances that bring forms of peril into our paths. Life in this world is not easy, and the journey that we are on through it is one on which things are guaranteed to get rough. This is just the way that it is in our neighborhood, and all people dwell in a place that has its issues and its challenges. Wealth, social status, nationality, and religion make no difference, for evil is everywhere and all of us are born into a life of opposition to God’s will and one wherein we will encounter strife that is poured out upon us and that is also caused by our own thoughts and actions.

No one escapes the need for being saved, and none of us are capable of doing that saving on our own. If being saved were as simple as it is sometimes depicted in adventure stories, then some of us might have a chance at effecting our escape from some of the perils that assail us in this world. But those stories are fantasy, and the conquering heroes that are depicted in them are seldom much like us. Real people have far too little strength, capability, and skill to successfully go up against evil giants and prevail without the intervention of something from beyond ourselves. All of this is even more so the reality of life when it comes to entering into the very real and ever-present struggle with spiritual forces and with the soul-deep need for rescue that we are each born into. Our birthright of separation from God demands resolution, and God has given us the gift of redemption, the One who paid the price of ransom that was required to set us free, in the person of Jesus Christ.

Although this concept is very simple in so many ways, acceptance of God’s offer is often quite hard for people to enter into. For many of us doing this requires us to step out of logic and reason and enter into the most profoundly deep and life-altering relationship that we will ever encounter on the basis of that fragile and mystical thing called faith. This is admittedly hard to do, but God makes promises to us. He is committed to be with us and to take us through life with all that it throws our way. He shows us the greater reality of life whereby the lives that we are living here and now are nothing more than a dim shadow of the ones that we will know if we choose to enter into that relationship with Christ. God desires to be with each and every one of us in an eternal home that is our dwelling place after these days are accomplished, but He also wants for us to join with Him willingly and out of our own desire to be with Him. So, we can choose Jesus Christ and be saved in this life and into all of eternity, or we can reject Christ and be separated from God’s presence for all time. God’s heart and desire is focused on the first of those outcomes.   

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