MESSAGE FOR JANUARY 27, 2002

(Fourteenth in a series on Christ’s church)

 

            Over the past few months we have been looking at what the bible has to say about the church of Christ.  First, we looked at the foundational truths about the church—what is the church when you boil it down to her most basic elements?  We then turned to the character of the church—what is the church like in its essential character?  Next we examined the question of how the church is called to relate to God.  And most recently, we have looked at the biblical record of how the church is to relate to the world.   Later, we will see how we in the church are called to relate to each other but this morning we want to begin examining the question of the manner in which the church accomplishes her mission.  We saw the mission of the church is summarized in the bible through designations like the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the pillar and foundation of truth and the ambassadors of Christ.  Those designations imply WHAT the church is to do, but just as important as WHAT the church is to do is HOW the church is to accomplish her mission. 

            The aspect of how Christ’s church accomplishes its mission under investigation this morning is captured in the designation—the army of God.  How do we accomplish our mission?  One answer to that is, we accomplish it through spiritual militancy.  The church of Christ is a thoroughly militant organism.  This aspect of the church’s identity is often classed under the heading, “spiritual warfare.” The weakness of the classification, “spiritual warfare” however is that term is frequently understood to be something the individual and/or church go through only occasionally.  People will say things like, “There was a lot of warfare going on during that worship service or prayer meeting.”  By that, it is generally meant that there was a sense of spiritual opposition to whatever was happening.  No one can argue that those times are very real, but the danger of seeing spiritual warfare as an occasional occurrence can easily obscure the truth that the bible teaches that all of our lives are warfare and are to be lived militantly before God.    

            Our first point in this treatment of the church as the army of God is:  Followers of Christ are by nature a spiritually militant people.  That is, it is within our essential nature as followers of Christ to be militant.  It’s not as if we have a certain section of our lives that is the militant part.  You can’t divide the Christian life into a pie graph with one section devoted to warfare.  It’s much more like our lives are containers filled with liquid and the entire container has been tinged with a militant color.  We are called to be comprehensively militant.  Let’s look at three truths that support that.  First, we know we are by nature essentially militant because our God is a militant God.  The militancy of God is an aspect of his character that is not at all politically correct in a church that has focused so exclusively on the love of God but the Scriptures unmistakably teach that God is by nature, militant.

            The most explicit text supporting this is in the Song of Moses in Exodus chapter 15.  God has just violently and decisively destroyed the entire vaunted Egyptian army, drowning every single man in the Red Sea.  In light of this great victory, Moses writes of God in 15:3, “The LORD is a warrior; the LORD is his name.” God is a God of peace, but make no mistake, our God is also a warrior. We see this repeatedly throughout the account of the Jews’ conquest of the Promised Land.  In Deuteronomy 1:30 Moses assures the Jews, “The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt before your very eyes.”  In Deuteronomy 3:23, Moses tells Joshua, “The LORD your God himself will fight for you.”  Moses says in Deuteronomy 20:4, “For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”  The war waged against the Canaanites was a holy war.  That is, God himself had declared war against the Canaanites for their horrible sinfulness and He used the Israelite army to destroy these people but it was HIS war that HE fought through them and ultimately it was HIS victory. 

This record of God being a warrior is not limited to the conquest of Canaan.  The prophet Isaiah, 750 years later wrote in 42:13, “The Lord will go forth like a warrior, He will arouse His zeal like a man of war. He will utter a shout, yes, He will raise a war cry.  He will prevail against His enemies.”  This view of God is considered primitive and outdated by many today, but it is clearly found in Scripture.  Although we should never portray God as exclusively militant (He is far more than this), we are obligated to see His militancy as an important aspect of His character.

            More evidence of this is seen in the Psalms.  King David, the mighty man of war—the man God classifies as a man having bloody hands from killing so many enemies—this militant man says this about God in Psalm 18:34, “He [God] trains my hands for battle so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.”  David’s says it is God who is his trainer in killing on the battlefield.  God is a warrior and not only a warrior, but One who wants his children trained to be warriors.  We see this in the book of Judges.  After Joshua and those who had fought under him had died, the Jews still had a few nations to drive out and this image of God as military trainer is vividly seen in Judges 3:1-2.  The author says of these nations still unconquered by the Jews, “These are the nations the LORD left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience):  Do you hear that?  The reason God did not give Joshua complete victory over the neighboring pagans was because he wanted to train a succeeding generation to fight wars.  In the New Testament, Paul in Ephesians 6:11 tells us, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  There, God through his word is giving instructions in military preparedness to his children.  The clear message about God’s character is that God is a warrior and he wants his children to be well-trained warriors.

We must not think that this graphic picture of God as a warrior is given only in the Old Testament.  We dare not think that God’s Son, Jesus is not also a mighty warrior.  In Revelation 19, the apostle John describes Jesus at his second coming and his description is teeming with militant imagery.  He says, “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True.  With justice he judges and makes war.  His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns.  He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.  He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the word of God.  The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.  Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.  “He will rule them with an iron scepter.”  He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.  On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:  KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.”  Do you catch the pervasive militancy of this portrayal of Christ?  Granted, it’s written in symbolic, apocalyptic language, but that doesn’t remove the militancy or distort the reality of this aspect of Christ’s character.  The apocalyptic language is there to dramatically, graphically emphasize the militant nature of Christ. 

This picture is one of a Warrior King.  He is crowned and he rules as a King with an iron scepter.  He is called the “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.”  But this is not simply a King--this is a Warrior King.  We see that in the choice of his mount.  The white horse in antiquity symbolized a victorious military conqueror.  John says Christ not only judges but he “makes war.”  His robe has been dipped in blood.  That conveys that this warrior has been actively waging war and the bottom of his garment is drenched with the blood of his enemies.  As he has trampled on them in God’s wine press, their blood has soaked his robe.  He is leading the armies of heaven—Christ is the Captain of the heavenly host—the Supreme Commander of God’s angelic army.  His weapon of choice is depicted as a sword representing the lethal power of his word he uses to strike down or crush the nations into powder.  When we think about the Lord Jesus, when we think about God, do we have a place in our conception of him as a warrior King who trains his children for war?  If we don’t, then our conception of God is simply not comprehensively biblical.  Further, if God is a Warrior and we are called to be like Him and he has an agenda to train his children for war and we do not have a militant mind-set, that means we are not only being faithless in our call as warriors, but we, are also denying a well-attested attribute of God.  The first reason we know believers are by nature a militant people is because our God is by nature a militant God.

A second reason we know God’s people are by nature a militant people is because we find ourselves in a continual context of spiritual opposition.  Colossians 1:13 says, “For he [God the Father] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves” The bible presents this present life in the context of spiritually opposing forces.  There is the dominion of darkness ruled by Satan and the Kingdom over which God reigns.  These two dominions or kingdoms are opposed to one another—though Christ has ensured the ultimate victory through Calvary, there continues for the present a battle between the forces of darkness and the people of the light.  Paul says in Ephesians 6:12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Paul assumes we are in a conflict in this text.  He doesn’t say, “If you should happen to struggle.”  He assumes the reality of the struggle—the spiritual struggle is a given.  Paul’s focus is not on whether we struggle—whether we face powerful opposition—we do. He point is to reveal the identity of those we are struggling against—the “forces of evil in the heavenly realms”—Satan and his demonic horde. 

Second Corinthians 10:3-5 says, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every though to make it obedient to Christ.”  Here is yet another text saturated with militant language.  Paul indicates we are not only in a conflict, but we have been issued weapons.  Here again, God is equipping us for war.  We have been issued weapons of divine power for the purpose of demolishing demonic strongholds.  That is, we have been given the mission of spiritual demolition.  We are called to be spiritual demolition workers.  We have been issued weapons of mass spiritual destruction we are to unleash against the enemy at Christ’s directing.  The “strongholds” Paul speaks of are the spiritually fortified areas of sin and darkness in our own souls, in our church, in our culture wherever the lies of the enemy have been sown and have taken hold, being reinforced with demonic power.  We are to; at the Spirit’s leading and with the divinely powered weapons we bear, move into those fortified areas and demolish them.  We demolish them primarily with the truth of Christ’s word, by faith in that word and by God-empowered prayer that attends and directs and reinforces that word. This is a picture of unabashed, naked spiritual militancy and it is simply who we are if we are in Christ.

It’s not a question of whether we want to answer the call to arms.  The call has already been sounded and if we are believers we have at least three options.  We have either answered the call and are contending for truth, or we are living in disobedience with our rebellious lives effectively paralyzed, pinned down by enemy fire, or even worse, we are in such bondage to sin that we are prisoners of war.  That is our reality whether we know it or not.  The question is not whether we are warriors, but rather are we faithful in fighting the fight?  That’s the question we must answer.  Paul says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:3-4 “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer.”  Again we see several assumptions here by Paul that convey a thoroughly militant world-view.  First, he assumes if we are in Christ, we are soldiers.  Second, he assumes being a soldier means hardship.  Warfare in the kingdom is not some sort of virtual reality, video-arcade contest we can walk away from when our turn is over.  It’s very hard and very real and it is something we must endure.  Now, the joy of the Lord is our strength, but this is a war and it is grueling at times.  It means sleepless nights and tearful prayers and persecution and spiritual discipline, doing things we don’t feel like doing.  This is the life of a soldier in Christ.  Finally, he assumes the soldier is exclusively devoted to Christ who he calls our “commanding officer.”  There is no place for weekend warriors in Christ’s army where we serve ourselves during the week and play spiritual war-games on the weekend.  We are to be exclusively, unswervingly devoted to Christ.  We are always on active duty.  There are no reserves in Christ’s army because the war is always waging! A second reason followers of Christ are by nature militant people is because we live constantly in a context of spiritual opposition.

A final reason all followers of Christ are by nature spiritually militant people is because the only people who go to heaven are conquering spiritual warriors.  I am NOT saying that we must fight to earn our way to heaven.  We can do nothing to merit eternal life.  We go there ONLY by the forgiveness offered through Christ’s blood and through Christ’s righteousness imputed to us by God.  I am not talking about fighting in order to earn heaven.  I am saying the Bible teaches that those who are truly saved by God’s grace will not only fight against the darkness, but will, by God’s grace overcome it and God will grant those overcomers admission into glory.

We see this in every single one of the letters to the seven churches in Revelation.  In each letter, Christ promises eternal life only to the one who overcomes.  Revelation 2:7, “…To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”  Revelation 2:11, “…He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.  Revelation 2:17, “…To him who overcomes, I will gives some of the hidden manna.  I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.  Revelation 2:25, “To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations.”  Revelation 3:5, “He who overcomes will like them (the faithful few in Sardis) be dress them in white.  I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.” Revelation 3:11, “Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God.  Never again will he leave it.  I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name.  Revelation 2:21, “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.” 

That word “overcome” in the original language is the word “Nikon” or, in another form, “Nike.”  The word means victory and it implies a contest to be fought.  This is not a picture of someone who prays a prayer in his or her childhood and simply intellectually assents to Christian doctrine all their life.  This connotes a person who has been through a war and, though bearing some battle wounds, Christ has brought them through to final victory over the darkness.  This does not mean that followers of Christ will win every battle—there will be set-backs and temporary defeats, but ultimately, there will triumph through Christ.  At the end of Paul’s life in 2 Timothy 4:7, he says triumphantly to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  These are the words of someone who has overcome—someone who has fought the good fight and the fight is not only for people like Paul, it’s for all of us.  If we are not fighting it and are not conscious of the militant aspect of our faith, then we need to see if we are really in Kingdom of God because true, born-again believers are by nature spiritually militant.

A second and final point about this designation of the church as the army of God has to do with the broad principles that govern HOW we are to wage this life-long war.  The principles can be summarized by saying,  We wage this war through persevering, God-dependent humility.  We are painting with broad strokes here—this is the big picture of living as part of the army of God.  Here are two biblical principles in this area of living as an overcomer.  First, the army of God triumphs as it perseveres.  The war is not won in a single battle—it is an ongoing guerilla war with constant skirmishes requiring vigilance and occasional, large-scale assaults.  First Peter 5:8 tells us “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  He’s like the Taliban army or the Viet Cong—he might be lurking anywhere and we must be constantly sensitive to this and that vigilance must be for a lifetime.  This requires perseverance.  We can’t be militant simply when we feel like it—it’s a daily thing—day in, day out, for decades. Now, Christ is with us to constantly refuel us and encourage us and re-arm us, but it’s a life-long struggle. We know this is the way God wants us to fight this war because in Deuteronomy 7:22, Moses says this about the enemies they are about to face, “The LORD your God will drive out those nations before you, little by little.”

Spiritual conflict is the same today as then.  Victory is realized little by little—it’s for the long haul.  Hebrews 10:36 says, “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.”  Receiving the promised reward is dependent upon persevering.  The reason we must persevere is because God’s will for us is our maturity in Christ.  According to Ephesians four we are called to reach “unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”   Our goal is spiritual maturity but what is the way to maturity?  James 1:4 says, “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  It is perseverance that works maturity into us.  Its as we hang in there, being buffeted by the enemy—as we learn to resist him and put on the armor and fight the fight of faith, that we grow into maturity.  God raises oak trees, not poplars.  Oaks take a long time to grow and weather many storms, but in the end you get beautifully grained hard wood instead of something only good to be made into paper.

Second, we know that the way to overcome is through humility.  Christian militancy is not a series of macho encounters with the devil.  People who act that way are dreadfully deceived.  Humility is the way of victory and we see that in its ultimate expression in the cross of Christ.  The cross is where Jesus won the victory over Satan and the cross is the place where he “humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross.”  We should not miss the fact that the ultimate victory was achieved in the ultimate expression of humility.  Satan is filled with pride and he doesn’t have any weapons to use against humility because its as we humble ourselves and depend upon God that God fights for us and Satan can NEVER, EVER defeat God.  Humbly depending upon God is the conduit through which his overcoming power flows into our lives.  Think about the armor of God.  Putting on each assumes an attitude of humble dependency upon God.  The belt of truth—whose truth?  The breastplate of righteousness—whose righteousness?  Readiness to share the gospel—who’s gospel?  The shield of faith—faith in who?  The helmet of salvation—who’s the Author of our salvation?  The sword of the Spirit—the word of…who?

Satan is much stronger than any one of us, but as we humble ourselves and sincerely declare ourselves bankrupt to engage him and look to God, then he is no longer fighting against us alone, he is fighting against God and “if God is for us, who can be against us?”  Do we see ourselves as part of God’s army in a real, not just theoretical way?  Are we aware of the nature of the conflict that constantly presses against us?  Do we fight the good fight?  What are we doing to model this?  May God give us the grace to daily live as the army of God.

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