THE FIGHT OF FAITH:
Christian Soldiers in Spiritual Conflict
Dr Alan C. Clifford
O HEAVENLY Father, the Father of all wisdom, understanding and true strength, we beseech Thee look mercifully upon Thy servants, and send Thy Holy Spirit into our hearts, that when we must join to fight in the field for the glory of Thy Holy Name, we being strengthened with the defence of Thy right hand, may manfully stand in the confession of Thy faith and of Thy truth, and continue in the same unto the end of our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Nicholas Ridley, bishop and martyr, 1555.
Norwich Reformed Church
THE FIGHT OF FAITH
Christian Soldiers in Spiritual Conflict
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul expounds the Christian Faith. We learn the great truths of salvation—the redeeming work of the glorious triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Chapter 1). We also learn that because of our sin, we are powerless to save ourselves unless God exerts the power of His grace (chapter 2). Having established our minds and hearts in the truth and experience of the Gospel, Paul then directs how we should live in relation to others in (1) wider society, (2) the fellowship of the church and (3) within our families (chapters 3-6: 9).
Paul then concludes by defining our spiritual attitude. How are we to live the Christian life? By realising first that we are in a spiritual battle day by day! The reality of sin determines what our attitude should be. But for sin, we could simply live in constant happiness, surrounded by God’s good gifts. All would be light and joy, peace and plenty. However, Satan and sin spoiled all this. Sin brought darkness and death, curse and confusion.
While the Lord Jesus Christ has won the victory of salvation for us, not all the benefits come at once. He has dealt with the guilt, power and consequences of sin by His death and resurrection. However, while we are God’s pardoned children by faith in Christ, we must battle against our fallen nature until death and glory. Only then do we finally enter into the perfect peace of heaven, the full triumph of faith occurring at our resurrections when Christ returns.
Hence Paul compares the Christian life to military service in which there is neither leave nor holidays! Employing the vivid imagery of a Roman soldier, Paul explains how we may serve victoriously in our spiritual warfare under the general command of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. OUR STRENGTH
‘Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might’ (v. 10).
Paul speaks not as a church official but as a ‘brother’. He too is a warrior involved in the battle with us. He speaks as one who has learned by hard experience that human power is no match for our spiritual foes. We need strength, not in ourselves but ‘in the Lord’. Self-confidence is out of place whatever talents and energies we might possess. Without God’s power, the greatest genius is no match for Satan! Trusting in the Lord means trusting ‘in the power of his might’. Such power, being His, is not at our command like a computer-controlled missile. We must prayerfully ask in faith, assured that every resource is available to those who ‘trust and obey’.
2. OUR PROTECTION
‘Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil’ (v. 11).
As salvation is a ‘gift’ of God’s grace, so the armour to live is God-given too. We are not left to our own devices and abilities. Thus we need ‘the whole armour of God’. As salvation is not a ‘joint effort’, neither is our defence. It is all of God. Trusting our own ideas is like fighting with water-pistols and wooden swords! So we need the ‘whole’ armour of God. Only then will we be able to stand against the devil’s ‘wiles’ or ‘methods’. He uses ambushes as well as frontal assaults. God-given protection is alone adequate for the battle. Otherwise we are not ‘able to stand’. Wearing God’s entire provision means we are ready for every test and trial in life’s battles.
3. OUR ENEMY
‘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’ (v. 12).
Clearly, our enemy is the devil. Paul now clarifies an important truth. When other people cause us pain and distress, we must look beyond the human person. They are merely being used by the devil to attack us. Thus, as the Lord Jesus teaches us, we must pray for our human enemies (see Matt. 5: 44) rather than punch them! This does not deny the validity of civil defence, nor does it question State military action (see Romans 13). That said, our real quarrel is with him and his demonic agents, not ‘flesh and blood’. Our warfare is therefore primarily spiritual not physical. Our chief enemy is the devil (who cleverly persuades his victims to deny his very existence!), a foe not to be ignored, as John Calvin reminds us:
[Paul] puts before us a formidable enemy, not to overwhelm us with fear, but to sharpen our diligence and earnestness. For there is a middle course to be observed. When the enemy is neglected, he does his utmost to oppress us with sloth, and afterwards discourages us by terror; so that, before we have been touched, we are vanquished. By speaking of the power of the enemy, Paul labours to keep us more zealous.
So, even though we may answer the false accusations of others (see 1 Pet. 3: 15), we must do so meekly and with love. We should remember that all ignorance of God and unbelief result from the wicked activities of satanic powers in the spiritual realm. Hence we must ‘wrestle’ against them with prayer and the spiritual weapons of the Gospel (see 2 Cor. 10: 4-5). Paul lists our ‘equipment’ in vs. 14-18.
4. OUR DUTY
‘Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand’ (v. 13).
Paul (says Calvin) does not infer that we must throw away our spears because our enemy is so powerful, but that we must pluck up our spirit for the battle. In fact, the exhortation contains a promise of victory. For, by saying ‘that you may be able’, he implies that we shall certainly stand, if we only put on the whole armour of God, and fight valiantly to the end… He rouses them from security, that they might prepare themselves for hard, troublesome and dangerous conflicts and, at the same time, animates them with the hope of victory; for amidst the greatest dangers they will win through… He extends this confidence to the whole course of life. There will be no danger where the power of God will not prevail; nor will any who are so armed to fight against Satan, fail in mid-course.
While God saves us sovereignly, our responsibility is not forgotten. Likewise, God provides the armour and we must ‘take it up’ and ‘put it on’ (see v. 11 again). We must therefore ‘do something’, not in panic but with prayer. Protected by God’s grace we are thus ‘enabled’ to ‘fight the good fight’ (2 Tim. 4:7). At the end of each daily or hourly battle we will still be ‘on our feet’ as the forgiven and fortified warriors of our loving Lord!
Dr Alan C. Clifford