Posts Tagged With: Hebrews 12:1-2

 
 

Spiritual Warfare VII: The Shield of Faith

“In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one…” (Ephesians 6:16).

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A replica of a Roman shield. Photo by Dorieo [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

When we engage in spiritual warfare, we will usually either be responding to an attack or we will face a counter-attack by our enemy. We must be prepared to fight, but we must also be prepared to defend ourselves.

The enemy’s counter-attack may be subtle, but sometimes it will be an all-out barrage. Satan may blast us from multiple directions. In Ephesians 6:16, Paul compares the Christian to a Roman soldier who is facing a barrage of flaming arrows. A direct hit can be deadly. You need full-body protection.

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Depiction of a 3rd-century BC Macedonian soldier holding a thyreos shield. From Istanbul Archaeology Museums [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) or public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

For a Roman soldier, that protection would include a shield. The Roman shield was similar to one developed centuries earlier by the Greeks, called a thyreos, whose name was derived from the word for “door.” It was large, shaped like a door, and provided ample coverage when an enemy would launch a barrage of arrows or javelins towards them.

The Christian may not face literal arrows. The “flaming darts of the evil one” (some translations say “arrows” instead of “darts”) are not physical flying sticks with sharp pointy ends to puncture the skin. Satan’s arrows take other forms. Instead of darts and arrows, Satan and his demons may fire temptations at us. They may entice others to discourage us or drag us into depression. They may find our greatest weakness and turn it against us. Sometimes, his attacks may be constant, steady, but moderate. At other times, a period of relative peace may be interrupted by a sudden barrage of multiple attacks from diverse directions (imagine a person whose marriage breaks up within weeks of a job loss and a house fire, while struggling to overcome a drug addiction).

Spiritual warfare is ugly. Do not assume that you are too unimportant to be a target in the battle. Even the newest believer is involved in spiritual warfare. Whether Satan can rob you of your salvation or not, he will do whatever he can to keep you from bearing fruit for the kingdom. Some of his tactics, according to Matthew 13:19–22, are the following:

  • To steal the word of God from our hearts. If he can convince us to doubt God’s Word or His promises to us through Jesus Christ, Satan can keep us from following the Lord, experiencing the full blessings of the Christian life, and advancing the kingdom of God.
  • To bring persecution into our lives. If we have not produced deep roots in our faith, trials and temptations will convince us to give up. The antidote to this is to know, believe, and obey the Word of God (Matthew 7:24–27). Hearing the Word of the Lord and living by it produces the firm foundation and deep roots we need when the winds of trial and temptation blow.
  • To distract us with the cares of this world. “The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches” can choke the Word of God. If we are too busy trying to make money, to attain prestige and popularity in this world, or have fun and comfort, we may not find time to do God’s will. If we put the cares of this world first, we will not take a stand for God’s kingdom.

Faith is the shield that protects us. It is more than the gateway to salvation. It is also much more than knowledge about the Bible or correct beliefs [even the demons believe, but they tremble in fear (James 2:19)]. Faith is the spiritual power within us that continually brings us under God’s covering protection. Faith draws us to God’s Word and then nourishes itself and our souls with greater faith: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Faith equips our hearts and minds to trust God and lean on Him when life becomes difficult.

Faith looks beyond our current circumstances to see the reward of our spiritual battles. After the beloved “Hall of Faith” chapter in Hebrews 11, the biblical author writes how Jesus triumphed on the cross by looking beyond His present circumstances:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1–2).

As we walk by faith, we emulate Jesus. The heroes of the Old Testament looked forward to the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel, which Christ accomplished. Jesus looked beyond the agony and shame of the cross to “the joy that was set before Him” (which included our eternal fellowship with Him) to triumph over sin, hell, and death. We emulate Jesus as we run with endurance, looking beyond our present battle to the ultimate victory we will enjoy forever.

When Satan attacks, we can wield a shield that protects us under the assurance that we are already fighting from a position of victory. As we remain faithful to Him even in hard times, we gain a victory in spiritual warfare. It is not even a close battle. Scripture tells us that we are more than conquerors through Christ (Romans 8:37). Faith does not give us a tiny victory; it empowers us to kick the devil’s butt!

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (I John 5:4–5).

Through faith, we are triumphant. When Satan attacks, we do not run away in fear. We raise our shield of faith and continue advancing. Jesus told Peter that the gates of hell will not prevail against His body. Think about that for a second: Do you think demons are throwing gates at us? No, gates (like shields) are for hiding and protection. God’s children are called to advance His kingdom. We do not do so cowardly. We raise our shields and continue to advance. As we continue the battle, the demons flee behind their gates! However, those gates will not stand against us. We will overwhelmingly triumph over them as we march by faith and raise the sword of the Spirit in victory.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare IV: The Belt of Truth

“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…” (Ephesians 6:13–14).

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A Roman soldier’s belt, holding a dagger for battle. Photo by Elliott Sadourny [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons.

When describing the whole armor of God, Paul begins by speaking of the “belt of truth.” This seems like an odd place to begin a description of battle armor. We barely think of belts as clothing, let alone armor. In most people’s wardrobes, they are considered “accessories.” Their main purpose is to keep our pants up, although some people wear a belt as a fashion statement (if it has a decorative buckle).

However, belts are not merely for modesty or fashion. In liturgical church traditions, priests, deacons, or monks (along with people in other vocations) wear loose-fitting robes while performing their ministries. A belt or cincture (a rope tied around the waist) enables the man of God to walk comfortably, by securing the robe so that it does not hang too loosely. It is too easy to trip over the hem when wearing a liturgical robe without a belt or cincture.

As Paul describes the armor of God, he associates each spiritual virtue or weapon with a natural military piece of Roman armor. Thus, he associates “truth” with a belt. A Roman soldier’s belt not only held his clothing in place. It also held some weapons, such as a dagger, much like a Wild-West gunslinger would hold his pistol in a holster connected to his belt. In Ephesians 6, the “belt of truth” secures the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Truth and God’s Word belong together. The belt that enables us to march into battle holds the weapon that enables us to fight.

So, a belt can help a soldier to advance safely in battle. Most of the armor that Paul mentions in Ephesians 6:13–17 is primarily defensive. Some (especially the sword of the Spirit) is primarily offensive. The belt and shoes are primarily designed to allow us to advance into battle easily and safely.

The prominence of defensive features in the armor of God is significant. Our primary focus when engaging in spiritual warfare should be defensive. Some Christians, in the name of spiritual warfare, spend too much time on the offensive, seeking demons to attack. On a 1982 song entitled “Judas’ Kiss,” Christian rock band Petra included the following introduction, recorded backward (as a satiric response to preachers who claimed that all Christian rock music is satanic): “What are you looking for the devil for, when you ought to be looking for the Lord?” The message is clear; our focus should be on Jesus, not Satan:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1–2).

However, when demons attack, we should be ready to stand firm and fight. We cannot afford to be caught unprepared for battle. We must be ready to stand our ground, defend when necessary, and advance offensively when the time is right. Our goal in spiritual warfare is not merely to survive, but to overcome. As the body of Christ and army of God, we must advance the Kingdom of God and reclaim territory that Satan has usurped.

The spiritual virtue depicted by this belt is truth. Truth holds the rest of the armor in place. It enables us to stand comfortably and to advance unhindered. It holds the sword of the Spirit that enables us to fight. What is this truth?

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6).

Jesus tells us that He is the Truth. All truth finds its fulfillment in Him. The Bible itself relies on Jesus Himself to ensure its faithfulness. If we miss Jesus, we miss truth:

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39–40).

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” (Hebrews 1:1–3).

So, as we seek to put on the whole armor of God, we are clothing ourselves in the very life of Christ:

“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14).

“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).

Clothe yourself in Jesus Christ. By faith, acknowledge Him as your Lord and Savior. Commit yourself to Him, that He may live in you and guide your life. Allow His Holy Spirit to baptize and fill you, so that the life of Christ may abide within you. As you clothe yourself in Christ, you will have the foundation of the whole armor of God upon you. To stand against the world, the flesh, and the devil, you must be clothed in Christ by His Spirit.

As we come to know Jesus as the Truth, we will be eager to learn the truth as it is found in His Word:

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (John 8:31–32).

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13–14).

Jesus Christ is the truth. He is the one who girds our loins for battle. He holds and empowers the sword that enables us to fight. All of our strength is in Him. We must never make the mistake of going out to face the temptations and trials of life without His truth to hold us together.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dressed for Success

“But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37, NASB).

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1–2).

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In Chariots of Fire, Harold Abrahams (left) takes his eyes off the finish line briefly, slowing down enough to be passed by Eric Liddell (right). Christians, like runners, cannot afford to be distracted; we need to keep our eyes on the goal.

Americans love sports. Baseball, basketball, football, and hockey are big businesses. Fans watch because we find a way to connect with athletes who savor the thrill of victory. We want to feel victorious with them.

Sports can point us to spiritual truths as well. For one thing, sports can introduce us to champions who “overwhelmingly conquer (or, in the words of the King James Version, who are “more than conquerors). When we see a champion breeze to victory, we can say he is more than a conqueror. He overwhelmingly conquered. He dominated the match. He did not merely struggle to finish—he creamed the competition!

According to Romans 8:37, we should be “overwhelming conquerors.” Yet, many Christians suffer defeat in some area of their lives. Some live in financial despair, unemployed and afraid they may soon sleep on a park bench. Others are overwhelmed by fear about their health. Others worry about the stability of their  families. Still others are enchained by addictions or other sinful habits.

This is not God’s will for you. God declared that He wants you to be more than a conqueror. God did not plan for His children to wallow in defeat, looking forward to the final buzzer (so they could slip off into the locker room, relieved that the game is over). He planned for us to triumph. He equipped us to trample on the heads of our foes (Luke 10:19), not to cower in tears begging them to stop bullying us.

So, why are we in defeat? How can we escape defeat and race to victory? Again, the sports world reminds us of a lesson from Scripture.

When I was a teenager, I ran in many long-distance races. I ran expecting to bring home awards. To do so, I dressed for success. I travelled light. I would not wear blue jeans or a button-down shirt to a race. Instead, I would wear lightweight shorts and a sleeveless tee-shirt. My clothes were not designed to keep me warm. They were supposed to keep me comfortable without adding weight or hindering my range of motion. Also, I would wear racing shoes: I had a special pair of shoes set aside for races, designed to provide maximum support for my feet without adding unnecessary weight.

These are the keys to any runner’s uniform: his clothes must weigh as little as possible; they must provide protection where it is needed; and they must allow him to move freely (nothing should hinder his ability to move his limbs freely).

Some sports demand such light uniforms: Swimmers, like runners, wear very light outfits (bathing suit, goggles, and a swim cap) to compete. Other sports, like football and hockey, demand extra padding for protection, so their uniforms are heavy. Imagine an Olympic swimmer wearing a hockey uniform during a race. He would lose miserably! Hockey equipment is not designed to float: it would drop to the bottom of the pool, dragging the person wearing it along. Hockey equipment is helpful when you are being body-checked or while blocking a slap shot, but it is worthless in a pool during the 100-meter backstroke.

So, how does this relate to the Christian walk? Many Christians fail to run or swim triumphantly through life because we overburden ourselves. We carry the weight of another lifestyle and expect to live successfully as Christians. Living victoriously in Christ, while clinging to worldly values about finances, relationships, etc., is like trying to swim in a hockey uniform. You will drown!

Hebrews 12:1–2 says “[L]et us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Here we see several principles for overcoming in Christ.

First, we must lay aside every encumbrance AND the sin which so easily entangles us. Some of us do well to avoid committing the big sins. We may not violate any of the Ten Commandments. We avoid smoking and drinking. However, that is where we stop. We lay aside the sin, but we hold onto the encumbrances. We watch TV when we should be praying. We surf the Internet when we should be reading our Bibles. Even harmless entertainments can become encumbrances when they take priority in our lives.

Many worldly values encumber us. We are eager for more money so that we can buy more luxuries. Instead, Scripture instructs us to learn contentment and use whatever God gives us for His glory (1 Timothy 6:6–10). We allow society to define our needs, instead of seeking that information from God’s Word. We seek Dr. Phil’s guidance about marriage and relationships, rather than following God’s guidebook. We cannot triumph in the 100-meter backstroke if we try to play by a different sport’s rules.

Second, we must run with endurance. Victory is not easy. The 1980 US Olympic hockey team—perhaps one of the most memorable gold medalist squads in Olympic history—did not cruise easily to victory. They had to grind our victory day after day and overcome fierce competition. The Soviet team was not willing to give the USA a gold medal on a silver platter. They had to earn victory.

The apostle Paul did not write Romans 8 to armchair theologians who sat around drinking Perrier and discussing abstract ideas while growing rich off the stock market. When he wrote that “we overwhelmingly conquer,” he wrote it to people who endured trials and persecution. Few were wealthy. Some would be slaughtered for their faith. They did not overwhelmingly conquer by this world’s standards. They triumphed by the Kingdom of God’s standards.

Therefore, we must focus on our goal. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus. Also, we must keep our eyes on our goal in heaven.

In a memorable scene in the film Chariots of Fire, two sprinters, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, are racing for the first time. As they approach the finish line, Abrahams glances to see where Liddell is. At that moment, Liddell passes him and wins the race. Instead of looking to the finish line, Abrahams looked away, thereby slowing his pace, and he regretted that simple mistake.

We will not triumph spiritually if we focus on what others are doing. Neither will we triumph if we keep glancing over our shoulders at the past. We must keep our eyes on the finish line, focussing on Jesus and our reward in heaven.

Look at the battles you are losing today. You can be victorious if you play by God’s rules. Maybe you are losing because you keep fighting the wrong battles. Maybe you are losing because you keep looking back at the lifestyle God called you out of. Maybe you are losing because you carry excess emotional weight (fear, bitterness, regret). Lay down your excess weights. Tear off the heavy clothes that keep you from running as you ought. Dress for victory and claim your place on the champion’s platform.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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