Introduction – What Are The Stakes?
Hockey or football teams face each other to ultimately win a cup, to see their names written on a trophy.
In combat sports, people fight to get the winner’s belt, the title of champion.
So before diving into big (potentially controversial!) questions on spiritual warfare, it is appropriate to ask ourselves what is at stake. Why is there a fight?
(By the way... I have not chosen a picture of a mix martial arts fighter because I like that sport. On the contrary! Already it’s hard for me to call “sport” an activity where people hit each other, let alone hit each other with one’s bare hands. It’s way too crude and raw for my taste. Personally, I should have put a picture of two fencers, all dressed in white, facing each other cleanly with protocol. But the fighter picture is like a reminder for me. I must keep in mind that spiritual warfare is often crude and raw... and whether I like it or not, I have to fight.)
I suggest that you to take a look at a few verses to find some elements of the answer.
“Guard your heart above all else,
for it determines the course of your life.” (1)
I have already quoted that short passage in two previous posts: I explain how the heart is the location of spiritual warfare, and I present an analogy where my heart is like a city. But could the heart also be the stakes of the fight?
The Stakes: The Heart?
Some years ago, when I started my personal reflexion on spiritual warfare, I made the following statement:
The heart is the stakes of the fight!
At first glance, one might be tempted to say: yes, of course! Since the heart determines the course of life, the heart is at stake to control the course of the life. However this is not quite true... It depends on whom we are talking about...
Such a declaration is true for the unbeliever, for someone who is not a child of God. Unfortunately, by nature that person is full of darkness, he or she obeys the commander of the dark powers in the unseen world, and is subject to God’s anger. (2) The Enemy wants to keep that person there, in slavery and death. But God wants to give him or her freedom and life. Hence the fight, and the stakes: his or her heart. At the end, it’s a life and death issue.
But maybe you say to yourself: “Whoa! I’m OK! I’ve always been Christian.” Or “I grew up in a Christian family: my father, my grand-father, even my great-grand-father were Christians.” Or again, “I grew up in Church. I went to Sunday School since I was a baby, I know all the Bible stories.”
The fact is that nobody is Christian by nature. Everyone needs to become Christian, and there’s only one way. At the beginning of his Gospel, the apostle John says about Jesus:
“He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.” (3)
We become children of God, by faith. “Not with a physical birth”—which means that the worth of our lineage, our ancestries, cannot make us children of God. Not “from human passion”—which means that the will or virtues of our parents cannot make us a Christian. Or not “from human plan”—which means that our own efforts, or even the rites of our Church, cannot save us. To become a child of God, one must be “born again”: he or she must accept God’s verdict on his or her life, repent, and receive for himself or herself by faith what Jesus-Christ has already done.
To us who have taken those steps of faith, the apostle Paul says that God “has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.” (4)
Hence for believers, the stakes of spiritual warfare are very different, for we cannot loose that spiritual life once we are born into it. (5)
So what is at stake now?
The Stakes: Abundant Life
“The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy.
My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” (6)
People like to quote the second part of that verse. We know it well. But that statement of Jesus answers the theft and destruction the thief seeks to spread. The Lord is making a contrast between what he offers and what the thief imposes. And though that Enemy—that thief—cannot touch the spiritual life that Jesus gives to the believer, he can prevent him or her from tasting the richness promised, the rest, the satisfaction found in Jesus.
Those are the stakes of spiritual warfare for the believer!
That perfect and wholesome life, God gave it to Adam and Eve in the beginning, at the creation of all things. Nowadays, because of sin, our hearts—those conducts that give access to that life in Jesus—are broken, damaged, soiled, corrupted, perverted… But through his Spirit, the Lord wants to repair, restore, clean, correct, purify our hearts, so we can taste the fresh and bubbling spring of life, right now and into eternity. (7)
John Eldredge identifies different means by which that process occurs: 1. discipline (meaning, being a disciple of Jesus), 2. counseling, 3. spiritual healing and 4. spiritual warfare. (8) Generally, in evangelical conservative circles, people are used to the first, and are more and more comfortable with the second and the third. But the fourth one remains a little bit foreign. So that’s what I’d like to explore during this series, so we have in hand all the tools that God gives us.
So the stakes for the believer is the abundant life in Jesus. The Lord offers it to us, but our Enemy wants to steal and destroy that fullness. Often we have to fight to have access to it.
But there is yet another dimension to spiritual warfare.
More at stake?
Next year, it will be the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. There are very few veterans who have fought that war remaining. And even if Canada participated to other wars since then (Korea in the 50’s, Persian Gulf in the 90’s, Afghanistan in the 2000’s, etc.), those more recent wars didn’t have the same global impact on society (conscription, rationing, etc.). So very few people nowadays know what war means in terms of sacrifices and hardships.
There is an interesting passage in the Book of Judges:
“These are the nations that the Lord left in the land to test those Israelites who had not experienced the wars of Canaan. He did this to teach warfare to generations of Israelites who had no experience in battle. [...] These people were left to test the Israelites—to see whether they would obey the commands the Lord had given to their ancestors through Moses.” (9)
Why did God want the Israelites to learn warfare? To test them. To see if they would obey, because war reveals one’s allegiance, and forces people to commit to a cause greater than themselves.
Spiritual warfare reveals my true allegiance...
And that reminds me of another passage: the story of David and Goliath. We know it well. A Philistine soldier, a giant, challenges Israel’s army in single combat. Everybody trembles. Nobody dares to face the big guy, until a young shepherd confidently goes forward with a sling as his only weapon. The Philistine mocks him, and curses him in the names of his gods.
“David replied to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies—the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. Today the Lord will conquer you, and I will kill you and cut off your head. And then I will give the dead bodies of your men to the birds and wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel! And everyone assembled here will know that the Lord rescues his people, but not with sword and spear. This is the Lord’s battle, and he will give you to us!’” (10)
And we know the rest…
Young David had complete confidence in the Lord. His allegiance was whole. In his mind, the issue with the Philistine’s challenge was to show who was really God. And for him, the answer was clear from the start.
And so ultimately for us, the stakes of spiritual warfare is God’s glory!
What is at stake in your fight?
Eternal life? Abundant life? Or God’s glory?
test us, and try us;
examine our hearts and our minds, (11)
and reveal our true allegiance.
you conquered death on the cross,
and you disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities:
give us to live in your victory. (12)
give us each day the strength we need
to fight the good fight of faith,
to God’s glory.
Sincerely in Jesus,
Eleazar, the Bellicose Monk
All excerpts are from The Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013).
(1) The Book of Proverbs, chapter 4, verse 23.
(2) Letter from the apostle Paul to the Ephesians, chapter 5, verse 8; and chapter 2, verses 2 and 3.
(3) The Gospel according to the apostle John, chapter 1, verses 11 to 13.
(4) The Letter from the apostle Paul to the Colossians, chapter 1, verses 13 and 14.
(5) In his first letter, the apostle John says: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life. I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.” (Chapter 5, verses 12 and 13.)
(6) The Gospel according to the apostle John, chapter 10, verse 10.
(7) The Gospel according to the apostle John, chapter 4, verse 14.
(8) The Four Streams—How Christ Heals Our Hearts, 2004. Audio book, from the book Waking the Dead (I think…).
(9) The Book of Judges, chapter 3, verses 1, 2, and 4; bold and italic added.
(10) The First book of Samuel, chapter 17, verses 45 to 47; bold and italic added.
(11) According to Psalms 26, verse 2.
(12) According to the Letter from the apostle Paul to the Colossians, chapter 2, verses 13 to 15; see also the First letter from Paul to the Corinthians, chapter 15, verse 57.