The World as a Battlefield
All that is in the world- the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eye and pride in possessions- is not from the Father but is from the world. (1 John 2:16)
Martin Luther spoke of a threefold battle in the Christian life. The Christian is locked in combat with the world, the flesh, and the devil. These are formidable opponents. In living to please a righteous God, we do constant battle with these enemies. Part of the process of sanctification is fighting with and- if we are truly growing- frequently triumphing over these foes. Every sensitive believer knows only too well how difficult it can be to win such a victory.
The world spirit- the value systems of a fallen creation- may be distinguished from the flesh and the devil but not separated from them. The flesh is part of the fallen world and the devil is the prince of this world.
We live in this world. We are part of the world. We are to a certain degree products of this world. And the world is our battlefield. Wherever we live and move in this world, we are still engaged in combat. There is no demilitarized zone. The whole planet is fallen. The whole creation groans in travail waiting for redemption. We live n a world injured by tooth, claw, and fang. We look forward to a new world where the wolf will lie down with the lamb and the child will play safely by the nest of the rattlesnake. But right now we do not invite wolves to act as shepherds of our sheep.
The secular spirits of this world has its own modern trends and emphasis, but its essence is not new. Every generation has its own form of secularism. We are earthbound creatures.
The same was true in Jesus’ day. He repeatedly called His disciples to look beyond the present. He lifted our gaze to the eternal. “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven”(Matthew 6:20); “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”(Matthew 16:26)
The paradox of Christianity is recognizing that though we are in the world, we are not of the world. Just like unbelievers, we face many of the same situations. The idea that as believers we somehow escape the troubles and challenges of life while in this world is not a biblical teaching. Rather it is the opposite. Jesus never sugar coated the Christian life.
In His parable of two builders, He clearly taught that both houses that were built went through a storm. Upon both the rain and floods came. One survived the storm and the other fell and Jesus said, “great was its fall.”
Jesus further told the disciples and us that “ in this world you will have tribulations.” Therefore, we should not “think it strange, James says, when “we suffer fiery trials.”
The Jews created a philosophy that inferred that if someone was suffering, having problems and going through difficult times it must be due to their sins for which they were being punished by God. Amazingly, we brought that teaching into the Christian thought. It’s easy to attribute the cause of tribulation to our sins and God’s justice. This is the natural worldly thinking which forgets the picture of conflict between believers and the world and the devil.
Jesus was clear that the devil “comes to steal, kill, and destroy.” He was equally clear that He had come “that we might have life and have it more abundantly.”
What Christ was teaching the disciples is to consider life in the eternal view rather than the short view of life on earth. It is only when we view life in that way can we cope with the conflict and troubles of this present day.
24 “So everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, will be like a wise man [a far-sighted, practical, and sensible man] who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods and torrents came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not do them, will be like a foolish (stupid) man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods and torrents came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great and complete was its fall.”
Did you notice Jesus’ words? The only difference between the two houses was their foundation. Both went through great storms but the house that survived was anchored upon the rock which Jesus describes as: “So everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts upon them…” Our anchor in the storm is the presence of Christ in our hearts and His word written upon our souls. Our facing the storm in peace comes from the trust in the promises of our Lord. While the storm may be scary and we may be victims of fear, we rest not in our strength but in the keeping power of God. Like the sheep, we huddle around the Shepherd, knowing that He will lead us to safety.
33 I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace. In the world you have tribulation and distress and suffering, but be courageous [be confident, be undaunted, be filled with joy]; I have overcome the world.” [My conquest is accomplished, My victory abiding.]
Here then is our confidence. It is not us that can somehow survive the storm through our own wisdom or strength, but we are kept in the storm by His mighty power that has overcome the world. When Christ went to the cross, He broke the power of sin and Satan once and forever and He redeemed us (bought us from) and He brought us into Himself and made us one with Him so that His victory became ours.
“Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors and gain an overwhelming victory through Him who loved us [so much that He died for us]. For I am convinced [and continue to be convinced—beyond any doubt] that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present and threatening, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the [unlimited] love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Paul echoes these words in the letter to the Romans. And he gives us reason for this confidence not of survival but victory. He tells us that we obtain victory over the world “through Him that loved us so much that He died for us.” He further says that nothing has the power to separate us from the love of God. Double wow! Whatever God allows us to go through, He never allows us to go through it by ourselves. He never abandons us in the trial. Though we sometimes may feel alone and Satan may attempt to persuade us that we have been abandoned by God and we ourselves may wonder why God would still love and stay with someone like us especially when we have sinned, the fact is that God is only a prayer away. If for some reason you feel distanced from God, whisper His name. Nothing elaborate, just His name. That all a child has to do, is whisper their parent’s name. And if we who are imperfect will respond to that child, will not our perfect Father do the same? So go ahead whisper His name, just say the name, speak the name out loud, Jesus. No matter how loud the storm rages, He hears your whisper.
“Consider it nothing but joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you fall into various trials. Be assured that the testing of your faith [through experience] produces endurance [leading to spiritual maturity, and inner peace]. And let endurance have its perfect result and do a thorough work, so that you may be perfect and completely developed [in your faith], lacking in nothing. Blessed [happy, spiritually prosperous, favored by God] is the man who is steadfast under trial and perseveres when tempted; for when he has passed the test and been approved, he will receive the [victor’s] crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. So wait patiently, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits [expectantly] for the precious harvest from the land, being patient about it, until it receives the early and late rains. You too, be patient; strengthen your hearts [keep them energized and firmly committed to God], because the coming of the Lord is near. You know we call those blessed [happy, spiritually prosperous, favored by God] who were steadfast and endured [difficult circumstances]. You have heard of the patient endurance of Job and you have seen the Lord’s outcome [how He richly blessed Job]. The Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.
Since God wishes us to understand that He will use every happening in our lives for our ultimate good which means there are no random coincidences in our lives; the Holy Spirit moves James to provide us the purpose of trials. James says that we are to “count it nothing but joy when we fall into various trials.” He is not suggesting that we have joy in the trial itself but in the outcome of the trial and the impact the trial has upon developing our character as Christians. He tells us that every trial God permits is to produce endurance that leads to maturity and peace so that we lack nothing in our faith. He tells us the secret of this endurance is the patient waiting until the seed of faith comes up and at some point, either in this world or the world to come, God will richly reward us for our patient endurance. What James is suggesting is that whatever trial you are going through, trust in the knowledge that God permits nothing that does not in His plan and will produce greater blessing and more victory in your spiritual journey. So we rest in our trust in God as Proverbs teaches us rather than in our understanding or lack thereof.
For I consider [from the standpoint of faith] that the sufferings of the present life are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is about to be revealed to us and in us! For [even the whole] creation [all nature] waits eagerly for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration and futility, not willingly [because of some intentional fault on its part], but by the will of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will also be freed from its bondage to decay [and gain entrance] into the glorious freedom of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been moaning together as in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only this, but we too, who have the first fruits of the Spirit [a joyful indication of the blessings to come], even we groan inwardly, as we wait eagerly for [the sign of] our adoption as sons—the redemption and transformation of our body [at the resurrection].
Paul sums all this up for us by reminding us that in comparison to the glory that waits us these present sufferings pale in comparison. I’ve discovered that a small splinter, especially if it’s treated wood, can cause great pain. In comparison to the whole of my body and the size of the lumber it’s really small, but it sure makes itself known. After suffering a while, I’ll dig it out and almost instantly I find relief. This is what Paul is saying to us. He’s not suggesting that our suffering is minimal and we in this world should shrug it off as though it were nothing. I promise you that the splinter doesn’t feel like nothing. It may be small but it is powerful as long as it is inflicting pain. So it is with the trials we face. They have powerful abilities to produce intense pain. What Paul is saying to us is that one day all these sufferings, trials and troubles will cease and when we stand in the glory the presence of Jesus, they will fade away as though they were nothing. Like the splinter removed, the relief we feel will overwhelm the pain we felt. Until then, we and all of creation groans and travails for freedom from this bondage of the flesh and the redemption and restoration of creation and the transformation of theses bodies that have suffered the effects of sin into the glorified bodies that will never know the power and destruction of sin.
So in our storm we wait and we watch for we know that He is coming, walking in the storm but over the waves and He is coming because He heard us whisper His name. He comes to rescue us, to deliver us and to restore us. So then let us hope, let us trust and let us wait in faith while the storm rages in the security of the Rock upon which we have built our lives.
Dr. John Thompson