The Good Fight

“Let us settle it in our minds that the Christian fight is a good fight—really good, truly good, emphatically good. We see only part of it yet. We see the struggle, but not the end; we see the campaign, but not the reward; we see the cross, but not the crown. We see a few humble, broken spirited, penitent, praying people; . . .but not the face of God smiling on them, the kingdom of glory prepared for them . . . there are more good things about the Christian warfare that we see.” – J. C. Ryle (Holiness [Hertfordshire, England: Evangelical Press, 1989], p62)

The Great Battle – by J. C. Ryle

All men ought to love peace. War is an immense evil, though it is a necessary evil sometimes. Battles are bloody and distressing events, though sometimes nations cannot maintain their rights without them. But all men ought to love peace. All ought to pray for a quiet life.

All this is very true, and yet there is one war which it is a positive duty to carry on; there is one battle which we ought to be always fighting. The battle I speak of is the battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. With these enemies we never ought to be at peace; from this warfare no man ought ever to seek to be discharged, while he is alive.

Reader, give me your attention for a few minutes, and I will tell you something about the great battle.

Every professing Christian is the soldier of Christ. He is bound by his baptism to fight Christ’s battle against sin, the world, and the devil. The man that does not do this, breaks his vow–he is a spiritual defaulter; he does not fulfill the engagement made for him. The man that does not do this, is practically renouncing his Christianity. The very fact that he belongs to a Church, attends a Christian place of worship, and calls himself a Christian, is a public declaration that he desires to be reckoned a soldier of Jesus Christ.

Armor is provided for the professing Christian, if he will only use it. “Take unto you,” says Paul to the Ephesians, “the whole armor of God.” “Stand, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breast-plate of righteousness.” “Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” “Above all, take the shield of faith” (Ephes. vi. 13-17). And not least, the professing Christian has the best of leaders, —Jesus the Captain of salvation, through whom he may be more than conqueror; the best of provisions—the bread and water of life; and the best of pay promised to him—an eternal weight of glory.

All these are ancient things. I will not be drawn off to dwell on them now.

The one point I want to impress on your soul just now is this—that if you want to be saved, you must not only be a soldier, but a victorious soldier. You must not only profess to fight on Christ’s side against sin, the world, and the devil, but you must actually fight and overcome.

Now this is one grand distinguishing mark of true Christians. Other men perhaps like to be numbered in the ranks of Christ’s army; other men may have lazy wishes, and languid desires after the crown of glory–but it is the true Christian alone, who does the work of a soldier. He alone fairly meets the enemies of his soul, really fights with them, and in that fight overcomes them.

Reader, one great lesson I wish you to learn this day is this—that if you would prove you are born again and going to heaven, you must be a victorious soldier of Christ. If you would make it clear that you have any title to Christ’s precious promises, you must fight the good fight in Christ’s cause, and in that fight you must conquer.

Victory is the only satisfactory evidence that you have a saving religion. You like good sermons, perhaps; you respect the Bible, and read it occasionally; you say your prayers night and morning; you have family prayers, and give to religious societies. I thank God for this–it is all very good. But how goes the battle? How does the great conflict go on all this time? Are you overcoming the love of the world and the fear of man? Are you overcoming the passions, tempers, and lusts of your own heart? Are you resisting the devil, and making him flee from you? How is it in this matter? My dear brother or sister, you must either rule or serve sin, and the devil, and the world. There is no middle course. You must either conquer or be lost.

I know well it is a hard battle that you have to fight, and I want you to know it too. You must fight the good fight of faith, and endure hardships, if you would lay hold of eternal life; you must make up your mind to a daily struggle, if you would reach heaven. There may be shortcuts to heaven invented by man; but ancient Christianity—the good old way—is the way of the cross–the way of conflict. Sin, the world, and the devil must be actually mortified, resisted, and overcome.

This is the road that saints of old have trodden in, and left their record on high.

When Moses refused the pleasures of sin in Egypt, and chose affliction with the people of God—this was overcoming: he overcame the love of pleasure.

When Micaiah refused to prophesy smooth things to king Ahab, though he knew he would be persecuted if he spoke the truth—this was overcoming: he overcame the love of ease.

When Daniel refused to give up praying, though he knew the den of lions was prepared for him—this was overcoming: he overcame the fear of death.

When Matthew rose from the receipt of custom at our Lord’s bidding, left all and followed Him—this was overcoming: he overcame the love of money.

When Peter and John stood up boldly before the Council and said, “We cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard”—this was overcoming: they overcame the fear of man.

When Saul the Pharisee gave up all his prospects of preferment among the Jews, and preached that Jesus whom he had once persecuted—this was overcoming: he overcame the love of man’s praise.

Reader, the same kind of thing which these men did you must also do, if you would be saved. They were men of like passions with yourself, and yet they overcame; they had as many trials as any you can possibly have, and yet they overcame. They fought, they wrestled, they struggled: you must do the same.

What was the secret of their victory? Their faith! They believed on Jesus, and believing were made strong. They believed on Jesus, and believing were held up. In all their battles they kept their eyes on Jesus, and He never left them or forsook them. They overcame by the blood of the Lamb, and the word of His testimony, and so may you.

Reader, I set these truths before you: I ask you to lay them to heart. Resolve, by the grace of God, to be an OVERCOMING Christian.

I do fear much for many professing Christians: I see no sign of fighting in them, much less of victory; they never strike one stroke on the side of Christ. They are at peace with His enemies: they have no quarrel with sin. Reader, I warn you–that this is not Christianity; this is not the way to heaven.

Men and women who hear the Gospel regularly, I often fear much for you. I fear lest you become so familiar with the sounds of its doctrines, that insensibly you become dead to its power. I fear lest your religion should sink down into a little vague talk about your own weakness and corruption, and a few sentimental expressions about Christ, while real practical fighting on Christ’s side is altogether neglected. Oh, beware of this state of mind! “Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only.” No victory—no crown! Fight and overcome!

Young men and women, and especially those who have been brought up in religious families, I fear much for you. I fear lest you get a habit of giving way to every temptation. I fear lest you be afraid of saying “No!” to the world and the devil—and when sinners entice you, think it least trouble to consent. Beware, I do beseech you, of giving way. Every concession will make you weaker. Go into the world resolved to fight Christ’s battle—and fight your way on.

Believers in the Lord Jesus, of every Church and rank in life, I feel much for you. I know your course is hard: I know it is a sore battle you have to fight; I know you are often tempted to say, “It is of no use, and to lay down your arms altogether.”

Cheer up, dear brethren and sisters: take comfort, I entreat you; look at the bright side of your position. Be encouraged to fight on: the time is short, the Lord is at hand, the night is far spent. Millions as weak as you have fought the same fight; not one of all those millions has been finally led captive by Satan. Mighty are your enemies—but the Captain of your salvation is mightier still–His arm, His grace, and His Spirit shall hold you up! Cheer up! be not cast down.

What though you lose a battle or two? You shall not lose all. What though you faint sometimes? You shall not be quite cast down. What though you fall seven times? You shall not be destroyed. Watch against sin–and sin shall not have dominion over you. Resist the devil–and he shall flee from you. Come out boldly from the world–and the world shall be obliged to let you go. You shall find yourselves in the end more than conquerors: you shall overcome.

Reader, let me draw from the whole subject a few words of application, and then I have done.

For one thing, let me warn all formalists and self-righteous people–to take heed that they are not deceived. You imagine that you will go to heaven because you go regularly to church; you indulge an expectation of eternal life, because you are always at the Lord’s table, and are never missing in your pew. But where is your repentance? Where is your faith? Where are your evidences of a new heart? Where is the work of the Spirit? Where are the proofs that you are fighting the great battle? Oh, formal Christian, consider these questions! Tremble! Tremble, and repent!

For another thing, let me warn all careless members of Churches to beware lest they trifle their souls into hell. You live on year after year as if there was no battle to be fought with sin, the world, and the devil; you pass through life a smiling, laughing, gentleman-like or ladylike person, and behave as if there was no devil, no heaven, and no hell. Oh, careless Churchman, or careless Dissenter, careless Episcopalian, careless Presbyterian, careless Independent, careless Baptist, awake and see eternal realities in their true light! Awake, and put on the armor of God! Awake, and fight hard for life! Tremble! Tremble, and repent!

Reader, the great battle must be fought by all who want to be saved. And more than this, it must be won!

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Timing is Everything

Back in November 2010, The U.N. General Assembly unanimously signed a Resolution declaring the first week of February as ‘World Interfaith Harmony Week’. I learned of this magnificent proclamation of peace and goodwill just yesterday when I received notice from another blog I frequent that contained the following advertisement for ‘Harmony’:

Aside from all of the implications of this small add, in terms of crass ‘religious’ commercialism and gravely serious spiritual implications, the timing just might be perfect for the introduction of ‘Interfaith’ prayer beads, made of ‘olive wood from the Holy Land’, and ‘specially’ designed for ‘all faiths’.

After all, the exclusivity of Christ as the only way to God has taken serious hits of late, to include a ‘spirit’ of inclusivism within both Catholicism and certain circles of Protestantism. Significant ‘icons’ of Protestant evangelicalism have even refused to stand on the plain words of Christ (John 14:6) against the backdrop of Old Testament prophecy and New Testament fulfillment, when pinned down by Larry King on nationwide television.

It will be interesting to watch further ‘developments’.

Perhaps the real question is “What would Jesus think?” or maybe “What would Jesus really do?”, as opposed to what is being promoted behind the scenes by the archenemy of God and the enemy of the souls of men.

On a more positive note (if there is one), if they become popular doors will be blown wide open for opportunities to share the truth in love – the true gospel of Jesus Christ.

Dear Christian, are you up for the challenge? Am I?

"What are we to do about it?"

All religions can be examined in light of scripture, can they not?  The ‘acid’ test is almost always the gospel of Jesus Christ; how are men saved, by faith alone or by faith plus works. ‘Faith plus works’ (all religions except Christianity, and some ‘called’ Christian) is a sure sign of a false religion or apostate Christianity.

Yes, there are subtle forms of false teaching and clever ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing out there’ when all the right words are used and things seem on the up and up, and error is more difficult to spot. However when the clear light of scripture reveals an unbiblical gospel message concerning hoe God saves men, the matter should be closed, leaving the question, “What are we to do about it?”

When a loved one, friend, acquaintance (someone in our area of influence) is following what is false, with eternal consequences looming, we are to lovingly, compassionately, communicate what is true and what is false, with Bible in hand (opinions don’t count), and with much prayer. There are times when the most loving and compassionate thing we can do is issue a strong warning/apostasy alert.

At times, when the one with whom we are dealing resists scriptural truth to the “leave me alone” point, we need to stop talking but continue to pray fervently; for our friend/loved one, and our ‘delivery’.

Then there are the times when we need to shake the dust from our feet and move on, a decision point also needing prayer cover. It is not always easy and often is painful to make that decision.

Remember, scripture – the Bible –  is the standard, the measuring rod, the lamp of truth under which everything must be examined. That means everything!

“Strive to Enter in at the Strait Gate”

From A Sermon by Charles Hodge
[at the College of New Jersey, May 14th, 1856]

There are two modes of representation which run through the Bible, apparently at variance with each other. According to the one, the plan of salvation is represented as simple. Believe and be saved, touch and be healed, look and be made whole.

According to the other, salvation is represented to be very difficult. We must strive to enter in at the straight gate. We must work out our salvation. We must run as in a race where the prize is our life. We must fight the good fight. Many who seek shall not enter in. Even the righteous are scarcely saved.

Both these modes of representation are of course correct. They refer to different things. The former relates to the meritorious and efficient cause of salvation. We have not to work out a righteousness of our own, nor are we to attempt the work of regeneration or sanctification in our own strength. The whole work of meriting salvation has been done for us. We have nothing to do but to accept the righteousness which is offered to us, to trust in what Christ has done.

So, too, with regard to sanctification. It is the work of God. We are renewed by the Spirit after His image. It is not a natural process carried on by natural laws, but by the power of God, attending the use of the appropriate and appointed means. In one sense we are the passive recipients of salvation. On the other hand, however, the difficulty of bringing our hearts to a simple, constant and entire reliance on Christ, and the difficulty of avoiding the grieving and resisting the Holy Ghost, is unspeakably great. So that it is hard to be saved.

The Bible says expressly that no drunkard, or unclean person, or covetous man, no one who loves the creature more than the Creator, no one that is carnally-minded, no one who is not converted and made as a little child, can enter the kingdom of God. To these and other forms of destructive evil we are impelled,

  1. By the corruption of our own nature.
  2. By the allurements of the world.
  3. By the influence of evil companions.
  4. By the temptations of Satan.

These are formidable enemies, not to be overcome without effort.

Therefore,

  1. Lay it to heart that salvation is a difficult work. You cannot float to heaven.
  2. That a constant use of the means of grace, of secret and social prayer, of public worship, the reading of the Scriptures, and the use of the sacraments is absolutely necessary.
  3. That constant watchfulness against sin, avoiding temptation, company, associating with the people of God, are all necessary.
  4. That constant effort to advance in piety is the only way to avoid declining, and declension leads to apostasy.
  5. That with all these means should be united a constant sense of danger and constant dependence.
  6. At the same time, the spirit of the gospel is not a fearful desponding spirit, but a spirit of filial confidence and joy. The great thing is to remember that safety is only to be found in a lively and growing state of piety in the heart.

Satan’s Gambit

In the world of chess, a gambit is a chess opening in which the first player risks or sacrifices material, usually a pawn, with the hope of achieving a resulting advantageous position. One article I found that contained a list of twenty opening gambits, including one colorfully named the Fried Liver Attack. Not included in the list was Satan’s Gambit.   Perhaps that’s because in the world of chess there isn’t an opening gambit with that name – at least I didn’t find one.

So what do I mean by Satan’s Gambit, and to what game does it apply? I’m glad you asked those questions – we’ll address them in reverse order.

Satan’s Gambit is not about a game, but about our Christian faith, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6;12), and Satan is the enemy’s CINC (Commande in Chief).  In the art of spiritual warfare, Satan’s opening gambit has always been to attack the authority of inspired Scripture, since the days of the New Testament church. The Apostle Paul specifically addressed ‘other gospels’ that had corrupted the pure Gospel of Christ.

The latest form of Satan’s Gambit would probably reside in the philosophy of the Emergent church, and the leaders of the ‘conversation’ whose passion for the uncertainty of scripture has been heard from their own lips and thoroughly documented, as have strong connections to the ‘contemplative prayer movement’ . As novel and appealing as their ideas might be, they lack a truly original thought.  The Emperor of Uncertainty has new clothes but he’s still running around naked.  Dr. John MacArthur had this to say in an insightful interview with Phil Johnson:

The bottom line, I think, in the movement is that it is a denial of the clarity of Scripture. It is a denial that we can know what the Bible really says. And as I said, it’s amorphous because there’s a mish-mash of approaches to this and a mish-mash of styles and things like that. But they have embraced this mystery as if it’s true spirituality. And so, it becomes celebration of mystery, a celebration of ignorance, a celebration that we can’t really know. I think it’s just another form of liberalism. I think it’s just another form of denying the clarity of Scripture. And I think there’s a motive behind it…it’s just another philosophy.

Post-modernism is another bad philosophy. Modernism was a bad philosophy. Post-modernism is another bad philosophy. But in both cases, they assault the Scripture. Modernism made reason, human reason, the king. Reason was supreme in modernism. Thomas Payne, The Age of Reason, The Enlightenment, all of those things, the Renaissance. Out of that came the worship of the human mind and the mind trumps God. Now mystery trumps the Bible. The human mind trumps the Bible in modernism, mystery trumps the Bible in post-modernism. It is at the foundation an unwillingness to accept the clear teaching of Scripture. (Online source) (Emphasis mine.)

However dangerous to the church the Emergent movement might be, there is a deceptive variant of Satan’s Gambit that is far more dangerous to the spiritual growth of the individual believer. Rather than openly doubting the authority of scripture, this version of the gambit is far more subtle. While seeming to allow for adherence to biblical doctrine, the variant assigns more importance to personal insights and feelings about scripture than the clear teaching of scripture itself. There is even an online university that advertises a book ‘Hearing God’s Voice – Guaranteed!’. The book teaches that the best way to hear God’s voice is through our ‘spontaneous thoughts, feelings and insights’. To test the validity of these ‘journaled’ spontaneous thoughts, they are given to three others who ‘discern’ whether or not it was God speaking.

I am not saying that God doesn’t ever speak, or isn’t involved in our thoughts and emotions. The test of their validity,however, should be the light of Scripture, not the ‘third party’ discernment described above. What we have here is a form of mysticism that teaches the gullible how to be false prophets to themselves! The authority and light of Scripture is supplanted by subjective internal feelings and experiences. Sound rather ridiculous? It should!

You might be asking “How do sincere believers fall for this kind of false teaching?”  Well, there are probably several ways, but I know of a perfect ‘training ground’ that the enemy uses to slide the gullible (usually believers young in their faith) right into it! I speak from experience because I’ve been there and back. What I am referring to is popular What Does this Verse Mean “to ME”? form of Bible study.

This highly subjective approach to scripture lets the individual interpret the text by what he/she ‘feels’  God is saying. When this is the accepted/preferred form of studying the Bible, all sorts of ‘wonderful insights’ are obtained and self-congratulation abounds, accompanied by considerable fawning over everyone else’s ‘insights’. I remember many such Bible studies in which no one was really growing in grace and discipleship, but we sure felt good about ourselves! Can you see the progression here?

  • Reading the Bible but spending more time discussing how one ‘feels’ about the text instead of inductive study to learn what it says in context and applying it.
  • Progressing to a deeper level of ‘hearing’ God’s voice and receiving ‘personal words’ of prophesy for one’s self and others, outside of scripture.
  • Doubting the very certainty of the truth of scripture and embracing forms of mysticism as the best or only way to really hear God.

While there may be other, smaller steps from innocent appearing Christian fellowship to complete apostasy, these three can almost always be observed in the process and all three attack the certainty and authority of scripture, almost invisibly at first, but sometimes resulting in embracing the heretical.

So there you have what I call Satan’s Gambit. Similar to a well played game of chess, there is an initial move that is not necessarily harmful, but that can escalate and end in disaster. Experienced chess players study various opening gambits and how to counter the advance of the enemy. How much more crucial it is for believers to be able to recognize the enemy of our souls and counter his subtle attacks!

Something worth fighting for. . .

Excerpted from John MacArthur’s book, The Truth War:

Much of the visible church nowadays seems to think Christians are to be at play rather than at war. The idea of actually fighting for truth is the furthest thing from most churchgoers’ thoughts. Contemporary Christians are determined to get the world to like them – and of course in the process they also want to have as much fun as possible. They are so obsessed with making the church seem “cool” to unbelievers that they can’t be bothered with questions about whether another person’s doctrine is sound or not. In a climate like that, the thought of even identifying someone else’s teaching as false (much less “contending earnestly” for the faith) is a distasteful and dangerously countercultural suggestion. Christians have bought into the notion that nothing is more “uncool” in the world’s eyes that when someone shows a sincere concern about the danger of heresy. After all, the world simply doesn’t take spiritual truth that seriously, so they cannot fathom why anyone would.

But Christians of all people, ought to be most willing to live and die for the truth. Remember, we know the truth, and the truth has set us free (John 8:32). We should not be ashamed to say so boldly (Psalm 107:2). And if called upon to sacrifice forthe truth’s sake, we need to be willing to be willing and prepared to give our lives.”

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” – The Apostle Paul (Romans 1:16)

How many Christians do you know who don’t talk about God much, in the workplace, at school or college, in a recreational setting, etc.? I know quite a few, not just in a ‘mixed’ public setting, but even amongst themselves in any of those settings!  I know a lot who come to church on Sunday morning and talk about everything BUT God, in the sanctuary, when spiritual music is softly playing, even when there is a big slide up front inviting them to pray!

Having made that observation, it comes as a pleasant surprise when I meet other believers who like to discuss their faith, what God is doing in their lives, how a scripture verse jumped off the page at them, and of course when there’s some ‘earnest contending’ for the faith going on. 

It’s sad though, when the contending, which might just be sharing scripture, or asking if what someone ‘says scripture says’ is seen as intolerance and bigotry. It seems that some of the time, sharing one’s personal thoughts and opinions (no matter how crude or vitriolic) is inversely proportional to the desire for biblical truth.

But that’s to be expected – biblically speaking. . . 🙂