The fight of faith
‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith’ (2 Tim. 4:7) is Paul’s testimony at the end of his full and eventful life. Have you ever thought: ‘Wouldn’t it be great to go to heaven as soon as you’re converted’? Just think no more problems and heartache over life’s difficulties and to be out of harm’s way is very appealing.
Why do Christians have to go on living in this troubled world instead of entering heaven immediately like the thief on the cross? There is something rather self-centred about such thinking although it is understandable, especially when life is grim and the prospects in the world look bleak. But we need to encourage ourselves with the reasons why we are here and have a positive attitude to our life in this present evil age.
Why are we here?
We are here as believers and part of the church of God on earth:
- To honour God in our present bodily state. Paul writes, ‘whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God’ (1 Cor. 10:31).
- To show to the unseen world of angels and demons God’s wisdom in all its rich variety (see Eph. 3:10).
- To prepare for heaven and the glory of the new creation. While some die almost as soon as they are converted, the norm is that we pass through various trials and difficulties that our faith may be proved genuine, resulting in ‘praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ’ (1 Pet. 1:7).
- To be part of the church militant bringing the light of the knowledge of God’s salvation to a dark world. Who would pass on the good news to others? We would not be in heaven ourselves if someone had not spoken to us about the way of salvation through Jesus Christ. God has so ordained to work evangelistically through His people. God could have worked without Peter but He went to great lengths to bring him to speak to Cornelius and his household (Acts 10). The great commission is among our Lord’s last words to His disciples before His ascension: ‘Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…’ (Matt. 28:18-20); ‘repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations…’ (Luke 24:46-47).
- To be light and salt in the world delaying its decay and witnessing by our actions to a better way (Matt. 5:13-16).
It is a great privilege to be Christians in this world. As God showed off Job before the heavenly council it should be so with us. Speaking directly to Satan, God said, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?’ (Job 1:8; 2:3). Remember, too, that Jesus has prayed, not that we should be taken out of the world, but that we might be kept from the evil one (John 17:15).
But as we see from Job’s case and Jesus’ prayer, it is not all plain sailing. Some of the difficulties are considered in this edition of the magazine. There is not only a race to be won but a battle to be fought.
Taking on the enemy
We are in a fight against three enemies – the world, the flesh and the devil (1 John 2:14-16). Before we became Christians there was no conflict, for we ‘followed the course of this world… carrying out the desires of the flesh… following the prince of the power of the air’ (Eph. 2:2-3).
In union with Jesus Christ, we belong to an entirely new realm but we are still living in these frail, old bodies. The ‘world’ means the human society in opposition to God and under the influence of the evil one. We are in the world and we cannot avoid mixing with people whose life-styles are repugnant to God (1 Cor. 5:10) but we must not allow an attitude of worldliness to affect our relationship to God. We can even be outwardly ‘unworldly’ and yet inwardly conformed to the spirit of this age with its sensuality, materialism and self-glorification. Remember Demas, who abandoned Paul in his need, because instead of loving Christ and His appearing he ‘loved this present world’ (2 Tim. 4:8,10). We are warned ‘Do not love the world’.
The devil is a defeated foe as a result of Christ’s victory at Calvary, but as John pictures it, the deceiver of the whole world is now, in his rage, intent on persecuting Christ’s people on earth (Rev. 12:17) and defeating us at every turn. In Christ and through Christ, however, we are more than conquerors (Rom. 8:35-39) and we are called to stand fast and resist the devilish pressures in the armour with which God has supplied us.
The enemy within
Those temptations come from outside of us but there is also the problem within – ‘the flesh’. The world and the devil work hand in hand with this enemy within. Though as Christians we have a new nature, a new principle of life and in Christ have died to sin and are no longer under its rule, sin has not died within us. There is a war within.
If we belong to Christ, our ‘flesh’ with its passions and desires has been crucified with Christ (Gal. 5:24). Our old corrupt human nature was crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6). We have as believers already put off our old self which we were in Adam and have put on the new which we are in Christ (Col. 3:9). It is from this new position in Christ that we are called to kill indwelling sin, to put to death sinful passions, to no longer live according to the flesh (Gal. 5:17; Rom. 8:12). With the help of the Spirit who dwells within us we are to take off daily the old clothes characteristic of our life outside of Christ and to put on daily those clothes that are characteristic of Christ (Col. 3:8,12-14).
Do not live defeated lives that bring dishonour to God and His people. We have been given everything necessary for life and godliness in this world (2 Pet. 1:3). Do all you can ‘to proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light’ (1 Pet.2:9).
Philip H. Eveson is a consulting editor of The Evangelical Magazine.