There is a great difference in excellency, usefulness, and comfort between people of clear, digested knowledge, and confused, undigested apprehensions. -Richard Baxter

spooks, spoofs, and the Spirit

Tis the season of the spook and the spoofing of what is spiritual.  And though this will be no harangue on the domesticated celebration of  ghosts, goblins, and other things transcendent, maybe it will do to at least make reference to taking what is unseen more seriously.  Here’s what we considered about an element of spirituality around this time last year.

        There is a reason that whenever you set out to live in a holy way, you immediately encounter obstacles.  In addition to our flesh being so antagonistic to the things above, there is at work in the universe forces intent on making that pursuit of holiness difficult.  It’s because someone is watching over your heart and taking measures to keep it confused, preoccupied, and misled.

ii)      And with the passing of another Halloween we run the risk of allowing more confusion or more indifference to seep into how we thing about this thing called spiritual warfare.

b)      Two reasons why an exploration of spiritual warfare might be in order

i)        We’re at best ambivalent about taking about it and at worst largely inoculated against thinking about it

(1)   Hollywood has domesticated for us its reality

(2)   Some of our brothers and sisters have so sensationalized by attributing all difficulties to a personal demonic force

ii)      And even if you appreciate its reality, you either have no information or misinformation on what such warfare entails

(1)   We are, in many ways, on our heels when it comes to being deft opposition to the one who opposed God in all things.  And that must change.  You’re not in youth group any more, and what will serve His church in the decades to come will not be so much how lucrative your career, or how influential you become—though those attributes can be marshaled to the benefit of the church.  Instead, the vibrancy and the irresistibility of those who call themselves Christians will in large part be determined by how well they fight—how seriously you take both your calling and the opposition arrayed against its fulfillment.

(2)   You and I have to live between Penn and Teller (B.S.) and TBN, between dismissive about a spiritual battle, and fixated on a spiritual battle

2)      Text: Ephesians 6:10-20: Eph. 6: 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

3)      Paul has five things to say that constitute the essence of spiritual warfare. 

a)      The life we’re called to live is worth the uphill battle it presents. Ú 10   Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

i)        From the first three words, “finally, be strong,” two implications follow

(1)   Whatever it is I’m to be as one saved by grace, it must be difficult—otherwise why would strength be necessary?

(2)   Whatever the difficulty it presents, it must be worth it—otherwise why would the strength necessary be desirable?

ii)      Paul has a reason for every point he’ll make, so we need to flesh out why he’s taking the time to string these ideas together.  Why would Paul find it necessary to exhort us to be strong?

(1)   His words surely have precedent: to Joshua it is said, “be strong and courageous.”  And that’s only the first of countless times God’s people are commanded to find strength.  Why?  One reason is that you’ll have no fight in you unless you know what you’re fighting for

(2)   The Communists were able to persuade the Russian army during WWI to break off from the frontlines by undercutting their reasons for fighting.  If Czar Nicholas could be shown to be no one worth fighting for, and the cause to be equally unworthy of their sacrifice, then the army would lose any reason to fight.  Those ideas sunk in; a huge segment of the army breaks off from the fight.  And in short order, Communism sweeps across Russia.

(3)   You have to know what you’re fighting for, what ground you’re trying to take.

iii)    What ground are you trying to take? Paul’s spent 6 chapters outlining the ground of what it means to be a Christian. It involves, among other things,

(1)   To do the good works prepared in advance for which we were saved (2:10)

(2)   To not lose heart in the face of suffering (3:13)

(3)   To be grounded in love (3:17)

(4)   To comprehend the extents of that love (3:18,19)

(5)   To walk worthily (4:1)

(6)   To bearing with one another in love and to maintain unity of the faith (4:2ff)

(7)   To grow up in Him (4:13)

(8)   To put on the new self Christ has bestowed (4:24)

(9)   To make good use of time (5:16)

(10)                       To submit yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ (5:21)

(11)                       All that is the life we’re fighting for, which might be summarized under two heads:

(a)   You’re fighting for His joy in you

(i)     By joy we mean hope that keeps you listening for and acting on behalf of God.  If you have that joy that is hope in God, you continue to live with a kind of lightness of being that is not blissfully ignorant of life’s hard edges but isn’t so overwhelmed by them as to see no purpose in manifesting His love wherever you might be.

(ii)   That joy and hope might be otherwise understood as a grasp of His love, mercy, and holiness so that we might have solid orientation for how to live and love

1.      should sin always be getting the best of you?  No.

2.      are you supposed to walk through life with constant anxiety? No.

3.      are you supposed to walk through life with unrelenting despair? No.

4.      are you to be lambasted if that has been your predominant way of living?  Of course not.

(iii) Fighting for that joy is no small thing.

(b)   You’re fighting for His kingdom’s spread

(i)     Jesus teaches us to pray first and foremost for God’s name to be hallowed—respected and admired—which then translates into a second request: “May your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”

(ii)   That is, for God’s character to permeate the world: His justice, truth, and mercy

(iii) And for souls that worship Him

(c)    So fighting for His joy and His kingdom’s spread is worth the fight because it allows you then

(i)     To live where love is

(ii)   To exist with courage

(iii) To see and be a part of where God is working

(iv) Who wouldn’t want that kind of life?

iv)    Transition:

(1)   So it’s worth fighting for…

(2)   For two reasons can we be sure that this no walk in the park; those are Paul’s next two points

b)     The context of the battle requires more than our mere humanity can musterÚ 12 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.

(1)   Operating on the basis of what we can see alone is a hard instinct to shake.

(2)   In a post-enlightenment culture, the idea of a personal evil working against humanity is largely ridiculed as a primitive way of identifying human evil—even if the culture has somewhat swung back toward at least a tacit acceptance of the idea of a spiritual evil

(3)   No matter your insight or your courage, if you don’t know your enemy or the lay of the land, you cannot fight­­­–plain and simple.  You can’t outlast, outwit, outplay.  You don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.

(4)   Glory: for all their valor, heroism, conviction, fearlessness—the pursuit of victory came to a brutal end when they brought rifles and swords to fight cannons.  The cannon will always win

ii)      Paul’s insisting we know who it is we’re dealing with

(1)   What are he and such dark powers like

(a)    Ephesians says He and they are the ones at work in the “sons of disobedience”—defy God and you’re in Satan’s company. (Eph 2:1,2)

(b)   Present, active

(c)    At odds with God, but on a leash (Job intimates the ongoing struggle between God and the fallen angel, Lucifer, but the havoc he’s able to wreak is always at the permission of God.)

(d)   Sometimes even in the service of God.  Paul speaks of the thorn in his flesh in 2 Cor 12 which God allows to remain, and which was actually a messenger of Satan.  For what purpose?  To keep Paul humble and dependent on the Lord for strength.

(e)    He and they are doomed but devoted; the dark forces are spoilers

(2)   What are his intentions?

(a)    To steal, kill and destroy (Jn 10:10)

(b)   To afflict people with fear and pain

(c)    Thomas Brooks: Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices

(i)     To draw the soul into sin

(ii)   To keep believers from their holy duties and performances—i.e. holy acts

(iii) To keep believers in a sad, doubting, questioning condition.

(d)   The enemy is engaged in all that, yet, still, God holds us accountable.

(3)   What are his schemes, his ways of accomplishing those intentions?

(a)    By whispering lies

(b)   By stealing away truth from the ears of would-be believers (parable of the sower)

(c)    By tempting believers with what is destructive, soul-killing, joy-killing

(4)   What then can we conclude about him

(a)    He’s not passive, powerless, stupid, or indifferent to the salvation and sanctification of humans.

(b)   But neither is he omnipotent, omnipresent, or able to snatch believers from the love of God.

iii)    Jesus explains we have a threefold opposition: the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Having profiled what opposes God and those who are God’s, does our knowledge of how the dark forces work imply we have to discern whether our given struggle is of the flesh, or of the flesh and the devil, or of the devil alone?  No.

(1)   Those who seem more fixated on the nature of the dark forces will insist that most of your sin patterns are due to a personal demon oppressing you.

(2)   And therefore the task becomes one of blaming the demon and naming the demon so you know who precisely you’re dealing with—and they’ll point us to Jesus’ asking the name of the demon in Mark 5 before he casts him out.

(3)   But that episode is recorded not to give us a model of how to battle with what oppresses us so much as to identify the authority of Jesus!

(4)   In fact, conceptualizing our sin patterns as the result of a personal demon afflicting us actually keeps us from taking time to analyze and seek the Lord’s insight into why we’re doing what we’re doing.

(5)   Calling our struggle the work of a personal demon can almost lead us to believe it’s not our fault.  And yet, we’re still held accountable for taking the bait hiding the hook.

iv)    So what then is our approach to fighting what opposes God and God’s people?

c)      Our strength to stand is a function of taking the strength He supplies Ú 13 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.

i)        Before Paul gets to the nitty gritty of fighting, he makes three simple and clear commands: be strong in the Lord, take up the whole armor of God, put on the whole armor of God

(1)   There’s an aspect of personal responsibility on our part, . . .

(2)   but insofar as it is receiving what God supplies

(1)   Taking matters into our own hands alone is a second instinct hard to shake.  We would prefer just to think ourselves out of a problem.  Or do certain things that would insulate us from struggle.  But the nature of the struggle doesn’t allow for a purely human agency to withstand the opposition.

(2)   It’s in keeping with God’s whole plan of salvation: if it was by grace that you shall be saved, so shall it be by grace that you be sustained throughout your sojourn in this age between the resurrection and the second coming. We live with a foot in two ages: one in the age that is passing away, and one in the age approaching.  We struggle in the part passing away; we benefit from the age Christ has put into motion.

(3)   And so you cannot fight this battle against this enemy without this gear God supplies

iii)    But there are three features of this gear you must take stock of before you would fight with it

d)     What He supplies must be taken up. . .

i)        Regularly:

(1)   the tense of the verbs Paul uses (be strong, take up, put on)—the tense implies a steady and ongoing practice of using these supplies; there is no once-for-all finding strength, taking up, or putting on

ii)      Fully:

(1)   twice Paul makes it clear that what He supplies has to be taken in full—put on the whole armor; he implies that any missing element compromises the whole battle

(2)   there is no such thing as one who walks with the truth but without faith; you cannot hope to be ready to share the Gospel of peace without equal concern for the righteousness applied to you (Christ’s) and called forth from you

iii)    humbly:

(1)   prayer is an act of humility; it is saying, “I cannot do what I must without acknowledging my need and His power.”

(2)   this gear is taken, so to speak, in prayer.  No prayer, no armor. 

(3)   prayer is the staging ground, and yet also the field of battle

4)      some concluding thoughts before we even get into what the actual work of spiritual warfare is (next week)

a)      It means living between dismissive and preoccupied—neither indifferent to nor fixated on the reality of dark spiritual forces who are genuinely interested in keeping salvation from others and keeping fruitfulness out of you.

i)        Contra dismissive: To assign all difficulty to mere nature of nurture is to deny the whole context of the Gospel; it pertains to what is material but its larger context is that of the spiritual.  And if you think, then, that all our struggle exists within the psychological or physiological realm alone, you’re really not thinking in Gospel terms, in Christian terms.  To be a Christian is to see the universe as composed of both material and immaterial dimensions.

ii)      Contra fixated: to assign all difficulty to a personal demonic force is to shift blame for your sin patterns upon something outside yourself.

b)      Seamus freaked out by the sight of a motion-activated vampire.  He should be scared.  If it were what he thought it was, it would be worth being afraid of.  We have reason to be more fearful, but of what we cannot see.  Our problem is we’re not frightened enough—that is, not frightened enough to seek out what God supplies for the battle to be His in this world still occupied by dark forces.

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