Fighting the good fight…
Some of the imagery in the Bible, which is used to describe the Christian life, is that of ‘war’, ‘fighting’ and being ‘soldiers’. Perhaps not what you would expect from a religion that talks so much about love. So what does the Bible mean when it tells us to fight?
The Bible is very clear that the Christian life is a battleground. We are constantly at war, even within our own minds, between our desire to please God and our desire to please ourselves. God’s Word describes this ongoing battle as “the flesh (our desires) lusts (war) against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are [opposite] to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Gal. 5:17).
It’s often said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”, but we need to be people who are willing to endure hardship and have a single-minded perseverance. There is a need to fight for what is right and we have a responsibility to do so. We are told, “Fight the good fight of faith, [take] hold of eternal life, to which you were also called” (1 Tim. 6:12). To put God first in everything requires us to “take hold” of the life He calls us to.
We accept this eternal life He offers through Jesus Christ, and then we rely on Him to be able to live it out. God’s commands of love, selflessness and obedience are impossible if we attempt to achieve them on our own.
Because the nature of the Christian life is one of war, God has given us the necessary armour so we can be protected, and be able to fight. Paul writes:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. —Ephesians 6:10-18 (NIV)
We need to always remember that the battles we face as Christians are against “the devil’s schemes”, “the powers of this dark world” and “the spiritual forces of evil”. We’re engaged in spiritual warfare. We can come up against all kinds of problems such as grief, relationship conflicts, health issues and insecurities, not to mention our own selfishness and mistakes. In all these things there’s a temptation to feel like a failure, and maybe even to give up on our Christian walk. This is why we are reminded that we fight against “the spiritual forces of evil”, because in everything the devil wants to uncover our spiritual weakness and make us feel distant from God, so that in the end we give up on Him.
But we are told to “put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand”. God gives us the equipment we will need to keep going as Christians and not give up. But notice He doesn’t give us armour to ‘fight’, but to “stand”. What chance do we have of battling against the devil and spiritual hosts? No chance! Our job is to keep trusting God, because He is more powerful than any opposition we might come up against.
How does He equip us? With “truth”, “righteousness” (having peace with God), “the gospel of peace” (knowing our salvation is secure in Jesus, no matter what), “faith”, “salvation”, “the Word of God” and “prayer”. It is useful to spend time thinking about what this full armour means in our lives, but we’ll focus on just a few of its parts here.
Our faith is described as a shield to fend off the devil’s attacks. Faith is our trust in God, which protects us. If we trust God to provide for us and care for us, then no matter what anger, grief or pain we might go through, we can know we are not alone, and we can know we won’t be defeated.
The Bible, God’s Word, is described as “the sword of the Spirit”. This is because the Bible helps us fight back against the devil’s lies. If we feel worthless, the Bible reminds us that we are God’s children and heirs of His kingdom (1 John 2:1-3). If we feel trapped, we can bring all our concerns to God, and He will care for us (Phil. 4:6-7). If we feel good enough to enter heaven in our own right, the Bible reminds us that no one is good, and we all deserve judgement for putting ourselves above God (Rom. 3:10-11). If we feel as if we have done too many things wrong for God to ever forgive us, we can remember that Jesus Christ died once for every sin, so that we can enter heaven by His sacrifice and resurrection (Rom. 6:10-11).
As we read His Word, we discover the truth of our own limitations, and the truth of God’s incredible love by which He sent Jesus to save us from the judgement we deserve. With this fresh in our minds, we will be able to stand in faith, even when we feel under attack.
Finally this passage tells us to “keep on praying”. This doesn’t mean we spend all our time with our hands together and our eyes closed. That’s no way to fight a war. It means that we talk to God to hear His plans and commands, and to be strengthened to obey. We can’t fight this battle alone, we need to be spending time with God as much as possible. Sometimes this will be thinking about passages, like the one quoted here from Ephesians, and asking Him to help us put it into practice. Sometimes it will be bringing problems and people to Him and asking for His love and help. Sometimes it will be to thank Him for all Jesus has done for us. And sometimes it will be just quick thoughts or words asking for help or leading as we go through specific situations or talk to certain people. “Praying always” is not necessarily about always praying, but of having an attitude of going through every day, and every situation, with God in command.