fighting the good fight of the faith

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:12

One of the basic tenets of the Christian life is that we’re in a fight, a spiritual one. It doesn’t take long to learn that, and especially if you’ve lived long enough as a Christian, to be reminded of it. The enemy will challenge us in any way at every turn, though usually in more subtle ways, now and then, here and there, with the intent of crushing us, or getting us to veer off path.

They do this according to our weak points. Basically challenging God’s goodness and promises, and whether or not God loves us, and loves others. They are always challenging that, just like the serpent lied in such suggestions to Eve in the garden.

It doesn’t matter what seems so real to us at the moment if it’s questioning God’s goodness and greatness as in God’s ability to see us through along with God’s willingness. Such a suggestion is patently false, a plain bald faced lie.

God is good, God’s plan for the world is good, and God has shown that in his Son, whom he sent into the world, that we might live through him. And the only way we overcome in this world, and even overcome the world is by faith. We have to believe God’s promises and trust in him. We do that through prayer, earnest prayer, as well as remaining in God’s word. Holding on to faith. So that in the end we might be able to say with Paul, the same one who told Timothy to fight the good fight of the faith:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:7-8

In and through Jesus.

an encouraging promise

The lions may grow weak and hungry,
    but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Psalm 34:10

When we are sometimes literally hungry, but I have to think of the times I may be down and discouraged, such a text from God’s word can be a great help. This was true just the other day for me.

The promise is for those who seek the Lord. And what’s promised is certainly all that is needed. To not lack any good thing.

Ultimately we know that will be fulfilled in the life to come through the resurrection in Jesus, when heaven and earth become one at his return, and God makes all things new. But in some measure in some way, this is entirely true for this life, as well. We lack no good thing to not only survive, but flourish in this life. It is in the way of the Lord, the way of Jesus for us. So that we’re not talking about luxuries, and living it up. Even though at times we might experience some of that. And God has given us richly, all things to enjoy (1 Timothy 6). But we’re talking about the true riches, which just might include a contentedness to do without, in a happiness over what one has, instead of wanting what one has not.

And so this is a word of encouragement to me in the midst of difficulty and discouragement. To simply seek God, and be given all that I need to overcome and be at peace, in and through Jesus.

faith pressing through the most difficult places

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samueland the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.

Hebrews 11

All of scripture has value for us in some way. Because of Jesus’s teaching and example, I may not participate in physical warfare, but spiritual warfare is most certainly another matter. And just as important as that, if not more so is the reality that life is hard and continuing on in faith is challenging. There’s certainly a piece of spiritual warfare going on in that, as the world, the flesh and the devil are indissolubly linked together. But it’s even in the ordinariness of life when we need to pick up and keep moving, even when the energy and passion are long gone, faith is the victory we have within our reach in and through Jesus.

For some reason, actually for a number of understandable reasons lately, the peace of God in my life has subsided, which probably to some extent is my own fault, definitely surely my own lack of faith. Yesterday, besides the edifying time at my mother’s church in the Bible teaching class, the worship-song time, and the message, I was helped by hearing this message from Charles Stanley. What came across for me was the gentle voice of the Lord encouraging me to trust him (Proverbs 3:5-6).

But still the stress and strain of life can get to us at times, and the feeling of being overwhelmed can be the norm. What we need at that point is both a focus on the Lord, and the wherewithal to accept the hard place and go on by faith. In the Lord’s strength, rather than our own, and in spite of our sense of weakness. Being willing to walk through the hardest places, face the most difficult challenges, and still seek to stand in the Lord in the midst of it all, come what may. Another way of putting it perhaps, is to accept the iron in one’s soul so to speak to enable us, instead of disabling us, in the way and will of the Lord. All by faith. Just as those people of faith did long ago in the midst of their trouble. In and through Jesus.

we in Jesus are meant to be victorious

“To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:

These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.

Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.

Revelation 2:12-17

In an existence of the world, the flesh, and the devil, we are not only pummelled with this and that, sometimes real, legitimate concerns, but also at other times real temptations and sins, both in our own lives, and in those around us. I added the first, not germane to the text above, but certainly addressed by our Lord, as well as elsewhere in scripture. This text has to do with actual sin.

The way of victory as translated by the NIV (see also, the NLT and the CEB in the link above) is to be victorious. It is translated as if this is something which is true of us in Jesus, perhaps in keeping with the grammar of the original Greek. We do have it from Romans 8:37 that in all the troubles of this life, particularly because of that which would challenge, undermine and even destroy our faith, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” In other words, it’s because of our standing in Jesus that we can indeed emerge victorious. By and in God’s grace in Jesus we can overcome, and in fact we simply are more than conquerors.

There is much opposition to faith and the faith in this life. But even greater than that is the reality that is ours in Jesus, and through his death and resurrection, along with his ascension. We are victorious in him, and we simply need to live out what is true of us already, a recurrent theme in the New Testament concerning our new identity in Jesus. What is his through his person and work is given to us to live out in this world individually and together, to show to the world the power of the gospel and the salvation that is in and through Jesus.

knowing Satan’s schemes

For we are not unaware of [Satan’s] schemes.

2 Corinthians 2

Whether we like it or not, we in Jesus are in a spiritual battle. And the more serious we are about our walk in the Lord, the more real that warfare will become.

Yes, Satan and his hosts are defeated through the risen Christ’s death (Colossians 2:15). We in Christ have the victory, and can live in that by faith. But living within that is not automatic.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God,and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

1 John 5

The world, the flesh, and the devil have aptly been called the unholy trinity, not that such is actually analgous with the Blessed Trinity, but because in scripture these three though distinct, are in sync with each other. The world refers to the world system set against God either subtely, or not so subtely. The flesh refers to humankind under the power of sin, manifest individually and systemically. And the devil is Satan, or evil personified, actually in a person which in their evil loses what is good of personhood, and disguises evil as good.

We in Christ by the Spirit and in the communion of the church need discernment from God to understand the enemy’s working, what they’re up to, and how they trip us up. There is no question that they do. And we need to be not only aware of that, but to learn to recognize it when it is happening, and know what to do to resist and overcome it. And we have to remember that in this present life this spiritual warfare will continue on (Ephesians 6:10-18) until the Lord returns.*

To be aware of this we might well say is half the battle, but we need to know what to do, as well. We certainly need to resist and stand firm, holding on to the gospel as the power of God to overcome sin, death, and evil. While seeking to remain responsible, our final hope and confidence lies only in the good news of God who is Jesus, with all the meaning that comes with that in God’s revelation found in scripture and taught by the church. There is no easy formula. It involves our entire life, and all of God’s revelation to us in Jesus, received not only once, but over and over again. Through a once for all salvation, which involves a process in growth in grace into increasing conformity to God’s will in Jesus. So that even though we through Jesus can do better and overcome some things, we must be ready for more. Hopefully getting better and better at it, as we look forward to our Lord’s return when evil will be vanquised forever and this spiritual warfare done.

*See C. S. Lewis’s, The Screwtape Letters for a most interesting, informative look at this, told in an imaginative, true to life story.

surviving ourselves

We can be our own worst enemy. In a good number of ways. For me it can be in how I react to things. Sometimes things which seem unbelievably bad and a twist of irony in the wrong direction. Perhaps, even, with the threat of death. And yet in the aftermath one can see that the real destructive force was more or less themselves.

We need to recognize and acknowledge our sin and confess it to God. Yes, and we need to be broken over it, not just because of the consequence, but because it is an affront to God. At the same time, we need to know that God is merciful in and through Jesus. He forgives us our sin, and we need to accept that and go on.

But we also need to learn from our sin. We learn compassion for others and the struggles and failures they have. So that we can pray for them, and if opportunity comes, share a word that can help them. For me it’s an opportunity to work through the issue before God. Perhaps make it known to the people involved, or not. And if I do, not make a federal case out of it, as if this was a trial and I’m the prosecutor. Instead we need to quickly forgive whatever offense may have occurred, and we need to consider the underlying motive. It may well indeed have been love, even if the judgment wasn’t the best.

Yes, we live in an existence of the unholy alliance between the world, the flesh and the devil. There is plenty there to bring us down. The main tactic in that is to somehow get to us. It becomes an issue of us either continuing on in the grace of God in and through Jesus, or becoming a self-destructive casualty. We need to learn to hold our ground well, in God’s love in Jesus. Committed to the truth that nothing at all in all creation can ever for a moment separate us from God’s love in Jesus. And we go on in that existence, to be victorious together, no matter what we go through, including death itself as humbly more than conquerors, in and through Jesus and for the world.

hurdles

I’m not sure why, but it seems as if there is always some new hurdle for me to get over. I’m not sure what all the factors are; that in itself could be a complex discussion. Of course I’m not talking at all about earning favor with God. I wish it was not about that in so many people’s minds when they discuss faith and their Christian lives, but that’s the fallout that is the result of a soterian gospel rather than the gospel we find in scripture from which salvation in Jesus flows: that Jesus is Lord, the King Jesus Gospel.

Back to the hurdles. I don’t care for that. I would like to be settled in a certain sense in which I think many others are. Not to say I’m not settled in my faith because I am, though I’m sure my faith needs to grow and develop in areas it has not yet (or very little).

The need to overcome as in clearing a new hurdle is an inherent part of the faith that is in Jesus. We see that in the seven letters to the churches near the beginning of the Revelation and elsewhere. It is not something we necessarily would choose, although I think inherent to many of us is the desire to do well in and by the Lord through God’s grace. It can get to the point however where we need patience, endurance, perseverance beyond ourselves to carry on. One can simply be tired of all the obstacles and difficulties one meets, indeed the hurdles.

Thankfully the Lord gives us the green pastures, the quiet waters, the times of refreshment and rest when all seems well, in that spot and time anyhow.

Back to the hurdles, which I would like to avoid. I have found time and time again that a simple acceptance of the problems we face or the hurdle, goes a long way. It is a mentality, an attitude which accepts and even embraces what we have to face, doing so in dependence on the Lord and interdependence on his body, the church. We do so knowing this is part of our calling now in Jesus, a calling we share with others together for the world.

returning to the love we had at first

This week in our chapel at RBC Ministries, we heard a message from Jesus’ letters to the seven churches, the first one, addressed to the church in Ephesus. It was a church that was doing all the right things evidently, and yet was in danger of losing out altogether because they had forsaken the love they had at first, probably referring to their first love for Christ. The message was in terms of remember, repent and return. It was good, and touched me deeply as I reflected on it afterwards.

The speaker pointed out that romance in some ways is similar. My own words  (I suppose) along with his in describing that: We fall head over heels in love and can do nothing but think of them all the time. After marriage, in time our relationship can become routine, and fall into a rut. And then our eyes might rove, or wander to someone else. And that can happen in our relationship with Jesus.

I have wondered sometimes, probably many times, just why I can’t seem to break free from some fears or anxieties. Not that I haven’t had other struggles as well, but anxiety issues have been a major issue, sometimes largely choking the word of God that was in me. The thought came to mind, and it began to dawn on me that one key I was lacking and perhaps the most important one (though others are essential, such as loving our neighbor), is the lack of a deep love relationship with the Lord. That is not to say that I don’t deeply love the Lord, or know something of the depths of his love for me. It is saying that far too often in my life, that was more of a head thing than a heart thing.

What is true of our individual walk as believers, is certainly true of an entire church (thinking local church) as was true of the church in Ephesus. In fact Jesus was addressing a community, of course made up of individuals. They had, in the words of Jesus, forsaken the love they had at first.  Somehow they were to return to that first glow, to that first love. Hopefully deeper, but as the motivation, the driving force (if that’s an acceptable way to put it) of their lives and service.

How is our love life with the Lord? And then with each other in Jesus? And with all others in the world? This gets at the heart of what is to be our hearts in and through Jesus, as we walk through this life together in him for the world.