Life + Culture

Awake and at War

Awake and at War

Blessed be the Lord, my rock,
who trains my hands for war,
and my fingers for battle.
–Psalm 144:1

Two thousand years ago, “the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel” (1 Samuel 17:45) sent his Son to earth on a new kind of mission among his enemies (Romans 8:7; Ephesians 2:3, 16). He would defeat them not by killing, but by dying, and he would gather those who surrender into the very family of his Father. The world had entered a new era.

Until his crucified, risen, and reigning Son returns to earth in glory, God will no longer go out among the armies of his people with the weapons of this world. That Old Testament period of holy war is over. Now there are no nations, no peoples, no tribes to be defeated, because the crucified Lamb has “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). The enemy is not nations, not peoples. The enemy is sin, and Satan, and hearts that hold fast to the insurrection.

Day of Salvation

For now, until he comes again, there is no trumpet summoning God’s people to sword and shield and chariots and horses. Instead, the God of armies has dispatched his ambassadors among every enemy outpost with the message of amnesty, the offer of reconciliation with no recriminations for past disloyalty. “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).

For now, in this “favorable time” — in this “day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2) — “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4–5).

For now, until “the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:7–8) — until then, the followers of the Lamb are called to imitate their Master, “because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). “When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure, when slandered, we entreat” (1 Corinthians 4:12–13).

For now, until the Lord Jesus, with his eyes “a flame of fire,” and with “a robe dipped in blood,” and with “a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations” — until he comes to “tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God” (Revelation 19:12–15), “we are not waging war according to the flesh” (2 Corinthians 10:3). “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” (Ephesians 6:12).

For now, until Christ appears “a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28) — until then, the Lord declares, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting” (John 18:36).

Once he led his armies in holy war at the head of Israel. At the end of the age, he will take up arms again. But for now, this is the day of salvation. The day of amnesty. The day of reconciliation. The day of triumph through suffering.

Call to War

But we who follow the Lamb are in no less a war than David or Joshua. The Lord Jesus would not even let us follow him until we considered the cost of this war: “What king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?” (Luke 14:31).

But it is a “good warfare” (1 Timothy 1:18). A “good fight” (1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7). Our enemies in this war are “the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11), the law of sin “waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin” (Romans 7:23), and the devil who was “a murderer from the beginning . . . and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

It is a fight for faith (2 Timothy 4:7), a fight for righteousness (2 Corinthians 6:7), and a fight for life (1 Timothy 6:12). No one perishes because of this fight, but only in spite of it. It is a fight to save (1 Corinthians 9:22), not destroy. The arch enemy in this fight is a destroyer (1 Corinthians 10:10). Our warfare is a fight for liberation from this enemy.

It is a good warfare, even though, as with every war, people must often be opposed for the sake of people. For the enemy has many agents. “Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:14–15). But our defensive protection against the apostles of darkness is not the armor of steel, but the “armor of light” (Romans 13:12). And our offensive weapon is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” not the sword of the flesh (Ephesians 6:17).

The words of our warfare may be gentle: “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind . . . correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:24–25). Or our words may be severe: “Filled with the Holy Spirit, [Paul] looked intently at [Elymas] and said, ‘You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?’” (Acts 13:9–10).

Promise of Victory

It is a good warfare also because the decisive victory has already been achieved by the Lord of glory. “The Son of God appeared . . . to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Christ took on human nature “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). God “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:15).

Satan’s time is short. The dragon’s head is off. And he is flailing in the death throes of defeat. At God’s appointed time, “The devil . . . [will be] thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur . . . and will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10; Matthew 8:29; 25:41).

For the followers of the Lamb, the implications for their warfare are stupendous. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33). Neither “angels nor rulers . . . nor powers . . . nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:38–39). “He who is in [us] is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). We conquer “him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of [our] testimony” (Revelation 12:11).

Let us pray, therefore, that we not be lulled into the sleep of appeasement, as if the Hitler of hell had no intentions of world conquest. We are not ignorant of his designs (2 Corinthians 2:11). And though the warfare of the world is not the war of chariots and horses, the Lord Jesus is no less a warrior today than in the days of old. So let us come as willing soldiers of the Prince of Peace and declare, “He trains my hands for war” (Psalm 18:34).

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