Do we realise that every day and every moment, we are in the middle of a spiritual war? In it, there are 3 main foes to the Christian: the indwelling sin in us, the world, and the Devil. The Apostle Paul talks throughout his letters on the fact that we have to mortify the indwelling sin in us. While we have been truly justified and saved by faith in Jesus Christ, there is still indwelling sin that continually pushes us to do things that are not in accordance to God’s will (Romans 7:22-23). As the great Puritan John Owen (2006) said, we should make killing sin our daily work. Being saved by faith in Jesus Christ does not mean a pass to live sinfully. As James 2:26 (ESV) says, “faith apart from works is dead.” This faith that saves is by very nature one that produces good works in the lives of believers. More than that though, succumbing to sin is to trample on the blood of Christ and to show that we are not of God (Hebrews 10:29; 1 John 3:9). With these being said, it is clear for believers to wage war against sin at all times.
Waging war against the world is not understood as taking arms and murdering people, nor does it mean hating unbelieving people. The Bible talks about the world in mainly 2 different ways. It can talk about it cosmologically, in terms of the universe or the physical earth (1 Samuel 2:8; John 1:10). The world in this sense is not negative—God does not have a negative view towards His physical earth per se. However, another way that the world is presented to us is that of sinful humanity as a force opposing God. The world as it is used in this sense is necessarily negative. According to this understanding, we are asked to “not be conformed to the world” (Romans 12:2). We are told that “the wisdom of the world is folly” (1 Corinthians 3:19). Believers in Christ used to be dead in our trespasses, walking in the course of the world (Ephesians 2:2). We are to deny worldly lusts, to remain unspotted by the world (Titus 2:12; James 1:27). Identification with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4). Loving the world means that the love of the Father is not with us (1 John 2:15). The world is passing away, and it does not know God (1 John 2:17 & 3:1).
But how are we to make sense of hating the world, but not the people that is a part of the fallen system? Kevin DeYoung (2015) says it well, “…the world as the fallen system is to be rejected even as the Father has a love for His lost people in this world and so seeks them out…” So like our Heavenly Father, we should love unbelievers in this world and seek them out. However, we should reject it as a fallen system. While we realise that culture is a messy mixture of sin and grace, we have to reject the sinfulness in it, no matter how much grace we find (Turnau, 2012). So waging war against the world ought to be understood as waging war against these sinful values. These values are opposed against God, and they will drag us away from Him. What should wake us up is that the world is everywhere, all the time, even at our fingertips. It permeates our likes and even dictates our habits. We ought to wage war in the sense of not succumbing to the values of the world and be so enamoured by it that we simply follow the flow of the world, forgetting that we are not of it, even though we are in it (John 17:16). Instead, we are not to take part in the works of darkness and expose it (Ephesians 5:11).
Satan literally means ‘the adversary’. He is the enemy of God, and thus is the enemy of His people. The Devil is the one behind the world, being its ruler (Ephesians 2:2; 1 John 5:19). The Apostle Paul pushes us to stand against the schemes of the Devil (Ephesians 6:11). The Apostle Peter says that the Devil is like a ‘roaring lion’ that is always out there to devour us (1 Peter 5:8). Jesus said that the Devil steals the seeds of the Word of God, not allowing them to grow in people’s hearts (Mark 4:15). So the Devil is under control of the sinful system that we are in, and is always scheming to devour our faith in God. We ought to realise this and resist the Devil (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:9).
So the war is clearly here. However, the realisation of this war—let alone these specific elaborations—has waned in Christianity today. Professing Christians are continually letting sin live and destroy themselves. Many are loving the world and cannot be distinguished from it. Following the modern Christian mindset, many do not even believe in the existence of the Devil. The eternal fate of these professing Christians are worrying. Maybe some will be saved, but how sad it will be to look back from eternity and see that throughout our lives here on earth, we have not glorified God as we could have!
Jesus Himself fought in it while He was in the world. Indeed, He was the one that gave the decisive blow through the cross (Genesis 3:17; Colossians 2:13-15; 1 John 5:5). The Bible said that He was tempted in every way, though without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He kept warring against sin, not leaving even a small opportunity for it. As Christians, we are called to follow His example. If our Lord fervently waged such a war in this world, why should we expect any less for ourselves? Let us wake up from our spiritual slumber and follow our Captain.
A Battle of Truth and Lies
One of the aspects of the spiritual warfare that people most certainly do not believe is that of the war of beliefs. This is not just in terms of believing whether or not the warfare exists, but on believing in God’s truths as a whole. What I mean is that the moment that God reveals the truth, the Devil, the world, and our indwelling sin will retaliate against the truth. There are a lot of voices that fights against God, around us and in our hearts. We live between the Truth and alternatives. If we are not sensitive on differentiating them, we will be caught by the flow of error and sin. We are creatures of belief, hardwired to always believe in something. In fact, we can say that unbelief is not absence of belief per se, but belief in something else. When we do not believe God who is the Truth Himself, we are not just showing unbelief in God, but we are believing in something else, which is a lie.
This all started in Eden, where the Word of God was opposed by the serpent (Genesis 3:4). Jesus said that the Evil One who speaks in this story is the ‘father of lies’ (John 8:44). Adam and Eve was tempted by the contra-God ‘word’ that was given by the serpent. Here they show unbelief against God and belief towards something else, which is not true at all. In this way, they fell into sin, bringing the whole human race with them (Genesis 3:7; Romans 5:12). Because of this event, we all naturally choose sin and the lies of the Evil One, living as a part of the world. In the past, Adam and Eve could choose to obey and believe in the Truth. But after this fall into sin, it became a certainty that human beings would not want to listen to God’s Word, because we in our sinful nature hates God (Romans 5:10). But once more, we give thanks to God through Christ who saved us from sin. Being in Christ, we are enabled to choose to not sin, to be able to listen to the Word, leading us to lives that can glorify God once more.
Even so, the father of lies have not stopped in doing his work. In this period before the Second Coming of Christ, the Devil still has power, and continues to work (Ephesians 6:12; 1 Peter 5:8). Even now he is still spreading lies to the human race, to pull them from God and closer to death, which is the legal wages of sin (Romans 6:23). Even now, we as the people of God who are given the same choice with Adam and Eve: to believe in God’s truth or the Devil’s lies. This is one of the aspects of what Paul said, “take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11). We are caught in the battle between God’s truth and the lies of the Devil in the world.
All Truth is God’s Truth
Before continuing, we have to take note that what is being said in here does not mean that we should believe in Nuda Scriptura, the believe that the Bible is the only truth in the universe, and everything else are lies. When I say that we either believe in God or something else, I am not dichotomising between the Bible and everything else, as if there is nothing true in the latter. Our belief is that the Bible is the highest authority that governs everything, Sola Scriptura. But we do not believe that it is the only place where the truth is found. Rather, all other truths can be said to be true if they are consistent with this highest authority. Because of this, we can trust what people or the news say, as long as they do not contradict the Word of God. We can trust what is being said in our field of studies and vocation as long as they are tested according to this principle too.
“All truth is God’s truth”, as St. Augustine says. So, when we believe in 2+2=4, we are believing in God’s truth. If something is true, it is true by the virtue of it being consistent with God’s character and vision of that fact. Truths and facts are not separated from God. Facts in the universe are inherently, intimately related to God. This makes every pursuit of truth, be it in human relationships, studies, and everything else inherently ethical activities, for they are done in the presence of the God to whom they belong, who is the Truth Himself (John 14:6). To make it more concrete, when we make mistakes in our exams, for example, we are sinning, as we are producing falsehoods—lies, which are against the character of God. This realisation should wake us up to an all new vision of truth in the world and an increasing hatred of falsehoods.
This battle in our lives
As mentioned above, the Devil is still very much active in his lies this very moment. It takes many different forms. In the Old Testament, he fooled Cain into thinking that killing Abel could satisfy him. In the New Testament, he lied to Judas into believing that Jesus was worthy to be sold for 30 pieces of silver. A prevalent lie in the Western world is that he is continually lying to people into thinking that God does not exist or at least that we cannot know about His existence. Recently, his prevalent lie is that it is okay for people of the same sex to marry. In the Eastern world the prevalent lie is that other gods really are the true ones. These are just some examples. It does not take long for us to realise more and more lies as we walk on this earth.
Regardless, I believe that the problem is that though many of us already know about God’s truths, we still allow ourselves to be tossed and turned around by the Devil who continues to give us his contra-truths. It is clear that God has declared that sex is a sacred and beautiful thing in the time and place that He has given (Song of Solomon 8:4; Hebrews 13:4). Yet, how many of us, when we are tempted, give ourselves to the Devil’s lies that promises instant gratification in free sex or pornography? It is very clear that God has said that we must redeem our time, using everything we have wisely (Ephesians 5:16). But how many of us still choose to be lazy? It is clear that Christ said that He will be with us, to the end of the ages (Matthew 28:19-20). But how many of us still do not believe in that commandment and are still afraid to evangelise? It is clear that the Lord said that there is real joy in Him (Psalm 16:11). But how many of us still choose to surrender ourselves to the false joys around us?
We too often compromise, choosing lies that seem sweet, but in the end produce deadly bitterness. It is different when we choose truths that at first might look filled with suffering, but in the end glorify God and produce true joy. Indeed, like C. S. Lewis (2013) said, we are too easily pleased. We too rarely contemplate on how sweet the truth is. We choose lies after lies. We allow a place in our hearts for sins and worldliness.
We cannot dodge by saying “I already know these truths, albeit cognitively”. Believing is not just simply ‘knowing’ something cognitively, without it having any effects on our lives as a whole. This is more similar to the Hellenistic concept of knowing, which is not in accordance with the Bible at all. When the Bible talks about ‘knowing’, it means it reflecting the true reality that we learn about (Vos, 1975). So when we receive all the truths that God has graced us with and stop at the cognitive level, we are being fooled by the Devil. It is not that the content of the Word in itself is a lie. But stopping at the cognitive level is the same thing as following the way of the Devil. Indeed, he is the chief example of this, knowing orthodox theology and trembling about it, but not truly living it (James 2:19). Walking on this path means that we do not really believe the truth that Scripture plainly teaches.
Let us repent and change. If you are a part of the group of Christians who do not realise this spiritual warfare and all of the lies that surround us everyday, it is time to plumb the depths of Scripture. For it is Scripture that helps us to clearly differentiate between truth and lies. It is a sad, sad fact to know that so many professing, active Christian do not read their Bibles. It is our life (Deuteronomy 32:47)! Things on earth will come and go, but God’s Word stands forever (Isaiah 40:8). God Himself gave it to us, as a lamp to our feet and light to our path always (Psalm 119:105). We should be ashamed to call ourselves people of God and yet not love Him through His Word. Let us repentantly come and humbly say to God, “here am I, take my life as a container for your Word!”
But if you are a part of the more Scripturally ‘learned’ people mentioned previously, who know the truth God laid out to us in the Bible, yet do not practice it against falsehoods, then you must change too. We must ask ourselves why. Is it that we have not given some parts of our lives under God’s authority? If you know your Bibles, you surely can see how living out God’s truth is for our own good and joy. Why must we keep pumping our fists toward God, not believing the Creator of the universe that desires our good? He is not a cruel monster that places a hard yoke for the sake of seeing people suffer. Or is it some things in your life, like sinful habits and the people you surround yourself with that keeps dragging you to falsehoods? We are weak to different lies, and this might even mean that we have to part ways with things that might not be inherently bad, like alcohol. We must be resolved to give everything to God, lay aside anything that might pull us away from practicing God’s truth. I am not promoting the idea that Christians can reach perfection in their lives on earth. That is indeed impossible. But as we trudge on our time on earth, are we continually sanctified and thus glorifying God?
That being said, all these things are not to be done with our own strength, of course. As a matter of fact, one of the most fatal lies that we can believe in is thinking that we can wage this war with our own strength. As Martin Luther said in his famous hymn, “The old, evil Foe now means deadly woe! Deep guile and great might are his dread arms in fight. On earth is not his equal.” Let us not be deceived, the Devil has gone on his work through thousands of years, lying to humans of different times and places. He is an experienced worker. Truly, his guile and might are very dreadful. However, despite knowing that he has insurmountable experience, we know that our God is a God that does not even ‘need’ experience to defeat the Devil’s lies. Believe and rely on Him, who is able to work in us more than we can imagine (Ephesians 3:20). He is, as a matter of fact, the One who overcame the world (1 John 5:5). All these things ought to be done prayerfully, with a heart that believes in His providing grace. He rewards those who seek Him with all their hearts (Deuteronomy 4:29). Do not harbour unbelief to the only One who is worthy of full belief, who is not worthy of anything less than that. Pray unto Him, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24b). Let us completely lay ourselves on the altar to the Truth Himself. (JFA)
DeYoung, K. (2015). Do Not Love the World. Retrieved from https://www.ligonier.org/learn/conferences/after-darkness-light-2015-national-conference/do-not-love-the-world/
Lewis, C. S. (2013). The Weight of Glory. London, UK: Harper Collins Publishers.
Owen, J. (2006). Overcoming Sin & Temptation. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
Turnau, T. (2012). Popologetics: Pop Culture in Christian Perspective. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company.
Vos, G. (1975). Biblical Theology: Old and New Testament. London, UK: Billing & Sons Limited.