The Somme was one of the most horrific battles in all of human history. On day 1 of the battle the British forces alone suffered almost 60,000 casualties. Yet, perhaps the most harrowing fact from the battle was the naivety with which the soldiers leapt over the parapets onto no-man’s-land. The official report had been that the heavy British artillery would eradicate the German defenses enabling British soldiers to advance leisurely from the outskirts of the enemy camp toward the center. This strategy was as ill-judged as Adam biting the fruit after Eve. The British soldiers that climbed out of their trenches quickly discovered that the German gunners were intact; those that reached the center of the field found out the barbed wire had not been cut; and those hapless enough to reach the enemy trenches learned that a hive of enemy infantry were armed and swarming, ready to defend their ground like angry hornets.
Too many Christian men end of being hospitalized along the way of the cross because no one gave them an accurate sense of what to expect from discipleship. To be ignorant of indwelling sin is more dangerous than to be ignorant of cancer. To ignore the devil is as hazardous as stepping into the cage of a hungry lion. To relax in the presence of the world is like sleeping in a cave with a band of terrorists. Spiritual combat is real. If men do not believe this they will wind up like Pliable in Pilgrim’s Progress, frustrated and angry because the road that they thought would be smoothly paved is in fact full thorns, potholes, and lurking dangers.
Men, Beware of the Prowling Lion
There is a brooding suspicion among Christians today that the devil is a relic of a superstitious age. He is consigned to sit among the gorgons, dragons, and sea monsters of the past, a relic of a mythical age when adults were childish and human psychology misunderstood. To think this is to risk grave peril. C.S. Lewis was correct when he noted that the greatest trick of the devil is to convince people that he is not there. Once discredited, the arch-demon is free to do his work unhindered. The less conscientious men are to build walls and lock doors, the more access the devil has to their inner closets.
It is worth remembering that there are two kinds of wars: hot wars and cold wars. Cold wars are more complicated even if they feel less dangerous. The difficulty of a cold war is that one never knows where the enemy is or what he is up to. He hides activity behind the appearance of normality. Satan is as adept at cold war as hot war. He can field-marshal his demons with supernatural fireworks as we read in the New Testament, or he can throw himself under an invisibility cloak and operate with the unfelt influence of a KBG operative. Either way, those who are careless are sure to become casualities.
Beware of Vanity Fair
In parts of the West, particularly in the Southern States in America, Christianity is still woven into the local culture. In such settings, it is easy to feel as if the general current of society reinforces, rather than counteracts, the agenda of the gospel. We look to a place like Somalia and feel pity for people who live under such a spiritually oppressive regime. In our prayers we plead that God might grant all the world the favor to live in a land as free and unfettered by darkness as ours.
This mindset is naïve even if the prayers for Somolia are sincere and much needed. Until Christ returns, the church will never have the leisure of existing in a spiritual climate that is conducive to authentic faith. We will always live in a present evil age (Gal. 1:4; 2 Cor. 4:4), the underlying values of which are in tension with the way of the cross. No Christian is permitted to pass into heaven without having been a sheep among wolves. All of us must enter the arena if we hope to win the crown.
Fifty years ago Tozer warned that Christians had forgotten that the world is a battleground, not a playground. This delusion persists today. We forget that we live in Vanity Fair and that the cares, pleasures, and riches of this world are as dangerous to faith as poison is to the body. To live for money and success is no better than to live for sex and drugs. To build a lifestyle on materialism is no more virtuous than to build a lifestyle on pillaging. Satan is indifferent what door men choose to enter Hell. Endless amusement or the gore of violence: one road might be more respectable than the other, but neither leads to the gates of the Celestial City (c.f. I Jn. 2:15-17).
Beware of the Enemy Within
Finally, we cannot be ignorant of indwelling sin. The clear teaching of the New Testament is that sin is deeply entrenched in the human heart and that, while we can make progress in putting sin to death, we can never relax as if the problem is eradicated. There is a powerful scene in the film Hacksaw Ridge when the American soldiers initially push the Japanese infantry back underground into hiding. It looks as if the Americans have firmly established a dominant position on the ridge. However, right before daybreak, the Japanese blitz the American line. A full kamikaze attack catches the Americans off guard and leaves them running like the Gadarene swine back over the cliff.
I cannot think of a more accurate picture of indwelling sin. The second a Christian man believes that lust, or greed, or pride, or gluttony is defeated, a surge of passion will catch him unaware. Sin may go into hiding. It may retreat into the unseen recesses of the heart. However, on this side of glory, we must, like the sun and moon, keep watch by night and day. The famous words of John Owen cannot go unheeded: ‘Be always killing sin, or sin will be killing you.’
Questions for Small Groups/Self-Reflection
Read Matthew 10:16. What does Jesus mean when he says that we should be ‘wise as serpents and innocent as doves’? Think of an example of what this might look like in real life.
Read 1 John 2:15-17. How can a Christian avoid ‘loving the world and the things in the world’?
Every general has a strategy when he enters into a battle. What do you think the strategy of the devil is right now? How is he actively disrupting the lives of Christians in places like the United States and the United Kingdom?
Read Romans 8:13. What do you think it means ‘to put to death the deeds of the body’? If you are stuck, read Romans 13:11-14.