Once we appreciate the nature of the journey of faith, and the perils that inevitably will be encountered on route, a man will falter unless he is convinced that God has equipped him for the long road ahead. To step onto a battlefield without first taking stock of what weapons are at hand is foolishness. To enter into a dark and deceitful world unschooled in the armor of God is madness. Too many Christian men bring a slingshot to a gunfight, not because the divine supply of M16s has run short, but because they are too lazy to open the arsenal and find something better. God is not like King Saul who on one occasion attempted to convince a soldier to wear an oversized breastplate and, on another, restricted food rations among famished combatants. God is a perfect commander who knows our every need and who never enlists a soldier to active combat without first making sure that he is equipped to succeed.
What, then, are the essential resources that God has given us? Here are three.
1 – The Double-Edged Sword
The Word is precisely what God says it is: a double-edged sword to be wielded in the face of the devil. One of the important insights of Pilgrim’s Progress is that along the road of discipleship we will encounter endless voices clamoring for our attention and promising easier routes to happiness. How can we discern the difference between truth and error? The answer is not by seeking the advice of ‘experts’, or depending on commonsense, or by following the herd, or even by trusting human logic. The Scriptures are preeminently our guide to truth. They alone are sufficient to push back the shadows of deceit so that we have a clear and trustworthy path to follow.
2 – The Intercession of Christ
Another marvel of Pilgrim’s Progress is the way in which Christian always receives the help needed in the nick of time. Why doesn’t he suffocate in the Slough of Despondency? Help arrives. How does he escape the shackles of Vanity Fair? Divine providence. What rescues him from the terrors of Legality? A timely appearance by Evangelist.
For those of faith none of this is coincidence. What Bunyan’s plot reveals is the degree to which the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him (c.f. 2 Chron. 16:9). Jesus did not ascend to heaven in order to be removed from us and to enjoy a rustic holiday while we are immersed in fighting. He is not a David who strolls the palace walls while Uriah is in the field. Rather, like an expert general, Christ has strategically positioned himself at the right hand of the Father so that he can ceaselessly intercede on our behalf. Bunyan helps us imagine the practical significance of this intercession. For Christians, when help arrives at the critical hour, this is never mere luck. It is always the fruit of Christ’s labors on our behalf.
3 – The Strength of the Spirit
No passage is more moving in Pilgrim’s Progress than Christian’s contest with Apollyon in the Valley of Humility. The scene is horrific. The monster straddles the road and roars, ‘Prepare yourself to die; for I swear by my infernal den, that you will go no further: here I will spill your soul.’ The fighting continues for over half a day, at which point we are left asking, how on earth is Christian enduring such heated combat? The answer, of course, is not the martial prowess of Christian, but the hidden power that comes through the Holy Spirit. Even in the bleakest moment Christian mysteriously finds strength to persevere. At the very last, when all hope looks as black as the sky in hell, Christian grabs his sword and shouts, ‘Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy; when I fall, I shall arise’, and victoriously pierces the beast with a deadly wound.
All of this is a picture of the strength that surges through the veins of a Christian through the living presence of the Holy Spirit. Left to ourselves, we are as weak and vulnerable as newborn children. Yet, immersed in the Spirit of the Almighty, like Gideon, Samson, and Jephthah, we are more than conquerors.
Questions for Small Groups/Self-Reflection
Why is having a strong and comprehensive grasp of the Scriptures so important for the journey of faith? What do we receive from the Bible that we cannot get anywhere else?
The High Priestly ministry of Jesus is not talked about enough in churches today. What is Jesus doing right now? How is Jesus actively involved in what we are doing? (If you aren’t sure, read Hebrews 4:14-16?
What are the benefits that Christians receive from having the Holy Spirit within us? (Isaiah 11:2)
What other resources has God given us for the journey of faith? Consider the practical importance of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Christian fellowship.