Christian Life and Warfare
It’s Fall here in the U.S. and that means college football! On gridirons and playing fields, in stadiums and coliseums across the country, teams of athletes will meet up and fight it out to win glory for their schools. When they do, it will be common to hear words and phrases like “modern-day gladiators,” “crush the enemy,” and “don’t sit back; take the fight to them.” Here in Texas our focus on October 10 will turn to one such clash: the Red River Rivalry, that historic annual gridiron battle between the Longhorns of Texas and the Sooners of Oklahoma.
When I think of football I can’t help but think of how it typifies one aspect of the Christian life: warfare. And as Christ-followers, the stakes of our fights far exceed those of college football contests. As Eugene Peterson puts it in his translation of Ephesians 6:10-12:
God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. (MSG)
In this fight, we must beware the danger of adopting one of two extremes. In his preface to The Screwtape Letters he puts it like this: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
A somewhat similar pitfall is to treat all opposition as warfare from evil spirits. St. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2 that followers of Jesus are engaged in battle on three fronts: against the flesh, the world, and the devil. Sometimes our fight will be against world systems and philosophies… sometimes against our own sinful human nature… and other times against the “devil.”
When you find that you’re in a battle, how should you fight? Here’s something I’ve found helpful. When you’re fighting the flesh (your sinful human nature), put it off (Ephesians 4:22). Imagine that it’s light a coat that no longer fits you and take it off. Throw it aside. When you’re fighting the world, renew your mind (Romans 12:2; Philippians 4:8). Tell yourself the truth of and implications of the Gospel and the Christian worldview. When you’re fighting the Devil, scripture says to resist him – and he will flee from you (James 4:7).
Another way to fight is to remember the Baptismal Covenant and live into your baptism. By continuing in the apostles’ teaching we can renew our mind. By resisting evil we can overcome the flesh and devil. When we proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, seek and serve Christ in all persons, and strive for justice and peace among all people, we can fight not only the forces arrayed against us, but those that seek to ravage our neighbors as well.
I’ve also found it helpful to periodically pray the prayers for baptismal candidates as part of my own prayer pattern, praying for myself and others (Book of Common Prayer, pp. 305-6):
Deliver me (us) O Lord, from the way of sin and death.
Open my (our) heart to your grace and truth.
Fill me (us) with your holy and life-giving Spirit.
Keep me (us) in the faith and communion of your holy Church.
Teach me (us) to love others in the power of the Spirit.
Send me (us) into the world in witness to your love.
Bring me (us) to the fullness of your peace and glory.