Sunday, February 22, 2009

Winning With Defense

I hope nobody will be annoyed with me if I continue to use football analogies to illustrate some of my points in this blog, but the truth be told, love it or hate it most people are familiar with the game and it's rules. For those who follow the game, there is an ongoing debate that never gets resolved and that is the question "do great teams win with offense or defense"? I'm sure most would say both, but it is a question that many fans enjoy arguing about, simply because there are those who love watching a great offense at work, and others who would rather watch a great defense. In the fight against Satan which all Christians participate in, we really don't have the option to choose because God tells us exactly how we can win, and that is with a good defense.

We have been looking at Ephesians 6:10-18, and learning how God has prepared us for battle with Satan and his angels. One of the most important points Paul makes here is in verse 11 where he tells us that what is expected of us as believers is simply to "stand". He repeats this in verse 13 where he tells us that after doing "everything", we stand firm. In his way, God is telling us through Paul that all that He expects from us is to play defense, not to play offense. We saw last week how in verse 14 we are told we can stand firm if we remember those parts of God's armor we have already put on when we made the decision to follow Christ. Those were reminding ourselves of the truth of Christ in which we believe, remembering our position before God thanks to the righteousness of Christ, and resting in the peace that is ours from the knowledge of the first two which was promised to us in the gospel of Christ.

So where do we go from here? Well, in verse 16 Paul introduces us to the most practical piece of our armor, the one that we will need to use the most, and that is the shield of faith. Now personally I like this picture because to me, it really illustrates well what Satan is trying to do to us as believers, and the way he tries to attack. First of all, an arrow is not all that large, and if one is coming straight at you I expect it is pretty hard to see. Second, I have watched people shoot arrows with the compound bows used today and I can tell you for a fact that those arrows fly very very fast. No way anyone is going use some ninja move to get out of the way because those arrows really move. Third, they are pretty quiet. You can look at an arrow as the first of the stealth weapons, because the first time you hear them is when they hit you, and obviously by then it's too late to do anything about it. Fourth, and even more important is the kind of arrow Satan uses. It's not your everyday arrow, but a flaming arrow which not only wounds you, but starts a fire that will continue to burn until put out.

As a result, God tells us that we need to take up the shield of faith. Hopefully like me, you have had the opportunity to watch a movie that illustrates the use of a shield to defend against an attack by arrows. I know I have seen a few that have done a great job showing what it must have been like to be in a battle like that. You have an army marching forward, carrying their shields which are almost as big as they are tall, and the opposing army launching their arrows. As soon as they fire the opponent kneels down and hides behind their shields as thousands of arrows fall from the sky. As the attacking army continues to fire their arrows, the defending army simply waits behind their shields until the advancing army is out of arrows, and then they begin their attack. God tells us something in verse 16 that I think is very critical for us to remember. He says that if we take up the shield of faith we WILL be able to "extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one." Not some, ALL. Wow, talk about a winning defense!

Since we know we can win with God's help, it is also important to understand what these arrows will look like so we can recognize the "stealth" attack by Satan. I think the clue is in how God describes them when He says they are "flaming". Obviously a flaming arrow will start a fire, which then burns until put out. How does Satan "burn" us inside? I think these arrows will have two characteristics no matter what form they may come in. Remember they are coming from Satan, and we already know his method of attack. Satan want us to doubt the truth from God in which we have believed, so first of all these flaming arrows will come out of our own thoughts. It's a sneak attack that seems to come from nowhere when we begin to doubt what we believe in. Secondly, they will attack our position in Christ, the faith in Him that we have, which has already been described in the first pieces of armor we put on. You see, the key to overcoming a good defense is to first create doubt in the mind of your opponent that he is capable of defending himself. That works in any sport you can think of, as well as our fight against Satan.

Most important to us, though, is to understand the difference between what we believe, and the shield of "faith" which we are instructed to take up. What is faith? The best answer I can give you is faith is "acting" on your belief. You see, belief is one thing, but making decisions, taking action, demonstrating your belief in what you do is faith. Faith is always action. I can say I believe that the airplane will fly, but unless I get on board I won't be demonstrating faith. The fact that you may have doubts proves that you have faith. So apply your belief to everything, every situation you find yourself in, and you will be demonstrating faith and defeating Satan and his arrows. We need to be "active" believers, Christians DOING not just believing. Ever notice how the defensive players in football are always moving around before the snap? That's what we need to be as believers, moving targets that make it harder for Satan to hit.

James 4:7 tells us that if we "resist the devil", (another way of saying take up the shield of faith and act), the devil "will flee from you". We can win this battle. God has not only told us how, but given us the tools. We only need to follow His instructions to be successful in our fight. But the best part of all is knowing we only have to play defense. Guess who plays offense for us? Next week we will look at that.