Sunday, July 12, 2015

Onward Christian Soldiers

Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.  Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe; forward into battle see his banners go!  Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.     Sabine Baring-Gould, 1834-1924

I hope I am not the only one old enough to remember singing this song in Sunday School as a child, but a part of me acknowledges the possibility.  Although I thoroughly enjoy worship music in churches today, there are times when not only do I miss the hymns of my youth, but notice that the songs of the past had a different focus, as it were,  than those of today.  As I have watched with dismay the direction of this country in the past few months, as well as events around the world, it is hard not to look at the situation the Church finds itself in today and not recall the tenor and message of the hymns of the past.

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!                                   Isaiah 5:20  NKJV

“Woe to those who decree unrighteous decrees, Who write misfortune, Which they have prescribed                 Isaiah 10:1  NKJV

Somehow I don’t believe I am alone in feeling surprised that at this time, especially in this country, believers are beginning to come under attack for their faith and be vilified and persecuted for choosing to acknowledge God’s laws as the standard for our beliefs and actions.  Never in my memory can I recall such a time as we as believers face right now, where the world considers us to be an intolerant, prejudiced people.  Yet now more than ever do the songs of the past, and the message they convey, seem so much more applicable.  Over the past few weeks I have lost count of the number of commentaries I have read from Christian leaders in this country imploring believers to stand and fight for our faith.  Fortunately for us, this is a subject God had much to say about.

Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love.                                             1 Corinthians 16:13-14  NKJV

With a background in coaching football, it is hard not to use the game as an illustration of what Christ would have us to do. 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.

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.   Ephesians 6:10-13  NKJV

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 He expects from us is to play defense, not to play offense. We next see in verse 14 that 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 parts were reminding us 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.

Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;    Ephesians 6:14-17  NKJV

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 realistically illustrates 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 at an extremely fast speed. 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. Have you 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. This is what most of us would consider to be 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 wants 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.

Running only makes you a better target!

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, making the decision to stand fast, all demonstrate your faith. Faith is always action. 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, and we can best do this by standing firm in our belief in God and His commands.

Most of what I have read in the past few weeks agrees with the idea that this fight is only going to get worse.  I truly believe God is orchestrating the events we see as the world fast approaches His return for His Church.  The question for us all is will we stand and fight? 

Onward Christian Soldiers.

Keep watching.