The Battle Is Joined
ARMAGEDDON…BENEATH OUR VERY EYES
Most Christians have heard that in the final days before the second coming, there will be a great climactic battle of the world against the saints called Armageddon. But what if I told you that Armageddon has already begun, that the church is already under siege, that you are fighting for your very lives? Oh come on, you’d say, we have a nice comfortable life in the suburbs, the American dream. Battles happen in far off lands like Iraq and Bosnia, but not here. Yet beneath our very eyes, in the spiritual realm, a battle continually rages, one in which, if we are unaware of it, we will surely be defeated. For this is what Ephesians 6:10-17 asserts. Now this battle is not something spectacular in addition to the everyday trials of life but rages within those trials as their inner core and spiritual essence. Spiritual battles may be taking place in such mundane issues as who shall prepare dinner. Every decision we make, and every situation we are in has the potential to become a spiritual battleground, since at every point Satan waits to trap us in his lie of independent self. This lie concerns the very way we perceive reality, our circumstances, even our very selves, and if we are not aware of the means God has provided to counter Satan’s tactics, we shall surely lose the battle.
According to Eph. 6:12, our enemy is spiritual. They are not human beings, though it may appear they are. For if we think that our enemy is our human
self or other human beings, no matter how horrible or evil their actions, we will lose the battle that really counts. We must not fail to recognize that we are fighting the battle with the spirit which operates in persons, and not with the persons themselves. They are only the vessel which Satan has taken over through their choice. To think that we are fighting the battle against mere human beings is to treat them as independent selves, and thus to be defeated already by the devil.
SATAN’S SPIRITS ARE AT WORK TO DESTROY
In addition, Satan has a vast array of evil angelic spirits at his disposal and direction (Eph. 6:12). They surround and press in on us on all sides like Pharoah’s armies surrounded Israel on the shore of the Red Sea. This host of evil spirits seeks to purge the earth of this new human race, the new creation, by means of their own program of ethnic cleansing, just as the Serbs have attempted to purge the Bosnians from their land. All the devil’s schemes have this as their ultimate purpose and goal to destroy and incapacitate the people of God. These spirits are the true rulers of our society and culture. They powerfully influence and guide the prevailing moral and spiritual values of our culture and attempt to destroy the church through moral compromise. They distort our culture’s perception of spiritual reality, causing many to disbelieve the truth about God and themselves as revealed in the Scriptures, desiring to corrupt the church with false doctrine and to weaken its faith in divine revelation. They direct society in a program of rebellion against God and hostility towards His people, to harass and persecute them. This is less prevalent in our society, but much more common in Communist countries and countries where other religions predominate, such as India, Nepal, and Moslem countries. They inspire resentful and grudge-bearing Christians to promote division and disunity in the church in whatever way possible. Any self-centered and unsubmissive attitude will be exploited by these powers to the detriment of the body of Christ.
Human beings and institutions function as the instruments and vessels of these evil powers in their attack upon the church. The state may be used to persecute Christians openly. Schools may be used to destroy our children’s morals and their belief in the truth of the gospel, either directly, through the teaching of immoral behavior, or indirectly, through peer pressure. False teachers are sent to deceive those inside and outside the church. We know of the existence of the cults, which seek to convert uninformed new christians to their beliefs. In fact, on the mission field, the success of the cults has often been at the expense of the church, as they sway recent converts to their point of view. But false teaching also goes on inside the church. Even believers may become its instruments by believing Satan’s lie of independent self.
THE SPIRIT BATTLE BEGAN WHEN SATAN WAS DEFEATED
This battle began when Christ decisively defeated Satan and his angels at the cross (Col. 2:15, Eph. 1:21). With His death and resurrection, Christ triumphed over them, and broke their grasp over humanity and over creation (Heb. 2:14-15). But the war is not yet over. Just as World War II had its Dday, when we decisively defeated the Nazis and gained the beachhead at Normandy, so Christ’s defeat of the powers was decisive, but not final. There was another year of hard fighting in World War II until the day of victory, or V -day, came. This is true of our battle also, for although Christ has won the decisive battle for us, the church is still threatened by the devil and his evil powers. The war is not yet won, even though we know that we are destined to win.
We must recognize fully the power of our enemy. They posses vast intelligence in executing their stratagems against the church. They are invisible and incredibly deceptive, hiding behind human instruments, whom we are tempted to believe are mere indepen dent selves acting on their own. Since our enemy is so overwhelmingly powerful, we must find a way to defend ourselves.
GOD SUPPLIES THE FULL ARMOR FOR BATTLE
The battle can only be fought with the armor and weapons that God provides (Eph. 6:11,13-17). In order to do this, we must acknowledge our utter defenselessness against these powers, and that we are unable to resist them in our own strength. Only then are we ready to appropriate and completely depend upon the full armor of God for our defense. Alcoholics Anonymous recognizes that acknowledging one’s powerlessness is the first step in winning the battle against alcohol. This holds true not only for addictions, but for all spiritual battles. We cannot overcome the enemy in our own strength, for such strength is an illusion. We are not independent selves who possess strength.
This armor consists of the attributes of God as He goes forth to defend and deliver His people as the Divine Warrior (Is. 59:15- 17); it is not merely given by God as if it were something separable from Himself. The armor is God. Through the indwelling Spirit, God enables us to participate in His own qualities of truth, righteousness, peace, and power, in order to resist the enemy. God’s own presence within us is the armor, if we faithfully act in accordance with what we know to be the truth, namely that Christ Himself is living our lives as we trust Him to do so (Gal. 2:20).
Each part of the armor of God protects us against a specific objective of our enemy, and only in taking up the whole armor of God can we defend ourselves. Girded with the belt of truth, we are protected against the false teaching of the devil. When a warrior girded his loins, he made sure his robe or garment was fastened securely above the knees, so that he would not trip in battle. Thus girding one’s loins meant being prepared for attack and ready to move into action. False teaching causes us to trip, so that we are unable to advance against the enemy and extend God’s rule over the lives of others. With the belt of God’s truth, we are enabled to recognize Satanic deception in our own lives and the lives of others.
SATAN SEEKS TO DESTROY AND DIVIDE THE CHURCH
The breastplate of righteousness protects our hearts against forsaking our commitment to glorifying God by compromising the high moral standards of God’s Law. If Satan can get the soldiers of God’s army to betray their commander in their hearts, so that they will not follow His orders, he has already won the battle. The army of the Lord will be nothing more than a disorderly mob, as willing to fight its own members as those of the opposing army. High discipline and obedience to the commands of the general are essential to winning any battle.
Our feet being ready with the gospel of peace prepare us for any attack that seeks to divide the church (Eph. 6:15). The image of having your feet fitted is a symbol of haste, and of being prepared, as when the ancient Israelites had to be ready to take flight from Egypt on a moment’s notice (Exod. 12:11). Here we are to be prepared for any attack on the unity of the church that Satan may make. What better way to reduce the effectiveness of an army than to divide and conquer? So Satan seeks to destroy the peace and harmony within the church to destroy its effectiveness in preaching the gospel of salvation. We should examine ourselves: have we contributed to division in the church by engaging in unnecessary conflict or thinking of our needs above those of the whole church’?
The shield of faith (6:16) protects us against the doubts that would lead us to question God’s character and disbelieve His promise, particularly His promise to live His life through us (Gal. 2:20). The purpose of sending flaming arrows into the ranks of an army was to cause them to panic and break rank. If the soldiers failed to trust the commander by remaining in place, pandemonium was the result. So Satan sends fiery darts into the church, attempting to get us to lose faith in our commander, to live from our panicky fearful feelings, so that we act as if we were independent of our general, Christ Himself. In fact, however, the moment we allow Satan’s fiery darts to penetrate our faith through our feelings, we are already weapons of unrighteousness against others (Rom. 6:13).
The helmet of salvation (Eph. 6:17) protects us against the despair which Satan seeks to produce in the Lord’s army. How can we fight if we have no expectation of ultimately being victorious? The devil presents pictures to our minds of the forces arrayed against us and these pictures stagger our imaginations. The seemingly impossible situations we find ourselves in, how will we ever win’? We must be armed with the hope and assurance that we will have the victory, no matter what the odds.
These first five arms are primarily for defense against enemy attack, but the purpose of the battle is not primarily defensive. Unless an army, makes offensive moves against the opposing army, to capture and defeat their strongholds, the battle will never be won. God, and we as His army, are, after all, the invaders into Satan’s realm. God has established His church in enemy territory, so that it might reclaim the fallen creation for God’s kingdom. For this reason, God has given us a weapon as well to advance against the enemy and make claims on his territory. The sword of the Spirit is the word of God, the truth which judges the motives of human hearts (Heb. 4:12) and claims human beings for the kingdom. In the fantasy novel, The Sword Of Shannara, the hero defeats the evil druid with a sword whose only power is to reveal the truth and expose lies. Only as the hero faces the truth about himself does he become ready to face the evil druid. The sword is utterly ineffective as a physical weapon, but the hero learns that the very existence and power of the druid lies in deception, for the druid has already been dead for a thousand years! As the hero touches the evil druid with the sword of truth, his self-deception is exposed and he vanishes. This is true in the spiritual realm as well. Through our teaching of no independent self, we are reminding the devil that he was already defeated two thousand years ago at the cross, and that his power lies solely in his ability to deceive and to control humanity through that deception. As we teach people the truth about themselves, about no independent self, the Spirit uses us as a weapon to defeat the stronghold of Satan in people’s lives and to reclaim them for His kingdom.
STAND FIRM FOR SATAN’S FINAL DEFEAT
After equipping with the full armor of God, we are ready to take our stand against the powers of evil. These enemies are to he resisted with force. Paul
commands us, after we have put on the full armor of God, to stand against the enemy. Standing involves two aspects: first we are not to give up any ground to the enemy, but to hold onto what the Lord has obtained for us. That means not allowing Satan to gain any foothold in our lives through false doctrine, through division in the church, through a loss of faith in God, or through despair. When an army stands firm in a defensive posture, nothing can break through the lines to reclaim the territory that has already been won. By standing firm in what we believe, we will not allow the devil to regain dominion over us. We testify to the powers of darkness of their initial defeat by Christ in His death and resurrection, and to their final defeat when He returns.
But standing is not merely a defensive posture. By standing as a unified army, the Spirit can make offensive moves against the evil powers of this world, reclaiming our own lives and the lives of others from the enemy. How can an army be an effective instrument in the hands of its commander unless it acts in a unified fashion? If, at the smallest problem, the army erupts into pandemonium, what use is the army to the leader? Standing firm by staying in formation, is what makes the army effective. If one person breaks the line, it is like having an Achilles’ heel in the battalion. The enemy, being a master tactician, will direct his forces precisely at that point of weakness, and will attempt to press home for victory.
BE READY FOR BATTLE Armageddon has already begun spiritually. The church is surrounded by hostile forces dedicated to her destruction. If we do not know the battle in which we are engaged, we are like the witless fool who wanders onto the battlefield and gets killed because he didn’t know that a battle was taking place. Are we ready for battle? Are we prepared for attacks of Satan’s lie of independent self, attacks on our trust and hope in God? Are we ready at a moment’s notice to counter whatever move the enemy might make? Armageddon is already here, and we must be ready now.