Call to Combat

Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. (Ephesians 6:10)

Jesus Christ is a general. The church is a fighting force. Christian people are soldiers. Christian living is war. The call to become a Christian is a call to combat. It’s a call to enlist in the forces of General Jesus, to fight his enemies, to pursue his strategy and objectives, to wear his protective gear and attack with his weapons.

If you think Jesus came into the world to make it instantly peaceful and comfortable, think again. Jesus says, “I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). Jesus came to start a fight, and he has already won the decisive battle. But the war isn’t over yet. Jesus calls people to join his forces and march with him to final victory. The outcome is certain, but the fighting still rages, and there can be no peace until every stronghold falls and the last enemy is defeated. Only when the war is over can we enjoy the benefits of peace and freedom. Until then we live in a combat zone. We must fight for Jesus, or else we are against him. It is impossible to be neutral.

Does this sound too aggressive and violent? At some points in history, bloody religious wars have been fought under the sign of the cross, and terrible crimes have been committed in the name of Jesus. But that’s not the kind of combat Jesus calls for. It is impossible to change hearts by force. When Christ calls people to combat, it is warfare of a very different kind.

We must fight spiritual enemies, and we must use spiritual weapons. The enemy is not a nation or its military; the enemy is far worse. The war is not conflict between nations; the powers involved are greater than any nation. The weapons are not guns and blades and bombs that destroy humans; the Lord’s weapons blast the bunkers of evil and devastate demons. “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). Christianity is spiritual warfare, with larger and longer-lasting results than any physical, political war.

Peace in Our Time?

Our warfare is spiritual, not physical—but it is still warfare. We must stand and fight for Christ, not be spiritual appeasers. Spiritual appeasers see no need for conflict, no need for a fight. Some churches are eager to avoid every hint of combat. They don’t sing “Onward, Christian Soldiers, Marching as to War” or “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus as Soldiers of the Cross” or any other hymn about battling sin and Satan. They don’t preach Bible passages that describe Christianity in military language. Why not? Why no mention of spiritual warfare? Some church leaders and their followers don’t see Satan as a threat; they might not even believe that Satan and his demons are real. They think human nature is basically good; they see little need to fight sin. They don’t see false religion as a danger to souls, they aren’t eager to lead non-Christians to a relationship with Jesus, and they oppose vigorous evangelism. Spiritual appeasers think we just have to love ourselves, be tolerant of others, and all will be well.

The Bible says otherwise: I must fight against my own sins and Satan’s attacks against me, and I must join Jesus’ mission of bringing gospel freedom to others and winning them to his cause. This kind of warfare—fighting Satan in our personal life and spreading gospel freedom to others—does not involve physical force. The Bible allows government to use physical force and weapons in some situations, but that is not the church’s calling. The church must mobilize people not for political and military conflict but for spiritual warfare. When the Bible calls the church and individual Christians to combat, it calls for something very different from the kind of wars and weaponry that make the news. Scripture calls for warfare in the unseen realm: spiritual warfare against Satan and the power of sin. This doesn’t require guns, tanks, and fighter jets—but it does require courage, determination, and strength.

There’s a lot more to following Jesus than being a nice, tame pussycat. The Bible speaks of Jesus as a lion (Revelation 5:5), and Scripture says, “The righteous are as bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1). Do you see Jesus as a lion or as a fluffy kitten? Do you want to be a tame pet in a safe home that does nothing but lie around and eat? Or do you want to be a lion in the service of the ultimate lion, Jesus Christ? To live as a real Christian, it’s not enough to be tame and safe. You need to be bold, strong, even fierce.

Lack of this warrior mentality may be one reason many churches have little appeal to men. Instead of God’s call to be strong, some churches merely call men to be nice. Author John Eldredge says,

Christianity, as it currently exists, has done some terrible things to men. When all is said and done, I think most men in the church believe God put them on earth to be a good boy… If they try really hard they can reach the lofty summit of becoming … a nice guy. That’s what we hold up as models of Christian maturity: Really Nice Guys.

Wouldn’t Bible study be more exciting if it became a strategy session of warriors? Wouldn’t church be different if it became a place to rally for war against Satan? Church might then be a place not just for children, women, and old people, but a place for men—bold, dangerous men who are strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.

In any case, whether the church has turned men off by becoming too wimpy or men have simply hardened their hearts against the Lord, the fact remains that all of us—men and women alike—are living in a spiritual war zone. You might want a peaceful, easy feeling, but if you aren’t prepared to fight sin, if you’re not ready to battle Satan, if you’re not on a mission to win victories for Jesus, you are doomed. You can’t negotiate or make peace with Satan.

In the period before World War II, the British government was so eager to avoid conflict that it stood back as Adolph Hitler invaded one country after another. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain boasted of solving disputes “by discussion instead of by force of arms” and spoke flattering words about Hitler and Mussolini. After the Munich agreement giving Czechoslovakia to Hitler, Chamberlain said, “I believe it is peace for our time. Go home and get a nice, quiet sleep.” Many British people cheered wildly. But there would be no peace and little quiet sleep. The only way to stop Hitler was to fight.

When a tyrant wants to conquer everything he can, there can be no peace. Satan is a tyrant, and he wants to conquer everything he can. Satan wants to dominate you and hold you under the power of sin. Satan wants you to die in your sin and end up in hell with him. He wants people around you to perish too. He wants them to ignore Jesus, believe false religions, and end up in hell. If you expect peace in our time, a life without struggle or conflict, Satan will completely control you.

Don’t be an appeaser. Be a warrior. Stand against Satan. Fight him. “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:10-11). Join Jesus’ army, and don’t expect an easy, peaceful life. It’s hard to stand against Satan’s attacks. It’s hard to go into enemy-occupied territory and bring the liberty of Christ to those ruled by Satan. There will be no peace in our time. There will be spiritual warfare until Jesus comes again.

His Mighty Power

The first and most important thing about spiritual warfare is to look to the strength and leadership of the ultimate war hero. Scripture says plainly, “The Lord is a warrior” (Exodus 15:3). Why did Jesus come to earth? To pick a fight! Jesus says, “I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). The final result of Jesus’ coming will be peace, but before he brings peace, he brings a sword against evil, and he brings division between those who join him and those who reject him.

Jesus did not come to earth to negotiate with Satan. He did not come for diplomacy or to work out a compromise. Jesus came to destroy. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8). The Son of God became one of us and died for us “to destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).

Do you think of the Lord as a warrior, as a destroyer of his enemies? In the Bible, God often reveals himself that way, and biblical prayers speak of him that way. Psalm 18 starts out with words of love—“I love you, O Lord”—but is this love for a sugary, sentimental deity? No, he’s the God of strength and battle. The psalmist says, “I love you, O Lord, my strength,” and then says,

The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. He shot his arrows and scattered the enemies, great bolts of lightning and routed them… With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall… You armed me with strength for battle (Psalm 18).

Psalm 68 speaks of God’s concern for orphans and widows, but does that mean God is just a gentle do-gooder? No, one reason God is such a comfort to the weak is that he wields terrifying power against enemies:

May God arise, may his enemies be scattered, may his foes flee before him… A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling… The chariots of God are tens of thousands and thousands of thousands… Surely God will crush the heads of his enemies… Summon your power, O God; show us your strength, O God as you have done before (Psalm 68).

The Lord Jesus calls us to join his fight against Satan and evil, against sin, cruelty, fear, discouragement, and all Satan’s other weapons. Jesus could be very gentle with weak and wounded souls, but he could also be combative and downright terrifying to Satan and his demons. Jesus often met people who were possessed and tormented by demons. These people did not have the strength to liberate themselves from demonic power. But Jesus had more than enough strength, and the demons knew it. They panicked whenever they saw Jesus coming. Some demons yelled in rage; some whimpered in fear; all felt threatened by Jesus. They knew they could not stand against him. As the Bible says of the Lord, “How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies cringe before you” (Psalm 66:3). Demons are not wimps. They are rebel angels who have lost all goodness but still have terrible strength. Human power can’t scare them, but the divine power of Jesus terrifies them. In fact, Jesus only had to speak a few words to make the demons flee.

If you’ve always thought of Jesus as a mild-mannered wimp, please watch the real Jesus in action. When he’s confronted by a legion of demons, Jesus sends them fleeing in terror (Luke 8:26-33). When he’s told that King Herod wants to kill him, Jesus fearlessly denounces the wicked king (Luke 13:32). When he’s told that his words have offended some elite religious leaders, Jesus offends them even more by calling them “blind guides” (Matthew 15:12-14). When he sees God’s temple made into a marketplace, Jesus goes on a rampage with a whip, driving out the merchants and flipping their tables upside down (John 2:15). When he sees a mob coming to arrest him, Jesus calmly tells them that he’s the one they’re after—and something about him makes them shrink back and fall to the ground (John 18:3-6). When Jesus enters death itself and takes on the ultimate enemy, the ground shakes, the grave opens, and death is defeated. These are not the actions of a passive, harmless wimp. This is the Lord of hosts, the commander of angels, the ruler of the kings of the earth, the General who calls us to combat in his forces.

The Bible pictures Jesus as a general riding a white horse, with the armies of heaven following him. If you’ve seen The Two Towers, the second film in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, think of the great battle scene where a monstrous army is launching a terrible assault on Helm’s Deep. The weary, wounded defenders have little hope for success, but they won’t give up, and they try a desperate counterattack. At that very moment, a rider on a white horse appears at the top of a hill, followed by a mighty army. It is their friend Gandalf, racing to help. On their own, the defenders could not win, but once the rider on the white horse shows up, they can’t lose. The enemy is crushed. That’s just a hint of how the ultimate rider on the white horse, Jesus Christ, has power to defeat the forces of Satan.

Be Strong

That same power can be yours and mine—not because we’re divine or equal to Jesus, but because Jesus gives the power of his Holy Spirit to those who trust him. When Scripture says, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power,” it means that we can be strong in the very same power that enabled Jesus to terrify demons and to defeat death. God calls us to be strong, not on our own, but in the strength of Christ. Expect victory, not because you’re so strong on your own, but because you’re part of the irresistible forces of Jesus. This is warfare for winners.

If you’ve been bullied by evil power, you may realize that Satan is much stronger than you are, and you might find it hard to believe that Satan will ever be defeated or that you will ever be free. Even after Jesus has entered the conflict, even though Satan is losing ground and is doomed to destruction, you still might have a hard time believing it. The good news of the gospel might not be getting through to you. Satan is losing, but he won’t tell you that. He’ll do everything he can to keep you from finding out about his defeat at the hands of Christ.

Satan has dominated so many of us for so long that we find it hard to believe in the defeat of evil and in our liberation. We find it hard to believe that our struggle is warfare for winners. Even as his power collapses, Satan keeps telling lies. He whispers into our minds that we are losers. He keeps saying that Jesus is dead. He keeps tempting us to side with evil rather than with Christ. Satan tries to keep us from finding out the real truth about his defeat so that we won’t rise up against him and shake off the shackles of sin. But the gospel announces the triumph of Christ, the defeat of Satan, and the call to be free of a dying regime. The gospel calls us to accept the rule of Christ and to rejoice in freedom from sin and fear. Don’t be intimidated by lies that the forces of evil are winning. Satan is too strong for you or me, but a far greater power has entered the battle. Satan is no match for Jesus and his angel armies.

The Lord is a warrior, and he calls you to join him in the warfare against the spiritual forces of evil. Be brave and fierce in resisting evil. “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” Join Jesus in demolishing Satan’s crumbling regime. Psalm 144:1-2 says, “Praise be to the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle. He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me.” Psalm 149:6 says, “May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands.” The day of peace will come when Christ returns, but in this day of battle, we have the heroic calling to battle against sin, doubt, and despair, and to tell others the good news that Satan is losing and that they can be free from his tyranny and enjoy freedom under the loving leadership of Jesus Christ.

Are you taking your stand or just taking a nap? Have you put on the armor of God, or have you refused to join his forces? This is no time for indecision. It is no time for cowardice. It is no time for appeasement. It is time to accept Jesus as your leader and to become a daring, dangerous soldier in his army. You might think it’s ridiculous even to imagine yourself as daring and dangerous. But if you dare to live by faith, you are an extreme danger to Satan and his demons. You have a very strong Father—the Lord is a warrior—and you can be a strong warrior who stands firm in faith. So be bold. Strike fear into Satan. Keep capturing more territory for General Jesus. Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.