Whoever follows the news a little, knows that the war in Syria is developing into a tangle of warring factions. Syrians, Russians, Iranians, Turks, Kurds, Americans, ISIS followers are all involved in this war. It’s one of those far-from-home shows; not the sort of thing happening in our back yard. We see some of it in the media and as the battle continues the situation becomes, for us, ‘more normal’. Meanwhile, here in our western country we are blessed with a life of freedom. It’s been decades since we’ve been threatened directly by war.
Be that as it may, do we realise that right at this moment we are actually at war? Are we aware that we are soldiers in the army of our Lord and Saviour? Do we understand that the struggle is a matter of (eternal) life and death? And are we sufficiently aware of the cunning and power of our deadly foes?
Satan cast down to earth
Recently we celebrated our salvation in the events of Good Friday and Easter. We remembered how the Lord Jesus Christ took upon himself the burden of God’s eternal wrath as Mediator of the Covenant and redeemed us from the wrath to come. By His death, resurrection and ascension, he secured our access to heaven; He defeated Satan at Calvary. Satan was finally cast out of heaven down to earth; he can no longer stand before the throne in heaven to accuse the believers.
Up to this time Satan had tried his utmost to prevent the arrival of our Saviour in the flesh, but no matter how hard Satan had tried, he had been unsuccessful; he failed to devour the Child of the woman who had to give birth. But although Christ completed His work on earth and had ascended to the throne to be seated at the right hand of his Father and to be given the government of the world, Satan would not acknowledge defeat. He now focusses his attention on destroying Christ’s church! The loud voice in Revelation sounds to us: “Woe to those who inhabit the earth and the Sea, for the devil has come down to you, in great anger, because he knows that he has little time left” (Revelation 12:12).
As our risen Lord hastens towards the completion of His work, the full number of the elect and the establishing of His kingdom, Satan is focussed on populating hell. Unfortunately many people today, including many who call themselves Christians, don’t believe this anymore. But Satan does exist. Scripture warns us in several places about Satan and his evil angels. It refers to him as the dragon, the destroyer, the old serpent, the father of lies. He is a devil, the adversary of God. When God says ‘yes’, he says ‘no’. If the congregation has to say ‘no’ to sin, he will stimulate the brothers and sisters to say ‘yes’. Satan can adapt perfectly. He goes around with evil determination, like a roaring lion; but he is also cunning, pretending at times to be an angel of light. With pious talk he tries to introduce false teachings to the Lord’s children.
Indeed, he concentrates on God’s people. He does not need to devote much time to people who ignore God and His commands. After all, these are already his followers. He is more concerned about God’s people and, with his wicked angels, he lies in wait to pounce on the members of Christ’s church. As we confess: the devils and evil spirits “lie in wait like murderers to ruin the church and all its members” (Belgic Confession: 12). So that’s his target: the church and its members. With grim determination, like a cold-blooded murderer, he sets out to destroy. Just as in a war the warring parties do all in their power to destroy the enemy and gain the victory, so Satan exploits every opportunity to destroy and demolish. He and his demons know our weak and vulnerable spots, and they exploit our carnal desires. Always keep in mind that Satan purposefully focuses on those who in their lives profess Jesus Christ as Saviour and Perfector of the faith.
This war is all the more dangerous because it’s not a ‘flesh and blood’ but a spiritual war. And because it’s not physically before our eyes it’s easy to close our eyes to the battle and pretend, like an ostrich, that there’s no danger. But the battle is real. As Scripture says, it is a battle “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12)!
Shaping our thinking
To achieve his goal, Satan surreptitiously employs various tactics and traps. In order to win us over to his side of the antithesis he tries to shape the way we think. Paul reminds us of this when he makes the contrast between world conformity and the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2). Satan wants our thinking to conform to the way the world thinks. For he is the ruler of this world and has, as it were, filled the earth with his spirit. He knows that his anti-Christian values appeal to our sinful nature, to the world’s way of thinking. He tries to live in us and to pull us away from God. But Paul, speaking by the Spirit, warns us not to be conformed to the world but to be renewed in our minds. He says that our thinking, our spirit, our conscience, our behaviour needs to be conformed to God’s Word.
Paul’s words are not time-bound. We don’t need to modify the Word, changing its meaning to make it relevant to today’s culture, as some Christians do. Paul’s Spirit-inspired words are still current! And we are to be on guard continually against Satan’s efforts to mould our minds so that our thinking conforms to that of the world. He wants us to adopt the world’s values so that we make them our own.
Do you notice this when you view the news in the evening? The talk-back shows that follow? Do you notice that when you read the newspaper? When you relax with a book on the couch? When you surf the net? Do you see it when you chat with your colleagues over coffee? That Satan is always trying, grimly determined as he is, to lead you, God’s child, astray? That you are a target in the spiritual war?
That is the battle we face daily. Satan uses every means available to change our views on such things as education, sexuality, money, leisure activities, etc., so that our views conform to those of the world.
In this war the church is the army of God’s kingdom. That’s reflected in the Heidelberg Catechism, in the petition for the coming of God’s kingdom (Lord’s Day 48), where we pray for the preservation and increase of the church. The members of the church, the army of God in this world, must struggle in their own personal struggle to promote God’s Kingdom (2nd petition) so that more and more the name of God is made great in this world (1st petition).
Serving in the army is not a personal matter. It is not an individual thing, although Satan is trying to promote a spirit of individualism. No, after all, don’t we pray to our Father? It’s something that applies to us as communion of saints. We have a shared responsibility for each other in this spiritual warfare to build each other up, to stimulate one another to live a reformed lifestyle. So, let’s encourage each other wherever we can—in attending the Bible study meetings, in encouraging each other to read soundly reformed magazines, etc.
And just as the members of the church form the army of the Kingdom of God, the church as the body of Christ is the Oasis, the resting place, the place where everyone can regain strength. After all, through the preaching of God’s Word, the Holy Spirit works perseverance of the faith in the hearts of the faithful. On Sunday the members all come to church, tired from the struggle of the past week against the sworn enemies, in order to regain their strength, to be encouraged by the promises of the Gospel for the new week in His service.
But being reinvigorated for the battle is not limited to Sundays. Also at home we strengthen ourselves with God’s Word and by prayer. Hence serious home devotions are so important: faithful Bible reading, faithful prayers, praising the Lord, begging Him for His power and Spirit. Home devotions are occasions where parents give a good example and stimulate the children to engage actively in the youth Bible study meetings and catechism classes. Devotions are great occasions for discussing the sermons, Bible reading, and church history. Hereby we grow in our knowledge of God’s Word—for how shall we recognize wrong teachings if we do not know the Scriptures?
The author of the Hebrews calls his readers to faithfulness and mutual love. After referring to the “cloud of witnesses” who lived by faith (Chapter 11) he summonses his readers to “lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely” and not to “grow weary or fainthearted” (12:3). Indeed, he even says: “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (12:4). His Hebrew readers had evidently not been hurt yet in the struggle. Putting off the old nature hadn’t led to any physical wounds.
The battle lines are drawn against the devil, the world and our own flesh! Paul therefore calls us to battle, to put on the spiritual armour. Fortunately, our survival does not depend on our own ability to resist Satan’s attacks. If our resistance depended entirely on ourselves, we would immediately capitulate and fall. No, we fight in the strength of the Spirit and arm ourselves with the sword of the Word knowing that, although Satan goes around like a roaring lion, he is subjected to the Lion from the tribe of Judah in everything. This Lion, the Lamb, leads world history in fulfilling His purpose, the completion of His people, His kingdom.
We live in a country in which there is freedom and we see this as a blessing from God’s hand for which we thank him very much. He gives freedom to attend church, establish reformed organisations, have Bible study meetings, engage in personal Bible study, etc. However, we must not slacken off, or become careless. We must never relax our vigilance. For its war and we are to fight the good fight. The spiritual battle continues, and our involvement will not cease until we leave this transient life. Until we obtain the complete victory it is necessary for us to pray to the Lord for the strength of His power.
Yes, it is war. It is deadly serious. “But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Petr. 5:10-11).
J A Sikkens (article translated, slightly modified and condensed from De Bazuin, 21st March 2018 by J Numan)