Publication: Pastoral Letter, October 2013
Dear Friend in Christ:
The Apostle Paul told his disciple Timothy to fight the good fight; to wage warfare according to the prophecies previously made concerning him (see 1 Timothy 1:18). The apostle knew about battles, even after the prophetic word had been given. In fact, battles (“the good fight”) are part of the prophetic word that Jesus gave us (see John 16:33). The question is, where is the battle and how do we fight?
I recently read about an army officer who expressed his disapproval of homosexual activity. He was reprimanded and told to serve under an openly gay officer. I know of a TSA employee who prayed and studied his Bible while on break; he was fired. These kinds of conflicts seem t o be on the increase.
My purpose is not to list all of the moral conflicts around us, but how do we focus in the conflict? The battle before us is not new, though often the issues are. The battle between good and evil existed before Adam and Eve; it began with Lucifer’s rebellion and continued to play out in the Garden and throughout history. Now it is our turn to recognize it and deal with it. In order to do that, we need to better understand its nature.
- Evil is spiritual, malignant, contagious and not subject to negotiation once it possesses.
- Evil is not flesh and blood, though it does certainly use people.
- Evil will use any means to achieve power, which was Lucifer’s goal.
- Evil’s primary tool is deception. It will use any means, including the Bible, to deceive.
- Evil’s aim and evil’s end is destruction.
- Evil’s measured therefore, is not in its rhetoric, but in its outcome. Charles Spurgeon said it well when he said, “The choice is death to sin or sin to death.”
Regarding good, God is good (see Psalm 86:5). God is merciful; God is righteous in His ways; God is faithful and true; God is unchanging and eternal; God cannot lie. God is the keeper of covenant, His promises. God’s purpose is salvation; God is Holy (separate and apart, other than creation). This is a brief list of what God and goodness are.
What we need to know about good is that without God, goodness is no longer absolute but becomes whatever a culture decides that it is. “Might makes right.” Evil can become “good” (see Isaiah 5:20). So, atheism, secularism, and agnosticism can reach a place of influence where godly people can be regarded as evil. How do we handle that? That is where the True Gospel is separated from others (see Malachi 3:17-18).
There are many responses that we can have to a corrupt culture. Peter said, “Save yourselves.” We can be passive, naïve, compromise, complain, let others fight, or we can obey the Lord and fight the good fight. Let’s face it, it takes God’s help and courage to follow Jesus in the face of evil.
It was the Lord Who said, “Take up your cross” and Who said that if we try to save our lives, we will lose, but if we lose our life for His sake, we would find it. Of course we not only have His words … we have His life and example.
He also said, “In Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (see John 16:33). Note the issues: We can have peace in a world of tribulation because He overcame the world, AND He shows us how. He laid down His life. The way to face the battle is to lay down our lives for the will of God, whatever that may be (see Revelation 12:11). While I pray for godly leaders every day and vote, I have no confidence in politics.
Evil ’s Strategy
The enemy hates the Truth and will use every means to oppress it and remove it. Truth is light and the enemy loves darkness. So evil will even use good words to obscure evil motives in order to seduce, enslave, and destroy.
I do not often read books about how evil works though I have read some, including Will To Power by Friedrich Nietzsche, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer, The God Part of the Brain, by Matthew Alper,Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky, and I Will Testify, the diary of a German Jew. Allow me to quote Alinsky, a community organizer who influenced some of our current leaders: “Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical from all of our legends, mythology and history….The first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did so effectively that at least he won his own kingdom–Lucifer.”
So Alinsky openly selects Lucifer as the strategic model. If I could summarize Alinsky’s advice to radicals this way, he said, “Don’t come as a radical, come as a ‘reformer’”. His appeal is, “I’ll help you get what you want, then you can help me get what I want.” I’ll give you self-interests, ego, appetite fulfillment and promise whatever you want. All you have to do is give me power. To put it another way, He gives us the drugs and w e get the addiction and worthless I.O.U.’s. It is dancing with the python.
The Serious Answer
Jesus didn’t do the dance. If you don’t like the bait, you won’t get the hook. Once we know the appeal and payoff, we become aware of the process. Unfortunately, many – even Christians – are caught. Who among us has never been deceived? If our hunger is for God alone and His Kingdom, then we can have peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, even in a corrupted world (see Romans 14:17).
The good fight is first against ourselves (see Jacob in Genesis 32). If we have given our lives to God, who else has life to give us? If God supplies, who else are we to depend upon? If we have humbled ourselves, why do we need an ego boost? If we have died to self, then what appeal has self-interest? If we love our enemies while hating sin, there is not bitterness to motivate us to do evil. If we are delighted in the Lord, what promises of temporal delights can delude us? Jesus said, “The prince of this world comes, but he has nothing in me.” If the enemy has nothing in us, what bait could he use? None.
But all of this is serious stuff. This is beyond a “self-help gospel” or even a “government-help gospel”. I can sing about it but can I do it? G.K. Chesterton said, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been tried and found difficult.” Before we wrestle with “spiritual wickedness in high places,” we must wrestle with it in our inward parts. The kingdom of God is first of all personal.
Where to Next?
Bill O’Reilly is a famous cable TV personality and he often focuses on the “culture wars”. Good for him! But that was not the focus of our Lord, the apostles and early Christians, though I’m sure that they would have desired a more godly culture. Their focus was on bringing God’s reign into human hearts. That would produce a better culture. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” begins in the human heart, and then transforms us into the light of the world, a light that cannot be hidden.
Dying to self is not done in a private corner; it comes with tribulation in the world. Unless we go out into the world, we will not meet the “fiery trial” (see 1 Peter 4:12). The truth is that there is little or no privacy anymore. Any stand soon becomes public and that is where the good fight takes us. We cannot hide. But take notice that we must arm ourselves, with knowledge, righteousness, faith, the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, the militant gospel, and praying always in the Holy Spirit (see Ephesians 6). If we take the posture of loving not our own lives, and arming ourselves spiritually, we can have peace and joy, even in the conflict, because if God is for us, who could be against us. He has overcome and showed us how.
Martin Luther gave us the great enduring hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” I love the line that says, “The body they may kill; God’s Truth abideth still, His Kingdom is forever.” Luther’s life was in danger when he wrote that hymn. When Luther faced the possibility of death, he said, “Here I stand. I can do no other.” To Luther, “justification by faith” was more than a theological statement; it was an act of obedience and courage. His stand, stood out and brought in a great harvest.
Once we count our very lives a loss in order to win Christ, we become a dangerous problem to evil, as Jesus was, as the apostles were, and those of like mind who came after. We become suddenly tall in a self-indulgent “pigmy” culture. While our task is not to judge the world, it is to bring truth, light, and mercy to the many who do not know the difference between good and evil. And, we can point to the difference in outcomes.
Speaking of outcomes, the greatest measure of any ideology is in its outcome. I am amazed that Nietzsche’s ideology has survived, given that he died of syphilis in a mental institution. “God is dead” is still taught by intellectuals, even after Hitler and Stalin are dead, in part because they believed Nietzsche.
The Good Fight
While our task is not to judge the world, it is to bring truth, light, and mercy to the many who do not know the difference between good and evil. And, we can point to the difference in outcomes. The good fight is not only the battle against the forces of evil in the spiritual realm. It is the battle that must be won on our knees, with others of like mind. The battle must be fought the right way; we cannot just see the issues and become entangled in cultural attitudes. We must ask God to give us Jesus’ motives, attitudes, and means. To be sure, Jesus got angry, but never bitter, hateful, or reduced to evil means. It is very easy to become tainted with cultural attitudes and miss the underlying spiritual issues.
The divine motive is clearly laid out in John 3:16 and other places: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son….” Isaiah and John the Baptist called Jesus “the lamb of God”. Jesus said, “I send you out as sheep among wolves” (see Matthew 10:16). We are to be wise as serpents but harmless as doves. We are not to be naïve, but we are to be kind, self-sacrificing, and merciful. Weakness? No! We are to have strength under discipline, overcoming evil with good, pleasing the One who makes us more than conquerers. That is the Gospel way.
To be honest, this letter is a challenge for me, as I am sure it is for you. But if I follow the Lord, He will lead me through the process of salvation and sanctification, and renew a right spirit within me. If we fight the good fight in reliance upon the Lord, I believe we will see His salvation in the land of the living.
P.S. Please continue to remember us in your prayers and giving this month as we face many challenges. Also, if you would like more information on my new book, Straight Answers to 21 Honest Questions About Prayer, please visit us on the online at www.csmpublishing.org.
Scripture Reference: 1 Timothy, John, Psalms, Isaiah, Malachi, Revelations, Romans, Genesis, 1 Peter