Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Stand Firm!

Ephesians 6:10-20 In our sermons over the last several weeks we have heard the call of Joshua to choose who we will serve:  the one, true and living God of the universe or the false gods of the world around us and then the answer of Joshua and the people that they would serve the Lord. 
We heard the challenge of Moses that we are to teach our children the truth about God’s great, gracious works and what it means to live as God’s children and the eternal consequences for us and those we love if we fail to do so.
We have seen the greatness of God’s chosen servants and heard the commitment of God’s people.  And yet we know how all this turned out for the children of Israel:  that they did not keep their commitments—they did not follow God’s will—and in very short order their disobedience and faithlessness affected all who followed them.  The Bible says that:
After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel. They abandoned the Lord…
            And if we are tempted to think of them too harshly, to judge them too severely, to think that somehow their story is not our own, the Bible says that:
These things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for OUR instruction, uon whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
            And yet, standing firm is the very thing that God calls upon us to do:  to remain steadfast in our faith and constant in our commitment to worship and serve the LORD alone where so many who have come before us have fallen.  How are we to do that?  The Bible says
Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
            All of us have had this experience of failing to be the people we ought to be as children of God—of missing the mark when it comes to God’s expectations for our lives.  What we learn through the lives of God’s ancient people and in the lives of the disciples is that this dilemma of desiring to be the new creation we are in Christ by faith--and falling back into what the bible calls our old self with its deceitful desires-- is not unique to you. 
You are not alone in this spiritual struggle.  It’s not just your life and your marriage and your family where there are spiritual setbacks.  Paul said of himself:  I do not understand my actions.  For I do not do what I want; I do the very thing I hate.  So it is for us!
And so then, what’s going on in our life of faith when we struggle to live out the reality of who we are as a new creation in Christ Jesus? 
What we learn in these verses is that there is a spiritual battle that rages around us—a spiritual battle that we are a part of—a spiritual battle where we must fight against evil forces that are greater and more powerful than ourselves.  Again, the Bible says:
we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil
            It has become intellectually fashionable in our day and time—even within the church—to deny the existence of a personal, evil spiritual being.  But from Genesis to Revelation the Bible is absolutely clear that the devil is real and powerful and is part of an unseen realm of other evil beings like himself.  And so then…
When you combine the evil angels-- with a world that is allied against God-- and our own flesh that’s opposed to God --you have (in the world, our flesh, and the devil) an evil, spiritual triumvirate that we are powerless against in our own strength and resources. 
And yet they have been utterly defeated by Jesus Christ—not by an act of his almighty power—but by his humble life and bloody death and glorious resurrection. 
All the way back in the Garden of Eden, when the devil and our sin ruined the world, God promised that he would send a Savior—the Seed of the Woman—who would crush Satan.  That is what Jesus did—robbing the devil of his tyranny over our lives by taking that terrible burden upon himself—ruining the devil’s accusations against us by standing guilty in our place.
Yes, the devil is real,  Yes he is powerful—but he is not greater than the One who defeated him by suffering and death on the cross and it is this risen and ascended Savior who gives spiritual gifts to his people so that we can face our own spiritual battles unafraid and unbroken and unbowed.  The Bible says:
Take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
            Every one of us will face spiritual battles.  The devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.  Many who begin in faith do not end that way. 
Each of us are combatants in an unseen, but very real war.  We cannot, and must not, give up and give in to the desires of our flesh and the temptations of the devil and the ways of the sinful world around us.  Rather, we must stand firm in our faith with the spiritual equipment the Holy Spirit gives God’s children.  The Bible says:
Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,
            The picture that the Holy Spirit sets before Paul’s eyes (and before our eyes of faith in these verses) is that of a Roman soldier—the greatest fighting man of the ancient world.  Roman armies defeated the Greeks and the Gauls and the Carthiginians and countless others over hundreds of years and they ruled the greatest earthly empire of the day. 
Their strength and power was the reason for the peace that existed in the ancient world.  But for all their strength and for all their weaponry and for all their fighting spirit, they were still no match for the devil and his angels.  Spiritual victories are accomplished by spiritual means.
That is why the Spirit equips us with the belt of truth.  How desperately this is needed in our world today!  We live in a place and time where little babies are called medical waste and men are called women and evil is called good.  The truth of God’s Word equips us to call these lies what they are and order our thought life according to the truth of God’s Word.
The breastplate of righteousness covers our heart with the promise that despite the wounds we suffer from the spiritual conflict that rages around us—despite the fact that we have stumbled and fallen in the heat of battle—the perfect, complete righteousness of Jesus Christ is ours by faith and avails in God’s sight for salvation. 
The shoes of Gospel readiness are given by the Spirit so that every time we are ready to retreat—every time we are ready to run as far and as fast as we can from the heat of battle--we are equipped instead to take the battle to the enemy and go where the peace of Christ is needed the most in our homes and schools and communities.
And in the heat of battle we fight on with the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation so that no matter what kind of accusations the devil makes against us we can believe that we are forgiven by Christ-- and no matter what kind of spiritual blows fall upon us we can know and that God has saved us and claimed us as his own. 
Spiritually equipped in this way we fight on with the only offensive weapon that we Christians can yield and that is the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. 
Much too often you hear Christians talk about how the next election or the next law or the next Supreme Court nominee holds the key to what ails us as a nation and people.  You hear the same nonsense in the church when ecclesiastical elections come around. 
But the only way that spiritual progress can made --and the only way that spiritual victories can be won-- and the only way that hearts can be changed-- is by wielding the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God spoken to us by our heavenly Father. 
And hearing his voice over the clamor and confusion over the spiritual battle that rages around us, we cry out to him in prayer, asking God to help our brothers and sisters who are locked in the same battle as we are.  The Bible says:
Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. Keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
            The spiritual battle that rages around us—the spiritual battle in which we are combatants—also encompasses our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world. 
In our world today, in this moment when we are gathered together in the safety of the Lord’s house, there are people who will face torture and slavery and rape—there are people who will be imprisoned—there are people who will die-- for no other reason than that they confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. 
We must never forget our brothers and sisters in Christ who are persecuted for their faith but instead lift them up to the Lord in prayer, asking God to protect them and keep them strong in their faith and confession.
But as terrible as is what happens to persecuted Christians in our world, what is still worse is what happens to all of those who will die this day without saving faith in Jesus Christ.  There is nothing worse—nothing—than an eternity of separation from God in the fires of hell!
And so we pray especially for all of those who are dead in their sins and trespasses—who are deaf to the call of the Holy Spirit—who are blind to a God who loves them and has sent his Son to die for them—we pray that the same Holy Spirit who has brought us to faith through the Gospel will bring them to faith as well 
And we pray for all those faithful missionaries like Paul who serve in places where we cannot go, that the Holy Spirit would help them to speak boldly of the salvation that is only found in Jesus so that the battle for lost souls is won by their Savior.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, there is a spiritual battle that rages around us.  Each of us are combatants in that battle.  None of us will emerge from it unscathed or unbloodied-- but we can be victorious in the victory Christ has already won for us in his death and resurrection.  We can fight on in his strength, equipped with the spiritual armor he provides!  Amen.

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