You're In The Army Now!
S o far in our series we have covered many important points regarding what an ekklesia is and what it’s not. We've looked closely at discipleship and what it takes to live in an ekklesia. Our primary goal in delivering these messages is to present the facts in order to build a case that proves to all who are interested that Ekklesia Living is the way God desires His people to live. We never seem to tire of expounding upon the many benefits and blessings, the countless opportunities for spiritual growth Ekklesia Living has to offer the serious Christian. In our last segment we compared the ekklesia with the human body—and what an amazing comparison it makes! We marveled at the divine design that runs parallel in both. What a privilege to be personal friends with the designer Himself.
In part 7 we are going to join the army. Besides being a unified body with all the vital, life-sustaining systems that only the wisdom of God could have created, God's people are also trained up to be spiritual soldiers. Now everybody knows that soldiers belong to an army. Yes, God has an army—an army that sheds no blood as we like to say—and every true follower of Jesus will eventually find themselves on active duty in God’s army one way or another. The disciple sincerely in love with his Master will soon be crying out for deeper spiritual experiences than church has to offer. It’s only natural, for the people of God are meant to be trained, disciplined, and joined together as a spiritual fighting machine. God's war machine is like none other. We are the army that sheds no blood, built and commanded by God for some very specific purposes. First, God desires we win the war against sin and regain our position as heirs of His Kingdom. Next we must take dominion over God's and our enemies, rescuing lost souls from eternal damnation as we reconcile them to their Creator who alone can forgive their sin. What a privilege to be given the chance to enlist in God's service! What a joy to be trained by the Lord himself, sacrificing our lives for such a noble cause. Many people spend their entire lives searching for a cause worth fighting for yet never find it. We've found one! There is nothing more rewarding than pushing through enemy opposition to raise the blood-soaked banner of Jesus in the sight of all men. Forward into the fight! Victory is sure, for the battle is the Lord's.
WHERE ARE THE SOLDIERS OF THE CROSS?
Before we attempt a detailed comparison of the ekklesia to an army, it would be wise to better understand our goals and objectives as Spirit soldiers. We need to know why God has called His disciples to fight, as well as what we're fighting for. Yes, the Prince of Peace has called us to fight! Our primary goal is simple: to lift up Jesus in the eyes of a dying world. Sounds easy. Only one small problem: as we lift Him up Satan and his army of wicked spirits work to pull Him (and us) down. Our lives are meant to reflect the beauty of holiness which Jesus died to secure for us. Satan hates holiness and he does his best to tempt, trick, and trap us into sin. What’s the end of all this interaction? We have a real fight on our hands! Thank God He intervenes on our behalf, giving us the power we need to overcome the enemy—if we will only use it.
For most modern Christians, especially here in the USA, the idea of fighting makes them very uncomfortable. They don't see any need for all this talk about fighting as they relax in their easy chair, sip their favorite beverage, and click through the channels on their big-screen TV. They are enjoying a life of ease, fat and full on the things of this world. They don't want to hear about some war—especially if it involves them! Besides, if this war business was so important then why doesn't their pastor ever talk about it? GOOD QUESTION!
The truth is that in this hour the majority of average Christians, including pastors, have already been captured by the enemy—and they don’t even know it. They've been bound up and imprisoned by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. The sickest part is they seem to enjoy their chains! When you talk to them about spiritual warfare they look at you like you belong to some fringe element of religious fanatics whose outlook on life is hopelessly warped. When you confront them with the scriptures they are forced to agree that yes, the concepts of spiritual warfare and soldiering are found throughout the Bible—but they don't feel like they need to get involved in it. They’re alright. They go to church. It’s just not God’s calling for them. No wonder the world is sinking fast into utter darkness! The ones who are supposed to be driving back the hordes of Hell are at the football game, the movie theater, the steak house, or worse. God's people have turned into nothing but soft, simpy, coddled, cowards! They no longer seek to please the Lord. Everything revolves around satisfying the insatiable lust of the flesh. And at this time in history America's prosperous economy makes it possible—even easy. Yet don't despair. Eventually all that will change as the judgments of God continue to be released. Just as it happened to Israel of old, when God's people forsake His way and go whoring after a multitude of other gods they will be taken into captivity and grievously punished.
THE NEED FOR SPIRITUAL WARFARE
Regardless of what compromised, complacent, comfortable Christianity believes, the reality of spiritual warfare is something that no true disciple of Jesus can afford to deny. Why? Because true soldiers of the cross are continually under attack. They either fight or die. In order to help us survive relentless enemy attacks God has a perfect plan. He groups His people into fighting units or ekklesias under His command. The intention of this series of articles is to examine the details of how this plan called Ekklesia Living works. According to the great commission (Matt. 28:18), God desires to mount an ever-increasing offensive to effectively spread His Kingdom around the world in order to rescue precious souls from the kingdom of darkness. Unfortunately He can’t find very many who will dedicate their lives to the cause. Even though the benefits are tremendous, and our commander is God Himself who promises to fight side by side with us in every battle, most shrink from the challenge. Why? Because it involves suffering and self-sacrifice, including a strict prohibition on idolatry. The thought of missing out on all the luxuries and enjoyments the world has to offer is too much. They might even have to give up TV. God forbid! Sadly, they are passing up the greatest opportunity they will ever have—the chance to live together with God's family under the guidance and control of the Holy Spirit—all because they would rather continue worshiping themselves and the worldly trash they have come to love so dearly.
A quick evaluation of humanity and the problems that have plagued every civilization throughout history will lead even the novice to the conclusion that the world is bound to repeat patterns of destructive behavior. Things never seem to get any better. In fact many of these destructive forces seem to multiply and increase in intensity with each new generation. Hatred, violence, greed, selfishness, cruelty, addiction—the list goes on and on. These monsters roam the earth wreaking death and destruction wherever people are gathered. Walk the streets of any big city and you'll come face to face with multitudes who are bound by chains of evil and darkness. Then, if you want the real truth, find an honest policeman(?) and ask him about what goes on beneath the surface that appears relatively decent. You may need to sit down. The facts are staggering. Crime rates of every type are continually increasing. Substance abuse of all types is out of control. Criminal organizations are like deadly diseases that stalk the land, affecting even government officials and law enforcement itself. The police are often caught dealing drugs (everybody wants to get ahead you know), and the legal system is like a sick circus where the innocent suffer for the guilty and he who has the most money wins. The prison industry has never been better. New penal institutions are continually springing up like ugly weeds all over the land. What's the problem?
THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM
In the beginning God made us perfect—in His own image. Yet ever since Adam and Eve fell, bringing the curse of sin upon us, humans have had nothing but trouble. The only time things work out right is when God intervenes, or people seek God's help, listen to what He says, and obey His commands. Tragedy after tragedy caused by men breaking God's laws; doing horrible things to their fellow men because they want to play God: these are sad stories that fill the pages of history. Thank God that He has engineered a solution. God has made a way that we can break free and live above the oppressive curse of sin which we are doomed to inherit.
Of course God's plan revolves around Jesus, the sinless One who gave himself that we could live. We must be born again, having our minds and hearts washed clean by the blood of Christ, the only substance in the universe able to truly wash away sin. And more than being liberated from the slave chains of sin, and all the demonic bondages that go with it, we can go further—through the power of God we can put to death the desire to sin that lives within us. Only when we are sickened by sin, when we don't want it anymore, will we have the chance to be truly free. Yet the other side of the story is WARFARE. We’re going to have to fight with all our might if we want to gain and maintain the freedoms and blessings God offers. With God's help we must pull down our idols. We must break off our whorish love affairs with the things that are working to destroy us. As we trust in Jesus we are forgiven, sanctified, and brought into right standing with God the Father once again. So, how does that solve our problem? Our problem is solved because the barrier that separated us from God has been removed! Jesus paid the price for our sins. The power of sin has been broken. Even better, we have been endued with the power of the Holy Spirit. We don't have to sin anymore if we don’t want to. Unfortunately, experience teaches us that sin still continues to be a problem. Even Christians who have been walking with the Lord for years find themselves struggling with sin. So, what's the next step? What's the ultimate solution? EKKLESIA LIVING.
WE'RE LOOKING FOR A FEW GOOD SOLDIERS
When we give our lives to the Lord it is His desire to remake us; mold and shape us into the image of Christ. God wants to discipline and train His children because He loves them. It grieves Him to see His creation suffering under the oppression of sin. In order to win in the war against sin Jesus must train us into His disciples. When we give our life to Jesus we are automatically enrolled in a unique training program—a lifelong course that challenges us to the very core of our being. Jesus wants to teach us how to take dominion over sin in our lives. We couldn't ask for a better example. The One in whom the enemy could find nothing is our teacher. Despite the wonderful opportunities this course offers, despite the fact that God himself is available to us on a 24/7 basis for private instruction, it seems that few sign up. Yet those who do soon realize they’ve found the answer to all their questions; the solution to all their problems. They enter into a relationship like no other. They've made a covenant with their creator—the God who made Heaven and earth. Now they are privileged to fight for His cause, rescuing others from the powers of sin and eternal damnation. WHAT AN OPPORTUNITY!
This brings us to our main point: every true disciple of Jesus is also going to be a soldier. There's a war on! God's Kingdom is under attack, and so are we because we are subjects of that Kingdom. Initially each one of us was drawn by the Spirit of God. We made a choice to follow Jesus, and like the experience John Wesley had, our hearts were "strangely warmed." Little did we realize that when we were born-again we had enlisted in the oldest, strongest, most well-trained, well-organized army on earth. We took sides in a conflict as old as humanity itself. As a result we’ve been marked by the enemy and targeted for destruction. Thank God our lives now belong to another—One who promises to keep us safe and has the power to do it. To put it in plain English: we are no longer our own boss. We are soldiers under command and our commander is Jesus, the greatest military genius of all time.
LIFE UNDER COMMAND
Naturally, any commander faced with a conflict is going to marshal his troops and prepare for battle. Much teaching and training is involved. Soldiers, already familiar with army life, must learn about the warfare they are facing, what their weapons are and how to use them, how to recognize the enemy, and most importantly, how to listen carefully to their leader and obey his commands. As well as training his troops, a wise commander will consolidate and evaluate his resources, making sure he has what it takes to win before he enters the conflict. This is what Ekklesia Living enables God to do.
Each ekklesia, no matter where it is located on earth, is meant to function like an army. They are usually small, but size is not the issue. Some of the deadliest, most feared guerilla units in history have been small compared to the armies they harassed. Ekklesians live together, having all things common and serving each other in a spirit of love and sacrifice. This is the pattern established by the first Christians (see Acts 2:44-46; 4:32-35). As soldiers, they live disciplined, consecrated lives under the chain of command with Jesus holding the highest rank. In this way God is able to effectively use His people to attack the kingdom of darkness, winning decisive victories over Satan and sin. And what's even better, it's Jesus who leads us into battle, directing each offensive and mobilizing us to reach out and rescue those trapped in the chains of sin. What a cause to live for! As the battle progresses God's enemies are put to flight and souls are redeemed. All we must do is follow the way of the Crucified. Jesus is deeply concerned that lost souls come to Him and partake of the salvation He so freely offers. He already paid the price. His blood was shed for our sins. "Not my will but thine be done" was the surrender that won the victory. Now it's our turn.
More than just guarding some position or outpost, soldiers of the cross become liberators, warriors of love and mercy, helping free people from sin and demonic bondages. We have the satisfaction of knowing that we are fighting, sacrificing, laying our lives down under the command of the One who gave His life for us. In a very real sense we become laborers together with Christ. Very few soldiers in the carnal sense are privileged to work and fight side by side with their commanders. Those poor souls who belong to the armies of the world are often doomed to perish as cannon fodder for some twisted patriotic scheme hatched by the military/industrial complex. They are pawns, moved about and sacrificed by governments who are controlled behind the scenes by those running the international economic machinery. How fortunate we are! For as the battle rages around us our God is with us every step of the way, shielding, strengthening, and encouraging us to fight on. As we yield to the power of the Holy Spirit we play an important part in setting the captives free. Praise God! A nobler, more gratifying cause can't be found.
WHAT THE SCRIPTURES SAY
Very few will deny the fact that the world is hopelessly messed up. Tragically, most fail to realize the root of our problems is our sinful condition and separation from God. It’s obvious that many are desperately in need of help—help that only Jesus can give them. In order to bring them true assistance by introducing them to the Lord, we must be determined to challenge the forces of darkness. The chance to truly help those who need it is reason enough to dedicate our lives as soldiers in the service of the King of mercy. Yet for those who would like scriptural support for our involvement as soldiers in a spiritual conflict, the Bible records many verses. Let's look at some of the ones more well-known.
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Ephesians 6:11-17
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.
1 Peter 5:8-9
Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.
2 Tim 2:3-4
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.
Jude v. 3
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; and having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.
2 Cor. 10:3-6
The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name.
He teacheth my hands to war, so that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms.
Blessed be the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight: My goodness, and my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer; my shield, and he in whom I trust; who subdueth my people under me.
And thou shalt do that which is right and good in the sight of the LORD: that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest go in and possess the good land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, to cast out all thine enemies from before thee, as the LORD hath spoken.
And ye shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. And five of you shall chase an hundred, and an hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight: and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword.
The above verses make it plain that warfare is a very real part of the Christian's walk. Whether we like it or not, agree with it or not, it’s NOT going away. Notice the many words that indicate conflict or refer to the enemy: wrestle, armor, withstand, stand, resist, adversary, endure, vigilant, contend, weapons of our warfare, pulling/casting down, bringing into captivity, revenge, war, possess, cast out, chase, enemies. And this is only a partial list. Only fools try to deny the fact that true Christians are involved in spiritual warfare. Yet sadly, there are multitudes in today’s church who sincerely believe the only reason Jesus died is so we can enjoy the good life with lots of food, fun, and fellowship! The rule these Christian hedonists live by is, "He who dies with the most toys wins." They’ve convinced themselves that God wants them to prosper and have the best this world can offer. Not realizing it, they've made a first-class fool's paradise for themselves, putting the name of Jesus all over it. Unfortunately it will be too late to fight when they are sealed in Hell for eternity.
Paul compares the disciple of Christ to a soldier, fully armed and ready for battle. I'm sure that God would be happy if we didn't have to fight at all. Being trapped in sin gives no glory to God. Yet the ugly truth is we (going back to Adam) got ourselves into this mess to begin with. Now we’ve got to fight our way out. We have no choice—there’s no easy way. No matter how bad things get we must be careful not to accuse God, for none of our problems are His fault. The untold suffering, misery, cruelty, and injustice that has been the lot of humanity down through the ages can be traced directly back to man's rebellion against his Creator. God must weep as multitudes are overtaken, captivated, and destroyed by sin.
Yet there is hope! In His great mercy God has given us everything we need to win in the war against sin. Now it's up to us to face reality. The conflict with sin is far from being over. We must determine to make our stand as soldiers and prepare to fight, for the enemy will not leave us alone. If we refuse to fight because we aren't comfortable with the concept of war, or because we feel it shouldn't be this way, or because we're plain lazy, we will have no one to blame when we perish in our sins. Don't be deceived, the ugly truth in this war is you either FIGHT or you DIE. Jesus is waiting to strengthen and encourage those who push into the battle. We must be concerned for our own souls as well as the souls of others. If you claim the name of Jesus then make up your mind today to join us in the war as one of His soldiers. You can help set the captives free.
A PEOPLE HE CAN USE
What use does God have for a people He can't control? What good are disciples who won't obey? Any army in the world will tell you that soldiers who won't obey orders are worthless—more trouble than they’re worth. God is no different. He wants a people He can control. Yes, undoubtedly He loves us, so much so that He suffered the agony of the cross to save us from our sin. But more than that He wants to use us, He wants to perfect us, He wants to deal personally with us as friends and co-workers. There are plans to be carried out, battles to be fought, multitudes of souls lost in darkness who need the light of God's love. We have the privilege to work side by side with our Creator. Ekklesia Living is God's ideal pattern that enables Him to accomplish these goals through His people.
It takes militant, aggressive action, fueled by a burning concern for our fellow man, to bring the saving knowledge of the gospel to the world. Formidable forces are arrayed against us, both internally and externally, and the enemy works unceasingly to attack, sabotage, and if possible stop God's plans. As mentioned before we are soldiers of love and mercy—an army that sheds no blood. Nevertheless we are soldiers, and soldiers fight! Enough soldiers grouped together form an army. It is God’s ideal plan to bring His troops together and form them into units that He can use—ekklesias under His command. Whether He needs to move us with lightening speed or deliberate caution, with concentrated strength that smashes or the delicate touch of a surgeon, God wants to control His people with such accuracy that there is no room for error. This kind of army doesn't happen by accident. Years of teaching and training, constructive correction and chastisement under the Master's patient hand is what it takes. That's what Ekklesia Living is all about.