As a Christian, how comfortable are you with the role of soldier, of knowing you are called to battle? I don’t think there’s any genuine believer who truly feels at home with the idea, and those who actually enjoy fighting might do well to reconsider their over-zealousness!
Confusion as to how we are to battle and who exactly we are fighting likely yields more contention both among and against Christians than simple gospel proclamation and gospel living does. My hope in this post is that we can have a better understanding of our role as soldiers and how we can fill that role while being a blessing to those around us instead of anathema.
Fight the Good Fight of Faith
Perhaps the most succinct instruction for the Christian soldier is found in Paul’s first letter to Timothy where he says to, “Fight the good fight of the faith.” Now this phrase by itself could easily be used to justify any amount unpleasantness by one who is a Christian in name only and would rather win an argument than win a friend. So here we must remember the three C’s of Biblical interpretation:
So, let’s have a go at this whole context thing and see what we find:
1 Timothy 6:3-16
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
What we see here are three ways we fight the good fight of faith:
Our fight begins with our minds. What we believe about God determines how we live. There are plenty of differing doctrines about Jesus generally, and about his life, death, burial and resurrection specifically. Some are true, many are not. Consider that the “these things” Paul instructed Timothy to flee find their root in false doctrine about Christ: conceit, craving controversy, envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction with unbelievers. On the other hand having a right doctrine about Christ leads to godliness (being Christ-like), faith (having assurance of our hope in Christ, being certain of what is not yet seen), love (self-sacrificial service and genuine affection for others), steadfastness (perseverance through trial, the testing of our faith), and gentleness (quiet strength with a pleasant disposition).
So the first thing to note in being a Christian soldier is having a right doctrine about who Jesus is and what he has accomplished.
Take Hold of Eternal Life
Secondly, we see we are to “take hold of the eternal life to which [we] were called.” What does this mean, practically? Paul no doubt has resurrection in mind when he says eternal life, and he echoes this thought in Philippians when he says, “I press on to make [the resurrection] my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12). Now, his thought really begins back in verse one where he exhorts the Philippians to “rejoice in the Lord,” before warning them of false religious teachers. In fact, all of chapter three can be looked at as a comparison of religion vs. gospel. Contrasted to the Judaizers who wanted the church to follow the Mosaic law of circumcision as a necessary precursor to salvation, Paul considers all accomplishments, all gain and possessions—everything—as loss and “rubbish” (literally translated as a pile of excrement) compared to knowing Jesus, having Jesus’ righteousness as his own, and suffering like Jesus so that he may rise like Jesus. What could be called the quintessential verse describing what it means to take hold of eternal life, Paul goes on to say, “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining toward what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Back in First Timothy, we see that taking hold of eternal life involves making “the good confession.” We also see that Jesus himself made this good confession, that He is the Sovereign, the “King of kings and Lord of lords.” So being a soldier not only involves having a right doctrine about Christ, but publicly proclaiming this truth “in the presence of many witnesses.”
Keep the Commandment
Thirdly, we are to “keep the commandment.” What is this commandment? In the gospel of John, we read these words of Jesus:
A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
Again, in John’s first letter to the early church:
1 John 3:23
And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.
How has Christ loved us? While we were yet his enemies, dead in sin and in light-hating darkness, he died for us and made us alive together with him, bringing us into the light of his presence. He did not consider his rights and status as God as something to be upheld, but humbled himself by becoming a man like us—yet without sin—and was obedient to God the Father to the point of dying on the cross. He suffered and died so that he might take our sins with him, then he was raised back to life so that we might inherit his righteousness. So should we love each other, laying aside our self-created “rights” and serving others, even those who don’t deserve our love.
Being a soldier involves not only believing in Jesus rightly and making this belief known, but also involves imitating his self-sacrificial love for his church. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
Put On the Full Armor
As a soldier, you must be well-equipped for battle. Otherwise, you will quickly become a casualty of war. Here, we will look at the classic “armor of God” passage in Ephesians:
Finally, 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. For 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 in the heavenly places. Therefore 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. 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, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end 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.
Paul compares the elements of being a Christian with that of a soldier’s armor and consists of six parts:
- Truth of the gospel holds all our armor together as a belt. Again, right doctrine about Jesus is the basis of all that follows.
- Christ’s righteousness and…
- …salvation protect the vital organs of our hearts and minds.
- Faith in Christ is both defensive and offensive as we actively engage the forces of evil.
- Evangelism is our means of mobility, as we spread the good news of Christ’s lordship and victory.
- Scripture is our primary weapon by which we “destroy arguments and opinions raised against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5).
One important note regarding the use of scripture as a weapon: it must be coupled with Spirit-filled prayer. Too often is the Word of God used to divide his church and stir up hatred through proof-texting—starting with a conclusion and then finding verses, often out of context, to support it. The Bible will never be correctly interpreted by those who aren’t led by the Spirit of the one who wrote it.
On the contrary, a Christian who prays his way through the Bible will wield it correctly and against his true enemies. This is probably the most important statement I will write in this post: Our fight is not against people. We don’t wage war against flesh, but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places who currently have power and temporary authority to rule. This knowledge and mindset allows us to love people with compassion like Jesus did, knowing that our true conflict is with the invisible.
So far in this study of being a soldier we have mentally prepared ourselves to fight the good fight of faith through right doctrine, taking hold of our eternal life, and keeping Christ’s commandment to love each another like he loves us. We have seen how truth, righteousness, salvation, faith, evangelism and scripture coupled with Spirit-filled prayer protect us in our battle and enable us to fight. With all this preparation in mind, Jesus gives us this command: Conquer. We are called to triumph over the enemy.
During a time of intense persecution for the early church, Jesus appears to his disciple and close friend, John. Before giving John a heavenly view of history, the present, and future events which would soon transpire, Jesus tells John to pen seven letters to seven local churches in what is now modern-day Turkey. These letters serve the church today to encourage us in areas where we are doing well and warning us where we are in sin.
A common theme in all seven of these letters is the concept of conquering. “To the one who conquers,” Jesus says, “I will [give this reward].”
|Revelation 2:7||…I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.|
|Revelation 2:11||…will not be hurt by the second death.|
|Revelation 2:17||…I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.|
|Revelation 2:26-29||…and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star.|
|Revelation 3:5-6||…will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.|
|Revelation 3:12-13||…I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.|
|Revelation 3:21-22||…I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.|
Eternal life, immunity from Hell, satisfying food and a nickname from Jesus, authority over nations, new clothes of purity, Jesus’ own recommendation, eternal security, and participation in Jesus’ sovereignty. All promises from Jesus himself to “the one who conquers.”
Where do I sign up?
At this point, we need to look at what Jesus means by conquering. How is it done, practically? One, by the blood of Jesus; two, by the word of your testimony; and, three, treasuring Jesus more than your own life (Revelation 12:11). We are enabled to conquer and overcome because by Jesus’ blood we can no longer be accused by Satan—we are cleansed from guilt and are declared holy and righteous by God. We conquer by staying true to the testimony of what Christ has done, that he died for sins and was raised back to life to give us firm hope of new life like his. We conquer by laying down our lives in proclaiming this truth, enduring persecution from God’s enemies even when it means certain death.
Paul notes in his second letter to the Corinthian church that our warfare is not physical, but spiritual in nature. As such, we don’t destroy people but “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God,” taking our own thoughts captive to obey Christ, and being ready to engage in Church discipline when necessary.
So again we see that Christian warfare, being a soldier for Christ, is largely a matter of having and defending Truth (right doctrine) regarding who Jesus is and what he has done. This means both engaging culture with the power of the gospel and engaging the church in order to mature the elect while pruning the wolves.
Theology matters. What you believe about God determines how you live. So fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which God has called you. Keep the commandment to love like Jesus does. Put on the full armor of God, remembering that your sword is only effective when coupled with Spirit-led and Spirit-filled prayer.
Finally, conquer. Triumph over evil by the blood of Jesus and the word of your testimony, even unto death.
“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
“For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”