A number of years ago, there was a time when I foolishly waited on the Lord, not in the biblical sense, but in the sense of frustration and impatience, secretly whispering to myself that if the Lord wanted me to live for Him, then He would have to do the work Himself. Ultimately, this is true. By grace through faith we are saved (Ephesians 2:8-9), and by that same provision of grace we continue to be molded and used by Him. (Philippians 2:13) Yet God chose to give us a will, and after our will is redeemed from bondage to sin, that will is free to choose and pursue God of its own volition. A redeemed will is no longer a slave of sin, but a slave of righteousness, not by force or coercion, but by passion that delights and longs to know God more fully and walk in His ways. (Galatians 4:8-11)
During my struggle I was plagued with all sorts of bitterness and pride, discontent about the state of my life, refusing to humble myself. Instead I clung to my pride and deceived myself into believing that I had done my spiritual duty and now it was God’s turn to work in me. So I waited on God to change me, I waited on my wife to change me, I waited on my friends to change me. As David said, “I was like a beast,” and as I childishly refused to pursue God, I felt myself slipping further and further into darkness.
But God is faithful. It is often within those moments when our faith is so weak and we see so dimly, that God is working most mightily on our behalf to redeem us from our foolishness and bring His sheep back into the fold. (John 9:1ff) When we wander off, the Great Shepherd has not lost sight of us, though we may have lost sight of Him. Though we can be completely and utterly stupid beyond comprehension, the Great Shepherd knows where we are at all times, and He is always working to guide us back to Himself. He can never lose a single one of His sheep, and we cannot be taken from Him. Though we may be lost for a season, we are never truly lost. (John 10:1-18)
During that period of great struggle God began to soften my heart, and by His grace He drew me closer to Himself by showing me my error. Through His Word he helped me see that I was to fight for Him at all costs — that the mark of a healthy Christian is an attitude of spiritual aggression and a zeal for holiness — not of complacency. But rather it is a fight — a fight of faith. (Ephesians 6:10-18) I had somehow forgotten this.
In more recent months I believe the Lord has helped me understand a little bit more about why I experienced these earlier struggles. I believe they are connected to a fierce war of holiness — a bloodless and invisible, yet violent war. Many times as a child and an adult I have sung the line “Onward Christian soldiers marching as to war…”, not fully realizing the depth of its meaning, but as God in His grace has helped me more seriously reflect on holiness, I now have a better understanding that we are called to a truly glorious war — one in which we fight for that deep-rooted holy joy that surpasses any temporary happiness on this earth… A joy that is built upon an unshakable confidence and surety about the things to come and an experiential knowledge of the mighty visible and invisible works of the Lord in our own lives and the lives of others.
But because the forces we fight against are unseen, the battle is very difficult to fight. When a fighter cannot see his opponent, he is almost completely unable to defend himself; and certainly unable to launch an offensive attack. Paul uses the same analogy in his first letter to the Corinthians when he writes, “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27) Paul was single-minded in his focus on Christ and service to Him, and he understood the prize at stake and sought to attain it. He also understood his opponent, the many forms of sin within and without that assaulted him daily, and the steps of discipline necessary to defeat it.
When I think about Paul’s writings in Ephesians 6 on the armor of God, I find every word so incredibly relevant for the Christian life. Every day I find myself assaulted with the “flaming darts of the evil one” — darts from my co-workers, darts from television, darts from the internet, darts from billboards, and even darts from one brother against another. All of these clever ways the devil uses to distract us from running the race (Hebrews 12:1-2) and fighting the fight of faith. And this is why the fight for holiness is so incredibly difficult — because it requires us to be vigilant and ready at all times. It requires perseverance, alertness, and constant prayer. Otherwise, the darts of the devil will pierce and wound us — the devil will find our weaknesses and attempt to exploit them and hold us hostage by them. But as we fiercely fight against the darkness, we learn and experience a holy joy that is beyond any forms of earthly joy. We learn that happiness in the Lord is more satisfying than any other happiness we have ever experienced.
The world looks on the outside, but God looks in the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7; 2 Corinthians 5:12) The world says “be faster, be stronger, be smarter, be prettier,” but God says…”be holy.” (2 Corinthians 7:1; Matthew 5:8; Hebrews 12:14).