A) Know your enemy
The cosmic war between good and evil, between God and Satan, runs through the whole biblical storyline. We need to understand what it is, what it entails, how we are involved as humans and Christians, if we seek to be on victory’s side and on God’s side. Of course, this has a ‘huge’ storyline with numerous details, but understanding at least the major aspects is needful in this ‘war’.
Satan labours as a ‘spoiler’ to ruin souls and thus frustrate God’s goal of having humans know and love Him, and to that end he twists out of shape all that is through God’s gift is good, beautiful and true.
Recall how he tempted Adam and Eve by stimulating the ‘desires of the eyes, the desires of the flesh and the pride of life’. (1 John 2:15-16). At the same time, he ‘instilled doubts’ by querying God’s instructions to them, and whether they were true and accurate. Satan declared that eating the ‘forbidden fruit’ would not cause them to die; instead they shall be like God, knowing good and evil. Eve saw that the tree was good for food and it was a delight to the eyes; it was to be desired to make one wise. Notice how the desires of the eyes, the desires of the flesh and the pride of life were ‘stimulated’ to cause them to disobey God’s specific instruction and command.
We need to realise that the evil one is still doing the same today in seeking to distort God’s truth and in causing humans to turn away from God. He continually seeks to block and dissolve historical Christianity as a formative force in people’s lives, to turn everyone’s cultural environment into a corrupting influence, to fill human minds with anti-Christian ideas and attitudes (sound familiar?), and to lead people away from reason in the old moral sense (that is, thoughtful, responsible, prudent living). Those who are against God and His teachings may think they are being ‘independent’ and ‘clear-thinking’, having their own ‘rights’ and ‘freedom’ to do what pleases them – yet, in effect, they are just being manipulated by the evil one in the cosmic battle between good and evil. We need to ‘pity’ them and feel much compassion for them, for they are in ‘severe bondage’ and ‘slavery’ and are not able to break free. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ and God can ‘break the chains’ of this bondage.
Satan battles God by systematically corrupting and destroying humans; our own story of universal personal temptation and the downward slide to hell is thus one facet of a larger conflict. Note Satan’s hostility to God – this is the first factor in this Holy War – and this hostility is unchangeable and persistent, and cannot be ‘quenched’. Those who align themselves with him would also develop hostility towards God and His people. There will be no peace until the final battle. Therefore, there is no room for lack of vigilance, indifference and self-confidence in this ‘unending war’.
B) Christians must know that we are living in enemy-occupied territory – this world is a ‘fallen world’ and the ‘prince’ of this world is Satan himself.
After the fall, Adam was told:
“..cursed is the ground because of you, in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17-19).
This is the world the preacher in Ecclesiastes observed and experienced and in his wisdom, he recognised the futility of it all – all the pursuits under the sun would not satisfy, and all would have to die (to return to dust). In fact, all is ultimately meaningless in this fallen world (under the sun). And this is the world the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience, dominates.
As believers, we are pilgrims in this world, journeying towards the heavenly city; as the song proclaims: ‘This world is not my home – I am just a-passing through..’ The Apostle Peter wrote: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).
The Apostle Paul exhorted the believers: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:2-4). The question is: ‘why are we still setting our minds on the things on this earth; in fact, why are we still so ‘in love’ with the ‘transient treasures’ of this world??
When the Holy Spirit changes and renews the heart by instilling in us a recognition of Christ’s reality and by uniting us to Him in His risen life, our way of thinking is at once altered. Instead of alienation from and defiance of God, what comes from our hearts is grateful love to God and a desire to praise and please Him. Yet the sinful fallen makeup of the ‘old man’ still operates within us, and pulls us away from trusting, loving and serving God; the ‘desires of the flesh are against the Spirit’ and vice versa, keeping us from doing the things we want to do (Gal. 5:17).
In the enemy-occupied territory, the prince of the power of the air seeks to ‘pounce on us like a roaring lion’; our fallen makeup in the fallen world still operates, and we have to ‘mortify (put to death) the sins and doing of the flesh consistently, with no mercy – otherwise any ground given can be a cause for our downfall and defeat in the spiritual war.
We constantly need therefore, to be asking God to enable us to do the right things in the right way (with love and hope and zeal for God). The implication is that we can do the apparent right thing in a sluggish, resentful, apathetic, self-pitying, self-absorbed, or self-seeking spirit with hearts having no deep concern about either the glory of God or the good of others (and this also relates to activities in the church and in so-called Christian service and ministry). If all our attention is centered on doing the things our reason directs us to do (and this can come about from management principles and planning), then the question of how we do it is ignored, as if performance is all that matters – this certainly will not please God, for we have adopted the ‘culture’ and ‘principles’ of the fallen world to do the work of God’s world and kingdom.
Christians know with great clarity of mind that a close walk with the Father and the Son, leaning hard on them and drawing strength from them through the Holy Spirit, is both what we need and what we want. This is especially so as we travel in this world as pilgrims and sojourners, with a formidable enemy seeking to destroy and to deceive, coupled with our weakness and the fallen makeup of our ‘old man’.
God’s faithfulness consists of His unwillingness for us to lose any of the depths of fellowship with Him; so He, in His love, afflicts us to make us lean harder on Him, that His purpose of drawing us into closer fellowship with Himself may be fulfilled.
(C) God’s plan of redemption
We noted from the previous sharing the account of the ‘Fall’: Satan tempted Adam and Eve and they fell for his scheme. They chose to disobey God – it resulted in them falling from a state of moral innocence (indicating their created state) to a state of shame, disgrace, and condemnation. Life from then on will be filled with pain, toil, and sadness; they were driven out of Paradise and exiled from their home.
Subsequent to the fall, humans live exclusively in the flesh and by the flesh; the ‘flesh’ here refers to the sin nature, the entire fallen character of man. The Apostle Paul describes it: ‘we were by nature children of wrath..’ (Eph.2:3) and the word ‘nature’ refers to our state of innate sinfulness. Every child who enters this world enters it in a corrupt state (PS.51:5). We, in our unregenerate state, are born dead in trespasses and sin. “Original sin” in theology refers to this inherent sinful condition – it does not refer to the first sin of Adam and Eve; it refers to the consequences of that first sin, with the transmission of a corrupt nature to the entire human race.
God’s plan of redemption (even before the creation of the world) ‘springs’ into action to ‘rescue’ the human race, and in Genesis, God declared it immediately after the fall (Gen. 3:15).
God sent His only begotten Son into the world: Jesus’ incarnation, death, rising and present reign are events that give saving significance to present and future occurrences. A divine plan in history is in operation, and a new community – indeed a race of new persons – is being created. The power that made the world from nothing is now active to renovate it from the chaos and disorder that sin has brought. Christians, Lord’s redeemed subjects, find the true purpose and fulfilment of our lives by embracing God’s announced goals and working for them – for the spread of the gospel, the good of others, the enriching of human life, and the eliminating of what is morally evil and practical harmful – the Holy War is in operation.
Jesus is the yardstick at the level of motivation and attitudes of what it means to be fully human. For us, full realisation of that potential which is distinctively human is found, not in self-will, but in service – service of God, and of others for the Lord’s sake. Other paths may bring temporary pleasure, but lead neither to fulfilment, nor to freedom, nor to joy (conclusions found in the book of Ecclesiastes).
Jesus, the risen and enthroned Lord, though physically withdrawn from us, none the less is ‘here’ by His Spirit, in terms of personal presence for personal encounter. From such encounter, trust in Him, and love and loyalty to Him, derive. Through the effect of God’s saving relationship to us through Jesus Christ, our capacity for relationships at the deepest level with other human beings is progressively restored to us, so that we find ourselves free in Christ for genuinely human relationships in a way that was never true before.
Regarding our circumstances: note that at every point and in every space-time event, the cosmos is under the authoritative control of Jesus the risen Lord. Whatever happens to us, however bewildering and harrowing, has positive meaning because it was planned in love for us, and willed for our good, and others’ good through us, in one way or another. Not that this good meaning is always apparent; but what a difference it makes to living to know that a meaning is there!
At the end of the road of each man’s life Jesus the judge stands inescapable, and that each man will at that time know that this final encounter with Jesus has had final significance for determining his own final state. Hence our present decisions determine ultimate destiny,
In the meantime, if regeneration is real it will always yield faith; if faith is genuine it will always yield justification; if our justification is authentic, it will always and ever yield sanctification. Though sanctification begins the moment we are justified, it is a gradual process. It continues as long as we live. Regeneration is monogistic i.e. it is the work of God alone. But sanctification is synergistic i.e. it involves the cooperation between us and the Holy Spirit. (Phiil. 2L12-13). We are called to work, to work hard, with fear and trembling (beware those who are lazy and indifferent). At the same time, we are promised that God is at work in us. When the Holy Spirit regenerates us, He not only acts upon us and in us in a way that changes the disposition of our souls; He comes and dwells within us. As He indwells the believer, the Spirit continues to exert His influence upon us to assist us in our pursuit of holiness.
Sanctification involves movement (spiritual growth). At times, it may seem as if we are taking two steps forward and one step backward; yet the overall pattern of sanctification is one of growth. The growth is gradual; at times painfully slow, but there must be movement. The changes sanctification brings to our lives work from the inside out. Our outward behaviours manifest the inward disposition of our heart and the thinking of our minds. Our thinking changes; we become aware of a new perspective, a whole new value system. Awareness goes on to develop into conviction; and this leads to a point where our consciences are changed – the conscience serves as a monitor of our behaviour.
The problem with our conscience is that it may be acutely sensitive to the Word of God or it may be desensitized, and when we sin continually we may end up searing our conscience and start to rationalise. We must recognise and acknowledge the gravity of our sin. Our confessions of sin tend to lack deep conviction.
Note the primary role of the Word of God and the pursuit of holiness in our process of sanctification. If we are indifferent to study and ‘assimilate’ the Word of God diligently and accurately (with proper and accurate interpretation), we may not be in a position to be victorious in this Holy War. Realise that the evil one can quote Scriptures and apply it in his own way for his own ends (study the temptation scenes of Jesus in Matt. 4). Observe how the Lord Jesus countered him by giving the true and accurate interpretation of the Scriptures quoted by the devil and He triumphed amidst the temptations. He is our supreme example in fighting this cosmic battle against the enemy.
Take note also His attitude and convictions in always pleasing His Father and His declaration, “Not my will but your will be done” as He faced the agony and overwhelming pressures, on the way to the Cross. He secured victory in what seemed to be the most unlikely way, and He destroyed the penalty, power of sin and the fear and sting of death. He rose victorious after death and ascended to the right hand of the Father.
We are to carry on the battles on His behalf, with the enabling and presence of the Holy Spirit. However, victory is already achieved; only the skirmishes and battles carry on because the devil refuses to give up and he knows that his time is limited.
(D) God has reclaimed the ‘lost humanity in Adam’ and initiated the recreation of a new humanity in Christ.
We have been considering the “Holy War” – the Fall, the enemy, the enemy-occupied territory, the ‘Redemption Plan’ of God and His purpose to ‘recreate’ a new humanity, a new race as it were under Christ, the second Adam; also a new creation – a new heaven and a new earth for God’s renewed people.
In this world, God’s people are pilgrims and sojourners on the way to the heavenly city; the journey on earth is, in a sense, a preparation of God’s people for the eternal habitation – hence it involves endurance and perseverance in the midst of spiritual battles (against the enemy, the negative influence of the world, and the fallen nature of the ‘old man’); it includes sanctification and transformation that requires co-operation on the part of the believer with the Holy Spirit who works within. The Christian life is a life of hope, a life in which nothing is perfect yet, but the hope of perfection is set before us. Heaven’s life is the goal for which life here on earth is preparation.
In this “Holy War”, the triune God is above, beside and within the believers. The heavenly Father, the judge and maker of the world, sent His Son to redeem us; He adopted us into His family; He loves us, watches over us; preserves us for the inheritance of glory kept in store for us; to HIm we have access through Christ, by the Spirit.
Jesus Christ, who is now personally in heaven, still makes Himself present to us by the Spirit to stand by us, to love, lead, assure, uphold and encourage us and to use us in His work, as we, in our weakness, trust in Him.
The Holy Spirit indwells us to sustain in us a personal understanding of gospel truth; to reshape us into the image of Christ; to maintain our fellowship with the Father and the Son; to equip us with abilities for loving personal worship of God in praise and prayer and loving personal ministry to others; to help us realise our present moral weakness and inadequacy (when we are weak, we are strong) and to make us long for the future life of bodily resurrection and renewal.
Hence the heavenly Father is above us; the Son walks alongside us and beside us; the Holy Spirit is within us – the triune God is fully with us and for us in the battles that will take place before the final battle in this Holy War. Although the enemy is formidable, God is almighty, transcendent and over all.
We need to pause and ponder how the Lord God reclaimed the ‘lost humanity in Adam’ and initiated the recreation of a new humanity in Christ.
God’s method and strategy of effecting atonement:
The Cross: The Cross is an act of God’s doing in which the Sinless One, for the sake of sinners, somehow experienced the horror of divine reaction against sin so that there might be condemnation no more (2Cor. 5:21). “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in HIm we might become the righteousness of God” (this is penal substitution).
Gal. 3:13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us.” The curse is the divine condemnation of sin which leads to death. To this curse we lay exposed; but Christ on His cross identified Himself with the doom impending on sinners that through His act, the curse passes away and we go free (this is propitiation).
Christ pays the penalty due our sins; He receives, for us, the punitive wrath of God that our sin deserves; He takes the consequences of our demerits, our unjustness; He receives the judgement due our guilt. In this regard, God’s justice is satisfied (propitiated).
In the atonement, God declares Christ to be “guilty” of sin after the Son willingly bears for HIs people sins that are imputed or transferred to Him. Christ is the sin-bearer for His people, who takes away (expiates) our sin and satisfies (propitiates) the demands of God’s justice.
This may sound puzzling: the cross alone does not justify us. We need not only a substitute to pay for our demerits, but also positive righteousness. We are justified not only by the death of Christ but also by the life of Christ. Christ’s mission of redemption was not limited to the cross. To save us He had to live a life of perfect righteousness. His perfect, active obedience was necessary for His and our salvation. He earned the merit of perfect righteousness, not only for His own humanity (remember He was fully God and man), but for all those whom He redeems. Christ perfectly fulfilled all demands of the law, meriting by His active obedience the blessing promised in the old covenant.
We are constituted as righteous by the obedience of Christ, which is imputed to us by faith. The act of one cannot be made the act of many, except by imputation.
It is not the change in our nature wrought by regeneration or even the faith that flows from it that is the ground of our justification; this remains solely the imputed righteousness of Christ. However, take note – the righteousness of Christ is not imputed to unregenerate or unbelieving persons. This is important to maintain if we are to avoid the antinomian error of assuming that God justifies people who are and remain unchanged. If sanctification and regeneration are not involved, then there IS NO JUSTIFICATION. Faith and justification must be distinguished – faith is involved in our justification as its instrumental cause – faith is like a vessel that receives God’s gift – it is the cause and not the effect of justification.
The unregenerate experience the outward call of the gospel when the gospel is preached or shared. This outward call will not effect salvation unless the call is heard and embraced in faith. Effectual calling refers to the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration – the call is within; the regenerate are called inwardly. Everyone who receives the inward call of regeneration responds in fatih.
Note what was written by Apostle Paul:
“Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” (Rom.8:30)
All who are predestined are likewise called. All who are called are justified, and who are justified are glorified. If all the called (called inwardly) are also justified, then all the called must exercise faith. Not everyone who hears the external call of the gospel comes to faith and justification.
It is to the Holy Spirit that we are debtors for the grace of regeneration and faith. He is the Gift-giver, who while we were dead made us alive with Christ, to Christ, and in Christ. Only the Spirit can make the ‘dead’ alive – the dead cannot respond in faith and cannot reach out to receive life – it is only by God’s grace that the Holy Spirit effects regeneration in the ‘dead’ and gives the gift of faith.
Indeed, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:4-9). Hallelujah! Praise be to God! All glory to HIM!