The Sinful Nature

“For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” (Galatians 5:17)

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” (Walt Kelly, Pogo)

Sadly, one of the most powerful enemies that Christian soldiers face is themselves.  As if battling trials, tribulations, and persecutions directed at them from the world wasn’t enough; as if the Devil’s lies and accusations didn’t already drive us toward despair; now we must also face up to the awful truth that our own sinful nature is at war against the light of Christ within us.

The good news is that the same Gospel which frees us from the terrible consequences of our sins also trains and equips us to fight back against the temptations of our flesh.  Now that we’ve taken the time to learn about some of the “weapons of the faith,” we will examine some of the enemy’s tactics and strategies for assaulting our faith and undermining our ability to effectively witness in an ungodly world.  God has given us a whole arsenal of weapons and armor, and part of our discipleship is learning to use each of them to combat the evil we face throughout our walk of faith.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the boots of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit; all of these weapons God gives to us, along with His own instructions on how to use them properly.  We can also look to the example of faithful warriors from the Bible, from the history of the Church, and from our own friends and family to see how these spiritual arms can be employed in God’s service.

For every type of assault we face from our sinful nature, there are several spiritual weapons specially designed for our defense which can help us to fight off that particular temptation.  As we grow in God’s Word and are strengthened in faith, let us pray that God would give us the power to employ these weapons effectively in our fight against evil and not fall into temptation.  May He grant us success as we push back against the forces of darkness, ever resting securely on the firm foundation of faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissentions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like…Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:19-21; 24-25)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, in Your grace You have given us mighty weapons for our defense and for the furthering of Your Kingdom.  Mercifully teach us to use these weapons, that we may bring glory to You and show a dark world the light of Your love; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

NOTE: I will not be posting tomorrow, July 4th, as we celebrate our nation’s independance at N. Morrisotwn.  I will begin our examination of some of the temptations of the sinful nature listed in Galatians 5 on Thursday.  Until then, rest and celebrate, praising God for the great country and the freedoms He has given us!  Thank Him by using these freedoms to worship and witness publicly - and thank the men and women of our armed forces for their sacrifices as well!

See you Thursday!

Gentleness – The Right Way to Fight

“Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:5)

The Sword of the Spirit is the perfect weapon with which we can fight the evil in our world.  But even armed with such a magnificent sword, careless, clumsy warriors can sometimes hurt themselves or hinder and damage the cause for which they fight.

Paul’s reminder in Philippians that “The Lord is near” ought to inspire us to fight with both great care and a sense of urgency.  In one sense, the Lord is near to us physically and spiritually at all times.  While this is a great comfort in our distress and in the thick of battle, it is also exactly the reminder that we sometimes need when thwarted and frustrated in our attempts to spread the Gospel and combat the wickedness in our world.  When we lose our patience, when our sense of peace is diminished, when the joy has gone out of our ministry…at these times we may not realize that fact that we are under heavy fire from Satan, who is trying to undermine our witness and draw us into sin.  Remembering that God is close at hand both gives us the courage to stand boldly and gently, while also holding us accountable to our Heavenly Father for the words and actions we employ in His service.

The Lord is also near in the sense that He is coming soon, and the fervor of our spiritual battle ought to reflect that fact.  He could return at any moment, and the threat of death constantly surrounds all who dwell in this fallen world.  This is a reminder of how important it is for us to fight urgently and pray fervently for those who do not know Jesus or the saving power of His grace.  Because our emotions can sometimes lead us into despair and sin – even as we fight to spread the Gospel promise – God reminds us to do everything in the spirit of His own peace and gentleness.  We can learn to do this from Jesus and His words: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)

God makes gentleness a vital part of our training for spiritual warfare, both in our witness of the Gospel and in our service to one another.  His instructions are clear; we must employ gentleness when wielding the other weapons of faith if we are to be effective and minimize our “collateral damage”:

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.  But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1)

Arming a warrior for combat is about more than just putting a weapon in his hands.  Training is a necessary part of the equipping process, both for the protection of the warrior and to ensure his combat effectiveness.  God our Commander has given us excellent weapons of spiritual perfection, and in His grace He thoroughly prepares us for the dangers that lie on the battlefield by teaching us how to use these weapons in the way that will best serve and honor Him.  The gentleness that comes from peace in Christ will guard and protect our hearts and minds from temptation as we move forward into battle with the Gospel of salvation.

“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.” (Titus 3:1-2)

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant me true gentleness through Your peace as I proclaim the Gospel and minister to my neighbors.  Guard and defend my heart against all anger, wrath, impatience, cruelty, and malice; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Faithfulness – A Mighty Fortress

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” (Psalm 91:4)

If we are to speak of faithfulness as an armament of faith, we must look first to God’s own faithfulness.

Again and again the Bible speaks of God’s faithfulness as an awesome source of protection for His children.  In His faithfulness, He protects us from the troubles of this world, the temptations of the Devil and our own sinful flesh, and especially against the wrath that our sins deserve:

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

“But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.” (2 Thessalonians 3:3)

“O Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief.  Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you.” (Psalm 143:1-2)

Yes, God’s faithfulness is truly our ultimate protection against every evil we face as His warriors.  In times of trouble and affliction, the best thing we can do is to place ourselves in His loving hands and proclaim, “Thy will be done!”  We have seen and know that the Lord is faithful to fulfill all of His promises: “But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.  He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.  It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.  It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

So what about our faithfulness?  If God’s faithfulness produces fruit in us, as Jeremiah claims, what is the role of the faithfulness which we return to God in thanksgiving?  The first and most important way that we return God’s faithfulness to Him is by continuing to cling to His promises throughout our lives.  “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).  This is God’s will for us, and it is our sure defense against the accusations of the Evil One.  But don’t doubt its effectiveness as a weapon against evil!  Perhaps the best witness we can bear to others is a sure and steady trust in God’s promises that is evident in our words and actions.  This testimony can certainly deliver a stunning blow to the Devil as he attacks those around us with doubt and unbelief through their own trials and difficulties.

We can also return thanks to God for His faithfulness by remaining faithful to our calling as Christians.  Our integrity toward others and in our service to God’s kingdom is modeled after God’s own faithfulness in our lives.  And as we persevere in doing God’s will, we can rest assured that God will remain faithful to bring about results: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).  Because God loved us enough to send His Son to die for us, we know that He will also be faithful to prosper all our ways in Him.

God has not abandoned his rebellious creation, but in His faithfulness has sent the Hero, Jesus Christ the Lord, to slay the Dragon and deliver us from bondage:  “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True” (Revelation 19:11).  Despite our unfaithfulness, God has remained true to His love and His Word of promise.  This is our sure defense, and the faithfulness we return to God and neighbor is the weapon we wield in our fight to bring the light of God’s righteousness through Christ to a dark world.

“I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and salvation.  I do not conceal your love and your truth from the great assembly.” (Psalm 40:10)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank and praise You before all the world for Your great love and faithfulness to me – a sinner.  Grant that I may never falter in being faithful to Your name as I call upon You in repentance and proclaim Your steadfast mercy to all those around me; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Kindness – Ready, Aim, Fire!

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

While Christians can take courage knowing that God has bestowed upon them the most excellent spiritual armor, we also ought to be mindful of the fact that evil often comes thoroughly defended and fortified as well.  So let’s talk for a little bit about an offensive weapon that God has armed us with – one that can pierce the shell of darkness with a concentrated demonstration of pure love, penetrating deep into the hearts of those we seek to serve.

When trying to touch the hearts of unbelievers or fellow Christians with whom we are at odds, we are often met with thick walls and heavy armor.  Envy, rage, malice, suspicion, doubt, fear, hatred, and unbelief – all of them are weapons of darkness that hold protective qualities of their own; measures to “protect” the host against the Gospel message or against spiritual unity and cooperation.  Sometimes, before we can witness to these individuals or render service to them, we must break down the barriers that Satan has erected between us through his clever use of worldly motives or our own sinfulness.

Kindness is the battering ram of love.  It is the armor-piercing arrow that can cleave Satan’s defenses and allow our love, our service, and our witness to enter the heart of the one before us.  Sometimes our kind words and deeds will need to be showered upon a person in a prolonged barrage as we spiritually lay siege to their hearts.  It may be days, months, or even years before we see their defenses fall, allowing us to come into their lives with God’s love (and ours).  Other times, a single act of kindness may be the silver bullet that shatters the barrier erected between us, opening the door to a relationship of service and evangelism.

Thankfully, the power to use this incredible weapon does not come from within our own sinful hearts – it comes from God.  It is the power of God’s love through Christ Jesus that enables us to forgive others in our hearts and pour our love and kindness upon them despite lingering feelings of tension or resentment.  If kindness is a battering ram, it is God’s power that pushes it; if an arrow, He is the bow and the hand that draws the string.  All we have to do is take aim.

We all know people who need to hear the Gospel but resist any attempt at witness.  We all have people in our lives with whom we just don’t seem to get along very well.  Pray to the Father that He would empower you through the love and forgiveness you have in Christ Jesus to show kindness to these people today.  Pray that He would soften their hearts to receive your entreaties.  Then take aim and let the Holy Spirit do His work as the kindness you shower upon them removes Satan’s defenses from between you, opening the door for witness and Christian partnership like never before.

“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.  But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:16-18)

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, empower me through Your love to forgive my neighbors.  Provide opportunities for me to show kindness unto them, demonstrating Your love by my words and deeds; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Patience – Today’s Battle

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:12-14)

There is a general sense of arming for battle in this passage, and patience is a key element in the protective gear that is being described here.

Unfortunately, our generation has been subtly stripped of this magnificent armor.  What has happened to patience in our world?  Why is it so difficult to bear with one another in love?  How can we receive forgiveness so richly and abundantly every day and be so stingy when it comes to sharing it with others?

Two words: “instant gratification.”

Satan has launched an aggressive campaign against one of our nine chief spiritual weapons, and it has been devastatingly effective.  We want what we want when we want it – now!  Whether it’s material wealth and possessions, earthly success, answers from God, or even compliance from other human beings in our lives, Satan has rendered most of us nearly incapable of wielding patience as a weapon.

Across the country and throughout the world, Christian couples are finding it more and more difficult to overlook offenses and patiently endure the minor (or major) annoyances of their spouses – we’ve seen the casualties in the broken relationships and divorce statistics.  Christian parents have trouble rearing their children gently and patiently in a world that teaches instant results and entitlement.  Road rage, workplace disputes, and all manner of senseless reactionary violence demonstrate the basic inability to brush off even the most petty and insignificant insults and inconveniences.

Satan’s war on patience has perpetuated every kind of evil imaginable.  Truly, a great many of our social ills are caused by the absence of this virtue.  Much of the conflict and tension in every kind of relationship is due largely to a lack of patience.  And do we really think that our witness and testimony to Christ’s cross goes unaffected by our impatience with those to whom we preach – and with the Holy Spirit?

The key to a patient heart is love.  Whenever we feel ourselves losing patience with our spouse, our child, our coworker, or anyone else, we need to look to the cross.  Mindful of Jesus’ patience with our sinful world, we draw from Him the strength to bear with our loved ones patiently.  Love binds the armor tightly together; without it, our protection falls to the ground and fails.  Along with love, the joy and peace we have through Jesus’ righteousness and salvation will help us to patiently resist whatever temptations and attacks the Devil hits us with.  We can once again take up this keen spiritual weapon, strike down the wicked inclinations of our impetuous hearts, and wait with gladness upon the Lord our Savior.  Where the Devil has disarmed us, the Lord our God equips us mightily through the power of His Word.

“But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:16)

“…being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.” (Colossians 1:11-12)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, as You have dealt with me in patience, help me to also deal with those around me in a manner that reflects Your love; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Peace – The Best Defense Part 2

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

If our joy in the Lord is the armor of our souls, then the peace of God completes our protection like a helmet, shield, and bracers.  God’s Word imparts a three-fold protection as the Spirit grants us peace with God, peace with the world, and peace within ourselves.

The Devil seeks to strike at our head by attacking our peace with God.  The despair we feel over our own sins and our doubt in the effectiveness of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice would be a sure deathblow, were it not for the protective covering God has given us in the Gospel of peace.  Because of our sinful condition, peace with God was once impossible.  All of our striving and struggling could not remove the taint of sin that bars us from the presence of our Holy God.  But thanks be to God that Jesus Christ has won the victory for us and made peace once and for all between God and man!  This certain knowledge calms our fears and doubts and imparts the peace of God which protects us from the deadly blows of the Devil’s fatal assault.

But what of the world?  Although we will continue to have struggles, conflicts, and frustrations with other people, the cross of Christ also acts as a shield against these adversities.  Through the power of the Gospel, we can love and care for even those with whom we find ourselves in conflict.  Even if those conflicts persist despite our efforts, we can have peace by trusting in God’s Word and living according to His will.  As we walk in His ways, the Spirit will continue to work through whatever situation we are dealing with for the benefit of all.  We can be at peace knowing that God is in control even when we fail to see the silver lining in our present struggles.  And God even works in some offensive measures through the peace of His people, displaying His own love and light in a dark world as others see our peacefulness and are drawn by it to the cross.

As we enjoy the rich blessings of peace with God and with others, we will also find that God stills our own hearts and minds through His power.  The world bombards us with conflicting messages about “personal fulfillment” and “finding ourselves” and entices us with false paths leading to shallow and empty “peacefulness.”  But God’s Word offers an inner peace that lasts, as we find true fulfillment for our lives in the first two types of peace; by serving God joyfully in a close relationship with Him, and by serving our neighbor with gladness and being at peace with the world (even when the world is not at peace with us!).  Like bracers to protect a warrior’s arms and hands, the inner peace that God grants to us protects our ability to fight for the faith and hold fast to the Sword of the Spirit.

God imparts His peace to us many times throughout the Bible.  It is a blessing that serves as a cloak of protection over our souls.  Coupled with the joy of our salvation, God’s peace will enable us to resist the fiercest attacks that Satan’s forces are able to muster.  In His mercy, God has armed us bountifully for our own protection that we might faithfully march forth into battle for the glory of God and the sake of those who remain lost and in darkness.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank You that through the power of Your Gospel I may be at peace with You, with my neighbors, and with myself.  Grant that this peace may be evident to all, that they would seek Your face and also receive the benefit of Your eternal peace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Note: For much more information about the topic of “peace” and “peacemaking,” please visit “Peacemaker Ministries.”  You can find a link to their own blog at the bottom of my website (“Route 5:9″), or click here.

Love – The Strength to Fight

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

1 Corinthians 13 begins a beautiful exposition of one of the most powerful weapons at our disposal in our Christian witness and an essential ingredient in our relationship with our Lord.  Indeed, trying to wield the Word of God without love is like trying to swing a sword without any hands.  Love is the motivating power behind our witness and testimony; it is the crux of our relationship with God; it must be the source of every good and pleasing deed that serves our neighbors and glorifies our God in heaven.

How and why this can be ought to be no great mystery.  Scripture reveals it to us plainly: “God is love” (1 John 4:8).  Everything that we are to be and everything that God asks us to do is rooted in love: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’…’Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).

So we see that the whole of God’s will is grounded in the force of love, and we cannot possibly please Him if we do not have love for Him and for others.  1 John goes on to explain how God’s love is the source and origin of every good and pleasing thing that comes from us: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (4:9-11).

The weapon of love is so powerful that we could not possibly wield it through our own power.  It is a force beyond anything we are capable of.  Any real love that we can muster for God or for our neighbors is merely a reflection of God’s love for us, and even this “ricochet” love is powerful enough to defeat the darkness of the world in which we live.

Like the Word of God, love is versatile and reliable – a trustworthy primary weapon that ought to be standard issue for any soldier of Christ.  We can use it defensively to protect ourselves from the fear and doubt with which Satan daily assails us: “There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).  We can use it to penetrate the armor of hard hearts and impenitence: “’If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:20-21).  Finally, love has the power to scatter the darkness of sin as God’s love gives us the power to forgive our neighbors and live at peace with them: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

Like the Sword of the Spirit – the Word of God – Jesus’ love is a weapon without which we dare not set foot upon the battlefield.  It is only through His love that we find the strength to reach out to our enemies with the Gospel of healing and salvation.  It is only by the power of God’s love that we are enabled to serve God and minister to the needs of others.  And we mustn’t doubt the effectiveness of this incredible weapon, as Scripture assures us: “Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8).

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank and praise You for Your great love which You have shown to me through Your Son, Jesus Christ.  By Your Spirit, enable me to share this great love with those around me through service and witness to them, that You may be glorified in everything I do.  Amen.

Weapons of Faith – Arm Yourself

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

Warriors need weapons.

Rarely do you find a warrior who relies solely on a single type of weapon.  That so many different kinds of armaments exist reflects the fact that combat is influenced by a wide range of dynamics.  A warrior must reflect upon many questions: Will I be engaging in hand-to-hand combat or delivering and defending against ranged attacks?  What kind of armor is my opponent equipped with, and how can I best penetrate their defenses?  Will a certain weapon help me to defend myself against the attacks of the enemy?  What will I carry as a back-up weapon or side-arm?

Every weapon has a unique purpose.  While some, like swords, are meant to be versatile and universal in their function, the arsenal of a professional warrior will be supplemented by all kinds of tools of the trade.  Spears and lances are specially designed to be used from the back of mount, harnessing the strength of the charging beast to deliver a devastatingly powerful blow.  Arrows and darts can be used to neutralize threats from a safe distance or to reach foes that attack from hard-to-reach locations.  Daggers, knives, and short swords are quick, quiet, and easy to access in an emergency.  Hammers and clubs provide bludgeoning force when a piercing or slashing attack might fail to penetrate an opponent’s defenses.

Spiritual warfare is no different.  Christians are constantly engaged in many kinds of struggles, from defending their faith before hostile and unbelieving people, to resisting the temptations of the Devil as he tries to undermine their witness, to quelling fears and doubts about God’s love for us and the sufficiency of His grace.

We’ve already discussed the “Sword of the Spirit” – the Word of God – at length; and it is truly a mighty weapon.  Indeed, it is the primary weapon of every soldier of Christ as we combat the lies of Satan in a dark and empty world, and it never fails or proves ineffective.  Yet God our Commander, in His love for us, has also given us many other weapons that can be used for our spiritual defense or as supplemental armaments.  Equipped with these tools, we can batter the enemy, pummeling the Dragon’s defenses and wearing down the effectiveness of his attacks on ourselves and those around us – then unsheathing the Sword of the Spirit to finish him off.

Make no mistake; Scripture is the only weapon that can be truly effective against the Satanic forces we are facing, and we must never under any circumstances go into combat without the Sword of the Spirit strapped securely to our sides.  But God has given us other weapons for a reason, and when used properly in conjunction with the Word of the God, they can help us to launch a devastating attack on the forces of darkness.

For the next two weeks we will focus on nine weapons in particular, examining how God has intended for us to them in certain situations for the benefit of those around us and in glory to Him.  As we learn to wield each of these side-arms with greater skill and dexterity, we find that God continues to train and equip us for even greater service using the magnificent Sword He has given us.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, guide me in Your Word that I may be equipped in every way for the works you have prepared for me; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Titus – Training Tomorrow’s Warriors

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.  These, then, are the things you should teach.” (Titus 2:11-15)

Like Timothy, Titus was faced with a monumental task.  Paul had left him with the people of Crete, and while the Holy Spirit had begun to work in their hearts, it was evident that the “raw material” was, well…it needed some work.

However, Paul was confident that the people of Crete were in good hands.  Oh, Titus was certainly a very capable leader.  He was entrusted with several important missions in the New Testament, and Paul had a great deal of faith in his abilities.  But it wasn’t Titus that Paul was trusting to shape the hearts and lives of these new converts, it was the Potter Himself – the Lord God Almighty.

Titus was working with men and women, young and old, who were used to a rather ungodly way of life.  The darkness of the society from which they were coming made the road of sanctification long and arduous.  And yet, this very darkness would allow the light of the Gospel to shine forth from each of them all the more brightly by contrast as they were changed and renewed by the grace of God.

The reason Paul was able to have such confidence in “drill sergeant” Titus was that he knew that Titus understood the crux and impetus of the Lord’s training regimen.  Titus was there for two purposes: 1) to share the Word of God so that those who heard it might be redeemed by the power of the Holy Spirit, and 2) to train these “new recruits” in righteousness and godliness so that they could be effective witnesses to those around them who remained yet in darkness.  Thankfully, Titus knew the importance of putting “the horse before the cart” so to speak – he understood that any change or purification was a result of God’s free grace, unlike those who were still preaching that God’s favor was gained by first amending our outward lives.

Why was this spiritual training program so important for these poor Cretans?  After all, if they were saved by grace through faith and not by their own works, why did it matter if they underwent such “purification” at all?  First of all, this change in their hearts and lives would be a natural response as a result of receiving God’s mercy.  It’s sort of like when you turn a four-year-old loose at the playground and tell her to “Have fun!” as if you could really stop her from having fun it that situation.  In the same way, when God freely bestows His grace upon us and we see all of our sin and wretchedness being washed away, the new man cannot be restrained, but breaks forth and serves the Lord in gladness.

And yet, Titus is instructed to remind these men and women of Crete what might be riding on the example of their good works and godly lives.  Again and again, Paul reminds Titus that the reputation of Jesus’ Gospel is at stake in the model of Christian life: “…so that no one will malign the word of God” (2:5); “…so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us” (2:8); “…so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (2:10); “These things are excellent and profitable to everyone” (3:8).

So no, we do not perform good deeds, speak in kindness and compassion, and serve in humility for the sake of our salvation.  We do these things for the sake of the Gospel message and the salvation of those around us, that through our example their hearts may be softened and plowed, ready to receive the miraculous seed of God’s Word and produce a harvest of saving faith.  That is both the reason and goal of our spiritual training here on Earth – may this training enable us to be always ready for service to the glory of our Lord and Savior.

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant that all new warriors of Your faith may be trained and equipped for service and evangelism, inspired to serve You solely out of love and thanksgiving for Your great gift to us.  Help us to be Your faithful ambassadors here on Earth, that we may prepare the hearts of men for the Gospel which we sow; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

Apollos – Armed and Dangerous

“He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.  He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately…he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.  For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.” (Acts 18:24-25,27-28)

Since we’re on the subject of spiritual warfare, and since this is “The Armory” after all, let’s talk a little bit about some of your weapons.

The first thing that we need to understand when we analyze our personal spiritual arsenal is that every weapon with which we have been armed is from God.  There are no exceptions.  All of our gifts and abilities come to us by the grace of our Heavenly Father, and we are to use them in service to Him.

Now I realize that you’ve worked really hard at honing your intellect, or strengthening your physical abilities, or sharpening your public speaking skills, or developing a killer talent with creative writing, or whatever else you pride yourself on being great at.  But once you start to trace the origins of your personal knacks and aptitudes, it doesn’t take long for God’s hand to clearly appear in the picture.  He planted a seed in your mind or body, grew it daily by guiding your life in a certain direction, and brought it to fruition by mercifully preserving your faculties so that you could use this gift to His glory and in service to your neighbor.

That’s one type of weapon, and these God-given/God-grown abilities can certainly be useful in battling the unbelief that is so rampant in our dark world.  But unless they are coupled with the Word of God and with the faith that is given to us through the Holy Spirit, they will never penetrate the enemy’s defenses.

The real armaments of God are undisputable gifts to us, given in mercy by the grace of a loving and caring Father.  He has caused the Word of God – our Sword of the Spirit, a weapon of keen power and flawless design – to be passed down to us through many generations by the miracle of faith in every age.  He has sent His Holy Spirit to stir up our hearts in faith toward Him, enabling us to use the many abilities we possess as munitions against Satan’s worldly onslaught.

Apollos was certainly a force to be reckoned with.  He possessed a brilliant mind.  He had been given a fine education.  He was endowed with remarkable boldness, tremendous public speaking skills, and profound powers of persuasion.  But even with all this, he would have been a useless drone if it weren’t for the other gifts of God: his knowledge of the Scriptures, his Christian upbringing and instruction, and the faith that grew out of this spiritual training.

Like Apollos, you have been given many personal abilities and gifts that could be used for a variety of worldly purposes.  Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; invest your energies first and foremost into study of the Scriptures, prayer, worship, and receiving the Word of God and His Sacraments.  Witness the miracle as your own faith grows and is strengthened by God’s grace.  Then all that you are and all that you possess will be transformed into a weapon of Divine Light as God uses your whole person in His service.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank and praise You for the many gifts and abilities which You have bestowed upon me.  I thank You most of all for the free gift of salvation through the faith that You have granted me by Your grace.  Help me to use all that I have and all that I am in service to You, glorifying You for Your great mercy and serving those around me in love; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.