The Spiritual Battlefield
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;” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that [it is] good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but [how] to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. Romans 7:14-23
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. 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]. Ephesians 6:10-12
Working Out Our Own Salvation. My return to normal posting has been far harder than I anticipated. Almost daily I long to write, post godly messages from others, and communicate with the brethren; yet, daily I do not. Due to endocrinological issues, both my mental focus and drive have been quite poor. Much of my depression, fatigue, and anxiety can be traced directly to these issues. However, I see this as no excuse. In fact, in a sense, I see it as a good thing. I see that during such times, I have no creature strength to mimick a godly life. Instead, I am wholly dependent upon God and truly believe that it is during these times that He teaches the greatest lessons. He has taught me that though I believe what I write and post, and long to walk in the light of the doctrine advocated, I am nonetheless but a worm. He continues to reveal to me experimentally that I have no faith, no patience, no endurance, no ability to refrain from murmuring, fearing, and complaining – outside of His grace and effectual working. I see all the more clearly that reading godly works and posting right doctrine does not equate to my living out God’s truth as I ought. This deeper sense of my natural inability is indeed humbling and has caused me to take all the more seriously the doctrine that the Spirit of God set forth in:
Philippians 2:12-13 “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of [his] good pleasure.”
In the past, I so heavily emphasised verse 13 that I comparatively ignored verse 12. Yet God is clear that we – every born-from-above child of God, must – of absolute necessity, work out – in our daily thoughts, attentions, choices, words, and deeds; our own salvation – not the salvation of others, not just the seeking of the salvation of others, but we must work out our own life-long walk of salvation — the walk by which God conforms us to the image of His Son. We must live out, if you will, the salvific script that God has already written and ordained for us. We have our roles to play wherein we start off as ourselves and we end up more like Christ upon His return. Lately I can truly say, and hope that God maintains it, that as I work out my own salvation, consciously, with the focus and intent that I must myself work it out, I have been given a greater fear of God and know what it means to tremble as a result. I never really understood why verse 12 added “with fear and trembling;” but I believe that I am beginning to now. I never really understood it because I never really consciously and with active intent sought to work out my own salvation. I was simply living life like a leaf carried by the water or wind, like a cloud blown about through the sky, and calling this ‘trusting in God’s sovereignty.’ Yet the more I have focused on this salvific working out the more mindfully dependent upon God I have become throughout the day.
We all understand fear and trembling when we are shown the depths of our inability to ‘trust and obey’ in your own strength. We all understand it when that felt sense of Christ’s love and presence ‘departs for a season.’ However, there is a blessed fear and trembling that comes about when you begin to become more and more sensitive of just how much you need Him minute by minute, hour by hour, day in and day out. I do not mean continuously without falter or ceasing; I wish that were the case… but I do mean an increasing awareness, watchfulness, and felt sense of need and reverence nonetheless. I truly fear and tremble as I ponder, deeply ponder, how merciful and loving the Lord is to uphold one such as myself despite my sinful self — how unspeakably merciful He is to me, to save me from Hell, while passing so many others by. I also fear and tremble when I think about how easy it would be for God to chasten me by leaving me to my self for a season. Regarding my own person, I fear this more than anything… I exceedingly fear being given over to my own will and lusts for another season. Yet chastisements of all forms must come and they always work together for the good of God’s people.
The Battle For The Christian’s Mind. As I aim to discuss below, God gives clear directives on how we are to work out our salvation while at the same time recognising that nothing exists or comes about outside of His sovereign direction. This leads me to another doctrine that God has brought home to me experientially; not so much another but a key aspect of the one above. This doctrine is covered in
2 Corinthians 10:3-5 “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: 4 (For the weapons of our warfare [are] not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) 5 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.”
Only now am I beginning to understand, experimentally understand, the true nature of the battleground upon which the Christian wars. In the past, I saw Christian warfare as being primarily a warring against the flesh (abstractly), against the wickedness of the world, against false brethren and other religionists — and all of this is very much true. However, I now realise that one cannot understand the war without understanding the true nature of the environment wherein it is fought. The Christian warfare is not primarily warring with people without! It is not primarily about correcting heresy, rebuking the disorderly, or even witnessing to the unsaved. The battle is in and for our minds. It is about being ‘renewed in the spirit of our mind’ Ephesians 4:23. We can do nothing outwardly that does not have as its basis an inward catalyst or counterpart.
In Romans 7:23-25, the Apostle Paul, spoke of “…another law in my members, warring against the law of my MIND, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members…So then with the MIND I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” In Romans 8:4-9, we are exhorted “…walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do MIND the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally MINDED [is] death; but to be spiritually MINDED [is] life and peace. 7 Because the carnal MIND [is] enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. 8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” In Romans 12:1-3 we read “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, [which is] your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your MIND, that ye may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.“
Satan, sinful flesh, and sin in others may bring about all manner of wicked thoughts in our minds; we cannot stop a wicked thought from entering therein. However, by God’s grace, we can redirect our thoughts. We can strive to not let such thoughts dwell and take root. We cannot stop the dust from falling but we can work to keep it from accumulating. We read in
Philippians 4:4-9 Rejoice in the Lord alway: [and] again I say, Rejoice. 5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord [is] at hand. 6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. 7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things [are] honest, whatsoever things [are] just, whatsoever things [are] pure, whatsoever things [are] lovely, whatsoever things [are] of good report; if [there be] any virtue, and if [there be] any praise, think on these things. 9 Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.
God is teaching us that we need to fight daily to take captive these sinful, wayward thoughts and replace them with such thoughts as those concerning His sovereignty, His mercy, His long-suffering, His creation, His care and love for the elect; and the victories and deliverances He has given us in times past. We need to redirect our imaginations, as God enables, away from our state and plight. We need to think beyond ourselves and think of the precept that God is a loving God who works all things for His glory and for the good of His people. Each sinful thought that we become aware of must be warred against and we must pray that God makes us more and more aware of the arrival of such thoughts so that we can endeavor, in His strength, to combat them. This is being watchful; this gives us all of the material we need to pray for ourselves and others. This will bring forth confession, thanksgiving, supplication, and every other such needful thing that originates from the new heart that God gives us.
To many of you, this exhortation may seem blatantly obvious. You may even ask “how could you not already know this?” Perhaps it is less an issue of not knowing and more an issue of knowing with such power that I may as well have never known. Either way, for those of us who are prone to deep trouble of mind, deep despondency and care, such exhortation is needful. If you are like me, you may have thought yourself a slave to your thoughts; thinking that if you cannot stop the wickedness from entering into your mind in the first place, how can you possibly stop them from dwelling there. You may think “this is my lot, I will wait on the Lord to deliver me from it in due time; until then I must accept this polluted deluge as a part of my life.” If you are deep in the midst of anxiety and depression, this is often the mindset that you find yourself in. You may see the possibility of changing your thoughts and emotions as being as impossible as changing the color of the sun. There is truth to such thinking because you have no spiritual strength by nature; but God saves; He saves utterly and He saves daily.
Our Lord uses means to bring about His deliverances and those means can be found in the precepts He gives us in His word. Thus, barring severe mental states (and such do exist), we really can redirect our thoughts as surely as we can decide to put on our shoes and brush our teeth. Just as we decide to pick up a book, buy a brand of bread, or travel to this place or that, we can decide what we allow ourselves to dwell on. Is this freewill? Never; for God ordains our very thoughts and decisions. But just as He ordains what shirt we will wear today, even though it seems from our vantage point to be our choice, we can (more often than we realize) choose how we think about things — though that choice, too, is all of Him. Are you feeling down and out? Fight, struggle, battle, to think of something good – remember that we are Christian soldiers! God is worthy to be praised! He is worthy to be thanked! He is worthy to be revered! Strive to praise Him, thank Him, extol his glory in your mind. Strive to pray for others rather than being fixated on praying for your own health, wellbeing, and spiritual growth. We are exhorted to be still and wait on God; however, this exhortation does not mean that we are to abstain from making the effort to think godly thoughts. Instead, it means that we are to cease from our own works and understanding and focus instead on that which He commands us to place our focus and attention upon.
This isn’t “Christian Psychology;” this is biblical direction. This is about “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.” You cannot rightly and boldly witness until God renews your mind – not just at regeneration but daily. You cannot defend the truth without your mind being set on things above. You cannot adorn the Gospel of Christ or bear spiritual fruit unless God first addresses how you think and view His grace, love, providence, and sovereignty. You cannot have spiritual victories, overcome besetting sins, or be ‘brought out of the pit’ until God changes your mind… your thoughts… your way of thinking about the situation. View all things, all things, as coming about for His glory and your good. Do not let sinful self and Satan lie and say to you “if you were really His you would not be thus…” Instead, focus on all of his past deliverances and provision. Focus on others and how you can help them. Most importantly focus on that Good and Perfect Gift from the Father — which is the Lord Jesus Christ. Think of His worthiness and the awesomeness associated with Him as Creator; as Incarnate God; as our Mediator; as our High Priest; as our perfectly human Friend and Brother; and as our beloved Husband, Shepherd, and Redeeming Saviour! When God gives you an inkling of strength to begin to do these things, even just an inkling, what a blessing it is. It is the breaking forth of sunrays after, and sometimes in the midst of, dark and stormy clouds. Consider,
Colossians 3:12-15 Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; 13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also [do] ye. 14 And above all these things [put on] charity, which is the bond of perfectness. 15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.
Notice how mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, forbearance, forgiveness, peace, and thankfulness are not uncontrollable emotions but are thoughts and states of the mind. Resist satan and he will flee from you. Does a thought of hatred or cruelty cross your mind? Do not fret, but immediately force yourself (over and over if necessary) to think thoughts of kindness and mercy instead. If you see pride and arrogance welling up in your heart (a particular sin of mine), endeavor to remember who and what you are by nature and how the “worst” of men and women are but a reflection of your own natural heart. Are you holding grudges and resentment? Strive to be forgiving towards those seeking your forgiveness; pity those who are too hardened to ask for it; pray for those who despitefully use you (Matthew 5:44). Every sinful thought and emotion has a godly opposite; we are to seek it out and dwell upon that instead. Remember,
Colossians 3:16-17 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, [do] all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.”
Protect your mind; avoid worldly lusts and other influences that would crowd out thoughts of God, His Christ, His gospel, His wonders, and His people. What triggers sinful thoughts or reactions in your life? For many it is secular music; for others television programming or commercials; for others it is magazines and novels; still others suffer from the presence of ungodly “friends;” some stumble over simply reading the newspaper — perhaps it is a combination of these things. Whatever it is, cut it out of your life. Do not indulge it while seeking to “man up” and not let it affect you — flee from it… run from it like it was for your spiritual life lest you are forced to cry out like the psalmist in Psalm 119:25 “My soul cleaveth unto the dust: quicken thou me according to thy word” and in Psalm 143:7 “Hear me speedily, O LORD: my spirit faileth: hide not thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit.” It is better to lose the temporal enjoyment of such things than to lose the peace and joy that comes with a felt sense of fellowship with Christ. We read the following warning in
Ephesians 4:17-18 This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their MIND, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:
This warning exists because Christians can indeed walk after the vanity of their minds having their understandings darkened for a season and being alienated experimentally from the life of God through natural blindness and ignorance. In Romans 12:16 we are commanded to “[Be] of the same MIND one toward another. MIND NOT high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.” Our inherent sin seeks to drag us down into the abyss of pride and haughtiness which is the height of vanity. This vanity can manifest itself even in supposed “humility” as we ask ourselves “why am I not better; why am I still struggling with this or that sin? If I was really a Christian wouldn’t I be better now? Can a true Christian really think/speak/act like this for so long?” It is our pride that thinks that we should be further along than where God has brought us. It is true that we should covet godliness and spiritual fruit (1 Cor 12:31); but we must remember that God alone gives the increase; He alone must cause us to grow and mature and yet He often grants such growth through chastisement — including ordaining that we should walk in sin and adversity for a while and causing us to feel the weight and vileness of it. Yet we must be watchful and remember that it is sweet communion with God that brings the greatest peace and happiness — and not the needful chastisement (at least not while we are in the midst of it). Thus, “If [there be] therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, [being] of one accord, of one mind. [Let] nothing [be done] through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” Philippians 2: 1-5.
Finally, feeling better means focusing better — it means looking to Christ and not to our navels (something that I have done far too often in my life). It means fighting the besieging thoughts that cause us to doubt, fear, and waddle in self-pity. It means erecting banners and strongholds of God-glorifying thoughts in our minds instead. Is it easier said that done? Yes. Will we be perfect at it? Not at all. Does this kind of knowledge and exhortation mean that we will never slip back into fleshly mental habits? Sadly, no; but I have found from personal experience that this effort is worth it; it is working wonders for my state of mind and yet I know that God gets all of the glory. Real, heartfelt peace comes from knowing that God ordains my thoughts, my words, my actions and inactions, including the very worst of them. Though it is my sin and I am to confess them and repent of them, knowing that they are part of his process of Godly chastisement and testing makes all of the difference in the world. To be able to confess and pray “Oh Lord, you alone ordain, control, and bring about all things; yet, this is my fear, my doubt, my lust, my temptation, my sin; teach me from it, cause me to know my weakness and your strength. Teach me to learn from these trials of stumbling and renew my mind in conformity to yours” – to be able to say this without slavish fear, despondency, and self-pity is a rich, rich blessing indeed. Did I know this all already? Yes. Was I consciously and deliberately living it? No… and that makes all of the difference in the world. Do I fear that I can once again erect the strongholds of vain thoughts of unbelief? Absolutely; but at least I am thinking about it and thinking about it (as opposed to fretting about it) moves me to be watchful, to pray for strength, to abstain from those things that keep me in a worldly mindset, to thank our Lord for the thoughts already brought into captivity, and to pray for the strengthening of the brethren who are also in need of such deliverance.
Remember that “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 Timothy 2:4). The battle is fierce, the enemy strong, and the the battlefield fraught with dangers but “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us” (Romans 8:37) — to God alone be the glory, in and through Christ. Amen.