Thursday, May 07, 2009

Total War

Part One In The Spiritual Warfare Series

A full volley from a battleship
I have been pondering the concept of total war lately. Americans are really not comfortable with the idea of total war. This fact is clearly seen in our impatience with the current war in Iraq and in our approach to the war against terrorism in general. The most recent example of total war in American history was World War II. Yet even that war did not carry the concept to its extreme limits. According to Wikipedia

Total war is a conflict of unlimited scope in which a belligerent engages in a mobilization of all available resources at their disposal, whether human, industrial, agricultural, military, natural, technological, or otherwise, in order to entirely destroy or render beyond use their rival's capacity to continue resistance. The practice of total war has been in use for centuries, but it was only in the middle to late 19th century that total war was identified by scholars as a separate class of warfare. In a total war, there is less (or no) differentiation between combatants and non-combatants (civilians) than in other conflicts, as nearly every person from a particular country (or opposing area), civilians and soldiers alike, can be considered to be part of this belligerent effort.

The "civilized" world in general doesn't seem to have much of a stomach for total war, and I am glad many industrialized nations have embraced the concept of more limited warfare. However, the concept of total war seems to be a good description of the spiritual war in which humanity finds itself.

An A-10 Warthog in actionConsider the reality that exists on Earth. Two kingdoms are engaged in battle for supremacy of the earth. There is no Geneva Convention governing the prosecution of this war. It is a bloody, no-holds-barred fight. Neither side fights fairly, and the weapons of each side are devastating.

The devil and his forces are doing everything that they can to steal, kill, and destroy. They are not above attacking infants in the womb. They put hideous diseases on people. They spawn physical wars. They keep people in bondage physically, mentally, emotionally, economically, and spiritually. They pervert justice and do everything that they can to destroy God's creation. Worst of all, the devil takes advantage of people's fallen, sinful nature to keep them bowing to him. Condemnation and intimidation are some of his most effective weapons. This kingdom uses deception and lies as propaganda to prevent its victims from finding God's light and to entice them to destroy themselves.

A soldier discharging his weapon.On the other hand the Kingdom of God uses weapons that the enemy cannot resist. Those in this Kingdom have access to the precious blood of Jesus that the enemy has no defense against. They can use the name of Jesus that causes every knee to bow in submission. They have the Word of God that is like a mighty two-edged sword. The praises of God in their mouths inflicts "vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples, to bind their kings with fetters, their nobles with shackles of iron, to carry out the sentence written against them." They have the grace of God at their disposal to set them free from condemnation and from the fleshly sinful nature that their enemy had used to keep them in bondage. And they have Almighty God backing them up.

The greatest insult of all to the kingdom of the devil is that the Kingdom of God doesn't destroy anything except the works of the devil. The Kingdom of God is all about restoration. It takes its enemy's greatest warriors and converts them and uses them as weapons against the devil's kingdom. In fact, the word of a Christian's testimony has great power to overcome the devil. So even the things that the enemy intended to destroy are used to overcome his kingdom. And he can't even kill these liberated prisoners to stop their influence, because the blood of the saints of the Kingdom of God is the seed of the Church.

The sooner that we embrace the reality that we are engaged in a total war the happier we will be. For when we finally recognize this truth we will be able to readjust our expectations in a way that will allow us to begin to walk in victory. So many Western Christians have been deluded into believing that spiritual warfare is a metaphor instead of truth. As a result we are perplexed when we see the suffering that exists in our world. We wonder why our lives are so destroyed and why sickness, bondage, poverty, conflict, and trouble are our constant companions. We wonder why our lives as Christians are such a poor representation of the examples that we see in the scriptures.

John Eldredge described it this way in his book Waking The Dead:

Until we come to terms with war as the context of our days we will not understand life. We will misinterpret 90 percent of what is happening around us and to us. It will be very hard to believe that God's intentions toward us are life abundant; it will be even harder not to feel that somehow we are just blowing it. Worse, we will begin to accept some really awful things about God. That four-year-old girl being molested by her daddy - that is "God's will"? That ugly divorce that tore your family apart - God wanted that to happen too? And that plane crash that took the lives of so many - that was desired by God?

Most people get stuck at some point because God appears to have abandoned them. He is not coming through. Speaking about her life with a mixture of disappointment and cynicism, a young woman recently said to me, "God is rather silent right now." Yes, it's been awful. I don't discount that for a moment. She is unloved; she is unemployed; she is under a lot. But her attitude strikes me as deeply naive, on the level of someone caught in a cross fire who asks, rather shocked and with a sense of betrayal, "God, why won't you make them stop firing at me?" I'm sorry, but that's not where we are right now. It's not where we are in the Story. That day is coming, later, when the lion shall lie down with the lamb and we'll beat swords into plowshares. For now, it's bloody battle.

- John Eldredge, © 2009 Waking the Dead: The Glory of a Heart Fully Alive, pp. 17-18 Thomas Nelson Publishers

ArtilleryOnce we embrace the concept of total war we can begin to act like we are in a war. Instead of wandering around the battlefield naked and unarmed we can begin to gird ourselves for the battle that we are in - and like it or not we are all in a battle. There is no sideline. No quarter is given based on age, sex, race, religion, economic status, handicap, or anything else. We are all combatants on one side or the other. If you fight you will be attacked, and if you don't fight you will be attacked. I don't know about you, but if I'm going to be attacked one way or the other, I intend to bloody my adversary as much as I can.

It is important to remember the nature of a Christian's weapons. They are not physical weapons, but spiritual. And our enemies are not flesh, but spirit. That isn't to say that the spirits don't manifest themselves through people for they surely do, but our warfare is against the spirit and not against the individual. When a Christian wars, success will be far more likely when anger is not allowed to be expressed against the individual that the enemy is using for his purposes.

But why do we have to fight? If a person is born again he belongs to God, right? If God is all-powerful then why do we have to fight? Couldn't He just win for us? He could. But that has never been the way that God has operated in the Earth. Even from the beginning, He created mankind in His image and authorized him to rule the Earth. The New Testament does not change this arrangement. In the end God's saints rule with Jesus when He comes back to take physical dominion of the Earth. A good picture of God's attitude towards warfare can be found in the book of Judges:

These are the nations the LORD left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (He did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience): the five rulers of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites living in the Lebanon mountains from Mount Baal Hermon to Lebo Hamath.

A Marine DI gets in a recruit's face.God actually WANTED all of the Israelites to be trained in and experience warfare! We are no different. The scriptures make it clear that we are to personally engage in warfare through the power and strength of the Lord.

One of the most significant realizations that I have ever come to as a Christian is that the devil does not fight fairly and that I don't either. I am OK with that. The enemy will go after anything that he can to get to me. My family, friends, property, health, and anything else that he could use to harm me are all on his list of potential targets. Anything that I have not protected is likely to be attacked. However, on the other hand the Lord has given us tremendous promises in His Word that allow us to defend ourselves against the devil's schemes.

Peter tells us to "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings." Another version tells us to "be sober, be vigilant." Soldiers in a battle zone learn to be vigilant or they end up dead. God has already given us the weapons to defeat the enemy. If we are alert and on guard against the devil's attacks we can thwart him when he tries to devour that which Jesus purchased for us at Calvary.

Marines rescuing a wounded brother.There is no doubt that the enemy will get in some cheap shots, but as we learn to fight we will make it harder and harder for him to breach our defenses. Even better we will learn to plunder his kingdom, taking back not only what he stole from us but setting other captives free! We will begin to cause more damage to the enemy than he does to us! When we are on the offensive the battle becomes fun.

I hope that you see that there is no avoiding combat in this war. Our actions either contribute to the victory of the enemy's kingdom or the Kingdom of God. As you begin to engage in the battle do not be dismayed if the enemy intensifies the battle around you. Remember that intimidation is one of his tactics. If you will continue to resist him he will flee. And you don't have to fight by yourself either! We can team up against the devil, and that teamwork multiplies our effectiveness.

Soon I hope to address some of the practical ways that I have learned to engage the enemy and to discuss the weapons that I have learned to use in that fight, but these topics are outside the scope of today's post. I hope that these thoughts have spurred you to recognize the nature of the battle in which we all find ourselves and have encouraged you to take up your armor and weapons to defend yourself against the enemy's attack. May God grant you much grace and reveal Himself to you through His Word.

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