In time of war it is the worst mistake to underrate your enemy, and try to make a little war. – Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley
My father had a habit that whenever we would watch a movie, he would quiz us on what connections we could make toward the gospel. Regardless of what movie, Papa would always somehow find a way to relate it. Though it would at times exasperate my nine-year-old self, it taught me the value of seeing God and people’s need for Him everywhere. This little exercise, awakened me to the reality that we do not merely live in the mundane ordinary but also in the spiritual extraordinary.
It is in the mystery of this spiritual reality, that creates the allurement of fantasy and science fiction in our world. We know there is something else out there and we even dream of possibilities of this potential. Whether Tolkien, Lewis, Rowling, Lucas, Roddenberry (that Star Trek guy), we fantasize about the possibility that we can escape our present reality and get caught up in another one. Like the eery mist at dawn, does the faint sense of something more leaving us grasping for substance.
Yet in all of society’s dreaming, thoughts, and wandering of another existence, would it vehemently disagree to actually believe in another one. To believe in another one would be to admit that they are not all that is there, and implicitly our life is not merely our own. It would mean our actions have consequences that go beyond only this world’s sphere of influence.
One of the greatest tragedies of our society, is the disbelief in this greater actuality. The cognitive dissonance that will not entertain the thought of something or someone greater than us. That beyond us, there cannot be anything more.
Further, for the Christian, one of the greatest inhibitors to overcoming sin is the disbelief that we do not wage a war on a cosmic scale. We believe we fight on the plains of the ordinary, and only battle with that which we can see and feel. Our sins are only immediate and the solution to them lies with restraints toward our fleshly will.
We spend far too much time with minimality, testing our conscience at every opportunity. We toy with lust, providing superficial accountability and porous safeguards onto our computers. We toy with pride with faux humility, speaking in a self-degrading manner, so that no one will know what we really think. We toy with stale spirituality, reading our bibles minimally, offering generic prayers filled with ‘Christianisms’, to the end of being justified by our own ‘maturity’. Far too often, we toy.
This I believe, is a grave mistake; even further, in the words of Arthur Wellesley, “it is the worst mistake”. That we would rather make little of our enemy, and make a little war with whom we in ourselves cannot over come. To believe the answer lies only in our doing-to do and do more- is like bringing a knife to a gun fight. It is woefully, ineffective.
Similar in predicament are the unassuming characters, in Netflix’s new hit tv-show Stranger Things. Their initial mistake and perhaps their most costly one, was the inability to comprehend the gravity of trouble they were in. Neither the scientists responsible for opening the portal, the children who stumble upon it, or the sheriff who looks to answer all the questions, can understand that they are in over their heads. They need a saviour.
The Upside-Down, is both darker and contrary to the white-picket-fenced Hawkins, Indiana they live in. A place that exists as the inversion to their world, it is skulking full of shadows; containing monsters only seen in nightmares. In this place, hope is all but a forgotten memory, as one by one inhabitants of Hawkins are dragged into the darkness.
Stranger Things is a story of intrigue, curiosity, mystery, bravery, courage and 1980’s nostalgia. It is a story of monsters, and men unbeknownst in their humdrum, that just beyond their mundane life is a realm which looks to incite evil and take over all that they hold dear. It is a story of coming of age, naive friendships, and loyalty to a fault. It is also a story ‘El’ aka ‘Eleven’, a child psychic, who is the heroine that acts as their functional saviour.
We do not live in a world all that different. There is a cosmic war going on, an immense spiritual battle being fought for our very souls. This is happening now, on the battlegrounds of our heart and mind. The devil prowls (1 Peter 5:8), yet God is near (Psalm 145:18). This is our reality.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly place – Ephesians 6:12 (NASB)
However, Satan and the evil which he incites is much more insidious in nature. Like the Mind Flayer who takes over Will’s body in season 2, does he desire to direct our will against God in every aspect. Sin is the means to which we open the portal to our souls, enslaving ourselves. Satan and all his demonic forces, take advantage of that open portal, reaching deep within, laying root to decay the foundations of our heart and mind. This, continual indulgence into habitual sin is the enslavement with we lose ourselves: our created reality in the image of God. Simply being taken from this life is not our worst nightmare.
Sin has devastating effects, and not all are equal in their devastation. Unfettered sin, has implications of eternity, in a realm much, much worse than the Upside-Down. Yet the means to which we fight out this spiritual reality, is not abstract and intangible war. It is not a battle fought in the hazy vague with no real grounds on which to stand. It is not mere random incantations and blasts of ‘positive’ energy. The means to fight is found in the now, in our ordinary. To wait would be deadly for our spiritual reality. We need to be transformed (Romans 12:2).
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. – 2nd Corinthians 10:3-4 (NASB)
So then, how does spiritual warfare and divine transformation look like to those who are joined in the physical reality of Christ and His body?
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.
– Ephesians 6:10-11 (NASB)
If we fight in the ordinary, the body we currently abide in is the means to which we wage war within the spiritual reality. How we act in the day to day is our hand to hand combat. Every minuscule action, every deed, every thought is directed toward fighting an enemy who seeks to destroy us. Our living in this realm is the avenue provided to gain victory in the next. Yet while we remain in the ordinary, we do not fight an ordinary battle by ordinary means. Though we wage ware in the flesh, we do not wage a war according to the flesh. As proven over and over again by characters of Stranger Things, what is ordinary cannot overcome the extraordinary. Our ordinary means to fight, requires extraordinary help; so we turn toward our saviour.
By the grace of God we have been afforded this extraordinary means (Hebrews 4:15-16), a sinless Messiah who stands to intercede on our behalf. It is by His blood-bought means that we fight. Not in the will of our own, but by the strength of His might.
Therefore… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. – Philippians 2:12-13 (ESV)
A favourite author of mine, John Piper recently expounded this verse in a way that I had never before seen. In paraphrase Piper says something to the effect of: Therefore…Therefore in view of Christ’s sacrifice, his death, and resurrection, forever earning your atonement, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Not a fear or trembling to force us into His righteousness because of the wrath of God, but a fear in the awe and wonder at the very God who works out our salvation from within us. A God who works within us, sealed onto completion by His sovereign will. Not onto our own desires does He do this, but for the sake of His glory, His good pleasure.
This floored me, I was left absolutely stunned. I do not work out my own salvation, I do not fight sin in of myself, but I do through the power of Him who works mightily in me. This is the means to which I fight in His might: by faith alone on the grace of God, to do His sovereign will, in which He keeps all of His sovereign promises. This is to “sever the root of sin, [by standing upon] the power of a superior promise” (Piper).
Therefore, to be strong in the Lord is to take courage at the strength of His might that resides within us. Like Will Byers, we can turn to face the enemy when Satan haunts us with his temptations. Unlike, Will we stand to face the enemy not by the strength of our own might, but in Christ the solid rock on which we stand. We take courage to fight the good fight (1 Timothy 6:12). We take courage to be strong in the Lord, knowing our victory is assured.
If then I fight in the strength of Christ’s might in the spiritual reality, by what practical means do I fight in the ordinary reality?
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. – Ephesians 6:13-17 (ESV)
To take up the armour of God is to live by Spirit empowered obedience, and abide by faith in the word of truth (John 15:3-4). To live by faith is more than a belief in the right things, but a deep conviction and consequential commitment to do the right things. A firm desire joined with the Spirit, to exercise all the might of God against every temptation which seeks to devour. This is not a matter of who will win, but when and at what casualties.
Thus by the grace of God, let us put on this strange armour; equipped with weaponry not of this world, but of the spiritual (Hebrews 13:20-21), ready at every turn to slay every vile sin which encroaches upon us.
We then put on the belt of truth, the truth defined by the almighty God, in whose right knowledge sets down every lie of the enemy.
We put on the breastplate of righteousness, held up by the truth, we bear toward the holiness of which God has prepared for us.
We put on the shoes of readiness prepared by the gospel of peace. Ready to face every trial and tribulation, knowing the one who calmed the storm says to our soul “be still” (Mark 4:39).
In addition to all, we pick up the shield of faith with which- after having been stood upon the truth, beared toward righteousness, and been made ready by the gospel of peace-every fiery arrow of the evil will be extinguished. Faith is the means by which we stand upon the superior promises of God, and sever the root of sin.
Lastly, we take up the helmet of salvation, our crown of life (James 1:12), and holding firm to wield the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Spirit inspired faith in the word of God is the deathly blow, which cuts off the head of the snake. It is the heat which releases the Mind Flayer from it’s host. The very word of God, wielded by the Son of God (Matthew 4), will prove to be our decisive attack against the enemy and free us from the entanglement of habitual sin (Hebrews 4:12). Let us in meekness, humbly receive the word implant which is able to save our souls (James 1:21).
To put on the armour of God is to stand in Christ, who is our greater Eleven. Christ did not simply defeat the enemy for our justification, but acts as the means within us to carry us through toward sanctification. Christ did what Eleven couldn’t; He resides in us as the power within with which we take courage to be strong, and fight by the strength of His might. The ordinary man took victory in the extraordinary spiritual. Not by means which was expected but in a strange and divine way; namely His suffering, death and resurrection displaying the peculiar glory of God.
Chris has won the victory, not by bullets, flames, or psychic powers, but by taking the sting of death and the power of Sin (1st Corinthians 15:55-57), destroying the enemy strongholds forevermore.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us not underestimate the enemy, but wage a war to the fullest extent of our armoury in which we no longer strive on our own, but hold to God. So far as we remain in the body, we are refined by fire (1 Peter 1:6-9) being transformed from degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18) by the saving power of the Lord. Let us look to Christ who is the assurance of our salvation and author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. – Philippians 1:6 (NASB)