Fully Armed & Faithfully Trained
One of the biggest problems that the Church is facing right now is in trying to be nice and pleasing to everyone. We seem to have bought into this mentality that if we’re all nice to each other, God will reward us for being courteous and pleasant, amiable and friendly. If you take a look at most adverts for churches in the newspaper, radio, or TV, you’ll see something to effect that says: “Come and join us, we’re really friendly people.”
Somehow, we’ve managed to become social chameleons who want to fit in with everyone. If someone were to write a motto for the Christian church in America today, it would read something like this: “We love you when you like us.”
I don’t think Paul would have recognized our idea of church with that of his own. He would see us as religious friendship societies or Christian Country Clubs, who go along with the crowd in order to get along in the community. His idea of church was nothing like what we believe it to be today. Churches were not meant to be spiritual candy in the community; the Church was meant to challenge society in order to change it.
That’s why Paul calls upon the Ephesian church to be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. The apostle has lived a life of stirring up passions and protests throughout his entire Christian ministry. He knows what persecution and trouble are. And he perfectly understands that the Christian Road is the one less often traveled – a road of radicalism and revolution; a path of persecution and pain; a way of wonder and war at the same time.
1948 Flag of Israel is adopted – The Church is supposed to be like what happened in the world almost sixty years ago today. A white flag with a six pointed blue star and two blue stripes was adopted by a new nation that was struggling to keep its independence. It was of course, the Flag of Israel, and to keep it flying, Israelis have had to be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. They wouldn’t exist as a nation today if they just wanted to be liked. They would have been extinguished long ago if all that they had been established for was to be nice.
Now, just as the Israelis have had to fight for every year of their existence, Christianity needs to do the same. We cannot take it for granted that Christ’s message is being preached, taught, and heard in every generation or in every church. We cannot keep wanting to be liked if we wish to remain true to Christ and the Gospel at the same time. If all Jesus had wanted to be was to be nice, He never would have come into conflict with the authorities who executed Him. You don’t crucify nice people – you just simply ignore them. That’s what is happening in Europe right now. The Church has been busy trying to be nice to the population in Europe for the past fifteen years, and what is the outcome? People have stopped going to Church and practically ignore it entirely.
In Paul’s mind, Christianity was a spiritual call to arms to fight against the devil’s schemes. The devil’s ambition is to create chaos and wreak havoc across the world. He preys upon fear and disturbs the faithful. He moves against Christ’s mission wherever it is found in the world. He opposes the kingdom of God all over the universe, so whether or not we like the idea, we are in a global war where godliness opposes godlessness, where faith confronts fear, and where that which is sacred challenges superstition.
So, we’re asked to put on the full armor of God – not just some of it, but all of it. And we’re going to need every piece of armory that we can put on because the devil will be relentless in attacking our bodies and minds, hearts and spirits.
Now let’s get this straight in our hearts and minds once and for all: the devil exists. He isn’t a mythical character or a horror movie star. He isn’t something that was made up to frighten people into faith or to make bad children get to sleep. The devil exists and his biggest weapon is in making himself invisible to our society. He wants us to believe that he doesn’t exist. He wants us to think that he’s the product of a bygone age of superstitions and fear. He wants us to accept that science has managed to explain him away, and that the History channel can make a two hour special about his past. There are evil forces in existence that seek to destroy our souls and sanity, our faith and free will. As mere creatures, we are helpless against such cosmic forces; but as fully armored Christians, the Church becomes the One True Earthly Army of Christ that can confront evil and win people for God’s Kingdom. That’s why we’re called the Church Militant in the Reformed Tradition, and on this Sunday of all Sundays in the year, Reformation Sunday, we should be prepared to take on that title and take on the world.
And why to we call this day Reformation Sunday? Because this is the anniversary weekend of the day that Martin Luther in Germany pinned on a church door 95 protests against the wicked ways in which the Roman Catholic Church was presenting Christ, Christianity and the Gospel to the people. If he wanted to be nice, Martin Luther could have stayed in his bed that morning and forget all about his opposition to his Church, which had been seduced by worldly ways. Instead, Martin Luther chose to put on the full armor of God, be strong in the Lord, and confront the devil in the Church itself!
This should be a warning for all of us: when the Church woos the world, instead of being wedded to Christ, it dances to the devil’s tune. We have been dancing with the devil for so long in our society that we have lost our direction and let go of our grasp of God. In our narcissistic meandering, we have forgotten to love Christ and be loyal to Him alone. Of all cultures and generations of Christians, we are the least effective because we have let go of the truth in order to accommodate the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Paul was facing the same challenges and he knew that he had to rally the Ephesian Church to fight for their faith. Paul also recognized that the devil wouldn’t allow him to live a life of peace and prosperity. By standing out in the Empire and standing up for Christ, Paul would eventually have to lay down his own life. In fact a couple of years after writing this letter, he would be beheaded in Rome. His message would be silenced, but his ministry would continue, especially at Ephesus.
The Christians of that great, prosperous city would face persecution from the general population and the Roman authorities. Their allegiance to Christ and public declaration of Jesus being their only Lord, would cause them to be charged with treason against Caesar. Their dogged determination in continuing to spread Christ’s Gospel would lead to martyrdom and their numbers would be decimated. And yet they were willing to stand firm, to hold on to the higher ground, to maintain their faith, and to continue to pester the world with Christ’s challenges.
A couple of years after pinning his 95 protests to the church door, Martin Luther was brought before politicians and magistrates, church dignitaries and local rulers. He was told to recant of his ways, to give up his protests, and to seek the Church’s forgiveness. In an act of defiance and great faith, he boldly told this to the powerful assembly:” I will not recant. Here I stand, I can do no other.” In other words, he was not willing to be nice; he was not going to give in to worldly standards. He held fast to the true faith and protested against the DEVIL IN the Church. And that is why we celebrate the Reformation this day; that is why we are called Protestants.
Truth, righteousness, peace, and faith are part of our defensive armory defensive against the devil’s way. The devil can’t stand truth because it exposes him as a liar. He doesn’t like righteousness because it confronts his unholiness. He hates peace in the Church because all he wants is conflict and divisions, separations and schism. And he can’t stand faith in Christ because he cannot use fear as a means to destroy people’s hopes and dreams.
Two other things are given to us to enable Christians to overcome evil in the world. The first is the helmet of salvation which protects our head. It’s there for this reason: heresy in the Church begins in the mind, not the heart. There are more people damaged in God’s Kingdom by what they think about God, rather than what they experience about God. That’s why I keep asking us to be careful about what we allow ourselves to read, hear, and see in the movies, on television, or in books. It all ends up as baggage in our minds and if we are not praying throughout the day, or reading and pondering the Bible on a daily basis, or worshipping at church every week, then we are allowing ourselves to clutter up our mind with filth, greed, and pride that the devil uses to weaken our faith and let go of our grasp of God.
Remember, God gives us free will to choose to love and believe in Him. But the devil also uses free will against us when we choose to fill our minds with ludicrous ideas, superstitious beliefs, and unholy thoughts. That’s why we need a helmet of salvation and not just for ourselves, but for the whole church. There are debates and discussions taking place across America in PCUSA churches about whether or not we should ask people to make a membership vow that stipulates Jesus Christ as being their personal Lord and Savior. And this is taking place in the Church!
Some pastors and elders, church members and congregations don’t want people to make this statement of faith because it’s too personal, too private, and too contentious. Of course it’s contentious. It’s always meant to be that way. When we confess that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, we’re telling the Church and the world that we are His unworthy servants, who cannot escape God’s wrath unless we take an oath of fealty, allegiance and loyalty to Jesus Christ. Anything else is non-Christian – it’s our belief in Christ as Savior of the World and Lord of the Universe that makes us Christians!
And in the end, this is where the sword of the Spirit comes in. We’ve got to cut through the cultural pressures that try to make us nice, neutered, and non-effective to become the radical, revolutionary and Reformed Christians that we are meant to be in the Church, in our community, and throughout the world. We don’t come to Church just because it’s something nice at the end of the week: we are called to Church to be equipped by the Spirit, in order to go out into the community and make an impact for Christ, and prepare it for His return – because when He comes back it’s no more Mr. Nice Guy or Gentle Jesus, meek and Mild. He comes back to us as the Lord of all Creation and the Judge of the entire World.
Christ saves us from Himself! He is our Lord and God, which is why we need to be fully armed and faithfully trained.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, the world tempts us with its wicked ways and unholy truths. Even in the Church, we face heresy and apostasy, unbelief and superstition. Sometimes we don’t know what is the wrong way or the right way, so keep us following Your way, keep us on Your side. In Your Holy Name, we faithfully and fearlessly pray. Amen. If God be for us, who or what can stand against us?