Over 80% of professing Christian teens abandon their professed faith by the second year in college. Why? 60% of all those who leave the church do so because, as they say, “Christianity (the Bible, the church) doesn’t relate to their life.”2 In other words, those in the pews are not being taught to “have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” They aren’t instructed in the meatier principles of the Word of God that will help them identify the evil ideas pummeling our culture and distinguish them from the truth of God; thus, they are being taken captive by those ideas.
In a recent sermon I heard, it was stated that Christians must fight against evil (Ephesians 5:11). This is part of our calling in obedience to Scripture. The question is, what does that look like in our world today? The common answer we all hear is simply, “Follow Christ! The answer is found at the Cross.” Which begs the bigger question, what does that mean?
Consider that until the incarnation, Christ dwelled in Heaven in a state of absolute perfection. He, the Father, and the Holy Spirit enjoyed consummate peace and harmony in every way. He then left Heaven to come to a fallen world and live as a man among the sinful sons of Adam, suffering rejection, persecution, and finally crucifixion in His relatively short life. For what purpose, you ask? To shed His blood, taking on our sins, giving His life for us so that we might be redeemed. The hymn states this well:
This answers both questions above. Jesus left Heaven to save those whom the Father had elected to give Him, and in doing so he fought – and won – the ultimate battle against sin and evil. It was not easy, and it required that He hold nothing back. That is the definition of “love your neighbor as yourself.” That is what “fighting evil” looks like. Evil can only be defeated by standing steadfast for righteousness – living obediently to the Father’s commands and speaking the Truth no matter the cost.
Herein we see a major attribute which has largely been missing from Christian doctrine for over one hundred years: We are saved by grace through faith …FOR good works.
No orthodox Christian would deny the first half of that statement. This is by far the predominant message delivered in most American churches week-after-week, year-by-year. The fact that we are saved by grace through faith and not of works is the key to understanding the doctrine of salvation.
But once saved, then what? Without further discipleship from leadership on this matter, the Church in America has become lifeless and ineffective in the fight against evil. A fight that can only be accomplished by boldly proclaiming truth in all spheres of life, not simply limited to the individual, the home, and the local church.
The Puritan Thomas Watson wrote these words three centuries ago:
“Some think free grace will save them; but it must be in the use of means. ‘Watch and pray.’ Others say the promises will bring them to Heaven — but the promises of the Word are not to be separated from the precepts. The promise tells us of a crown — but the precept says, ‘Run in such a way as to get the prize’ (1 Corinthians 9:24). The promises are made to encourage faith, not to nourish sloth. But others say, Christ has died for sinners; and so, they leave Him to do all for them and they will do nothing. Then the text would be out of date, and all the exhortations to striving and ‘fighting the good fight of faith’ are in vain. Our salvation cost Christ blood, it will cost us sweat. The boat may as well get to shore without rowing, as we can get to Heaven without offering violence.”2
Scripture teaches that discipleship requires the graduation from learning the first principles of salvation to knowing and practicing the weightier precepts of biblical virtue in all of life. Heb 5:13-14 states, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Continuing in Heb. 6:1-2, we are admonished to, “leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.”
The principle here is comparable to the building of Solomon’s temple described in 1 Kings 5-7. Laying the cornerstones and foundations was the most critical element in the construction of this magnificent house of worship, but it would serve no purpose without the instructions for completion of the superstructure to be built upon it. Repeating the process of laying the foundation over and over again would result in no temple at all, leaving it empty, formless, and purposeless.
Again, we are told in Ephesians 2:10, “…we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” God did not save us and then immediately beam us up to heaven as in a Star Trek episode. He leaves us here for a purpose. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” John 14:12. And one of those works is to combat evil and promote righteousness.
In today’s culture, as at any time in history, we live in a battleground of ideas. However, because mass communication and social media can travel anywhere throughout the globe at the speed of light, the battle of ideas, at this point in human history, has reached a climax. The barriers of time and space, which had up until recently been able to confine the suppression of truth to various degrees, have been completely breached. Never before has man been able to communicate the evil thoughts and intents of his heart without borders and without time constraints; but thanks to mass communication, now he can. Sin is now able to metastasize throughout every nation of the world with little to no resistance vis-à-vis global technology. This is the world we now live in.
The leadership in the vast number of Protestant churches have “taught as doctrine the “commandment of man”, proclaiming that to speak about social or political issues (even in the context of teaching the Scriptures) is unacceptable, irreverent, and inflammatory. I would contend that among those three adjectives, only the term inflammatory applies. And the question I would ask those pastors is did not Christ address inflammatory issues – and with great boldness? Was He fearful of losing His audience when He did so? Was that not the example that He taught, and His disciples modeled as well? Jesus said in Revelation 3, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” I’d say that is an inflammatory warning that applies today!
Thomas Watson has more to say on this vital topic:
“Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14). Indeed, hell will be taken without storm: the gates of hell … open of their own accord (Acts 12:10); but if we get to Heaven, we must force our way; we must besiege it with sighs and tears and get the scaling ladder of faith to storm it. We must not only work—but fight. Like those Jews who built the wall of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 4:17-18), “Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. “
A Christian is commanded to difficult service; he must charge through the whole army of his lusts, every one of which is stronger than Goliath. A Christian has no time to drowse; he must be either praying or watching; either upon the mount or in the valley, on the mount of faith or in the valley of humility. Worldly things are not obtained without labor. What toiling is there in the shop! … And do we think Heaven will be had without labor?4
Jeff Keaton at RenwaNation.org related this true account of Sophia Magdalena Scholl, who was a Christian anti-Nazi political activist active within the non-violent White Rose Resistance group. Scholl and her brother, Hans, were imprisoned, convicted of high treason, and beheaded for distributing anti-Nazi literature. The White Rose Resistance group sought to end the oppression of the Jews and others while the majority of the German church remained silent.
Before Scholl was killed, she wrote these powerful words: “The real damage is done by those millions who want to survive. The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take a measure of their own strength for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honor, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small . . . die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: If you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the boogeyman won’t find you. But it’s an illusion because they die too, these people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”
Just before she was executed, she spoke these final words: “How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause? Such a fine, sunny day and I have to go, but what does my death matter if, through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action.”6
I’ll end this letter with Matthew 11:12, which says, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.”
The road to Heaven is uphill, not downhill. It is not meant to be easy or “all about me and my personal relationship with Christ.” It is a road to be paved by sacrificial service to others, climbing up the same street as Jesus, carrying our cross, standing tall in Biblical righteousness, defeating evil on the way.
Who will join in the battle?
2The Barna Group – 1 Gen-Z_excerpt.pdf (barna.com)
3 From the hymn “Jesus Paid it All” by Elvina Hall (1865)
4Watson, Thomas. Heaven Taken By Storm . E4 Group. Kindle Edition. Location 855
5Watson, Thomas. Heaven Taken By Storm. E4 Group. Kindle Edition.
6Extracted from a recent email by Jeff Keaton at RenewaNation. Our thanks to Jeff for this inspiring example of Christian courage and commitment!