Discipleship is Warfare – Lenten Season 2021
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV).
“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NIV).
7 Spiritual Laws of Success – Discipleship is Warfare (Law #5)
“You don’t understand…”
The young man I was talking to was starting to raise his voice. He was obviously agitated.
“I didn’t even get to say goodbye. She was gone so fast and the doctors wouldn’t let anybody see her.”
His mother of 53 had died of Covid 19 the year before at the height of the pandemic. The pain in his face was still difficult to see but I tried to comfort him. He shrugged my hand off his shoulder and glared at me.
“You don’t get it. My Dad lost his job after that and our family has gone through hell backwards ever since. So don’t talk to me about a loving God who takes care of you. It’s all bullshit.”
That last explicative was said with great intensity. Now was not the time to convince him against his will. So I just told him the truth. “I agree with you,” I said quietly.
“What?” The look of confusion on his face was almost heartbreaking.
“No, I agree with you. It’s all bullshit.”
He wasn’t sure I was sincere so I decided to explain. At least he was listening now.
“Your mother dying of Covid. Your Dad losing his job. It hasn’t been a good year. Not for you nor for a lot of people.”
He hung his head at that comment and nodded slightly.
“So either God doesn’t care…..”
He looked up at me fiercely…..but didn’t say anything.
“Or He can’t or won’t do much about it…for whatever reason.”
Now the look in his eyes changed and was more curious than defiant. “Are you saying God has no power to do anything about this stuff? He’s weak? What use is He then? I thought God was supposed to be all-powerful and so-on…”
He was still being difficult but, at least he was asking questions. That’s a start…
“Well, there’s certainly things God cannot do,” I said. “He can’t lie, or do any kind of evil, or do anything that is against love.”
But I didn’t get much further….
“There you go again with this “God is Love” crap,” he exploded. “How can that even remotely be true if he lets people die and get hurt and….and…lose the people they love the most in life.” He took a deep breath. “My Dad is a mess. I’m not sure he will make it. It’s like he doesn’t care if he lives or dies.” He couldn’t look me in the eyes but I saw the tears drop to the floor as he hung his head.
“I’m sorry for your Dad, John,” I said and I put my hand on his shoulder once more. This time it stayed. “The only thing I know is that God has a good reason for everything He does and for everything He lets happen. When you’re ready to hear about that reason, I would love to talk to you about it.”
John sniffed a bit and then looked at me with his tear-stained eyes. “You think there is a good reason for all of this?” He was incredulous. “It would have to be a hell of a reason.”
“You hit the nail right on the head,” I said with a weak smile. “It is a hell of a reason….”
He looked at me confused but I knew that now was not the time to spill the beans.
He wasn’t ready yet.
This argument against God is as old as time itself. If God is love and evil exists, either God is weak or He is not as loving as we make Him out to be. It usually comes in a more philosophical form, but you get the idea.
The problem is that God has an eternal perspective (and we do not). The central message of the Bible is that our rebellion against God (sin) has eternal consequences that are so horrible that it is almost beyond belief. The very fact that God, Himself, came in the flesh to be tortured and killed in a painful death on the cross in order to save us should give us some indication of how serious the situation is. God’s love compelled him to sacrifice Himself to save us from the results of our alliance with evil.
The Holy Truce – Discipleship is Warfare
The problem is that God’s grace created a Holy Truce of sorts where we do not immediately experience the results of our evil in real time. It is delayed. There is a certain amount of reaping and sowing and there is a complex web of interaction between the sin and evil in our own hearts and that of others in a world which is both corporate/structural and individual. But the eternal separation, the “death” we were warned about at the very beginning, has been postponed to give us a brief hiatus in time in which He can try to save us from our sin. A stay of execution, if you will, while our lawyers try to get a pardon from the governor.
The problem is that we have gotten used to this purgatory of sorts, this in-between place, where we live with the existence of evil in a sort of transitory, uneasy co-existence when, the truth is, love can never, and should never, tolerate evil. We have some experience of that even now. How much more must “perfect love” defeat and destroy every vestige of evil in the world and in the heart of man.
And right there, at that point, is the difficulty. God’s love compels Him to seek out the lost and save them at great cost to himself. His purpose is to break that friendship, to sever that tie, to loosen the bonds that bind us together with the evil in our hearts, to save the sinner but condemn and eradicate the sin.
He accomplished it on the cross.
We all know the story but we seem to forget that Discipleship is Warfare. We think of “following” Christ in his time of ministry on earth, like the disciples did, and spending time with him in conversation and ministry to the poor and sick. So far so good. To “follow” him is central to the concept of discipleship but it is also more than that.
There were other “messiahs” who had disciples and they were willing to follow their leaders to the death (and often did). To follow is fine but where are you going? Jesus was not like the other “messiahs” you say. True. But he also expects us to follow him to the death but not for political, but rather for spiritual, gain. We are to “share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17b NIV).
None of this is really anything new. And we know it. But we all tend to become comfortable and prefer a more docile approach to discipleship. The problem is that there is a spiritual war going on for the hearts and minds of individual and churches and we are a part of it whether we like it or not. The only question is whether or not we will act accordingly.
How it Fits Together – Discipleship is Warfare
If success in life is about pleasing God and, if God has made it clear that a lifetime of effective ministry is what pleases Him (and He has), then there is no distinction between my spiritual life and the rest of my life. Everything is spiritual (including sin). Everything has spiritual consequences. Everything has to do with my relationship with the Spirit, either walking in the Spirit or grieving the Spirit. And once we accept that, we realize that there is no escape from the truth that ALL of our life must be about effective ministry. Full stop.
Therefore ambition is to be expected and discipline is necessary. God has a wonderful life in store for us as we pursue an effective, ambitious, disciplined ministry lifestyle using our creational and spiritual gifts, interests and talents. This is a source of great joy and peace on the one hand and identity, purpose, significance and meaning in life on the other. That is God’s vision for our life, to mold us into the likeness of His son, as we pursue Him in effective ministry.
Now it only remains to define what that looks like in general terms. The specifics we will all have to work out on our own but the Bible still gives us a clear path to follow. The three pillars of that lifestyle of effective ministry are discipleship, stewardship and leadership. These are the last three spiritual laws of success. And the three are like three strands woven together into one strong rope that bind us firmly with our Saviour whom we are following into the vale of tears and suffering for the sake of the gospel.
Discipleship is warfare. Stewardship is simplicity and Leadership is influence.
Our discipleship is defined by how we view stewardship and leadership. Our stewardship is defined by how we see discipleship and leadership. Our leadership is defined by how we see discipleship and stewardship. They all stand or fall together.
Starting with Discipleship
We start with discipleship and how we define it is of uttmost importance. Discipleship is warfare. The church of the modern era has defined it in such a way as to produce a largely inactive, spiritually adrift, divided people more interested in their finances than their spiritual health. Compare that with the church of only 150 to 200 years ago when missionaries were sent into every corner of the globe to preach the gospel at great personal price. Certainly, even today, God has his remnant but we are talking about the church as a whole. Our actions, or inaction, are a mirror of how we define our discipleship.
Perhaps it is an issue of understanding our crucial role as witnesses to his resurrection power in our lives. Our identity is found “in Christ” since we are now new creatures in him. Our purpose is to live lives of effective ministry as He did. But perhaps more has to be said about our significance in this battle for the hearts and minds of the people God was willing to die for in order to save. Our testimony is key to the entire process. Preaching the gospel has to do with more than just saying the right words. People want to know whether it is true for us. Are we transformed? Are we new creatures? How do we know? What is so new about us? Our witness is key to the entire process whether we preach or we simply live out our lives of effective ministry for everyone to see.
But is that the case? Is the church known for its effective ministry at every level? No, it isn’t. Discipleship is warfare.
There are exceptions of course and God has His remnant always, but the “sleeping giant” of evangelicalim is still asleep. And that is the problem. It should not be so but, I suspect, it will continue to be so until we change our definition of discipleship from an insipid moral following sprinkled with a taste of spiritual flavour – reading the Bible, praying, singing songs of praise, acts of service – to something more robust and worthy of every effort, a definition that is rooted in the fundamental truth of the scriptures that the rebellion and sin of mankind has horrible, mind-blowing, eternal consequences and God has chosen to use us to bring the good news of salvation and witness to its truth and power in an ongoing ministry of reconciliation that can change hearts and turn them towards God.
If our discipleship is not considered important enough to be able to turn the tide of war in the hearts of the people we talk to, then we are truly lost. This is the priviledge and significance that God has given to his people. It only remains for us to walk in it.
The Desert Warrior
Lord, I believe that there is a spiritual war going on and that I am woefully unprepared for it. Discipleship is Warfare. Help me to take it more seriously and spend the time and money necessary to get ready and get to work. You made it quite clear on multiple occassions that you were looking for fruit in our labors and would take no excuses. You take it seriously because real people’s eternal lives are at stake. Teach us to take it seriously as well. Especially me. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.