Living as a follower of Jesus means that we enter into a spiritual war. We mustn’t play down that reality the Bible emphasises again and again. Paul makes that clear as he writes to the Ephesians and calls on them to put on the whole armour of God. Jesus makes that clear as he writes of what the disciples will face and as it’s seen in his own ministry battles with demons and spirits. Revelation gives us a peak behind the curtain of history so that we see some of the spiritual battle that rages. Paul writes of principalities and powers both physical and spiritual.
You can’t take the Bible seriously and read it and think about it without concluding that following Jesus means stepping on to the battlefield of a spiritual war. It is real, it is intense, and it is a fight. But I wonder sometimes if in some areas we treat it less as a battle and more as an inevitable defeat.
I was drawn back to Ezekiel 36v26-26 last week, where we read God’s promise that “I will give you a new heart, and put a new Spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” That is a staggering promise fulfilled by Christ. As those who follow Jesus we are given a new heart, a soft tender heart that is devoted to God and seeks after him. But more than that God himself fills his people with his Spirit, why? To what end? For what purpose? To animate and move us to obey him out of love.
The spiritual battle is real, both with our sin, and with everything else. But God has overwhelmingly gifted us as his people, he has given us new hearts with new loves and devotions. He has given us God himself with us in the person of the Holy Spirit working in and moving in us. So it is not inevitable that we will fail in our battles with sin.
It’s really important that we get this right. Sometimes I find myself thinking that certain sins are set to dog me for my whole life, they loom large, they seem too big too strong, I am defeated by them before I start. Now, we will sin – I don’t believe the Bible teaches sinless perfectionism, but it does teach progressive sanctification.. The Bible does teach that in Christ through the word and by the Spirit it is possible for us to fight sin.
What difference would it make to us as followers of Jesus if we grasp this? He has won the victory over sin for us – Yes! Absolutely. Our righteousness is imputed and not earned and we must thank and praise God for that. But that’s not all Christ does, he doesn’t leave us wallowing in defeat until he comes back to make victory a reality when he returns once and for all. No! He gives us new hearts – new passions, new desires that we are to feed and fuel as we behold the Lord through his word, as we sing and speak of his excellencies and feast on his grace. And he has given us his Spirit to move us, to act in us, to change us, to make us the people who delight to please our Father.
Sin is not stronger than grace, temptation is not strong than the Spirit, and defeat is not a forgone conclusion as we follow Jesus our Lord.