If you’re a Christian, you know war. War with your pride, war with your lust, war with your anger. War at home, war at work, war when you’re alone. War in your head, war in your heart, war in your mouth.
Kill one enemy, and another takes its place. Fight your way up one hill, and ten more rise up behind it. Let up your vigilance for one hour, and you’ve lost ground. Day after day, week after week, month after month, with no end in sight.
Perhaps in the pitch of battle, when the enemies inside you feel unrelenting, you’ve wondered, “Is this normal? Is this really the Christian life — this endless trudging, this constant watchfulness, this ruthless denial of so much within me?”
In these moments, Christ our commander comes alongside us with three reminders: the war is normal, the war is winnable, and the war will end.
The War Is Normal
Consider the condition of your heart before God rescued you: dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), captive to ungodly passions and pleasures (Titus 3:3), blind to the beauty of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4), walking in ruin and misery (Romans 3:16). Your heart was Sauron’s Mount Doom, the White Witch’s winter, Babylon’s stronghold. You may have known peace, but it was peace with enemies of God.
But then the Holy Spirit beat down the gates of your heart and expelled sin from the throne. Now, he’s taking his army through all the corners of your life. Until he annihilates every enemy outpost, you will be a man or woman at war (Galatians 5:17).
So don’t be surprised if you wake up to war. Don’t be surprised if you sometimes feel like death inside, as if everything you’ve loved needs to be laid in the grave. Don’t be surprised if you discover lairs of darkness in your flesh you never dreamed possible.
Instead, take heart. The war is normal. More than that, the war is essential. Battle is an indispensable mark of all who have declared open rebellion against sin and Satan. As J.C. Ryle writes, “We are evidently no friends of Satan. Like the kings of this world, he wars not against his own subjects. The very fact that he assaults us, should fill our minds with hope” (Holiness, 76).
The War Is Winnable
In the agony of battle, you may feel utterly burdened beyond your strength, like defeat is all you will ever know. You may feel like giving up altogether.
We would have every reason to surrender to these feelings if the war belonged to us. In our own strength, we are infants fighting dragons. But the battle does not ultimately belong to us — it belongs to Christ, our captain. And that makes the war winnable.
When God saved you, he did not send a radio communication into your prison cell, commanding you to stand up and fight. No, Jesus himself broke into your prison, placed a sword in your hand, and said, “Follow me. Stay near me. I’ll lead you out.” Therefore, as Richard Sibbes writes, “Let us look not so much at who our enemies are as at who our judge and captain is, nor at what they threaten, but at what he promises” (The Bruised Reed, 122). And what does he promise?
He will be with you in every battle (Matthew 28:20).
He will uphold you with his righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10).
He will sanctify you completely (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
Stick near Christ’s side, and sin will have no dominion over you. Pride withers under his majesty. Lust cowers beneath his beauty. Anger trembles at his sight. You may gain ground only by inches, and the battle may last a lifetime, but Jesus’s presence and promises guarantee your progress. He will lead you home.
So don’t despair, no matter how shaky you feel today. The war is winnable. With God’s help, you can resist. You can reclaim ground from the enemy and turn thorny fields into gardens. Jesus has pledged his help for every fight you face today. Will you trust him?
The War Will End
God did not save you so you could wage eternal warfare. The streets of the New Jerusalem will not be lined with ranks of soldiers. This war, entrenched as it is right now, is merely the prologue to your eternal peace.
One day soon, the tumult of battle will give way to hallelujah choruses. The civil war within you will end in cease-fire under God’s reign. No wayward thoughts will disquiet you; no rogue desires will distress you; no nagging temptations will torment you.
“After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10). This war of fifty, sixty, or seventy years, as endless as it feels, is just “a little while” from the standpoint of eternity. Fight a little while, resist a little while, deny yourself a little while, and you will rejoice forever.
So don’t give up. The war will end. Jesus has already won the decisive victory (Colossians 2:15). The enemy knows his time is short (Revelation 12:12). The outcome of this battle is not uncertain. God will soon crush every enemy of yours under his feet (Micah 7:19; Romans 16:20).
Day by Day
If a lifetime of war feels overwhelming, focus on today’s fight. Labor to put to death today’s discontentment, today’s envy, today’s self-pity. And do it by grabbing hold of today’s weapons — today’s promises from God, today’s opportunities for prayer, today’s co-soldiers in the battle.
Day by day, your commander will supply the strength you need to overcome your enemies, and the forgiveness you need for every defeat. Just don’t stop fighting. “None is here overcome but he that will not fight,” Sibbes writes (The Bruised Reed, 122).
The war is normal, the war is winnable, and the war will end. And then, exceeding and ever-increasing joy.