In sports, to win is to defeat the adversary. If you have simply “held them at bay,”x or kept them from scoring a point, you have not won. To win, you must score. The purpose of the competition is not to walk away with a participation medal, but with the trophy. In martial arts, to win that trophy you must defeat your opponent—an adversary who is just as experienced, powerful, and talented as you. A number of years ago I began training, with my boys, in that martial art which is known as Karate Kenpo. As I learned my strikes and kata, I moved from white belt to yellow belt to orange belt. Each belt is like a graduation, a victory won, a recognition that you have learned the techniques and are able to apply them. To move from white to yellow was relatively easy, however, the move from yellow to orange was roughly equivalent to “running a gauntlet.” After having gone through numerous physical tests of strength and endurance, and having performed my kata, my next challenge was to engage in combat with the senseis. First one sensei and then another, through a series of consecutive combats. The combats were grueling and the senseis pushed me to my limits, and beyond. Would I fall? Would I get up if I fell? How long would I persevere against insurmountable odds? Needless to say, I fell numerous times, and got up. By the end, after 5 or 6 consecutive combats, without a pause, I could barely keep my hands up, and yet we continued. When this last challenge was finished, I was exhausted but elated. Not only is this one of my favorite memories from my time training at that Dojo, it also stood out, in my memory, as one of the most vivid examples of what it means to engage in spiritual warfare.
When we think of warfare, and most sports, we think of forward movement, of the advancement of the troops, of taking over enemy territory, and of destroying the enemy. However, there is a sense in which the spiritual warfare of the Christian is less about entering the enemies lair and striking them down, and more about, in the words of Paul, “Standing firm.” In his Epistle to the Ephesians, where Paul is encouraging the Christians at Ephesus to take up the whole armor of God (Eph. 6:13), to engage in spiritual warfare, his description of the movement of the Christian is not one of moving forward, advancing, or of gaining ground. Rather, Paul reminds us, four times, “to stand firm.” “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. (Eph. 6:11)” “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Eph. 6:13)” and “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness. (Eph. 6:14)” These instructions remind me, in a sense, of my battle with the senseis, there was no way I could beat them in my own strength and in the power of my own might. So, the best I could hope for was to stay standing, and get back up when I fell; to defend myself against their attacks, and withstand their onslaught.
To this point, John Chrysostom’s commentary on these verses, referring specifically to our struggle against sin, rings true. “For instance, take the case of some evil lust. The extra-ordinary thing would be, not to entertain it at all, but to stifle it. If, however, this is not possible, then though we may have to wrestle with it, and retain it to the last, yet if we depart still wrestling, we are conquerors. For the case is not the same here as it is with wrestlers; for there if you don’t throw your antagonist, you have not conquered; but here if you are not thrown, you have conquered; if you are not thrown, you have thrown him; and with reason, because there both strive for the victory, and when the one is thrown, the other is crowned; here, however, it is not thus, but the devil is striving for our defeat; when then I strip him of that upon which he is bent, I am conqueror. (John Chrysostom, Homily 22 on the Epistle to the Ephesians)” To stand firm against sin and evil is to win. To have not succumb, to have not been cast down, is to have conquered.
As with my battle against the Senseis, the question is not will I defeat the enemy by striking them down, but, rather, will I win by staying on my feet—by standing firm. Unlike my battle against the Senseis, the spiritual battle of the Christian is not waged in our own strength, nor is it won by our skill or because of our own merits. Rather, we stand firm, “in the Lord and in the strength of his might. (Eph. 6:10)” We are called to strengthen ourselves, not in our own might, but in the strength of HIS might. We are called to stand firm and to withstand, not by our own devices, but with the armor of God (truth, righteousness, readiness or zeal, faith, the hope and assurance of salvation, the word of God, and constant prayer). It is by standing firm in the power of God with the armor of God that we are able to withstand against the spiritual onslaught of our present evil day, of our temptations to sin, and of the tempter himself.
Dr. David Haines
Assistant Professor of Theology and Philosophy
- It is easy, as the year progress, for students to struggle with a sense of inability, doubt, fear. Pray that they will find joy, encouragement, and rest in Christ.
- Temptation is always at the door. Pray for students and faculty will stand firm against temptation.
- We live in a world which calls evil good, and the truth a lie. Pray that we will learn to rightly discern, and to stand firm in and for, the truth.
- Pray for the full funding of the Serious Joy Scholarships that support our students and allow them to launch into life and ministry without a burden of student loan debt.