In a time when believers all too often view faith as a means to personal comfort and even prosperity and ease, more than as a call to war against the world, the flesh, and the devil, we do well to recall biblical images of valor; examples of enduring courageous commitment to God. Even when it feels like the world is about to stomp us into oblivion, we must be brave to wield Word, truth, and love to contend for faith and faithfulness. We must be a generation of believers ready to stand and conquer by being faithful to “keep his works” to the very end (Revelation 2:26); yes, even “unto death” (Revelation 2:10).
Two biblical images of valor have long encouraged (i.e.-in-couraged) my heart. The first is of Gideon and his men of war who in battle against the Midianites were said to be “exhausted, but pursuing” (Judges 8:4, ESV). Such was their internal impulse to fight for the right that exhaustion couldn’t stop them.
Then there is Eleazer, one of David’s mighty men, who “rose and struck down the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand clung to the sword…” (2 Samuel 23:10, ESV). So committed was he to the fight that when the battle was finally over, someone had to pry his hand from his hilt.
Exhausted but pursuing. A hand clung to its sword. Such vivid images of valor should stir men and women of faith to rise up and stand firm in this present evil age (Ephesians 6:10-13).
A Holy War without Guns and Ammunition
We should be clear that God no longer calls us to military battles against his enemies. Holy wars like David’s and Gideon’s (and Joshua’s before them) were an ancient temporary measure that God employed to punish countries and cities whose godlessness was off the charts, and who occupied the land he had chosen for Israel. But we should know that Jesus has declared a decisive end to such measures (Matthew 26:52), commissioning us instead to contend against evil with Truth; fighting with and for The Faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). Nowadays God punishes nations by various means; including sending them providential national calamities, giving them terrible leaders, and/or warning them of Judgment Day wrath; all of which render the need for military conquest passé. We are not jihadists called to kill infidels or massacre the godless; nor even vigilantes called to take justice into our own hands.
Instead, our warfare and weapons are spiritual, not carnal (Ephesians 6:12; 2 Corinthians 10:3-4). This means that we should not wield guns, or lies, or false ideas and ideologies, or prejudice in the supposed cause of truth. Nor should we rely upon unholy political alliances—either to the right or to the left—to bring about some supposed good.
Yet despite all these caveats, we are in a holy war against our own sin and life’s many temptations. We are to put to death the lustings, cravings, ragings, slanderings, hatings, and bingings of our flesh. We must also engage the battle against human injustice and oppression through the voice of truth and righteousness. And we must surely defend and respect life—from the womb to the tomb—even when our culture of death has left the land literally stained with the blood of innocents.
In all these battles, we are called to wield the sword of the Spirit—the mighty Word of God in the gospel (Ephesians 6:13-18). Having studied it carefully and applied that Word to our own lives with relentless holy courage, we are charged, first, to turn enemies of Christ into friends of God through the good news of his reconciling love on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:20); then to tear down demonic strongholds by taking every thought captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3-5); then to fight the good fight of faith (2 Timothy 4:7); and then again, to wage a war against all hell and hellishness with enduring love as our weapon—overcoming evil with goodness, kindness, mercy, and grace (Romans 12:17-21).
The Cause that Is Most Before Us
We do not need courage when the wind is at our backs, or the numbers are on our side, or the PC police are favoring our cause, or our friends are glad-handing and high-fiving our efforts. We need it when all odds and all sides seem to stand against us; when it feels like the huge foot of a world gone mad and a church gone soft is about to crush us. In truth, spiritual-gospel-kingdom courage is seldom applauded in the moment it is most needed. More often it is criticized as naïve, or misguided, or narrow-minded, or overly fastidious, or argumentative, or divisive—even by the Church. But we must contend for God and truth in the cause that is most before us, whether applauded or not.
In Ephesians 6:19-20, Paul asks others to pray that he would be fearless. Of this D.A. Carson writes, “Paul…knew that to preach the Gospel faithfully, he would have to preach it fearlessly… [He] wanted to speak without fearing what his hearers would think or say about him, or what they might do to him, lest he compromise the Gospel he came to announce.”
Carson continues, “It does not take much imagination to detect ways in which today’s preachers in the Western world stand in need of much prayer in this regard. Suppose you are preaching to university undergraduates at a pagan university, or to bright businesspeople in their 20s and 30s in, say, New York. When you expound Romans, exactly how will you handle homosexuality in chapter 1 and election in chapter 9? How will you talk about hell in the many passages where Jesus himself deploys the most horrific images? How might you be tempted to flinch when you must deal with the sheer exclusiveness of the Gospel or when you talk about money to rich people” (D.A. Carson)?
Courage is tested when danger, loss, and human disfavor are real. Am I willing to speak truth to the scourge of racism and injustice on the one hand, and to the errors of Critical Race Theory on the other? Am I willing to speak truth to the pro-life person who seems too little concerned about justice, and to the justice advocate who seems too little concerned about the unborn? Am I willing to speak sexual truth to the gay man or fornicator, and then speak humility truth to the self-righteous gay-hater? Am I willing to proclaim a sovereign God who hates national pride to a nation boasting of its greatness and self-sufficiency; and then proclaim respect and obedience to authority to those who despise their national leaders?
Will I preach sin, judgment, hell, the need for blood atonement, and an only-one-way-to-be-saved gospel (Acts 4:12; John 14:6) received by grace alone through faith alone because of and through Christ alone—to a generation that hates every one of those essential truths of the Christian faith? And will I go after my own sin and worldliness with a holy unrelenting zeal—even though I know that many will mock my holiness, and disdain my passion for purity, integrity, and love?
Until the End Comes
Courage also involves endurance; being exhausted yet pursuing; clinging to the sword so long and hard that our hand has to pried off it when the battle finally ends. We must stand firm (Ephesians 6:12); endure patiently and bear up (Revelation 2:3); hold fast (Revelation 2:25); and keep at it all until the end comes. Although afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down, courage will not be crushed or in despair or destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
May it be that when the end of the battle comes, someone will have to throw their arms around us to halt us in our exhausted pursuit of the enemy, and say: “You can rest now. The war is over!” May it be that they will have to pry our fingers off the sword of truth and love. And may it be that we will fight on until we collapse and breathe our last in death; and then feel our Savior’s embracing arms lift us to our feet while saying in our ear, “Well done. You have fought the good fight. Enter now into the joy, and into the rest and peace, of your Lord.”