The warfare that we wage, is a spiritual warfare. One that is primarily a matter of truth and falsehood, according to the Scriptures.[i] It can be surprising how much of the material in the New Testament is polemical and how often the exhortation is to stand firm on truth, hold fast to doctrine, to make a good a confession. Since that horrific day in Eden that mankind was plunged into depravity there are forces at work, taking truth and twisting it, taking something that is good and misusing it, drawing people into this cycle of taking what God has created and morphing it into something that is a god itself. God gives us a monument of his glory in the Gospel and we take it as a token of our worth.
The history of the church is littered with extremism and complacency, with antinomianism and legalism, with passiveness and judgmentalism. Every revival has resulted in residual excessiveness and strange doctrine –ranging from the bizarre to the coldly indifferent. Every reformation has resulted in radicalism – both to the side of legalism and antinomianism. The reason for this is the war that we wage. In fact we should expect heresy to grow around the triumph of truth and for foolishness to arise around Spirit-driven fervor. Why? Because since the Fall there has been a war against truth. We have a real enemy who is “the father of lies”[ii]. And he is a liar who knows truth when he sees it and will stop at nothing to undermine it. He is subtle. He is cunning. And he is sinister. He is the enemy of the truth.
The church harms itself when it thinks that spiritual warfare is primarily about what goes bump in the night. The enemy knows he cannot beat God, so he tries to rob glory from him, and what is the greatest display of the glory of God? It is his Gospel, “the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.”[iii]
In the garden, Satan went after the ones made in God’s image, meant to reflect his glory. Defacing those images was the closest thing that he could do to diminishing the unfaltering, unapproachable glory of God himself. Since that time God has been unfolding his magnificent plan of redemption, by which to restore those fallen image bearers into monuments of his glory, a glory that would shine more brightly than ever could in Eden – the glory of his grace.
When Jesus came on the scene he shone with the radiance of the Father’s glory.[iv] Satan tried to deface that too and when he was unsuccessful he tried to outright destroy the image, but in doing so he unleashed with fury a light beyond compare. The perfection of God’s love and justice in a single, macabre scene on a Roman cross in Palestine. As the temple veil tore and the ground shook the enemy likely knew he was doomed, especially as fallen man looked on and said, “Truly, this was the Son of God.”[v] God’s glory was vindicated and his triumph guaranteed when on the third day following this crucifixion for the first time in history the incarnate Son of God burst the bonds of death with immortality, never to die again. Truth would prevail. God’s purposes were relentless and his glory would not be diminished.
In the coming days under the New Covenant the apostle were keenly aware that they had a foe that until the final battle would not cease his attacks on the glory of the Creator. Paul warns with certainty the Ephesian elder that wolves will come and devour the flock.[vi] The warfare would continue to be a warfare between truth and error. For it is in truth, namely the truth of the Gospel, that the glory of God is displayed in brilliant purity. Paul urged with passion for Timothy to guard the Gospel.[vii] He rebuked the Galatians for accepting another “gospel”.[viii] Until Christ returns the church has been given a deposit to proclaim, to live, and to guard. It is the Gospel. And every assault of Satan, at the end of the day, is an assault against this Gospel. Why? Caught it yet? Because it is there that the glory of God is most fully seen.
In the midst of this battle, the church which is a “pillar and buttress of the truth”[ix] is not without its scars. The study of church history shows two things: that there is a war against truth and that truth ultimately prevails. We see the warfare against truth in that with every true reformation in the church there is extremism on one hand and stagnation on the other, with every revival there is excessiveness on hand and coldness on the other. This is not the fault of the Gospel, in fact, it proves that the Gospel is still going forward because war is being waged. Wherever truth is, there will be the battle.
And that is the topic of this book or blog post series or personal rant, whatever it turns out to be. I believe that the truth is going forward, as it should, but there is a battle being raged. In some places the battle is very obvious, but actually those engagements, while important, are not the things that are the most troubling. In fact, those great battles grow out of the covert operations which go not only unnoticed, but applauded. It is the battle fought by those “clothed as angels of light” preaching another gospel[x], it is those wolves dressed in very convincing sheep’s clothing. It is those who believe they do God a service with what they preach. And most tragic is the damage done by those sheep that are charmed, duped, and downright deceived into swallowing Gospel that has been laced with poison.
We rejoice that the Gospel goes forward, but if we are not alert, we could end up doing more harm than good.