The Christian Jihad (Struggle)

As a young man I once visited an American friend serving with the US military on Lakenheath Airbase.  As I left the base, on the perimeter wall, hidden from the main road and the gaze of British civilians, I saw a large sign, about 40 feet long with lettering two feet high. Intended for US military personnel only, it read “Danger – you are now entering a war zone.” It was probably intended to improve their survival rates driving on the wrong side of British roads,

I’ve thought a lot about that message.  “Danger – you are now entering a war zone.” I would be tempted to hand a similar sign over the entrance to a Church. I just can’t decide whether to put it on the inside for those leaving or the outside for those…
For the truth is, whichever way we turn, we are living in a war zone.  OurBible reading this morning explains why. God insists there is another war, a far more insidious, destructive war than any you will read about in the Sunday newspapers, a war which engulfs the whole world. A war with cosmic as well as eternal consequences. And rather than flee to somewhere safe, God insists we have been called up to fight.

We usually associate the word jihad with Islamic extremism. Jihad is translated in English as “Holy War”. It literally means “struggle”.

In the New Testament, the language of conflict and warfareis used to describe the struggle Christians face in living the holy life as God intends.  It is vital therefore we remember, we are living in a war zone. How we think, how we act, how we live, will, humanly speaking, influence our part in this war and humanly speaking, the destiny of others. Lets look at Ephesians – chapter 6. I want us to discover, the enemy God tolerates (6:11-12); the armour God provides (6:13-20); the victory God assures (6:13).

  1. The Enemy God Tolerates

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:10-12)

The first step in warfare is to know your enemy. Satan’s strategy is to deceive us into thinking that other people, people with different coloured skin, people speaking strange languages, people with different customs or religions or political systems, are the enemy. That’s the devil’s strategy. When we demonise other people we make a tactical mistake.

Muslims are not the enemy. Communists are not the enemy. Or before them, the Germans, or before them the Irish, the Scots, the French or even our beloved Colonies who wanted their independence.  The jihad or struggle we face is internal not external.  It is personal and not political.  At a personal level, jihad for the Christian, is a struggle against temptation and sin. At a political level, it is a struggle against evil and demonic power.  What is significant, however, is that in the Scriptures the ‘enemy’ is never identified as other people, but instead with evil forces at work in the world. Those who justify violence, just as much as those who oppose the gospel, are pawns of Satan. However they may treat us, we must remember they too are created in the image and likeness of God, for whom Christ died. These verses emphasize that evil is spiritual in nature and heavenly in source, supernatural, evil and demonic.We have been called to serve the Lord in a war zone, to live in occupied territory. That is why we need to understand our purposes, live them and share them with others. That is our mission.

Sadly, far too many of our armed forces are killed or injured by so-called ‘friendly fire’, not by the enemy. What a misnomer that is – ‘friendly fire’.  And if truth be told, far too many Christians are disabled in mission or defeated in ministry because of so called ‘friendly fire’ – snipped at or cut down by gossip or criticism from misguided Christians. The Baptists or the Roman Catholic Church is not the enemy any more than the Church of England. That’s Satan’s strategy. To get us to attack other believers.  To deflect us from our real enemy. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood…”

Our first purpose in life is that we were planned for God’s pleasure, not Satan’s pleasure. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” (Ephesians 6:10). God’s pleasure is that we be strong in his mighty power and withstand the evil one.  So, first, recognize the enemy God tolerates. Second, we are commanded yo put on:

  1. The Armour God Provides

Therefore put on the full armour of God…Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:13-17)

It is important to emphasize that the scriptures insist that the Christian jihad is winnable.  Satan can be resisted in the strength of God. The Christian jihad, therefore, is not primarily directed against other people, but against the one who abuses, incites or possesses them.

The Christian jihad then must be directed at our real enemy, the devil and his spiritual forces, who oppose Jesus the Christ and persecutes his Church.

How did the Roman army conquer most of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East? Superior weaponry? Stronger armour?  No. They fought in legions of about 3,000 soldiers.

They succeeded because they fought as one man with rigid discipline and mechanical precision. That is the only way we can withstand the evil one as well. Together.  That is why our fellowship together on Sundays and mid-week home groups are so vital if we are to stand against the evil one.

Each part of the armour – the belt of truth – the breastplate of righteousness – the gospel of peace – the shield of faith – the helmet of salvation – the sword of the spirit – each of these pieces of God’s armour were personified in Jesus Christ. Think about it.  He is our truth, He is our righteousness, He is our peace, He is our faith, He is our salvation, He is our Word of God.  God’s will is that we become like Jesus Christ. Putting the armour on is what discipleship is all about.

 “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18)

What do you pray for when you pray for the saints? Your brothers and sisters? Your church leaders? Your mission partners? Pray that together we will serve God’s purposes using our talents, giving our energy, investing our resources in His service. The Roman army won so many victories because they were disciplined and they were coordinated. Our strength likewise comes from serving one another with our gifts and talents – deploying the armour God has provided to protect and support one another.  William Gurnall was the pastor of Lavenham in Suffolk. In 1655, he wrote,  The Christian in Complete Armour. It became a best seller. In it he says this:

“In heaven we shall appear not in armour but in robes of glory; but here they (the pieces of armour specified) are to be worn night and day; we must walk, work and sleep in them, or else we are not true soldiers of Christ.”

We have considered the enemy God tolerates and the armour God provides. Lastly, notice,

  1. The Victory God Assures (Ephesians 6:13)

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:13)

The outcome of this war is not unknown. It is not undecided. Satan is a dangerous foe but he is ultimately a defeated foe. Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose victorious that you can stand your ground so that in the day ofevil, you might not fall. Your share in Christ’s victory is assured if you recognize the enemy God tolerates; if you stand your ground in the armour God provides; and if you fulfil your purpose as a “good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2:3). In the history of the Second World War, when did the tide turn against the Nazi Third Reich? Tactically speaking, it was probably on June 6th1944 on D-Day.  A whole year before VE day 8thMay 1945, the successful Normandy landings made victory inevitable. But it might just have been three years earlier still that the tide turned, in the hearts of the nation. On October 29, 1941, Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited Harrow to give a speech to the students. Lasting just 4 minutes and 12 seconds, he ended with those words:

“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. We stood all alone a year ago, and to many countries it seemed that our account was closed, we were finished… and liquidated… But instead our country stood in the gap. There was no flinching and no thought of giving in; …  we now find ourselves in a position where I say that we can be sure that we have only to persevere to conquer…  Do not let us speak of darker days: let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are great days–the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race.”[1]

The tide of war turned first in the hearts of those who resolved to stand their ground. Those who were willing to sacrifice their lives for a just and noble cause that would outlast them. God has privileged us to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our world.

The battle against Satan has been won, the victory is assured. But we must endure what the New Testament describes as “the Last Days” – the days between D-Day and VE Day.

We must hold the line until Jesus returns and Satan is finally destroyed.  In our reading from Ephesians, we’ve considered our mission in life. We have discovered the enemy God tolerates; the armour God provides and the victory God assures.  While you still have breath, never, never, never give up, stand your ground, live out your purpose, complete your mission, fulfill your destiny, to the glory of God.

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:13)

Lets pray.

[1]http://www.school-for-champions.com/speeches/churchill_never_give_in.htm

A sermon preached at St Mary’s, Broughton and All Saints, Houghton, 26 August 2018.

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