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XXVIII. THE CONFLICT OF THE CHRISTIAN
‘Strive to enter in by the narrow door.’ -- Luke 13:24
‘Fight the good fight of the faith.’ -- 1 Tim. 6:12
‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.’ -- 2 Tim. 4:7
These texts speak of a twofold conflict. The first is addressed to the unconverted: ‘Strive to enter in by the narrow door.’ Entrance by a door is the work of a moment: the sinner is not to strive to enter during his whole lifetime: he is to strive and do it immediately. He is not to suffer anything to hold him back; he must enter in. (Gen. 19:22; John 10:9; 2 Cor. 6:2; Heb. 4:6,7)
Then comes the second, the life-long conflict: by the narrow door I come upon the new way. On the new way there are still always enemies. Of this life-long conflict Paul says: ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.’ With respect to the continuous conflict, he gives the charge: ‘Fight the good fight of faith.’
There is much misunderstanding about this twofold conflict. Many strive all their life against the Lord and His summons, and, because they are not at rest, but feel an inner conflict, they think that this is the conflict of a Christian. Assuredly not: this is the struggle against God of one who is not willing to abandon everything and surrender himself to the Lord. (Acts 5:39; 1 Cor. 10:22) This is not the conflict that the Lord would have. What He says is that the conflict is concerned with entering in: but not a conflict for long years. No: He desires that you should break through the enemies that would hold you back, and immediately enter in.
Then follows the second conflict, which endures for life. Paul twice calls this the fight of faith. The chief characteristic of it is faith. He who understands well that the principal element in the battle is to believe, and acts accordingly, does certainly carry off the palm: just as in another passage Paul says to the Christian combatant: ‘Withal taking up the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one.’ (Eph. 6:16; 1 John 3:4,5)
And what then does it mean, this ‘fight of faith’? That, while I strive, I am to believe that the Lord will help me? No: it is not so, although it often is so understood.
In a conflict it is of supreme importance that I should be in a stronghold or fortress which cannot be taken. With such a stronghold a weak garrison can offer resistance to a powerful enemy. Our conflict as Christians is now no longer concerned with going into the fortress. No: we have gone in, and are now in; and so long as we remain in it, we are invincible. The stronghold, this stable fort, is Christ. (Ps. 18:3; 46:2; 62:2,3,6,7,8; 144:2; Eph. 6:10) By faith we are in Him: by faith we know that the enemy can make no progress against our fortress. The wiles of Satan all go forth on the line of enticing us out of our fortress, of engaging us in conflict with him on the open plain. There he always overcomes. But if we only strive in faith, abiding in Christ by faith, then we overcome, because Satan then has to deal with Him, and because He then fights and overcomes. (Ex. 14:14; Josh 5:14; 2 Chron. 23:15; John 26:33; Rom. 8:37; 2 Cor. 2:14) ‘This is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith.’ Our first and greatest work is thus to believe. As Paul said before he mentions the warlike equipment of the Christian: ‘From henceforth be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might.’
The reason why the victory is only by faith, and why the fight of faith is the good fight, is this: it is the Lord Jesus who purchased the victory, and who therefore alone gives power and dominion over the enemy. If we are, and abide, in Him, and surrender ourselves to live in Him, and by faith appropriate what He is, then the victory is in itself our own. We then understand: ‘The battle is not yours, but God’s. The Lord your God shall fight for you, and ye shall be still.’ Just as we in opposition to God can achieve nothing good of ourselves, but in Christ please Him, so also is it in opposition to Satan: in ourselves we achieve nothing, but in Christ we are more than conquerors. By faith we stand in Him righteous before God, and just so in Him are we strong against our enemies. (Ps. 44:4,9; Isa. 45:24)
In this light we can read and take home to ourselves all the noble passages in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms, where the glorious conflict of God in behalf of his people is spoken of. Fear, or spiritlessness, or uncertainty, makes weak, and cannot overcome: faith in the living God is equal to everything. (Deut. 20:3,8; Josh. 6:20; Judges 7:3 Ps. 18:32-40; Heb. 11:23) In Christ this truth is now still more real. God has come near. His power works in us who believe; it is really He that fights for us.
O Lord Jesus, who art the Prince of the army of the Lord, the Hero, the Victor, teach me to be strong in Thee my stronghold, and in the power of Thy might. Teach me to understand what the good fight of faith is, and how the one thing that I have need of is, always to look to Thee, to Thee, the supreme Guide of faith. And, consequently, in me, too, let this be the victory that overcometh the world, namely, my faith. Amen.
1. The conflict of faith is no civil war, in which one half of the kingdom is divided against the other. This would be insurrection. This is the one conflict that many Christians know: the unrest of the conscience, and the powerless wrestling of a will which consents to that which is good, but does not perform it. The Christian has not to overcome himself. This his Lord does when he surrenders himself. Then he is free and strong to combat and overcome the enemies of his Lord and of the kingdom. No sooner, however, are we willing that God should have His way with us than we are found striving against God. This also is truly conflict, but it is not the good fight of faith.
2. In Galatians 5 reference is made to the inner conflict; for the Galatians had not yet entirely surrendered themselves to the Spirit, to walk after the Spirit. ‘The connection,’ says Lange, ‘shows that this conflict betwixt the flesh and the Spirit of God is not endless, but that there is expected of the Christian a complete surrender of himself, in order to be led only by the one principle -- the Spirit; and then, further, a refusal to obey the flesh.’ The believer must not strive against the flesh, to overcome it: this he cannot do. What he is to do is to choose to whom he will subject himself: by the surrender of faith to Christ, to strive in Him through the Spirit, He has a divine power for overcoming.
3. Hence, as we have seen in connection with the beginning of the new life, our one work every day and the whole day is to believe. Out of faith come all blessings and powers, also the victory for overcoming.
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