“Come, let us worship and bow down,
Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.“
“While all things are quiet and comfortable, we live by sense rather than faith. But the worth of a soldier is never known in times of peace.” Thomas Manton
Originally published in 1877, J.C. Ryle’s book Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots remains a perennial Christian classic. The book is a profound, thorough, and biblical consideration of Christian discipleship and sanctification. Charles Spurgeon considered Ryle an “evangelical champion.” Of this book Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “Ryle, like his great masters, has no easy way to holiness to offer us, and no ‘patent’ method by which it can be attained; but he invariably produces that ‘hunger and thirst after righteousness’ which is the only indispensable condition to being ‘filled’.”
Chapter four of this Christian must-read is entitled “The Fight,” and opens with the words of Paul to Timothy, “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). What Ryle then lays out for the reader is an exhortation to the spiritual warfare which must always and necessarily accompany genuine salvation. Ryle, in fact, distinguishes “true Christianity” by this “fight.”
“There is a vast quantity of religion current in the world, which is not true, genuine Christianity. It passes muster, it satisfies sleepy consciences; but it is not good money. It is not the authentic reality that called itself Christianity in the beginning. There are thousands of men and women who go to churches and chapels every Sunday and call themselves Christians. They make a ‘profession’ of faith in Christ. Their names are in the baptismal register. They are reckoned Christians while they live. They are married with a Christian marriage service. They mean to be buried as Christians when they die.”
But Ryle eschews the easy professions and the legalistic performances of such nominal Christians because “you never see any ‘fight’ about their religion.” He says that “of spiritual strife and exertion and conflict and self-denial and watching and warring – they know nothing at all.” Though he readily acknowledges that calling out this absence of warring fruit of sanctification “may be thought very hard and uncharitable,” the fact remains that however much such a Christianity may satisfy its adherents, “it certainly is not the Christianity of the Bible. It is not the religion which the Lord Jesus founded, and His apostles preached. It is not the religion which produces real holiness.”
“True Christianity is ‘a fight’,” writes Ryle. Flash forward almost exactly 100 years and hear another British titan of the pulpit exhort with almost identical words. In his 1976 commentary The Christian Warfare Lloyd-Jones writes, “The Christian life, in the first place, is a warfare, it is a struggle.”
“The first thing we have to realize is that the Christian life is a warfare, that we are strangers in an alien land, that we are in the enemy’s territory. We do not live in a vacuum, in a glasshouse. The teaching which gives the impression that the pathway to glory is all easy and simple and smooth is not Christianity, it is not Paul’s Christianity, it is not New Testament Christianity.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Again, these words echo those of Ryle. “The true Christian,” Ryle writes, “is called to be a soldier.” The Christian is “not meant to live a life of pious ease, indolence and security. He must never imagine for a moment, that he can sleep and doze along the way to Heaven.” Just as Lloyd-Jones warns of a pop Christian teaching that ours is an “easy and simple and smooth” life, so too does Ryle. “If he takes his standard of Christianity from the people of this world, he may be content with such vain notions” about a Christian life of “pious ease,” but “he will find no countenance for them in the Word of God. If the Bible is the rule of his faith and practice,” writes Ryle, “he will find his course laid down very plainly in this matter. He must ‘fight’.”
The Enemies In Our Warfare
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. Ephesians 2:1-3
The “true Christian” has three principal enemies … the world, the flesh, and the devil. “These are the three chief enemies against whom we must wage war,” writes Ryle. “Unless he gets the victory over the three, all other victories are useless and vain … with a corrupt heart, a busy devil and an ensnaring world, he must either ‘fight’ or be lost.”
Despite the “but God” miracle of regeneration that follows in the Ephesians text (Eph. 2:4), the sinfully alluring temptations that characterized our previous condition of spiritual death are not erased from the believer’s life. Believers are indeed gloriously forgiven, graciously granted new life in Christ, and fully justified by His righteousness before God. The salvation we are given in that “but God” moment is irrevocable and secured by the promise and power of God Himself.
Yet we remain in the flesh and in this world which “lies in the power of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19). Therefore, as Ryle writes, the Christian must be at constant war with these enemies.
“He must fight the flesh. Even after conversion, he carries within him a nature prone to evil and a heart weak and unstable as water. That heart will never be free from imperfection in this world, and it is a miserable delusion to expect it.”
Lloyd-Jones speaks as well to the “let go and let God” delusion that dupes many believers into shirking their pursuit sanctification in the arena of spiritual warfare. “I do not find the Apostle [Paul in Ephesians 6:10-17] telling me to hand it over to the Lord and that He will fight my battles for me while I just sit back and enjoy the fruit of His victory. It is not here! I have to fight! … what we read here is the exact opposite of such [let go, let God] teaching. It is you and I who have to do the fighting.”
“He must fight the world,” continues Ryle. “The subtle influence of that mighty enemy must be daily resisted, and without a daily battle can never be overcome.” Scripture affirms this enemy for the believer.
Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. James 4:4
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 1 John 2:15
But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Gal. 6:14
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 1 John 5:4
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Rom. 12:2
Finally, writes Ryle, the true Christian “must fight the devil. That old enemy of mankind is not dead. Ever since the Fall of Adam and Eve, he has been “going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it,’ and striving to compass one great end – the ruin of man’s soul. Never slumbering and never sleeping – he is always going about as a lion seeking whom he may devour.” This enemy, as with the flesh and the world, “must be daily resisted.”
The Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.” Job 1:7
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8
Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. Ephesians 6:11
God’s Protection For Spiritual Warfare
Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Eph. 6:13-17
In Ephesians 6:10-20 the apostle Paul gives us a summary of the spiritual armor and weaponry provided by the Lord for our faithful warfare. As he similarly describes in his second letter to the Corinthians, “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful” (2 Cor. 10:4). In their work Biblical Doctrine, John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue summarize this spiritual armor.
The Belt of Truth: “Since Paul referred to Scripture as a spiritual weapon in Ephesians 6:17, it means that here he was referring to a Christian’s attitude. Believers who gird their loins with truth have a heart for the battle because of a commitment to Christ and His cause.”
The Breastplate of Righteousness: “God has provided the breastplate of righteousness (Eph. 6:14) to protect both the mind and the emotions … It is the practical personal righteousness of a true believer that is born in him at regeneration and afterward strengthened by God the Spirit, so that a Christian becomes progressively more like Christ (2 Cor. 3:18, 2 Pet. 3:18).”
The Footwear of Readiness: “In spiritual warfare, it’s vital for the believer to be wearing the right kind of footwear. One can cinch up the waist with commitment and adorn the breastplate of holy living, but unless one has sure footing, there is a strong possibility of falling. So in Ephesians 6:15, Paul said that the feet are to be shod ‘with the readiness given by the gospel of peace’ … he is speaking of having embraced the gospel. If one is outfitted with the good news of peace, the spiritual combatant is protected and will be enabled to withstand the enemy’s schemes (Eph. 6:11, 13).
The Shield of Faith: “Spiritually speaking, when the flaming darts of the Evil One fly, a believer will be protected b y raising the shield of salvific faith (Eph. 6:16, cf. Ps. 18:35). The shield will be so effective that the weapons of Satan will be extinguished, because well-equipped believers conquer overwhelmingly in the battle (Rom. 8:37).”
The Helmet of Salvation: Here Paul “is referring to the present and future aspects of our salvation. it is both the assurance of God’s continuing work in the Christian life and the confidence in a full and final salvation to come.”
The Sword of The Spirit: Paul identifies this weapon as “the word of God” (Eph. 6:17). It is likewise identified in this way by the author of Hebrews in Hebrews 4:12.
With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints Eph. 6:18
In addition to God’s protection through the spiritual armor, Paul also emphasizes the believer’s “arsenal of prayer” in Ephesians 6:18. MacArthur and Mayhue emphasize the six characteristics of prayer featured by Paul.
- ‘At all times’ speaks to frequency and duration
- ‘In the Spirit’ refers to one’s submission to the will of God’s Spirit.
- ‘All prayer and supplication’ puts all varieties of prayer in play.
- ‘Keep alert’ demands constant focus on the situation at hand.
- ‘All perseverance’ is necessary in both positive and negative moments.
- ‘All the saints’ can include praying with regard to self and for other believers.
God’s Provisions For Spiritual Warfare
“The New Testament frequently reminds the reader that God has provided multiple means by which a Christian can be victorious over Satan in this life.” MacArthur and Mayhue outline the following ten divine provisions upon which the believer must rely in spiritual warfare. We should be diligent to study each provision, understand their implications, and be unceasing in employing them as we are faithfully engaged in spiritual warfare.
- “The Savior’s Victory at Calvary” John 12:31, Heb 2:14, Rev. 12:11
- “The Overcomer’s Promise” 1 Jn 2:13, 5:4-5
- “Christ’s Intercessory Prayer” John 17:15, 20
- “Christ’s Protection” 1 Jn 5:18
- “The Spirit’s Indwelling Power”. 1 John 4:4
- “The Knowledge of Satan’s Schemes” 2 Cor. 2:11, 1 Pet. 5:8
- “The Believer’s Prayer” Matt 6:13, Eph 6:12, 18
- “Biblical Instruction for Defeating Satan” James 4:7a, James 4:8, James 4:7b, 1 Pet 5:9
- “Shepherds Who Strengthen And Encourage The Church” 1 Thes. 3:2, 5
- “Confidence That Christ Has Won The Ultimate Victory” Rev 20:10
Warfare Is Certain
“Necessity is laid upon us,” writes Ryle. “We must fight. There are no promises in the Lord Jesus Christ’s epistles to the seven churches, except to those who ‘overcome.’ Where there is grace – there will be conflict. The believer is a soldier. There is no holiness, without a warfare. Saved souls will always be found to have fought a fight.”
Lloyd-Jones laments that “much of the decline of the Christian church” in his day was due to a failure to understand the biblical exhortation and expectation of spiritual warfare in the Christian’s sanctification. It is no less an epidemic of doctrinal anemia in our own time. There is a dearth of solid teaching and intentional focus on spiritual warfare, on the pursuit of holiness, of our duty as believers to pursue our sanctification. Yet the Word abiding disciple (John 8:31) will be compelled to pursue holiness as the Spirit sanctifies us in the truth (John 17:17) and increasingly conforms us to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). We will have the determined motivation, as Thomas Manton said in the opening quote, to make our worth as soldiers known.
As we worship, we can rejoice with the words of Lloyd-Jones: “Thank God, we are given strength and power and the arms, but we have to do it. I am given everything I need and I am given the power to use it. I do not relax and merely look on and reap the fruits of the victory of Another. No, He makes me more than conqueror; but it is my battle and I have to wage it. These are fundamental principles in connection with the doctrine of sanctification.”