Fighting the Good Fight (1)
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according tothe prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
The Christian life is a battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Ryle writes, “with a corrupt heart, a busy devil, and an ensnaring world, he must either ‘fight’ or be lost.”
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. To keep that heart from going astray, the Lord Jesus bids us ‘watch and pray.’ The spirit may be ready, but the flesh is weak. There is need of a daily struggle and a daily wrestling in prayer. ‘I keep under my body,’ cries St. Paul, ‘and bring it into subjection.’—‘I see a law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity.’—‘O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’—‘They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.’—‘Mortify your members which are upon the earth’ (Mark 14:38; 1 Cor. 9:27; Rom. 7:23, 24; Gal. 5:24; Col. 3:5).
He must fight the world. The subtle influence of that mighty enemy must be daily resisted, and without a daily battle can never be overcome. The love of the world’s good things—the fear of the world’s laughter or blame—the secret desire to keep in with the world—the secret wish to do as others in the world do, and not to run into extremes—all these are spiritual foes which beset the Christian continually on his way to heaven, and must be conquered. ‘The friendship of the world is enmity with God: whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.’—‘If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.’—‘The world is crucified to Me, and I unto the world.’—‘Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world.’—‘Be not conformed to this world’ (James 4:4; 1 John 2:15; Gal. 6:14; 1 John 5:4; Rom. 12:2).
He 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.’ An unseen enemy, he is always near us, about our path and about our bed, and spying out all our ways. A ‘murderer and a liar’ from the beginning, he labours night and day to cast us down to hell. Sometimes by leading into superstition, sometimes by suggesting infidelity, sometimes by one kind of tactics and sometimes by another, he is always carrying on a campaign against our souls. ‘Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.’ This mighty adversary must be daily resisted if we wish to be saved. But ‘this kind goeth not out’ but by watching and praying, and fighting, and putting on the whole armour of God. The strong man armed will never be kept out of our hearts without a daily battle (Job 1:7; 1 Pet. 5:8; John 8:44; Luke 22:31; Eph. 6:11).
Some men may think these statements too strong. You fancy that I am going too far, and laying on the colours too thickly. You are secretly saying to yourself, that men and women in England may surely get to heaven without all this trouble and warfare and fighting. . . . Remember the maxim of the wisest General that ever lived in England—‘In time of war it is the worst mistake to underrate your enemy, and try to make a little war.’
—JC Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 73—75.
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