By Dr. Harold Sala
These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. John 16:33, NKJV
Life is a battle, and for those who are believers in Jesus Christ, it is spiritual warfare. As John Piper wrote, “Life is war. That’s not all it is. But it is always that!” When Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, he used several analogies of the Christian life—that of a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer. None is more graphic, however, than that of a soldier in battle when life is an ongoing struggle to stay alive.
In 67 AD Paul found himself in chains in a Roman prison. Taking pen and parchment he wrote once more to Timothy, a young man who was like a son to the old warrior. Looking back, he wrote, “I have fought a good fight.” The word Paul used, which we translated “to fight,” was agonizesthai, from which we get the English word “agonize.” It was the same word Jesus used when he said, “Strive [or fight] to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24).
From the time of his conversion to his death, Paul’s life was an ongoing struggle. When he went to a city, he didn’t inquire, “How’s the hotel situation here?” Instead he asked, “Hey, what kind of a jail do they have in this place?” because that’s where he was apt to end up.
The enemies whom Paul battled were much the same as those we confront today. For you who are Christians, there are three fronts where you constantly have to wage war—the world, the flesh, and the devil. A brief word about each of the three.
The New Testament says that believers are residents of a heavenly kingdom, one whose maker and builder is God. They sing, “This world is not my home; I’m just a-passing through,” as Ira Stanphill wrote. Frankly, the world has never been friendly to grace. Christians are often tolerated, thought of as strange, labeled as religious bigots, and castigated because of their refusal to do what others do. In many cases they feel like the odd man out, the misfit, who may be loved by God, but not by their neighbors.
Jesus told His followers in the Upper Room, “If the world hates you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). But instead of fighting back, rendering an “eye for an eye,” Jesus taught we are to fight evil with good, to render love instead of hatred.
The second front which every child of God battles is the flesh—your old nature that leads you back to the slime pits of Egypt. So what does that mean? Remember that God brought His children out of Egypt, yet when things got tough in the wilderness, His people wanted to go back to Egypt. In the Bible, Egypt represents a type of the world that you leave behind when you follow Jesus, something that you have been freed from, something to which you should never return.
The third enemy, which not only Paul fought but every believer from his day to ours has fought, is the devil himself. “So you don’t believe in the devil, do you?” Once you decide to follow Jesus Christ, you quickly discover that there is an enemy of your soul and that he is to be resisted. Paul called him, “the god of this world.” Peter said he is to be resisted. And John, writing the book of Revelation, said his wrath is great because he knows his days are numbered.
A closing thought. Knowing what would be in store for His own, Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Resource reading: John 16