Sermon 11-17-19: “Spiritual Warfare”

Sermon Text: Ephesians 6:10-20

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Last Thursday night, with eight seconds left in the game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns, a Browns defensive end named Myles Garrett pulled the helmet off of Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph, and knocked him in the head with it. Rudolph is O.K. But Garrett is suspended indefinitely. What Garrett did was shocking, and deadly dangerous… and to say the least, he wasn’t fighting fair.

Brothers and sisters, by virtue of being disciples of Jesus Christ, we face an Enemy in Satan who’s deadly dangerous and doesn’t fight fair.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood,” Paul writes in verse 12, before going on to describe our Enemy. 

In a way it’s very strange for Paul to say that we “do not wrestle against flesh and blood.” After all, his entire apostolic ministry seems to bear witness to the truth that if anyone ever “wrestled against flesh and blood,” it was Paul. If you have your Bibles—and you should—please turn with me to 2 Corinthians 11, beginning with verse 23. Paul said that he experienced

far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned.

These were all things that flesh-and-blood human beings did to Paul. He goes on to say that he was in “danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city… danger from false brothers.” Look at verse 32: 

3 thoughts on “Sermon 11-17-19: “Spiritual Warfare””

  1. Brent, it is interesting that you cite to N.T. Wright and also say, “But Jesus ‘nailed it to the cross’ and ‘canceled’ that debt. How? By suffering the penalty for each one of our sins. Suffering God’s wrath for each of our sins.” I am right now reading, at the suggestion of my boss, Wright’s famous book, “The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion.” From what I have read so far (about half through), Wright disagrees with you (and most traditional conservative biblical scholars) on this point, taking great offense with the notion that Jesus’ death on the cross was somehow a receipt of the wrath of God. I agree, however, with what you say, instead of with what he says.

    I also agree with you that “Satan is Alive and Well on the Planet Earth” (though I haven’t read that book nor know if I agree with its contents–but the title is right). And irrespective of whether that reality today causes any “miraculous” occurrences, certainly it results in the much more deleterious existence of and exposure to temptations.

    Finally, though, while I agree that Jesus paid the debt for our sins, I am not sure that they no longer result in any type of “demerits” for us. The devil cannot keep us believers out of Heaven (at least I don’t think so, though there are lots of people whose opinions I respect who believe we can “fall from grace,” a reality of which, if correct, would certainly mean that God can still hold our sins against us). But I find there to be passages of scripture that to me still suggest that sin carries consequences. “Be not deceived, God is not mocked–for whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.” Jesus says that men shall give an account for even “every idle word.” James suggests that we should “weep and howl” over certain sins. Paul suggests that some who dishonored the Lord’s Supper died as a result. The Letters to the Seven Churches certainly suggest some deleterious consequences to shortcomings. Paul says that there will be varying levels of rewards, and that it is possible that for some whose works are burned up that they will receive no rewards at all, but rather get to Heaven “as one escaping through the flames.”

    My take on this can be seen from this analogy. I can’t pay to go to Harvard. Some benefactor pays that “debt” for me so I can go. I’m in. But it still remains to be determined what grades I will get once there, and that in large measure depends on what efforts I put in. If I goof around instead of studying, I won’t get good marks. In a similar fashion, Jesus’ death on the cross makes up the impossible debt that I would owe to get into Heaven. So I’m in. But the eternal rewards that I will get do very much depend on my efforts–or lack thereof. Of course we also have the advantage of a “heavenly tutor” in the Holy Spirit, but it is possible for us to “quench the Spirit.” Something along those lines.

    1. Our only disagreement, I think, is over the definition of “punishment”: I distinguish punishment for sin (which the cross frees us from) and “discipline,” which I very much believe in. And much of what you say above falls into that category.

      As for Wright, I’m grateful for his ministry, but I don’t read him anymore, aside from his commentaries. He helped me at a time in my life when I desperately needed it. He usually ends up affirming classic Protestant doctrines but not before qualifying them with a “yes, but…” He drives me crazy sometimes. He has said in the past that he believes in penal substitution, but only after nuancing it to death.

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