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SPIRITUAL WARFARE, & THE SKILLED USE OF THE SWORD
Pastor Kent Brandenburg
In the era of the seeker sensitive service, church marketing and promotion techniques, the Evangelical-Catholic pact, be-lik’em to-win’em, Christian rap, and unity equals religious toleration, the system of Satan has taken its toll on Biblical evangelism. Instead of turning the world upside down, churches have morphed into the spirit of the age. Their appeasement of the devil’s ways has perverted Scriptural evangelism methodology, and, even worse, has dangerously modified the gospel itself. These agents of compromise have turned salvation preaching into a kind of sales pitch in which a timely breath mint is of greater importance than a warning about Hell. The size or length of “evangelistic” literature shortens and the number of pictures increases. The hearer has supplanted God as sovereign in the preaching; the packaging has outweighed the contents of God’s truth. People gladly swallow this placebo, but in the end it sadly does not save. It simply immunizes them against any receipt of the real thing.
The downward journey to this woeful place has progressed slowly over decades, so subtly that many do not even recognize the difference. The reliance of churches on a profane means of divulging the message has paralleled American culture’s addiction to popular media. Now many expect at least a certain amount of pragmatism and humanism mixed into Biblical methodology in order to succeed at getting spiritual decisions. The Bible, however, continues as the only authority for faith and practice, and God will judge everything according to His Word. Immediate return to Scriptural methodology and message is the antidote to heal this disease.
THE RETURN TO BIBLE METHODOLOGY
The Apostle Paul already understood the temptation to sway from Scriptural methods as seen in what he wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” Earlier he wrote the Corinthians: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. . . . And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (2 Cor 2:1,4,5). These passages parallel what Paul taught the Ephesians regarding the armor of God, ending his description with “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph 6:17).
The primary weapon in spiritual warfare is the Word of God. God the Spirit works through His Word to the salvation of a soul. All unbelieving men merit God’s wrath “because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them” (Rom 1:18,19). Everyone knows enough because God reveals it to him. Those receptive of His revelation “of his own will he [begets] . . . with the word of truth, that [they] should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:18), and they are “born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (1 Pet 1:23). People dead in sin are saved by faith (Eph 2:5,8) because “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17). God’s Word “convert[s] the soul” (Ps 19:7) because “the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb 4:12). The Bible has the God-produced power to work in a saving way in the mind, emotions, and will (the soul) of a lost sinner to enable him to believe in Jesus Christ unto salvation. Justification complete, the credit goes to the Word of God, and, therefore, to God Himself, fulfilling the truth of Jonah 2:9b, “Salvation is of the LORD.”
Delineating the purpose of his gospel, John wrote, “. . . these are written [in this book], that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (Jn 20:31). Later John wrote, “These things have I written unto you . . . that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 Jn 5:13). These Scriptural Words of salvation are the Gospel, about which Paul said, “I am ready to preach the gospel to you. . . for I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth” (Rom 1:15,16). Later Paul described this to the Colossians, writing, “For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel” (Col 1:5). When Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, those saved are said to “gladly [receive] his word” (Acts 2:41). On the other hand, the unsaved are said to “obey not the gospel of God” (1 Pet 4:17). The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God “to reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (Jn 16:8).
Some might argue that they do use the Word of God, but supplement it by other means. The Bible is sufficient to convert men’s souls (Ps 19:7). Other means only serve to degrade the God-ordained methodology and undermine the sufficiency of the Word of God. These methods risk standing in the wisdom of men. Nothing need prop up the Word of God so that it might have greater impact. The power of the gospel is enough. The degree of power could be said to be commensurate to the quantity of appropriate passages that are utilized in the evangelism. Less Bible equals less conviction, less power, and fewer conversions. Of course, this point is made from the Bible, not the observations of the seeker sensitive movement. The corruptible seed results in corruption, but the incorruptible seed, the pure Word of God, conceives baby Christians (1 Pet 1:16-2:2).
The preaching of the Word of God is the only preaching that glorifies God. When a believer is“filled with the Holy Ghost, [he will speak] the wordof God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). Peter instructedunder God’s inspiration, “If any man speak, let himspeak as the oracles of God . . . that God in all thingsmay be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 4:11).God will only manifest the edifying verbal gifts of theHoly Spirit, gifts of preaching, teaching, andexhorting (Rom 12:6-8), if they are “the oracles ofGod,” that is, the Words of God, because they aloneglorify God in ministry through Jesus Christ.Salvation is by faith and “not of works, lest anyman should boast” (Eph 2:9), and that faith comes only by means of God’s Word (Rom 10:17). Paul said he “served with [his] spirit in the gospel of his Son” (Rom 1:9). In this text, “serve” (latreuo) is the term for “worship” (cf. Rom 12:1), revealing that Paul believed his preaching of the gospel to be worship of God. He worshiped God by preaching the gospel. Worshiping God in preaching necessitates the strict usage of His Word. This further explains why Paul determined to preach to the Corinthians “the testimony of God” and not the “enticing words of man’s wisdom” (1 Cor 2:1,4). Since God is glorified by preaching His Word and believers will desire to glorify Him, then they should preach only His Word.
Knowledge of the Word of God is a prerequisite for salvation. First, “by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:20). The Lord Jesus Christ utilized the law in the Sermon on the Mount to convert His hearers (Mt 5:21-48). For “the eyes of your understanding [to be] enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling” (Eph 1:18), God must give unto you the “revelation in the knowledge of him” (Eph 1:17). For men to be saved, they must “come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). Paul said of Timothy, “And that from a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation” (2 Tim 3:15). “[T]hrough the knowledge of him (Christ) . . . are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Pet 1:3,4). In most of these Scripture references, this “knowledge” is a deep knowledge (epignosis), something far greater than a surface or shallow presentation. Scriptural evangelism will impart a deep knowledge of gospel truths.
The knowledge someone must have for conversion is primarily two-fold: what belief is and who Jesus Christ is. The false preachers of today primarily vary the Gospel in their definitions of belief and of Jesus. Scriptural belief includes humble (Lk 14:11; 18:14) repentance (Lk 13:3,5), which is not just intellectual, but volitional (Mt 16:25,26; Lk 19:8,9), and minus works (Rom 4:1-6). The Jesus people receive or know must be the Jesus revealed in God’s Word (Jn 17:3). The Scriptural Jesus is God (Jn 1:1), Lord (Jn 20:28; Rom 10:9), Savior (Heb 7:25), and the second member of the Godhead (1 Jn 5:7). More should be taught than these, but these are where people most err today.
Bold preaching of God’s Word accounts for the salvation of souls. The power for evangelism comes in bold preaching. Related directly to putting on the armor of God was prayer (Eph 6:18), and the request from Paul to the Ephesian saints was: “[T]hat I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel. . . that I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (Eph 6:19,20). Similarly to the Colossians, he requests their prayers: “That I may make it [the gospel] manifest, as I ought to speak” (Col 4:4). The Jerusalem church prayed: “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word” (Acts 4:29). “And when they had prayed . . . they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). When preached plainly and accurately, the gospel does not come “in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost” (1 Thess 1:5). As God told Isaiah, “[M]y word . . . shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Is 55:11).
PULL DOWN STRONGHOLDS
The sword in Ephesians 6:17 (machaira) was the principle weapon of the Roman soldier in hand-to-hand combat. This sword was used personally. The term “word” in “word of God” is the Greek rhema. This same Greek word is translated “word” in Romans 10:17 and in I Peter 1:23-25. This term rhema speaks of a specific passage of the Bible, not the entire Word of God. It is a “particular word” in contrast to the word in general (logos). It is not from just any part of Scripture that men come to faith, but from the parts that declare the gospel. The use of the Word of God needs to be specific in order to be effective. The Christian who misquotes and is confused about scriptural truths will be a less potent witness. The Bible is the right weapon, but it must be wielded properly.
Every person has his own unique stronghold, the idol in his mind (“imagination”—image in the mind) that keeps him from believing in Christ. The Word of God is the spiritual weapon, but the skillful use of it will require understanding how to wield it with each particular person, even as Paul also requested of the Colossians’ prayers, “Walking in wisdom toward them that are without. . . that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Col 4:5,6). The plan of salvation is the same for everyone, but each individual person has his own Satanic base of operations that must be removed or destroyed. The sword (the Bible) will do that, but it must be used properly. That means that the better understanding of the Bible one has, the better he will be able to evangelize the lost.
The Lord Jesus Christ in His omniscience was the Master of understanding each person’s stronghold. He understood it and then used the Bible appropriately to deal with it. Of course, when the Lord Jesus spoke in the New Testament, He also spoke Scripture whether He was quoting it or not. For instance, when the Lord answered the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-22, He recognized the man’s self-righteousness and his self-will. He was not willing to admit his own lack of goodness, and he was not willing to leave his riches to follow the Lord. The Lord dealt with those two strongholds in order, first by asking the young ruler whether he had kept the second half of the ten commandments. When the Lord spoke to the woman at the well in John 4, He used the Old Testament imagery of Isaiah 55:1-7 in which the wicked does not come to drink of the water of life freely until he first forsakes his own way. She was concerned about the “where” of worship and the Lord Jesus Christ brought her back to the realities of who and how to worship. With Nicodemus in John 3 the Lord used the OT picture of the serpent lifted up in the wilderness (Numbers 21) to get his focus on the object of faith, Himself, the crucified Redeemer.
The plan of salvation is the same for everyone, but the strongholds differ. Many of them will be the same, but no one should assume that he knows in advance without careful evaluation during each evangelistic opportunity. Different religions have strongholds— Hindus are different from Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses are different than Episcopalians. Using the Bible alone, believers growing in grace will study to show themselves prepared to rightly divide God’s truth (2 Tim 2:15), diagnose the stronghold, and then pull it down using the appropriate passages for each. Choosing the correct texts and properly applying them is the skillful use of the sword in evangelism. Sometimes the stronghold is less related to the false religion than to pride, pleasure, profit, or even procrastination. Scriptures can be selected to deal with each of these strongholds exalting themselves above God.
STRIVE TO ENTER IN
As the Lord taught His way back to Jerusalem for the last time, someone asked Him, “Lord, are there few that be saved?” Jesus answered him, “Strive to enter in at the narrow gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Lk 13:24). The way to make it easier for people to be saved is by evangelizing more often and more boldly. The Lord, however, never tried to make it easy on people. Directly asked why there were so few, He told the crowd of unbelievers, “Strive to enter in at the narrow gate.” “Strive” is the Greek verb agonizomai from which we get the word “agony.” In the parallel passage, the Lord said, “Few there be that find it” (Mt 7:14b). God did everything any one needed to be saved, but that does not mean that getting saved is easy. If that were the case, “many” would find it, and they would not have to “agonize” to get in.
The response from most churches today to reticence toward receiving Christ is to become more “user friendly.” Emphasis is laid on short-term benefits of salvation. When someone told Jesus that he wanted to follow Him, the Lord did just the opposite (Mt 8:19-23; 19:16-22; Lk 14:11-35). To make salvation more palatable to the rebellious, churches have shortened the presentation and stripped it of its most offensive aspects. Instead of attempting to be as thorough as possible, the modern “church growth gurus” find the lowest common denominator, only leaving what they deem to be the bare essentials for salvation. Little concern is paid to whether God is pleased.
Multitudes of false professions come from the atmosphere of ease prevalent in modern evangelicalism. God seeks for “true worshipers” (Jn 4:23,24), not for selfish eternal life recipients. Many want eternal life. The rich young ruler in Matthew 19 coveted eternal life like he did his own material possessions. In the parable of the sower (Mt 13), the condition of the soil is the variable in every case, not the seed. The seed is always the Word of God. Instead of planting seed, churches now are involved in sowing more weeds that will only choke the Word of God upon its arrival. Scriptural evangelism must deal with family loyalty versus Christ (Mt 8:21, 22; Lk 14:26) and communion with a false religious system (2 Cor 6:14-18). These strongholds must be contested by the sword to convert the soul. False worship, additions to grace, and embraced sins must all be targeted with the skilled use of the Word of God. The goal of the evangelism should be to bring full knowledge of Jesus Christ to the hearer, and the one who refuses to listen still needs more plowing of the soul to prepare him for salvation.
The philosophy with Gospel tracts is no different. In order for spiritual warfare to be accomplished the believer must do more than a “one-size-fits-all” approach. The Lord Jesus was expert at discovering these and confronting them in His evangelism. Even with the hard hearted, He used parables (Mt 13) to avoid further callousing their passive or active rebellion. Tracts should be designed to strike the idol between the person and God. Long presentations of the gospel will not scare away the one who is prepared to be saved. The long tract might be the gauntlet a person needs to count the cost, to measure his willingness to humble himself before God. The lengthy exposition of salvation doctrine tends toward that deep knowledge that can save a soul.
THE DIFFERENCE A CHURCH CAN MAKE
Churches will vary based upon their diligence and boldness in preaching. The Biblical model is scattering the seed. The seed should land on every type of soil. The church should faithfully present the gospel to every creature (Mk 16:15). Since the power is in the Word of God, the church that spreads more through the life and lips will be the one which will bring forth the most fruit depending on the condition of the soil. More people evangelizing means more evangelism, and more time spent evangelizing means more evangelism. The church can impact the quantity and the quality of its evangelism. Since the pastor is to perfect the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph 4:11,12), he can instruct God’s people in Biblical evangelism. They will use the Bible to convince the gainsayers (Tit 1:9) and persuade the lost, knowing the terror of the Lord (2 Cor 5:11).