Bad Fight, Good Fight part 2
Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time. (1 Timothy 6:11-15)
In part one I explored the meaning of the word confession along with various ways in which it is understood. I also reviewed problems with believing that God's kingdom can involve fighting using force and violence when necessary. I used the term bad fighting to contrast it with what Paul refers to as good fighting which is what I want to examine more fully here in part two.
Paul in this instruction to Timothy mentions the sort of fight that we will be engaged in as followers of Jesus. But an excellent question to ask is, What does it mean to fight a good fight? If our fighting is never to involve violent force or coercion, then what did Paul have in mind when he talked about our need to fight a fight of faith? It might also be helpful to challenge typical assumptions about the word faith in order to better understand what good fighting might actually involve.
These are vitally important questions that should capture our attention while challenging the lie that violence must be endorsed as a viable option in God's kingdom. Apparently in this passage Paul sees a place for fighting in the life of a Christian, but importantly the nature of this fight is radically different than what we usually associate with this word. How can I fight in a good way without coercion? It will also be useful to become aware of whom I am fighting against and what that may entail.
Actually part of the answer to this is found here in the text itself. Paul says that the good fight of faith involves taking hold of eternal life. So it is also vital that we understand what eternal life means and how to take hold of it or we may be confused or side-tracked by false notions about fighting.
First let's establish that this good kind of fighting has to do with our trust in God rather than attacking apparent enemies around us.
I want to begin by touching on the meaning of the word faith. True faith is nothing other than trust. Real trust is not something we can work up but rather describes a natural, spontaneous response to appealing and convincing revelations about the trustworthiness of another person.
One problem with the word faith is that is has accumulated so much emotional baggage over centuries that it has become weighed down with superstitious notions and even magical inferences that are very distracting. I am coming to believe we might almost be better off to dispense with the word faith altogether in favor of replacing it with a more accurate term. But since that is not a viable option we must at least unmask some of the false notions associated with this word to educate our minds better about the pure, simple meaning of its original intent.
Faith is not something I try to work up to a tipping point in an attempt to elicit a miracle from God or to induce an answer for my prayers. Much more could be said about this but I will leave it at that.
Another use of the word faith is to describe a systematic set of doctrines or creed I must subscribe to in order to join some religious organization (or maybe even pass a test to get into heaven). Biblical faith is not a system of tradition developed by a group of religious people over time to which I must adhere.
Both of these ideas that have come to be understood as faith along with possibly others, are really distractions from the kind of faith that so powerfully motivated the early disciples who were said to have turned the world upside down. What they did do was to unleash an explosion of light from God's throne that they had encountered when they embraced the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Sadly that good news has since become so obscured by dark teachings and superstitions about what God is like that even Jesus wondered if He will find true faith on the earth in the last days. (Luke 18:8)
What I have discovered in an honest examination of the book of Revelation is a description of the real issues revolving around this key element of faith or trust. In this book is found repeatedly choruses of adoration emphasizing that God and the Lamb are worthy. For years I puzzled over just what this concept of worthy meant until it finally dawned on me that it is referring to the issue of trust.
Trust is what all heaven has been seeking to re-awaken in our hearts ever since the fallout from trust. What we now lack is confidence in the truth that God really is worthy of all our trust, that God is trust-worthy. Interestingly, the grand finale of this cosmic war will culminate in the most surprising and totally inclusive worship experience ever imaginable when everyone on both sides of the war will spontaneously confess that God really is fair and is worthy of all trust, honor and praise.
When the Bible speaks of faith, this background understanding is very helpful to keep in mind to give proper perspective and context to whatever it is we are reading and learning. When God awakens faith/trust within our hearts, He does so through revelations that awakens appreciation for the truth that He is far better than we have ever dared to believe about Him in the past. Ultimately the greatest truth that our hearts must embrace is that God is completely and totally fair, consistently loving and worthy of all trust. This is the core truth that on the day of judgment will be at last completely unveiled. God is trustworthy because He never has nor ever will resort to any of the methods His enemy uses to gain advantage in the dispute swirling around God's reputation.
So, what does good fighting involve? We have considered the alternative kind of fighting that is never to be used in God's service, and we touched on the unpopular truth that God does not resort to using methods or weapons that we prefer. But we still need to be more aware of the kind of fight that is effective for increasing our faith and that cooperates with enlarging of the true kingdom of God.
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)
Possibly one of the most difficult truths to embrace revolves around this one. Paul explicitly warns us that the fight of faith – the only fight we should ever be involved in – is not against flesh and blood. This clearly exempts fighting against any human being, for all of them have flesh and blood. If we just took this truth seriously we would experience a dramatic shift in all of our relationships.
This is a hard truth to swallow, for our selfish desires are constantly urging us to see people as our enemies, as threats to our faith. We attempt to usurp the work of the Holy Spirit in other people's lives seeking to convict them, urge them, even force them to agree with our opinions about what is right. But all such activity is in opposition to the methods of heaven. It is never our place to convict or convert anyone; it is our fight to overcome unbelief and false ideas and feelings about God that permeate our own hearts and minds. Then as God transforms our lives, the witness that this transformation produces is used the the Spirit of God to arouse interest in others who want to experience something similar. But it is never our job to push anything on them but simply to reflect the faith and love of Jesus.
Paul here distinguishes between the methods and the weapons of wrong fighting with what he sees as methods and weapons that have divine power. Before we go any further I need to address what is implied by the word divine. With one exception I find the dictionary definitions for the word divine as all having to do with God. And the one exception is also significant as it even enhances the others, for the exception is described this way – extremely good; unusually lovely.
It is vital that we connect the concept of divine to the very essence of who God is. John states repeatedly that God is love and nothing else. This word love has been seriously diluted and distorted by common usage; but agape love is the very essence of God. Every other attribute of God is really just a partial facet of love and so must always be seen as being in perfect harmony with agape love.
This means that when Paul speaks of weapons and methods having divine power, we must interpret them to be only that which is reflective of God's pure character of agape love when they are engaged for any kind of warfare. All other fighting is going to be a counterfeit and will be detrimental to the advancement of God's kingdom that is based on love alone.
The implications of this can be unsettling when we fall short of gaining a true appreciation of the superior power of love. When we base faith on a notion that God is big and strong enough to punish those we want to see punished, we are basing our faith on a weak foundation that will fail us when we are tested by a crisis. Only as we embrace the truth that God is love and He is light alone, that in Him and in His ways are never found anything pertaining to the ways of darkness, can our faith then be secured on a foundation that will never be shaken. (see Ps. 93:2; Pr 16:12; 29:14; Isa 16:5)
This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)
There are only two options facing us. One is designed on false assertions about God and how order and power must be maintained. The other is based on freedom of our will and agape love. In God's option all are free to choose life and are just as free to choose otherwise, though that choice inherently ends in non-existence. But that end of death was never threatened as a punishment by our loving Creator, for God is not the source of death and evil but is exclusive Source of love and all life.
God does not impose death for He is not the author of death. God is not our executioner. Those who die in the end bring death upon themselves through their rejection of connection to life. Just as an electric motor stops naturally when disconnected from its power source, so too all will die who finally reject connection with the God of love who is the only source of life. Thus we see that it is sin itself that is the originator of death, for sin destroys its host just like cancer kills the host body it has taken over.
By attacking and destroying the very body that provides for its very existence, sin can be seen as functioning like a cancer and is the real cause of destruction in the end. No one else needs inflict the result of death on a person who suffers from the malfunction of cancer cells; death is simply the outcome of the destructive force inherent in cancer. Likewise we must come to see that God is not involved in the punishment and destruction of the lost but rather is compelled by the principle of respect for our freedom to allow principles of cause and effect to be at last experienced by all who in their free will permanently reject all efforts to change their minds about their connection to Life.
God draws; He never demands or forces or intimidates. All such tactics are techniques of the enemy but who uses such allegations about God to make us afraid of Him. The antidote is experienced in the truth that perfect love displaces fear. This is the method God is relying on to eventually displace Satan's kingdom entirely, for that kingdom relies on fear and deception for its very continued existence.
But the opposite of this principle is not true; Satan's kingdom of fear will never be able displace God's kingdom based on love even though Satan gambled on that to happen. This is due to the inherently self-destructive nature of fear. By attempting to overthrow God's government of love by relying on an inherently self-destructive principle, Satan invented the very system that will in the end prove to be the cause of his own destruction and that will finally eliminate sin entirely. Sin self-destructs.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)
So, what constitutes good fighting?
Good fighting for a saving trust in God, what John ofter refers to as believing in Jesus, is directly linked with the good confession that we unpacked in our previous study. Paul explains in several places what is involved in fighting good. There are two aspects I want to note – what we are fighting against and what we must focus on to fight for.
First, Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians that we are fighting for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.
Fortresses or strongholds are walls meant to block access to any outsiders to protect something or someone that is vulnerable inside. In my recent study I became aware of the contrast between the two competing forces contending over us and how one involves living vulnerably while the other engages in exploitation. God knows that to be successful in restoring harmony and peace to the universe, He must win our affections by proving to us that He is in no way an exploiter like His enemy. God's kingdom is not only one where we are completely safe but where we can be extremely vulnerable. I have come to see that without vulnerability it is impossible to enter into the deep bonding and joy of intimate relationships. God condescended to make Himself completely vulnerable by coming as a human baby to this earth and in living a life of selfless service and love. Then He exposed Himself fully vulnerable to exploitation from every evil source. But in doing this He undermined the credibility of all systems based on exploitation, and ultimately His victory at the cross will result in the dissolution of Satan's entire tyrannical empire without ever once resorting to force or exploitation on God's part.
Like the falling walls of Jericho exposed all its inhabitants to the outside world with no defenses left, divine weapons are reflective of only the pure agape love of God and are the only effective means that can similarly dissolve the thick walls that surround our hearts where we seek to cover our vulnerabilities with darkness. Only the power and light of divine love is effective enough to get past our fortress defenses to gain access to the vulnerable treasures inside and to bring the healing grace in that can cure all of the sickness of sin and fear that is killing us from the inside out.
Paul points out that it is these divine-type weapons that we need for taking out the weapons the enemy relies on in his fight over us. The opponents weapons listed are speculations or arguments, along with all rogue thoughts that keep us trapped in fear and distrust of God. All these evil weapons are powered by the ammunition of lies about our Father that poison our hearts with fear and distrust. These must be attacked by the weapons of true warfare untainted by any of the oppositions ammunition or weapons. This is vital for success in our warfare, for if we try to use any methods or weapons from the other side we will be taken captive by the enemy whose weapons become lethal against all who rely on them.
Most important of all, Paul points out that the target of Satan's weapons and attacks is one central thing – a true knowledge of God, i.e., what He is really like. This is the kind of knowledge that infuses healing love and life into our souls which is the purpose of all true fighting from God's perspective. This intimate knowledge of God is the focal point of attack by Satan as he knows it is central if he is to succeed in his diabolical desires to steal, kill and destroy all that God is doing in us.
Now that we have reviewed some of the things we are fighting against, we need to explore more carefully the nature of the true battle and what it is we are fighting to win.
Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. ...take hold of the eternal life to which you were called...
Clearly the good fight is for the purpose of focusing our attention, our affections and beliefs on the characteristics that define who God really is. This fight will heat up as we encounter resistance to this focus, both from within our own fallen nature as well as from others around us. It is important to note that this fight is primarily to be carried on inside our own hearts and minds before we should consider engaging in fighting darkness outside. Not until the light of God's love floods our own spirit internally can we become effective reflectors of that light to help displace darkness from other hearts.
Righteousness (being right with God and restored to our original design), godliness (meaning 'thinking and acting like God'), faith (spontaneous trust), love (the agape version) perseverance (continuing to pursue God's heart when it gets tough and uncomfortable) and gentleness (something most of us seriously lack). All of these things are what we are to fight to have within ourselves as well as to believe about what God is like. These are attributes we can value and absorb into our own lives as we focus on the fact that God is the ultimate expression of this list and through abiding in His presence we can receive them.
The last thing I want to focus on here is the admonition to take hold of the eternal life to which we are called. We need to start by having a clearer understanding of the true meaning of this term eternal life to prevent expending a great deal of energy fighting over the wrong things. One of the most successful tactics of the enemy is to distract us by fighting in ways that do not bring victory, or fighting against opponents which are impossible to overcome. Only as we come into alignment with God's perspective of our problems and learn to fight using only His methods and weapons can we begin to experience the victories He desires to introduce into our lives.
Eternal life, contrary to popular assumptions about the term, has not so much to do with length of time but about a vital connection with the One who is Eternal and who is the ultimate Source of Life. Eternal life is a quality of existence found only in intimacy with the Creator of our life and who is love. This life is not some permanent and irrevocable lease on simply being alive. Staying alive can turn into insane torture if one becomes miserable, isolated, lonely, depressed and frustrated. God is not offering us eternal existence but restoration to the intense joy of living in intimate connection with the heart of the One who designed us for love and then enjoying that intimacy forever.
This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. (John 17:3)
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)
The reason that God removed access to the Tree of Life from our first parents after they rebelled and broke from full dependence on Him, was not an arbitrary act to punish them. Rather it was an act of great mercy, for He knew that if they continued to eat of that potent fruit that extends life indefinitely, it would only extend their misery and suffering indefinitely. A God of love cannot bear to see suffering last any longer than absolutely necessary so as to convince as many as possible that this was never His plan. Thus, to shorten the road back for His wayward children to fully reconcile with Him, He mercifully disconnected them temporarily from that source of Life until such time as their condition would be healed. Then He will reintroduce us to that Tree to support us living in harmony with His perfect love for all eternity in His presence.
That experience must begin now, not later. Jesus came to this world for the purpose of reestablishing a vital connection to life for us, for reconnection to the sole Source of life is our only viable option for real living. Sadly religion has terribly distorted this truth through legal explanations of the cross that obscure the real issue in sin. Jesus did not come to this earth to extricate us from legal complications with God but to awaken in our hearts true appreciation of the trustworthiness of God. Since our original condition of sin resulted from believing lies about God that destroyed trust in our hearts for Him, the only way to reverse the curse of sin is to re-awaken trust in Him so that we may be reunited with His heart and thrive in the glory of His love for us.
Eternal life is not reward for being good enough so we can get into heaven. Nor is eternal life a reward for working up something we call faith. Rather, eternal life is a description of what was originally normal existence before sin came and distorted our perceptions about God's trustworthiness. With this perspective it becomes clearer that when Paul writes of taking hold of eternal life, he literally means to take hold of the real truth about the kind of God who is the only Source of life so that we may again enjoy the abundant kind of life that Jesus came to give back to us. This is the divine power of love.
I want to conclude with one last observation about this passage. I see in this phrase the entire message of the gospel and the very essence of God that is so vital for reconnecting our hearts to Him in genuine trust and love.
...God, who gives life to all things...
This is the core of the meaning of the word gospel and what resonates profoundly and repeatedly throughout the entire Bible, especially in the New Testament. John in particular emphasizes this point over and over seeking to get us to see the real issue. The fight we should be in is not arguments over doctrines or trying to force others to join our religion. No, the fight we mus engage in is a battle against our own resistance to allowing the Holy Spirit access to expose hidden lies deep in our assumptions about God and false beliefs that make us afraid of Him or that inhibit our ability to trust Him.
As we allow the sweet, gentle Spirit to unveil to us personally the actual truth about this God who is only light and goodness and love and in whom there is nothing dark, deceptive or sinister, the resistance this will arouse from our fallen natures will be enough to absorb all our energy in fighting. This is the good fight of faith – fighting against our own fears and lies and unbelief about God in our own minds and hearts that have for so long blocked us from having uninhibited trust and appreciation responding love for the true Father of us all. This is what produces true obedience.
This God who gives life and only life to all is the same God who's Tree in the Garden of Eden was called the Tree of Life. That tree represented life and only life. Jesus presented Himself as God's explicit revelation to the universe as being the Source of all life and only life. Anything else, any other belief about God is from the evil one and is to be the target of all our fighting. Our fight is to awaken spontaneous trust in Him deep inside that only comes from a true appreciation of His character of love.
So long as we cling to beliefs and claims about God that involve making Him out to the punisher for sin, an executioner or any other such notion, we reveal that we are need to fight more against the lies about God that have so infected the entire human race and have for so long poisoned our perceptions of Him. We must strenuously fight against the lies about God within that distort and obstruct His true beauty and attractiveness to us. Then we can appreciate better the importance of this core truth:
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
I invite each one of us to take seriously the real truth about God and His methods, His weapons and His kind of warfare. Let us dispense with the deeds of darkness and its philosophies that have infiltrated our minds and that infect every religion on earth. Let us embrace with our whole heart the true Word of God and allow His Spirit to so ravish our hearts with the love of God so that we will be transformed back into His image as we are reconciled to Him through fresh revelations of the real truth about Him.
If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. (John 8:31-32)