Napoleon Bonaparte was an interesting wee fella but he made some fair points. The following is attributed to him:
An army’s effectiveness depends on its size, training, experience, and morale, and morale is worth more than any of the other factors combined.
As Jane Austen once said, ‘you can’t trust everything you read on the internet’ but, in a sense, it doesn’t matter whether Bonaparte uttered those words or not. Whoever penned them knew something about warfare. When an army loses hope, they don’t fight so well, no matter how good their weapons or how competent their generals.
What has this to do with the price of baked beans (apart from the fact that food is good for morale)? Very few of us are in the armed forces nor have the inclination to be, but we are all fighting a war whether we like it or not. Everyone ever born was born into this war and no one is neutral.
Welcome, my friends, to life in a Fallen world.
We, as believers, are on the winning side. We’re still scrapping with the world, the flesh, and the devil, but we know that the victory is ours and that keeps us going.
Or does it?
In the UK, it feels like we are reduced to pockets of resistance here and there, we’re holding out and battling on and it can feel pretty disheartening at times. So much so that I wonder if many of us (myself included) find ourselves fighting this war as functional atheists. We keep going because we are commanded to and because life is only found in Christ, but our hope is distant and faint and our morale is flagging.
When we lose hope, we lose hold of the ground we have gained. With this in mind, it’s important to know what we are meant to be hoping in.
To understand our hope and why it matters, we need to understand how the war began, who the two sides are, and how it will end.
Back in the beginning, God created all things but at some point, one of his angels (by the name of Lucifer) rebelled. He wanted to be equal with God and God cast him and his followers out of heaven (you can read about it in Isaiah 14.12-15; 2 Peter 2.4; Jude 1.6). In the meantime, the pinnacle of creation, mankind, were living in the garden God had given them. They had only one rule: don’t eat the fruit from one particular tree.
Lucifer persuaded them to break that rule and sin entered the world, severing the relationship between God and man. They were under his wrath and judgement from then on, every one of them, every one of them was born with a heart that rebelled against God and there was nothing to be done about their sinful state. Like Lucifer, they’d wanted to be equal with God and they were cast out of his presence for their disobedience to him.
So the war began, on one hand, the righteous, holy, perfect God and on the other, all those created beings who rebel against his rule. No one is neutral. God, being Holy, cannot stand the presence of sin and we are born on the side of rebellion and love every sinful moment of it.
It all seems pretty grim really, Lucifer declaring war on God and dragging the whole of humanity down with him, just to spite his Maker.
But God had a plan for all of this before he even created anything. The only way to rescue us was a life for a life. But it couldn’t be any old life, it had to be perfect and sinless if it was to be sufficient for our sins — and it had to be human.
The answer was simple but astounding: God himself became a man and lived a perfect life in our place then allowed himself to be executed in our place. If ever there was a climax to the story of world history, this was it. The Son of God, fully man and fully God, having lived a sinless life, wholly innocent, then took on all our sin and bore the entirety of God’s wrath and punishment. He drank it up until it was completely exhausted.
And he died.
I guess the world stood in stunned silence for a moment, I can’t imagine any other reaction. The God-man was. . .dead. Those rebels against God’s law had actually done it, they’d killed him. The tables had turned and they had victory. . . right?
Jesus was not careless, he didn’t lose his life, he laid it down. The chains of death could never hope to hold him and three days later, he took up his life again and walked right out of the grave.
If you thought his death was jaw-dropping, there’s no word for his resurrection. On that first Easter morning, the victory was won over sin, over death, over hell. The outcome of this history-long war was irrevocably sealed. Christ is king. He rescued his people from the wrath of God and the punishment of sin and brought them into the kingdom by his grace.
And here we are. The battle goes on but we are wholly secure in Christ as believers and no one can steal us from him. The universe is his and he is ruling even now.
For now he suffers the foot-stamping and tantrums of those who rebel against him and he continues to do so for as long as it takes for every single one of his people to be saved and brought back to him. When the last of his children is named, he’ll return and claim his kingdom and all who rebel still will be punished eternally and that’ll be the end of that.
We live between the victory and the return so we continue to fight and gain ground for the kingdom. Some of the battles are particularly fierce and bitter. Some are drawn out and lonely.
In it all, we need to remember our hope: God has already won and even now, Christ is reigning in victory. We’re just mopping up until he comes again. We’re not fighting for the overall victory, he’s already won that.
So in the night, our hope lives on.
If the war is won, what’s our objective? Why are we still fighting? We continue preaching the gospel, baptising believers, adding them to the local church, and discipling them as we have been told to do.
I’m honestly not sure whether Lucifer understands he’s lost and is determined to drag as much as possible down with him or whether, in his arrogant delusion, he still thinks he can win this. Whatever the case, he’s still on the attack and so we push back.
Every soul saved, every healthy local church, every inch of growth in godliness, every gospel conversation with an unbeliever is ground gained in Christ’s kingdom. Every time the gospel is proclaimed, no matter how shy and haltingly, glorifies our living, reigning God. It’s not just pastors, church planters, and missionaries who are to make God’s name known among the nations, it’s the charge of every believer.
But forgetfulness is our great enemy.
How quickly it slips our mind that Christ gave his life for us so we might live. How quickly we forget the past faithfulness of God in our lives and begin to doubt his faithfulness in our present troubles. How quickly we lose sight of the promised victory so that it becomes little more than a pleasant, if distant, dream.
When we lose sight of the hope we have in Christ, our duties become more of a burden than a delight and our personal and corporate holiness becomes something that matters little if we put it off.
If Christ hasn’t won and if he might not be coming back for us after all, we don’t need to live for him.
Whether we’d say it in such stark terms or not, this is how it is. We lose hope so we lose ground. Personal devotion falls by the way and the world is given license to highlight our hypocrisy. Meeting together becomes an optional extra and the world sees our faith as something that can be taken or left. Evangelism becomes one of those things the overly optimistic types do and the world takes the hint that salvation isn’t that important or urgent. The future holds no hope so we end up consumed by the now and, in all these things, the world nods sagely and pats us on the head and says See, we told you religion is meaningless and yours is no better.
Christians, it is better. Christ did not lay down his life for a feel-good religion and he wasn’t raised again to give us the freedom to sit around and bellyache about how iniquitous the rest of the world is and how hostile it is to the gospel. Have you forgotten your hope? Have you forgotten God’s promises and his faithfulness in fulfilling them?
The church in our land is (partly) in the state it’s in because we’ve lost sight of the sure hope we have in Christ. He has delivered us from the wrath of God and the power of sin and he calls us to spread this great news to others so they may also believe. He calls us to live out the truth we profess. Not only that but he is coming back for us and in that day, his victory will be complete and his justice will come.
Remember this when you are mocked for sharing the gospel. Remember that he is mighty to save as all four members of your church gather together to pray. As you read in his Word of the promises he has made and fulfilled, remember that he will return and in that day we will rejoice with him in his victory over sin and death and hell. Remember, when you are weary and worn and sad, he will make all things new.
Believer, don’t lose sight of this hope. Let it strengthen your tired bones so that you do not grow weary of doing good, so that you finish this race well. Serve faithfully as one who has not forgotten that our God rules and reigns even now and he is coming to make all things new. Sure, right now things have a tendency to look a little bleak, but in the night our hope lives on.
Place: The sofa, wrapped in a blanket.
Listening to: The Year of the Locusts by Andrew Osenga