Is not this life nothing but a test? A test of wisdom. A test of faith. A test of truth. A test of perseverance. A test of courage. Ultimately, however, a test of love. How did we love? And what constitutes a successful life? Who, at the end of their days, can truly say “I loved well”? As was written in the previous blog, the call of Christ is a crucifixion of the self. Directly paired with this accompaniment of death in Christ is the abounding victory of eternal life. Throughout every aspect of our lives, whether in trials or triumphs, our choices ultimately glorify one of two things: God or the flesh. Indeed, to accompany death through the cross means to give one resounding answer in life: “To God be the glory.”
More than Conquerors
In many ways, war is the pinnacle of what it means to be tested, and the gauge of success is reliant upon the defeat of one's enemies. In the worldly wars of man, the failures of the flesh are put on display: death, injustice, destruction, retaliation, oppression, disease, decay, greed, rebellion, lawlessness… Whether it’s across the globe or in the streets, the wars and conflicts of mankind are amalgamations of sin; they are the largest and purest scale on which we can witness the manifestations of the self. And, in war, humankind is utterly tested in its ability to love; more often than not, the flesh fails and love is smothered.
It is all the more imperative, then, to ask the question: what is my life glorifying? Where man’s war for the flesh produces death and destruction, there is another greater war being waged that produces life. When one has relinquished their life into the hands of Christ, the war for their eternity has been won; they have accepted the victory that Jesus has already achieved. At the same time, however, a new war begins. For those of us who call ourselves Christians, the call to arms is conquest.
As Paul establishes in his letter to the Romans, we are more than conquerors in Christ Jesus. Conquest and the act of conquering means to gain or acquire by force [especially territory taken in war]; to be victorious. Through the process of bearing our cross, we are taking our territory back from the enemy both within ourselves and our world. Has Christ won the war? Yes. Do we still have bounds within ourselves to which our faith is waiting to breakthrough? To some degree, yes--you and I are not perfect as Christ is; the resurrection has not taken place yet. Therefore, just as our war of sanctification is being continually waged, so too is our conquest of this life.
Our Victory in Christ
Truly, we are at war. Paul identifies, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV). Just as war is a testing of might between powers to achieve an objective, our fight against darkness is real, but so too is our opportunity for plunder. In all things, Christ has given us a new song to sing, and it is a battle hymn. God has paid for our sin at the cross, and because of His payment, we have God’s assurance that He loves us and has delivered us. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31 ESV). If God has demonstrated His love for us in Christ through His eternal payment, then in all things we can be confident that God is with us. And if God is with us, then He gives us an opportunity to bear witness to His victory in every circumstance in life.
When we are tested, we are given an opportunity to grow in perseverance and awaken faith. The consequence of sin is suffering, and so long as this world is broken by sin, we will experience trouble. God allows suffering because it requires us to look for a solution outside ourselves. Because sin is a disease of the spiritual heart, even if a person has everything they want in life they can still be full of suffering. Thus, God requires us to look for a solution to our heart problem of sin--and He gives only One remedy. While suffering requires those who do not know God to reconcile their reality with the answers they seek, those who walk with Christ have obtained a heavenly reality that subjugates suffering to serve God’s kingdom.
The triumph of Christ over sin has given us our victory over the kingdom of darkness. The question is, can we believe it? We have been justified in Christ eternally and He is forever seated on the throne, but we will still face trials daily, and satan will take every opportunity to try and distance us from God through our suffering. Nevertheless, in Christ, every temptation and every trouble is an opportunity to believe God at His word and in the truth that He has overcome. Let us give glory to God for His victory in the midst of difficulty, despite the possibility of not seeing any relief in sight. In this way, we fight our battles by declaring His victory in the war He has already won. Thus, we use the victory of Christ to win the present battles of our lives.
Plunder the Enemy
Nonetheless, God allows us to be tested because when we believe in Christ despite our testing, we gain perseverance and receive faith--this is our plunder. At this declaration, we should rejoice, because perseverance and faith are exactly what we need to deepen our relationship with Jesus. “And not only this, but we also celebrate in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5 NASB). The word hope used here in the Greek provides us with a picture of the fruit that perseverance and faith produce. According to Thayer’s Lexicon, the Greek word used here is elpís (ἐλπίς), a “joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation.” To persevere in the faith is to continue believing God despite difficulties, and to have faith is to receive and believe in the promises of God--together, the two provide the roots for what produces hope.
To hope is to have a joyful and confident expectation of eternal life in Jesus, which means everything in our lives can actually serve as pointers to Christ that have the potential to produce joy and confidence in our salvation. Paul says to celebrate in our tribulations. When we remember who Christ is and persevere in the belief that He is with us, it builds our character, and, over time, brings us hope. This is why we are more than conquerors. We are greater than the worldly rulers of man who only pillage and plunder worldly things that rust and decay because we are reaping a heavenly reward in the Holy Spirit. Our conquest in the Kingdom of God is this: in suffering, we can plunder the enemy and obtain the hope that Christ’s victory has purchased–that hope raises up Jesus in our lives, which then glorifies God through the fruit He bears in us. Because of Jesus, I can believe in faith that all things are gain for me in God.
The Lord is My Banner
One of God’s names is Jehovah Nissi, or Yahweh Nissi, meaning, “the Lord is my banner.” In times long past, wars were fought on open plains by outstretched, vast armies in epic, up-close, hand-to-hand, bloody combat. In such battles, the roles of banners were of the utmost importance. As Peter Buis writes, “Banners formed the linchpin of formations, a rallying point, and their loss almost invariably indicated losing the battle or part of it. When medieval sources mention units of infantry or cavalry they don’t call them platoons or squadrons. They called them banners, fahnlein or suchlike.”
To continue, in early modern Europe, the men chosen to carry the banners–called ensigns–were “chosen for their size and their courage and skill in battle, and their position carried enormous prestige and importance. Their role was to take care of the banner, but, far more importantly, to form the nucleus of the fähnlein, the rallying point in battle, the centre of the camp and a focal point for the distribution of orders.” (Landsknecht Soldier 1486–1560, John Richards). The ensign and the banner were of utmost importance to the success of their armies–both were inextricably essential to achieve victory. It is the same in our war as Christians. We have our banner, and we have our ensign. God Himself is our banner, and it is His kingdom that is represented on the flag. But there is only One ensign; He is the greatest among us and the One in whom we rally to in this fight of life: the Son of Man, the Commander of the Lord’s armies, the Captain of our Salvation. At the same time, in Christ, God lives in us--the Lord is your banner; the Lord is my banner. Are we living as ensigns, bearing the flag of God? Does my life glorify Jesus as king, or myself? Christ lifted high the banner of war atop the hill of Golgotha, and He is rallying all His soldiers to Himself to fight a war of selfless love in a dark world.
The Ensign of Heaven
Where the world’s ensigns were marked by the typical attributes that would define a mighty warrior, Jesus the living God was marked by a poor Spirit and an accompaniment of poverty, an acquaintance with grief and sorrow, meekness and gentleness, righteousness, mercy, purity, peace, and persecution. It is in Christ that God has been glorified. Where we all chose to glorify the flesh, Jesus did not. Instead, God waged the war we all were unable to, and by rallying under His banner, we give the glory of our fight to His kingdom. In our glorification of the Son, Jesus shares His spoil with us–His plunder being His life. It is written,
“He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the plunder with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:11-12 NKJV).
Truly, if God is for us, what can this world send our way that we don’t already know is ordained by Him? And if ordained by God, then it is an opportunity to witness His love. Therefore, can we believe that God is really working all things for our good? Do we love Him? Praise be to God that we do not need to be anxious about the latter question–it is not about how well you and I love God or each other; rather, it is entirely about the victory we have in Christ. God’s love is sufficient. For if Christ gave His own life so that we could harbor the Holy Spirit, then truly it is not our own love that we now love with, but God’s. Let us trust God with the battles, for He has won the war for our lives. Just like how fallen cities and castles would wave the flags of the nations that conquered them, so too do we who walk with Christ–it is His banner that now waves above us, and it is our lives that have been taken captive by the Kingdom. Let us never depart from fearing God.