The New Testament pours forth a river of metaphors by which the Spirit seeks to lift our minds from the physical world into the realm of the spiritual nature and work of those who have enlisted their allegiance in the warfare of Jesus. Words as “sons,” “living stones,” “branches,” and “pilgrims” are all words of the world that are used to define the spiritual relationship that new creatures have with God. But one of the most graphic metaphors is the word “soldier.” Inherent within the earthly definition of this word is militant warfare. But since it is used as a metaphor, then reference cannot be to carnal warfare when used to define the warfare of the Christian. In other words, there is no scriptural justification for a Christian to take up arms to advance his faith. As soldiers in the Lord’s army, we are engaged in spiritual warfare.
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but powerful through God for the pulling down of strongholds, casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Co 10:3-5).
The word “soldier,” and all words that explain the function of a soldier of this world, help us to understand metaphorically the militancy of the Christian who is engaged in conflict with evil. Our songs highlight our emphasis on the metaphors that are used to define our war with evil. We sing “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “Soldiers of Christ Arise” in order to spur ourselves on as soldiers in the Lord’s army. We put on the whole armor of God in order to survive in our spiritual battle against the wiles of the devil (See Ep 6:10–17). By engaging the enemy of all unrighteousness, we use truth to war against error, right to prevail over wrong, and good to suppress evil. As soldiers of Christ, we are engaged in a spiritual conflict. We have already been given the victory by our Commander. It is thus our task to stay in the battle because we have already won the victory. This was the message of the entire book of Revelation that was written to encourage Christians who were suffering from those who persecuted them as family of God:
These will make war with the Lamb and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings. And those who are with Him are called and chosen and faithful (Rv 17:14; see 19:19-21).
As soldiers of Christ, we have assumed several responsibilities in order that we fight the good fight of the faith. If any soldier fails to take ownership of his responsibilities, then he, as a soldier of Christ, will certainly fall from the battle. We must always remember that only one fourth of the seeds that were sown in the Parable of the Sower brought forth fruit. The rest were either devoured, scorched, or choked (See Mt 13:3-9). It was only those seeds that fell on good ground that were able to withstand the elements of the environment in which they were sown (Mt 13:8). And so it is with every soldier for Jesus. If one is to survive as a soldier in the Lord’s army, then he should seriously consider the following:
A. Be recruited.
Soldiers in many nations of the world are recruited through conscription. When a young person becomes a certain age, he automatically has to serve in the army. But in many countries of the world today, conscription has given way to volunteering. The military of the United States, for example, is a military that is composed entirely of those who have volunteered for service. And so it is with the Lord’s army. There is no conscription against one’s will. The Lord wants only those who will volunteer to serve. An army that is composed of volunteers is far more excited to carry out their duties than an army that is composed of conscripted soldiers.
The message of recruitment goes out to those who would volunteer for the Lord’s army. When the repentant hears this call, he willingly relinquishes his will to the Master to whom he enlists for service. When potential recruits realize that they are on the wrong side of the spiritual war against all wickedness, they seek to volunteer for service. When some were “cut to the heart” in Jerusalem in A.D. 30 because they behaved contrary to the work and will of God, they cried out, “Men and brethren, what will we do?” (At 2:37). In other words, they were asking where they could sign up for King Jesus who was reigning on David’s throne. When shaken by surrounding circumstances, some pleaded, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ (At 16:30). And to such volunteers, the recruiting officer replied, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins …” (At 22:16). Sign with water on the dotted line.
It was the message of the gospel that God used to call all men to volunteer for the army of His Son. God calls people “unto His kingdom and glory” (1 Th 2:12) by the gospel (2 Th 2:14). When repentant volunteers step forward with faith, they are told clearly what they must do to become a part of the body of God’s army. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body …” (1 Co 12:13; see At 2:38, Rm 6:3; Gl 3:27). Volunteers must make a behavioral declaration in obedience to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus in order to be of the Christ to whom they are giving their allegiance (See 1 Co 1:12,13).
Because new recruits in the Lord’s army make a choice to volunteer, then the nature of the army of God is defined by the service of the soldiers. There can never be any barracks for the soldiers of Christ. Being a soldier in the Lord’s army means that one is always on duty. The repentant believer has volunteered to serve, and thus, he is continually volunteering to serve others.
We have found that some have missed the point that the culture of the army of God is volunteerism. If one does not volunteer his life, he certainly is not a soldier in the Lord’s army. Sometimes the lack of volunteering is revealed by those who will not preach the gospel unless they are supported. Others have viewed the army of the Lord as an opportunity for employment. Others have volunteered to join, but only if they were given a job. They misunderstand the culture of the army of God. It is not what one gets as a recruit, but what one gives. There can be no beggars in God’s army. What one gives in service is explained by the Holy Spirit in Romans 12:1: “Therefore, I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”
We must not forget that Jesus is continually recruiting volunteers for His army on earth. He said the same in His last words of revelation to all men:
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him, and he with Me (Rv 3:20).
B. Be spiritually fit.
After being inducted into an army, a new soldier is enrolled in boot camp in order to prepare for battle. A soldier must be in top physical condition in order to war according to the disciplines of battle. Discipline, therefore, must be instilled in every soldier. Every recruit is thus trained in discipline in order that desertion not occur when the new recruits engage the enemy. New recruits must start their training to live in a new paradigm of resistance to protect their nation against any possible enemies.
In order to prepare as a spiritual soldier in the spiritual conflict in which the people of God are engaged with Satan, there must be preparation for battle. God knows that those who are new in the faith should not be thrown into the heat of the battle until they have been disciplined to endure the harsh blows that Satan will deliver. The “spiritual boot camp” of the army of God is emphasized in the following points:
1. Spiritual growth is necessary in order to transition into the new spiritual paradigm. When one comes forth from the grave of baptism as a new creature in the army of God, his new birth experience does not miraculously change his character and personality. He is not “fully grown” immediately when reborn. The new birth to become a new creature is the beginning of a process of growth. It is a process that is explained by Peter’s statement: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pt 3:18). New recruits are to “grow up into Him in all things” (Ep 4:15). The new birth is the beginning of one’s growth in all things that are necessary for the spiritual battle in which we are engaged as the children of God.
We do not know the exact time line of Paul when he transitioned from being a persecutor to a promoter of Christ. He miraculously encountered Jesus on the Damascus road sometime between A.D. 40 and 42 (At 9:1-19). He then volunteered for service by having his sins washed away in baptism (At 22:16). After he was baptized, he went into Arabia, and then returned to Damascus (Gl 1:17). After three years in Damascus and Arabia, he went to Jerusalem where he stayed for about two weeks (Gl 1:18). He then returned to his home in Cilicia, and eventually came into Syria (Gl 1:21). And after some years, “Barnabas went to Tarsus [of Cilicia] to look for Saul [Paul]” (At 11:25).
Barnabas fetched Paul out of Tarsus in order to bring him to Antioch of Syria. Barnabas needed help in teaching the new Gentile Christians of Antioch. After another trip to Jerusalem (At 12:25), and a year teaching in Antioch, it was not until Acts 13:1-3 that the Holy Spirit eventually called Paul to the great mission of going to the Gentiles. From the time of his new birth to be a new creature in Damascus, to the time he was called in Antioch in Acts 13, it could have been as long as seven years. God knew that Paul had to grow out of the old way of life of Judaism in which he was culturally and theologically steeped for so many years. God gave Paul time to grow into the person he needed to be in order to send him on his first mission journey.
We must grow into greater works in the kingdom. God is patient during these years of transformation. Others are doing the work while we are growing to accept greater challenges. The more one prepares himself, the greater the work that will be given to him by God.
2. Grow into leadership. When the Holy Spirit inscribed the spiritual qualifications for one to be an elder (bishop) among the sheep of God, one of the qualifications was negative. Those who are to be considered for such a ministry must not be new converts. The reason for this is that the new convert has not yet spiritually refined his personality and attitudes after the word of God. The Spirit wrote in the midst of giving qualifications for elders, “He must not be a new convert, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Tm 3:6). In the same context of spiritual growth, Paul instructed Timothy, “Lay hands hastily on no man” (1 Tm 5:22). If great responsibility is given to novice Christians, then they can be “puffed up with pride,” and thus fall into the condemnation of the devil. New Christians, therefore, must be patient until they grow into greater ministries.
3. Time must be given to lay aside behavioral sin that holds one back from spiritual growth. One of the tasks of the new recruit into the army of Christ is to start the process of changing one’s character. This process continues throughout the rest of our lives as soldiers in the Lord’s army. To older Christians, the Holy Spirit instructed, “Let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hb 12:1). The task of a new recruit in Christ is to “put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy speech out of your mouth” (Cl 3:8). When one volunteers for the Lord’s army, he begins a process of spiritual transformation. The process begins by understanding that new creatures are always changing for the better. Even when they are old they are still being transformed into the image of Jesus (Rm 12:2).
4. Put away the past and push toward the future. When one comes forth from the grave with Jesus, he must never look back to his life before his new birth. The “good old days” must be viewed as days of darkness wherein one walked in sin. Jesus exhorted, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:62).
“Looking back” means taking part in those practices of sin that one gave up when he was born anew in Christ. When one transitions into the army of the Lord, he must give up those things that identified him as a “sinner.” If one continues to look back on his former way of life, then he will be hindered from spiritually prospering in his new life for the future.
John wrote to Gaius, “Beloved, I pray that in all things you may prosper and be in health, just as your soul prospers” (3 Jn 2). The greatness of Gaius was that he continued to prosper spiritually. He was not one to look back to the old man of sin who was nailed to a cross and buried in a grave.
5. Study the manual on warfare. “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tm 2:15). One is not spiritually growing if he is not studying His Bible. Since our faith is built on the word of God, then our faith grows as we grow in the knowledge of God’s word.
We live in an era wherein there has been a deceptive backsliding from a Bible-based faith to an experientially based subjective religiosity. Paul wrote, “So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rm 10:17). As long as our faith is based on the word of Christ, then we will continue to be directed by Christ. However, in the world of Christendom, there has been a change from a word-based faith to a subjective relationship-based faith. In other words, people first define their religiosity by their relationships with others, and then they consider the word of God.
It is assumed that if one has good relationships with others in a religious context, then it is assumed that one’s faith is strong. It indeed can be strong, but one’s faith is based on the wrong priority. It is based on one’s personal relationships with people, not the word of God. Cults have strong relationships, but the faith of those within the cult is questionable. The stronger one’s faith is based on his friends, the more he is in danger of moving away from the word of God. This is true because our friends will often lead us away from the word of God if their faith is also based on relationships instead of the word of God.
When our faith is based on people, it is based on a foundation that is constantly changing. The foundation changes because people change. When all the individuals of the group change, then they as a group change. If our faith is based first on people, and then the word of God, we will drift with the group because our faith is not first based on the word of God. If we are forced by the group to move in the direction of the group, then we are a member of a very traditional group, or possibly a cult.
If our faith is based on the unchanging word of God, then our friends can change, but our faith will not because it is based on the word of God. It may be the case that the group moves so far away from the word of God that the word-based individual must move away from the group. We must keep in mind that our relationship with God is not dependant on our relationship with others. We may have to be as Noah who alone remained faithful in a wicked world. Our relationship (fellowship) with others must first be based on the word of God. This relationship (fellowship) with others begins with our common obedience to the word of God. This is what John wrote in 1 John 1:3:
That which we [the apostles] have seen and heard we declare to you so that you also may have fellowship with us, and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.
Therefore, “if we say that we have fellowship [a relationship] with Him, and walk in darkness,” John wrote, “we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 Jn 1:6). “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship [a relationship] with one another …” (1 Jn 1:7). Our relationships (fellowship) with one another must first be based on our common walk in the light of the word of Christ. If our fellowship is simply based on being good friends, then we are in trouble of being led away from Christ. If our allegiance is first to the group, then we will go where the group goes. And a group that is ignorant of the word of God is moving away from God. We must keep in mind that there is no greater thing than the relationship (fellowship) that the new creature has on earth than the church of our Lord.
C. Be committed.
Since one volunteers for service in the armed forces of a nation, then it is presumed that he is patriotic to the nation he seeks to defend. If there is no patriotism, then one has simply sought for and acquired a “military job.” But when the “job soldier” engages the enemy, he will betray his country by desertion. It is imperative, therefore, that every soldier be disciplined with faith in the country he has volunteered to protect.
Webster’s Dictionary defines “treason” to mean,
The betrayal of a trust …. The offense of attempting by overt acts to overthrow the government of the state to which the offender owes allegiance or to kill or personally injure the sovereign of his family.
Judas Iscariot was standing in the audience when Jesus said, “And whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me, cannot be My disciple” (Lk 14:27). Judas could not do this. He involved himself in a scheme that led to the killing of the “sovereign of his family.” For whatever motives, he betrayed his discipleship to Jesus because of motives that were treasonous to the commitment Jesus called on all His disciples to make. It was no hyperbole of commitment, therefore, when Jesus said the following to His disciples:
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me (Mt 10:37,38).
Soldiers in the Lord’s army must remember what one wise person said, “The man who moves the world is the man the world cannot move.” If we are not committed (patriotic) to Christ, we will betray Him when times get tough. It is an axiomatic truth that there will be more conversions to Christ when His soldiers are more committed to the cause of Christ. Such was essentially the meaning Paul wanted to convey to Timothy in the following exhortation:
You therefore endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No man engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, so that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier (2 Tm 2:3,4).
D. Be trained.
Soldiers who do not continually keep themselves physically fit will be weak in the field of conflict. Our muscles maintain their strength only when they are constantly used. The assumption is, therefore, that soldiers are constantly in training in order to be ready for battle.
In reference to soldiers of Christ, they should be in great spiritual shape because they are continually in battle. From the time they become new creatures in Christ, they are in constant conflict with the forces of evil. They grow stronger because they stay in the heat of the battle.
In his first letter, Peter reminded his readers, “… as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word so that you may grow up to salvation” (1 Pt 2:2). He followed this exhortation with a spiritual mandate in the second letter: “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pt 3:18). If one does not feast on the word of God in order to grow spiritually, then he has consigned himself to spiritual death.
Spiritual growth is a process that is carried throughout the life of a spiritual soldier because of the demands of the battle. We must understand that as new creatures we are not at any one time in our lives at a stage of growth that we want to be. There must always be a sense of feeling that we are not what we ought to be. Therefore, we must anticipate what we are going to be. But in this process of spiritual growth, we can always be thankful that we are not what we used to be when we lived in sin.
Spiritual soldiers must always remember that it is “God who works in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Ph 2:13). He works in us through His word. It was for this reason that apostles, prophets, evangelists and shepherd/teachers laid the foundation upon which we exist as a fellowship of soldiers today. These ministries of the word were set forth by God “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ …” (Ep 4:12).
We minister the word of God in order that every “man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tm 3:17). When one allows the word of God to equip his character as a spiritual soldier, God is given the credit for the equipping. The Hebrew writer wrote to his readers that they must allow God to equip them “in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well-pleasing in His sight …” (Hb 13:21).
[Next lecture tomorrow.]