Lord of the Battlefield

It is always sad to see football teams and their coaches fighting against each other. We saw it with Port Power and John Cahill, and then Mark Williams… I’m beginning to see a theme here. They worked well together for a number of years establishing an outstanding football record, however at times there was a war within.

Wars from within are often more potent than those without. Internal battles, within organisations, are often more potent than those with outside groups.

Slobodan Milosovic’s fight within his own country: from soldiers, pensioners and politicians, was far more destructive for him than NATO’s bombing.

Sometimes a formerly trusted person becomes an enemy of the organization. Aldrixch Ames, whose spying for the Soviets within the CIA caused many field officers to be exposed and sometimes killed by the Soviets and others. The traitor who comes from within and causes a war within always receives a special venom.

Major General Benedict Arnold betrayed America during the 18th Century War of Independence. When discovered, he fled and fought for the British as Brigadier General. When the war ended in 1781, he was despised by all sides. Betrayal is despised by all.

No-one names their children Judas.

How much more when we experience what Paul writes about – virtually betrayal from within… the self? Paul wasn’t the only one to suggest that there was a lot of disorder within.

Self-Betrayal

In a secular framework, Sigmund Freud stunned the cozy world of Victorian England and beyond with his insights. This Austrian physician, the father of psychoanalysis effectively posited a secular view of sin. He said that there was a force called the id. This was the desire to have what you want, do what you want, when you want, with whomever you want. This was counterbalanced by the superego, which held up the ideal possibilities. The id and the superego were in conflict and the ego had to mediate between them. There was a war within, the revelation of which shocked the people of his day.

Some 18 centuries earlier, Paul the apostle saw this much more deeply. Paul said that for him, and by implication all people, the greatest battles are those fought from within; where one’s enemy can be one’s own self. In this place, the good that he wishes to do finds itself in mortal conflict with what actually happens. Where the traitor can be a part of the self. He and the rest of us are in good company.

Remember Peter on the night that Jesus was betrayed where he promised, ‘Lord, though all flee, I will not. Though others betray, I shall not. I am Peter the rock.’ But then a short time later, he says with anger and cursing, ‘I never knew the man’, three times. The good that he would have done, he did not, and that which he wanted to do he did not do.

Even later, as a Christian, Paul says that Peter ate freely with the Gentiles, but once the Jewish circumcision party arrived, he withdrew and associated only with Jews. Galatians 2:11-13 – When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles, but when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabus was led astray.

Again, in the Old Testament, David knew what was right, but when he saw Bathsheba bathing, the good that he knew of was banished, and his life and that of his families went into decline from that time on.

By observing this war within himself, in effect Paul says he is reminded of the remaining power of sin. In fact God’s commandments inspire the war. When he met Christ he saw that more was needed than keeping laws. God wanted people to love him with all their being. The laws reminded Paul of his sin, but Jesus showed Paul grace. The law made Paul work hard, but Jesus gave him the gift of life he could never earn. He was not worthy even to undo the thongs on Jesus’ feet.

Like him, we may cry out, ‘Wretched person that I am. Who will deliver me from this body of sin?’ Thanks be to God, that person is Jesus Christ our Lord.

The battles may continue, but the war is won!

Serbia may be out of Kosovo, but establishing peace and order, a new order is taking place. The war is over, but little battles are still being won. How like the Christian life. The war of unbelief is over when Christ becomes our deliverer, but the battles to do the good we know he wants continue.

If we have the spirit of Romans 8. We do in fact become clear on what God wants in our life, and on where the power to do them comes from. All comes from loving Christ and the people he expects us to love. And yet we always live with the possibility of Christian regression, going back to the old ways of treating people, old priorities and values like greed, lust and anger.

The letter of Hebrews is important in emphasizing that Christians need to grow, or they will regress. Hebrews 3:14 says, ‘We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.’ Hebrews 7:4-4 says, ‘It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.’

If we take all that Christ has to give, if we see the good he would have us do, if we have power to overcome the war within, but turn our back on all these things, then we of all people are most to be pitied. Christian regression is possible, but we should think of it as impossible. We are confident of better things for believers, things that accompany salvation. Christ delivers us from this body of death – body in the broad sense of personhood, not just fingernails and eyelids.

Romans 8 points us to the Spirit who effects that deliverance and sustains us. However much we occasionally regress, the Father still welcomes back the prodigals.

I think of the times I have been with alcoholics. They have rung up and said, ‘Robert, I am drunk. I have failed again.’

I say, ‘Okay, let’s begin again.’

Soul Searching

Even when you have totally failed, there is still no other who has the words of eternal life. Therefore we are a people of hope. The battlefield of the soul has been conquered by our deliverer. In conversion we have raised the white flag. Lord we give in. We are sorry. You be Lord of the battlefield within and overcome the betrayals we have played our part in.

By George Robert Iles

July, 1999.

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