Stand Firm by Jack McCullough

STAND FIRM by Jack McCullough

According to an old legend, a man became lost in his travels and wandered into a bed of quicksand. Confucius saw the man’s predicament and said, “It is evident that men should stay out of places such as this.”

Next, Buddha observed the situation and said, “Let that man’s plight be a lesson to the rest of the world.”

Then Mohammed came by and said to the sinking man, “Alas! It is the will of God.”

Finally, Jesus appeared. “Take my hand, Brother,” He said, “and I will save you.”

Paul led people from error to the truth by using the Gospel. But he also taught them that they must STAY in the truth!

General Dwight Eisenhower once said, “War is a terrible thing. But if you’re going to get into it, you’ve got to get into it all the way.”

Philippians 1:21 Whatever happens, conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you, or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one, for the faith of the Gospel.

I believe that many Christians are defeated in their Christian lives because they are not seriously engaged in the warfare to which we are called. J. C. Ryle saw this in the 19th century. In “Soldiers and Trumpeters” he wrote, “The saddest symptom about many so-called Christians is the utter absence of anything like conflict and fight in their Christianity.” He went on to say that they go through the motions of attending religious services each week. Then he added, “But of the great spiritual warfare, its watchings and its strugglings, its agonies and anxieties, its battles and contest, . . . of all this, they appear to know nothing at all.”

Perhaps these Christians come to Christ under a false “sales pitch”. Maybe they were told, “Jesus will solve your problems. He will give you peace and joy. He will give you a happy family life. Come to Jesus and enjoy all of these blessings and more. He promises you abundant life.” And so they signed up for what they thought would be a wonderful life of peace and happiness.

All of those claims are true but they’re only half of the picture. Jesus promised to give us abundant life in John 10:10. “ . . . I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” But He also said in Matthew 10:16, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves.” That picture might not fit into our idea of an abundant life!

Jesus promised us peace, but in the same breath, He said that in this world we would have tribulation. John 16:33 reads, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

He assured us of His love, but He went on to say that the world would hate and persecute us. John 15:18-19 tells us, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”

In the latter part of Ephesians 5, Paul shows us a glorious picture of the loving relationship between Christ and the Church. But he continues by telling us, in Ephesians 6:10-18, that the Christian life is nothing less than warfare against the hideous enemy that Martin Luther called “the prince of

darkness, grim”.

Ephesians 6:10-18 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark word, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of Truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the Gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

It is vital to our survival as Christians that we realize that when we became Christians, we were drafted into God’s army. Daily we are engaged in a battle against an unseen spiritual enemy that seeks to destroy us. If we don’t live with that understanding, then when trials come, as they surely will, we will think something is wrong. We may wonder why God has allowed this. We will not understand the reality of our situation.

I have read of even pastors who think that because they are serving the Lord, He should bless them by keeping them from conflict and personal attacks. So when they are criticized or slandered, or when problems hit their families or their churches, they run from the battle. They don’t understand that when God blesses a work, the enemy will increase the attacks against it. When a man’s ministry is effective, the enemy will work overtime to bring him down.

When Paul was in Ephesus, he wrote in 1Corinthians 16:8-9, “But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.”

Paul did not say, “but there are many adversaries,” or, “there may be many adversaries.” He said, “…and there are many adversaries.” He understood the battle and that adversaries go along with open doors for effective ministry. I have always thought that the harder you strive for Christ, the harder the adversary will attack you.

So, what we must understand is that we have to STAND FIRM, knowing that we will face attacks from the adversary, the harder we strive for Christ.

Let us look back at Ephesians 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.”

“Finally” means “for the rest” and shows us that this section is built on what precedes it. Paul is telling us, “Based on your glorious position in Christ—Ephesians 1-3—and in the light of the worthy walk to which we are called—Ephesians 4-5 and 6:1-9—I want to conclude by explaining to you the serious conflict in which your faith necessarily engages you.” Because we are fighting in the Lord’s army!

Paul uses words for strength that he also used in chapter 1:19-20. There he mentioned “in His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength He exerted when He raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms.” Also in chapter 3:16, Paul prayed that God would “…strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being.” Per Peter O’Brien in The Letters to the Ephesians, the verb in 6:10 and 3:16 is probably passive, meaning “be strengthened in the Lord”. In other words, we are not strong in

ourselves. Our strength comes from the Lord.

Yet, I think, at the same time, that there is an active sense to the verb also, in that we must take initiative to be strong in the Lord.

That same strength is available to every Christian. You may be at your lowest point. You may be discouraged. It may even start to seem to you that God’s promises are not true. But no matter how much may seem to be against you, you can be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. You can strengthen yourself in the Lord your God.

But how?

First, to be strong in the Lord, you must be in the Lord. Now I won’t belabor a point that to most will seem so simple. But I need to say that Paul’s command to be strong in the Lord rests on his first two chapters, where he makes it clear what he means to be “in the Lord”. To sum this up, he wrote, in chapter 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith; and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; not by works, so that no one can boast.” To be “in the Lord” means that He has saved you from judgment, by His grace alone through faith in Christ alone. Salvation is not based on anything that you have done or deserved. As we read, one of Paul’s frequent expressions in Ephesians is the phrase, “in Christ” or “in Him”. You cannot begin to understand what it means to be “strong in the Lord” unless you truly are “in the Lord” through saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Secondly, to be “strong in the Lord” you must know your own weaknesses.

This is a continual lifelong process that begins at salvation. We cannot trust completely in Christ to save us until we come to the truth that we are helplessly, hopelessly lost and unable to save ourselves through good works. C. H. Spurgeon, in his Autobiography, put it this way: “We must see that we are convicted and condemned, with the rope around our nick, before we will weep for joy when Christ pardons us.”

As we grow in Christ we must continue to know our own weaknesses in order to take refuge in the Lord’s strength. Jesus taught us this in John 15:5 when He said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing.”

Paul, in 2Corinthians 12:10 put it this way, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Our pride often blinds us to our true condition. It leads us to believe that we have strength in ourselves. Pride makes us think that the longer we are Christians, the stronger we become. But we can never become stronger in ourselves. In reality, the strong Christian is one who has come to see more and more of his own weakness and tendencies toward sin. That awareness then drives him to depend all the more on the Lord’s strength. To be strong in the Lord, you must know your own weakness.

And lastly, to be strong in the Lord, you must know the Lord’s strength.

Satan is a powerful foe, but he is only a created being, whereas God is the eternal, almighty, Creator of the universe. If the Lord were to will it, He could destroy Satan in an instant. Christ has already defeated him at the cross and the resurrection, as stated in Colossians 2:15, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” Revelation 20:10 tells us that in His perfect timing and plan, He will throw Satan in the lake of fire, where he will be tormented forever.

The Bible, from start to finish, proclaims the might power of God. He spoke the heavens into existence out of nothing. When fierce enemies threatened to destroy His chosen people, time and again the Lord provided deliverance. In one instance, in 2Kings 19:35, God sent His angel to destroy 185,000

enemy troops who had surrounded Jerusalem’s people.

Proverbs 18:10 declares, “The name of the Lord is a fortified tower, the righteous run to it and are safe.” To be strong in the Lord you must know this strength in a practical way, because you have repeatedly taken refuge in Him and seen His great deliverances in your life.

So, to be strong in the Lord…
…you must be in the Lord thru faith in Jesus Christ
…you must be fully aware of your own weaknesses
…and you must know His mighty strength.

Then Paul adds the second thing that is necessary to stand firm as a Christian:

Ephesians 6:11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.

To stand firm with the full armor of God requires three things.

First, we must choose to put on the armor of God. A while back, I believe one morning in Sunday School, we discussed the putting on of God’s armor and I expressed the belief that this “putting on” isn’t just a last minute “oh I better put on my armor” kind of thing. We must wear the armor as our everyday attire. Satan isn’t going to call you up and say, “Hey, I’m fixing to attack you. You need to go put your armor on.”

“Stand”, in this instruction, is a key word, repeated in verses 11, 13, and 14. The word comes from the Greek root “to stand”, meaning “to stand against”. It is a military term for holding on to a position that is under attack. It implies the courage to hold your ground because of your allegiance to King Jesus, even when others may be fleeing from the battle because the enemy seems so strong.

We rely on God’s strength and use his armor, but we must take the initiative to put on armor and stand firm in the battle because we love Jesus. It is not a matter of “letting go” and letting God”, where you are passive and God does it all. Nor is it a matter of gritting your teeth and doing it yourself, with occasional assistance from God. No. rather it is a blending of His power and our striving. As Paul puts it in Colossians 1:29, “To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.”

The armor that Paul uses is a graphic way of saying what he said in Romans 13:14, “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” In other words, Christ, Himself, is our armor. John 14:6 says He is the Truth, Ephesians 2:14 tells us He is our Peace, He is the perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), our salvation (Titus 3:5-6), and our sword, the Word of God, as told in John 1:1. He is our full armor, capable of protecting us from every onslaught of the devil. Putting on God armor means that in every trial and temptation, by faith you call upon Christ’s strength in place of your weakness. By faith you cry out to Him for deliverance, and strength to persevere.

Secondly, we stand firm against the enemy by growing in Biblical understanding. We do this in three ways.

Understand God’s full provision.
Paul wrote the first three chapters of Ephesians to set forth the necessary doctrinal foundat5ion of all that God has provided for us in Christ. Strong Christians must be doctrinally grounded in the truth of Scripture. Unless we know the Word well, as Jesus did when He

defeated Satan, we will not stand firm in the evil day.

Understand Satan’s schemes.
Paul states in 2Corinthians 2:11, “in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.” If we are ignorant of his schemes, Satan will take advantage of us. His schemes invariably use cunning and deception. He often works through secular culture, to carry us downstream with the prevailing ideas of the day. In our day, many Christians are deceived by the ideas of postmodernism, which asserts there are no absolute truths in the spiritual or moral realms. Satan launches repeated attacks on the credibility of Scripture, whether through evolution or by attacking the person of Christ. He uses discouragement, pride, selfishness, the love of money, lust, and many other traps to lure us away from our Lord. To stand firm, we must understand his schemes.

Understand where to stand firm and where to be tolerant of differences.
If Satan doesn’t get us through his scheme to going along with tolerant culture, he will try to push us the other way be making us intolerant of anyone who doesn’t totally agree with our every point of doctrine.
Standing firm against the schemes of the devil means that we stand firm on the core doctrines of our faith. We cannot budge on the Trinity, the person and work of Christ, Biblical salvation, or the inspiration and authority of Scripture. But the Scripture also tells us in Ephesians 4:2 to show tolerance for one another in love. The verse shows us that we will not always agree with each other on every point of doctrine or on every method of how to go about the Lord’s work. To stand firm, grow in understanding of where to do battle and where to tolerate differences.

Thus we stand firm by putting on the full armor of God, or as Paul also states it, but putting Christ. And we continue to wear that armor every day, growing in Biblical understanding.

And finally, we stand firm against the enemy with Biblical practice. In other words, we must put into practice what we believe. Test your armor by gaining some victories in real life situations. Resist temptation. Avoid Satan’s traps. Get out of your comfort zone and do something where you have to trust God to get you through. Hebrews 5:14 states, “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good form evil.” Or as James 1:22 says, “Do not merely listen to the Word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

I read about a missionary in the jungles of New Guinea, who wrote the following letter to his friends back home:

“Man, it is great to be in the thick of the fight, to draw the old devil’s heaviest guns, to have him at you with depression and discouragement, slander, disease. He doesn’t waste time on a lukewarm bunch. He hits good and hard when a fellow is hitting him. You can always measure the weight of your blow by the one you get back. When you’re on your back and fever and at your last ounce of strength, when some of your converts backslide, when you learn that your most promising inquirers are only fooling, when your mail gets held up, and some don’t bother to answer your letters, is that the time to put on mourning? No sir. That’s the time to pull out the stops and shout ‘Hallelujah!’ The old fellow’s getting it in the neck and hitting back. Heaven is leaning over the battlements and watching. ‘Will he stick with it?’ As the see who is with us, as they see the unlimited reserves, the boundless resources, as they see the impossibility of failure, how disgusted and sad they must be when we run away. Glory to God! We’re not going to run away. We are going to stand!”