Friday, November 03, 2006

Sad Tidings of Spiritual Warfare

The continuing revelations in the Ted Haggard case are just incredibly sad. Some want to respond with profound judgment: one comment poster on a blog, who said, "Ted Haggard needs harsh judgement [sic] and harsh consequenses that will humble and restore. He does not need to be coddled and felt sorry for. He needs to set an example of where Christians say 'See this? This is wrong!' I'm frustrated with the touch-feely responses of evangelicals sometimes. Sin is sin. And the wages of sin is death." Of course, no one is excusing or minimizing the immense damage that Haggard's sin has done to the Gospel, the church, or his family. But sometimes even those who are Christians, even pastors, sin in ways that are death-dealing. At that moment, sin must be named, confessed, and repented of; but the harsh, penal aspects even of those sins have already been borne by Christ. After all, isn't the good news of the Gospel that though the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord? And don't we receive that gift through repentant faith, a gift granted by the Spirit?

Others suggest that this case represented a reflection of Haggard's message, which contained "a palpable absence of the Gospel...lots of feel-good worship and moralistic exhortation to lead a good life, but little in the way of a biblical message of repentance for sin and grace in Christ." Of course, this may ignore the fact that even in those churches where the Gospel is truly preached (such as PCA churches), pastors can fall into similar or even more heinous sins. We must all take heed lest we fall; and if we think that somehow we are protected or exempted because "we have the Gospel right," then we are in a dangerous, spiritual place. We don't stand because we are somehow better than others; rather, we stand by the grace of our God [note: I know that the person from whom I've quoted would agree with this as well].

I think it is truer to say that this is yet another example of the real, profound spiritual warfare in which all Christians are engaged. It is why Peter tells us, "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devor. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world" (1 Peter 5:8-9). Apollyon would like nothing better than to take out pastors and Christian leaders; as John Bunyan has him saying in Pilgrim's Progress, "I am an enemy to this Prince; I hate his person, his laws, and people: I am come out on purpose to withstand thee." And because our enemy hates our Prince, the Lord Jesus, he hates us and seeks to destroy us.

Our hope is not in our own ability to stand firm. Rather, our hope is in the Divine Warrior who defeated the devil and all his cosmic powers at the Cross and the Empty Tomb. It is this Divine Warrior who grants us all the benefits of his mediation that enables us to stand firm--faith, peace, righteousness, salvation--and grants us all prayer and his Word in the moment of trial (Ephesians 6:10-18). Though any of us can fall into the similar sins as Haggard when faced with similar temptation and attack, God is able to preserve us for he has triumphed already through Jesus Christ; he has defeated our archenemy; and he will display that victory to the entire world at the Last Day. Until then, we trust in him who is our mighty fortress from the devil's attacks.

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