Monday, 16 May 2011

Wars against the soul

There is a war going on.
In Blackbirch Woods, Willis has already surrendered and lost a battle with the night people. Will Violet be able to stand before them herself? Violet undergoes a different struggle—against the temptation to give in to the darkness and forgetfulness that seems to be drawing her in. Where will she find strength to withstand the inner and outer battles?
In our daily walk, we also face inner enemies—shame, selfishness, envy, self-pity, worry—and outer enemies, both worldly and supernatural. I wanted to write about how we can fight and win the wars against our soul. That is the implicit message in Blackbirch Woods. This article addresses the inner warfare, which takes place on the battleground of the heart.
“He shut his eyes and struggled for a while; but resistance became unbearable, and at last he slowly drew out the chain, and slipped the Ring on the forefinger of his left hand.
“Immediately, though everything else remained as before, dim and dark, the shapes became terribly clear. He was able to see beneath their black wrappings. There were five tall figures: two standing at the lip of the dell, three advancing. In their white faces burned keen and merciless eyes; under their mantles were long grey robes; upon their grey hairs were helms of silver; in their haggard hands were swords of steel. Their eyes fell on him and pierced him, as they rushed towards him. Desperate, he drew his own sword, and it seemed to him that it flickered red, as if it was a firebrand. Two of the figures halted. The third was taller than the others: his hair was long and gleaming and on his helm was a crown. In one hand he held a long sword, and in the other a knife; both the knife and the hand that held it glowed with a pale light. He sprang forward and bore down on Frodo.
“At that moment Frodo threw himself forward on the ground, and he heard himself crying aloud: O Elbereth! Gilthoniel! At the same time he struck at the feet of his enemy. A shrill cry rang out in the night; and he felt a pain like a dart of poisoned ice pierce his left shoulder. Even as he swooned he caught, as through a swirling mist, a glimpse of Strider leaping out of the darkness with a flaming brand of wood in either hand. With a last effort Frodo, dropping his sword, slipped the Ring from his finger and closed his right hand tight upon it.”The Fellowship of the Ring
Like Frodo, we too are on a purposeful journey through this world. We are vulnerable on this journey to strong desires within us that would cause us to stumble on our way, just as Frodo had always to fight the desire to use the Ring of Power. Like Frodo we are hounded by enemies, spiritual beings under the control of The Enemy; but the real war is won or lost in our soul. 
On our travels through this world sometimes resistance will be unbearable, we will need to pull ourselves away from some things which we will desire to the point of heartbreak, but which are destructive to our spiritual condition. In Blackbirch Woods, Violet resists the night people, although their  beauty and power were almost irresistible. Peter, irrepressible disciple of Jesus, warns of this in his first epistle when he pleads with us: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” (1 Peter 2.11)
Peter begins his plea by appealing to the relationship that believers have with Christ: “Beloved”, he says. It is to be a pure relationship. In 2 Cor. 11.2,3 Paul says: “ I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. For I promised you as a pure bride to one husband, Christ. But I fear that somehow you will be led away from your pure and simple devotion to Christ.” A bride has no business getting involved with other men. Jesus wants a relationship with us in which He comes before other loyalties. It was the strength of Violet’s commitment to Willis that helped her hang on when she no longer wanted to refuse.
Then the Holy Spirit through Peter says, “I urge you.” The original Greek word indicates, “I exhort, beseech, beg you, please;” when the God of all creation begs us, we better listen up!
I urge you as sojourners and pilgrims”- pilgrim means literally “to settle down among pagans.” Peter here describes our journey through this world as a journey of outsiders, just passing through, for we do not belong here. It is an unfriendly country to our souls, and our enemy lives here.
But we belong to Christ, who urges us on as we sojourn in this world, that we may win the war within.
Abstain from fleshly lustsAbstain” means to pull ourselves away from, to hold ourselves constantly back from. Sin has a pull on us, whether it be the desire for power, possessions, pleasure.
Whatever the fleshly lust is that has a hold on us, that hold is vividly described in erotic terms:
 James 1.14,15- “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed, then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin when it is full grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father…”
We must tear ourselves away from the seduction of sin, or the outcome may be spiritual death.
In Proverbs 9.16b-18- “…she says to him, ‘Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.’ But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.” Sinful pleasures are sweet poison. We often think of sin in terms of, how far can I go before it’s sin? How much spit can be in a bottle of spring water before we consider it to be impure? What is the very first, tiny step down the road to giving in? Eve didn’t bite, at first; she looked at the fruit, listened to the serpent, thought about it, then bit. We need to stay away from that first sip of stolen water.
Fleshly lusts” implies strong cravings or desires. Again, Peter, and the Holy Spirit who inspired him, understands how strong the pull of pleasure is. “Stolen water is sweet.” But “fleshly lusts” are strong desires that originate from our sin nature, our old man. We may think that relief will be found by giving in, but sin has a way of biting back- just as Frodo gave in and slipped on the Ring of Power, only to feel the bite of an icy Mordor blade. “Sin when it is full grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved [sistren].”
We have to be able to resist the seductive sweetness of sin, recognizing that its end is bitter regret and spiritual death. We must resist that which wars against our soul.
 Which war against the soul” could be paraphrased, “hurls itself down on our soul,” an act of military aggression. James 4:1 warns us “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure, that war in your members?.” Like the Witch-King who bore down on Frodo, lust crouches in wait to hurl itself down on our soul, and we cannot afford to be unaware of it.
How will we fight this war?
  •  If you love chocolate, artificial chocolate just doesn’t cut it. If you know the real thing, it is harder to fall for a counterfeit. You and I are the Beloved of God.  If we strengthen our relationship with Him at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore, then we will be less drawn into fleeting, sinful pleasures. Purity will have a sweeter taste to us than stolen waters. (The problem with stolen waters is that usually, someone else has already tasted it.) In 1 Thess. 4.13, Paul says “that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God.” Jesus desires to have a pure and intimate fellowship with us. He says, (Song 2.10) “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.” He desires to give His Beloved pleasures that do not end in bitterness. In the end it was the strength of Frodo’s relationship with Sam that got him up the slopes of Mount Doom, where his own strength finally gave out. We need a friendship with God that will get us up the dark mountains when our own strength fails.
  • Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt. 26.41) Recognizing that we are weak and vulnerable and in need of prayer for divine assistance is the first step. We have not, because we ask not. Are we asking God for the wisdom and the strength not to enter into temptation? Or the courage to turn back if we have fallen into sin? Psalm 34.4 “I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.” He is our Refuge and our Deliverer. Even Frodo did not make his grueling journey on his own. He relied on those stronger than himself. He cried out for supernatural help when he was in trouble. Jesus urges us on our way, because He knows we are weak.
  • A pilgrim is never at ease, but is always on his or her guard. Prov. 4.23- “Guard your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the issues of life.” Guarding my heart might mean finding accountability with a trusted friend or mentor, memorizing appropriate Scripture. Likewise Frodo did not go it alone, and he recognized early on the peril of attempting to use the Ring, and reminded himself when he was tempted.
  •  If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” (Matthew 5:29,30) We may find it necessary for our souls, to get rid of things in our life that we really like, that seem very important, that we can’t live without! Am I staying away from places or situations where, or even people with whom, I am tempted? Am I taking every thought captive, so that there are places I don’t go in my mind, things I don’t let myself talk about? Am I spiritually sensitive to things that would lead me off the path into danger, as Gollum led Frodo into the spider’s lair?
To pull ourselves away from sinful pleasures can be a hard choice. C. S. Lewis wrote that “every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a Heaven creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself.” It is our secret choices that win or lose this war against the soul.
Let me give you Wuest’s expanded translation of this verse: “Divinely loved ones, I beg of you, please, as those who are sojourning alongside of a foreign population, be constantly holding yourselves back from the fleshly cravings, cravings of such a nature that, like an army carrying on a military campaign, they are waging war, hurling themselves down upon your soul.”
We do not belong to ourselves, and we do not really belong here. We are passing through enemy territory on our way to an eternity with Christ. On our journey through, we need to be strong and resist strong temptations. Giving in will only make us weaker and completing the journey harder. We need to pray, to guard our hearts, to stay off the paths that lead to Sheol, and to strengthen our relationship with the true and living God. Just as the fate of many hung on Frodo’s completing his quest, Peter says that because of what they see in us, Gentiles will become the people of God (vs. 10), and glorify Him. Then our quest will also be accomplished.

The Holy Bible, New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982
Wuest, Kenneth S. Wuest’s Word Studies From the Greek New Testament For the
English Reader. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973. 58-61.
Tolkien, J. R. R.  The Fellowship of the Ring. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1954. 208. 
The Ultimate Bible Reference Library. Nashville: Nelson, 2002.
Alcorn, Randy. The Purity Principle. Sisters: Multnomah, 2003.
Lewis, C. S. The Joyful Christian. New York: MacMillan, 1977.

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