Grace and peace, saints.
Many of you may remember the movie, “The Untouchables,” starring Kevin Costner, Robert DeNiro, Sean Connery, and Anthony Garcia. Lightly based on historical characters and events, the movie centers on the activities of Treasury agent Elliot Ness (Costner) and his crusade to bring down the notorious gangster, Al Capone (DeNiro) and put an end to his reign of crime in Prohibition-era Chicago during a time that has come to be known as the “Roaring 20’s.”
One of the things I most enjoyed about the movie was the interaction between Ness and Malone (Connery), a tough, hard-nosed Irish-American veteran beat cop, who was Ness’ first recruit onto his crime-fighting squad. Before committing himself to Ness’ cause, Malone asks him what he is prepared to do to get Capone. When Ness replies that he is prepared to do “everything within the law,” Malone says, “And then, what are you prepared to do?” Giving Ness a graphic, but sobering depiction of the “Chicago way” of dealing with an enemy, Malone explains that if Ness is going to take on Capone, he had better be prepared to go all the way, because Capone and his cronies would not stop until either he or Ness was dead.
Satisfied of both his and Ness’ commitment to the cause, Malone takes Ness and the rest of the group to the post office across the street from police headquarters. Stopping in front of the building, Ness asks Malone why they had come there.
“Liquor raid,” answers Malone.
“Here?” Ness remarks incredulously.
“Mr. Ness,” says Malone, “Everybody knows where the booze is. The problem isn’t finding it, the problem is who wants to cross Capone.”
The men then enter the building and proceed to a nondescript door. Looking intently at Ness, Malone says, “If you walk through this door now, you’re walking into a world of trouble, and there’s no turning back. Do you understand?” “Yes, I do,” answers Ness, undaunted. And thus begins the war on crime.
You and I, as Christians, have a lot in common with Elliot Ness. We, too, are soldiers of righteousness involved in a very dirty war the magnitude of which we did not fully appreciate until long after we had laced up our boots, strapped on our sword, cinched down our helmet, and stepped onto the battlefield. Unlike Ness, however, most of us didn’t have the benefit of a seasoned and wise veteran soldier to prepare us for what we were going to face when we took on this fight. No one taught us “the Jesus Way” of spiritual warfare.
But the Lord Jesus has nonetheless called us to battle. There is a job to be done, and we have been chosen to do it. And just like in the Untouchables, we Christians all know where the “stuff” is. The problem is not finding the enemy’s operation (because he operates everywhere): the problem is who wants to take on Satan.
What then, do we who have taken up the cross of Christ do when we are already in the fight, but have realized that the task is greater than we are?
1. We must always remember that this is a spiritual war.
The Bible says,
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after (according to) the flesh; because the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:3)
“Mighty through God” means that we do not war in our own strength, but by the power and authority of God Almighty. And as God is a spirit (John 4:24), so are our weapons spiritual. Of all the battle gear mentioned in Ephesians 6, only one is offensive; and that is the “sword of the Spirit [the Bible], which is the Word of God.” We must also remember that our war is not with people. Our focus must never be, therefore, on people, as they are merely pawns in the game. The Christian has bigger fish to fry. The Bible says,
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
2. We must fight on God’s terms, not on Satan’s.
I can tell you from personal experience that Satan is constantly trying to get the Christian to fight on his terms and to forget the guidelines God has given us. One way he accomplishes this is to try to get us to make this battle personal. When we make the battle personal, we bring our own personal feelings into the fight, and, before we know it, we are doing the same things the enemy does. This is not good. The Bible says that we should not “recompense evil for evil” (Romans 12:17). We cannot, therefore, allow ourselves to be beguiled into using Satan’s tactics against him. That is one of his favorite devices. If Satan succeeds in getting us to fight like him, then it is just a matter of time before we go over to “the dark side.”
3. We must remember that the fight is God’s and not ours.
The battle is not ours to win or lose. The battle belongs to the Lord Jesus, and He won it on the cross at Calvary when He said, “It is finished.” All we have to do to win this war is stay in prayer, stay faithful, stay obedient to God’s Word, and stay in the fight.
4. We must not fear
“In God have I placed my trust; I will not be afraid what man shall do unto me.” (Psalm 56:11)
Humans are taught nothing but fear from our earliest years, and most of that instruction has come to us via the media. If you haven’t noticed by now, the media is all about teaching us how to be afraid. Babies are not born afraid of the dark: why then, are so many children afraid of the dark? Where did they learn that? Answer: TV. Babies are not born afraid of insects, and most parents don’t teach their children (directly) to be afraid of insects. Why then, are so many children afraid of spiders? Answer: TV. Babies are not afraid of animals. (If you’ve ever seen a toddler walk up to a big, ferocious dog to try to pet it, then you know this is true.) Why, then, are so many children afraid of dogs? Answer: TV. And babies are not born afraid of imaginary creatures like monsters, gremlins and leprechauns, and most parents don’t directly teach such fears to their children. Where, then, did children learn to be afraid of “monsters under the bed?” Uh-huh, Teee Veee.
And besides those fears, all of us have been programmed from early childhood to fear death (Consider the cartoons “Bambi,” “Finding Nemo,” and “The Lion King”). It is the fear of death that remains strongest with us when we graduate to adulthood. It is understandable, therefore that we would be fearful, because all that we have ever learned is fear. Jesus understands this. Jesus knew that fear would be Satan’s greatest weapon against Christians, and it is for this reason that He preached on fear. He knows that the fear programming has been so well inculcated into our subconscious that most of us need supernatural help to overcome it.
5. We must be strong, and of a good courage.
“Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law…turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.” (Joshua 1:7)
6. We must ask ourselves, “What are you prepared to lose?”
Malone asked Ness what he was prepared to do, which was a fitting question, as the movie portrayed Ness as a very clean, moral and upright man involved in the very dirty business of cleaning up crime in Chicago, arguably one of the most crime-infested and corrupt cities in America’s history.
Malone knew that if Ness were serious about bringing down Capone, then at some point he would have to cross the line between “good” and “bad,” because Capone lived and moved on the south side of that line. To get to Capone, Ness would have to be prepared to do anything, including fighting as dirty as Capone. And he would not have the luxury of time to reckon out the moral details.
Christians, however, are not called to do everything in our power (including break the law) to win this war. We are instead asked to do everything in God’s power to win. Rather than ask “What are you prepared to do?” then, the question every Christian should ask himself is “What are you prepared to lose?”
While the fear of taking action immobilizes most people, it is the fear of loss that keeps Christians from springing into action. It is the fear of losing friends, family, wives, husbands, jobs, prestige, reputation, and even our very lives that causes inertia in most of us and keeps us from doing what we know needs to be done. The Lord Jesus knew full well how difficult it would be for many of us to not only make a decision for Him, but to live fearlessly for the Gospel after we did. This is why he said that whoever is afraid to lose husbands, wives and siblings for His sake is not worthy of Him.
Jesus set the example of what our attitude should be towards our unsaved family and friends when, while in the house of one disciple, it was told Him that his mother and siblings (who were not yet believers) were waiting outside to see Him. Jesus said, “Who is my mother and my brethren?” And, looking round about upon those who sat with Him, He said, “Behold my mother and my brethren. For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.” (Mark 3:32-35).
We should not fear the loss of those dearest to us, because to do so would be to care more for their friendship than for their souls. And if we are so afraid of losing them that we won’t give them the Gospel of eternal life, do we really love them?
The Apostle Paul knew plenty about loss. Paul lost everything he had for the Gospel of Jesus Christ; but he didn’t mourn the loss of those things, counting his relationship with the Lord Jesus far more valuable:
“Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss [I‚am willing to lose everything] for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Philippians 3:8).
These are very strong words from the Apostle; for dung is excrement—solid human or animal waste—and Paul compares the things he has lost for the Gospel to dung. To say what Paul said in today’s English would be to say something along the lines of: “Those things I have lost don’t mean $@#!to me compared to what I have gained in Christ Jesus.” Amen, and amen!
We would all do well to adopt this attitude, because one way Satan loves to frighten the Christian into inertia is by constantly reminding him of what he could lose by witnessing to the unsaved or by standing for God’s righteousness and holiness by taking a stand against false doctrine and heresy in the church.
When we put what we could lose before the Truth, we put what we want before what God wants, our will before His will; and, in so doing, we disregard God’s admonition for us to “Love not the world, nor the things that are in this world” (1 John 2:18). God doesn’t want us to covet the things that the world covets, because the world’s priorities are inconsistent with God’s priorities and are earthy, sensual and ephemeral. Worldly cares are a snare to the Christian soldier, and his love of worldly things and his unwillingness to lose them will keep him from getting busy for the Lord.
The loss of our lives is probably what most Christians fear; and, again, the media plays a great role in that. It is a good thing, for example, that those of us in the West can follow on the Internet what is happening to the Persecuted Church in parts of the world that are most hostile to the Gospel. I have read very few, if any, news stories that focused on the victims’ testimonies before they were martyred. In my view, unless the media covers a martyr’s testimony, the Lord Jesus isn’t fully glorified. For this reason I believe that many stories of martyrdom are deliberately crafted more for their “shock and horror” value than for their ability to give hope to the body of Christ. And a martyr’s death should always give hope to and encourage the living.
Jesus was full away that the Church would be faced with this type of fear, which is why He said,
“Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:13)
This important teaching is not often preached in today’s weak, politically correct “Church,” because it is considered too gloom and doom. (That ought to give you some idea who is responsible for keeping this teaching out of the pulpit.) If your pastor isn’t teaching this, don’t blame him; blame yourself. You should ask him why he hasn’t taught it and insist that he does.
While I don’t believe all Christians are called to lose everything, history is clear that some are. We would do well, therefore, to prepare our hearts for such a possibility and ask ourselves today if we are willing to suffer the loss of all things, including our lives, for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So, what are you prepared to lose?
Be encouraged and look up; for your redemption draweth nigh.