In his celebrated book, Holiness, J.C. Ryle writes with his customary vigour about the Christian fight. He takes as his text 1 Timothy 6:12 – “Fight the good fight of faith.”
What follows is a summary.
Many are fascinated by warfare and fighting. But there is a warfare that is as real as any human battle, and of far greater importance. It is waged by every Christian man and woman who ever entered the world.
True Christianity is a fight
Of course, those who are Christians in name only know nothing of this fight. But the true Christian is called to be a soldier.
He must fight the flesh. Even after conversion he is prone to evil. There is need of a daily struggle, and of a wrestling in prayer. Mark 14:38; 1 Cor 9:27; Rom 7:23f; Gal 5:24; Col 3:5.
He must fight the world. The love of the world’s good things, the fear of the world’s disapproval, the temptation to adopt the ways of the world, are spiritual foes that must be fought and conquered. James 4:4; 1 Jn 2:15; Gal 6:14; 1 Jn 5:4; Rom 7:2.
He must fight the devil. That old enemy still prowls the world. He seeks to lead us into superstition or infidelity. Job 1:7; 1 Pet 5:8; Jn 8:44; Lk 22:31; Eph 6:11.
We will do well to hearken to Scripture by taking our enemy seriously, 1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 2:3; Eph 6:11-13; Lk 13:24; Jn 6:12; Mt 10:34; Lk 22:36; 1 Cor 16:13; 1 Tim 1:18f.
True Christianity, then, is a struggle, a fight, and a warfare. To think that all we need to do is to passively ‘yield ourselves to God’ is unscriptural, and a great mistake.
It is a fight of absolute necessity. ‘To be at peace with the world, the flesh and the devil, is to be at enmity with God, and in the broad way that leadeth to destruction.’
It is a fight of universal necessity. None can escape the battle. ‘All have bu nature a heart full of pride, unbelief, sloth, worldliness, and sin. All are lving in a world beset with snares, traps, and pitfalls for the soul. All have near them a busy, restless, malicious devil.’
It is a fight of perpetual necessity. There is no time for rest, no armistice, no truce. @On week-days as well as on Sundays – in private as well as in public – at home by the family fireside as well as abroad – in little things like management of tongue and temper, as well as in great ones like the government of kingdoms – the Christ’s warfare must unceasingly go on. The foe we have to do with keeps no holidays, never slumbers, and never sleeps. So long as we have breath n our bodies we must keep on our armour, and remember we are on an enemy’s ground.’
‘The saddest symptom about many so-called Christians is the utter absence of anything like conflict and fight in their Christianity. They eat, they drink, they dress, they work, they amuse themselves, they get money, they spend money, they go through a scanty round of formal religious services once or twice a week. But the great spiritual warfare – its watchings and strugglings, its agonies and anxieties, its battles and contests – of all this they appear to know nothing at all.’
But we may take comfort, if we know something of inward fight and conflict. It is not everything, but it is something.
True Christianity is the fight of faith
The Christian soldier has a general faith in the truth of God’s written word. This is the primary foundation of the Christian soldier’s character. ‘A religion without doctrine or dogma is a thing which many are fond of talking about in the present day. It sounds very fine at first. It looks very pretty at a distance. But the moment we sit down to examine and consider it, we shall find it a simply impossibility. We might as well talk of a body without bones and sinews.’
We must know, not only who and what we fight against, but also who and what we fight for.
The Christian soldier has a special faith in the person, work and office of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the life and heart of the Christian soldier’s character. He sees and receives by faith Christ as Saviour, and willingly does battle against the enemy of his soul, knowing himself to be more than conqueror through him that loved us, Rom 8:37.
The Christian soldier has faith in Christ’s presence and readiness to help. This is the secret of success in the Christian fight. To be sure, faith waxes and wanes, and the more securely the shield of faith can be worn the happier and more successful the soldier will be in battle. This is borne out by Scripture (Heb 11:2-27), and by Christian history in the days of the apostles, the Reformers, and the great revival leaders.
True Christianity is a good fight
It is good because it is fought under the best of generals. Christ perfect in wisdom, love, and power. He never fails to lead his soldiers to victory. He cares for each of them, from the greatest to the least.
It is good because it is fought with the best of helps. We as we are, the Holy Spirit dwells in us. The Spirit teaches, leads, guides and directs us. The Father guards us. The Son intercedes for us.
It is good because it is fought with the best of promises. God’s promises to his soldiers are sure. Rom 6:14; 8:38; 16:20; Phil 1:6; Isa 43:2; Jn 6:37; 10:28; Heb 13:5.
It is good because it is fought with the best of issues and results. We are ‘more than conquerors through him who loved us, Rom 8:37. No soldier of Christ is ever left dead on the battle-field. Jn 18:9.
It is good, because it does good to the soul of the one who fights. Other wars have a degrading effect. But Christian warfare promotes humility and charity, it lessens selfishness and worldliness.
It is good, because it does good to the world. All other wars have a devastating effect. But Christian soldiers bring blessing. They raise standards of health and happiness.
It is good, because it ends in a glorious reward for those who fight it. A grateful country can give medals, pensions, honours and titles to her successful warriors. They can only last for the duration of this life. The wages that Christ will pay his faithful people are incalculable. They will last for ever. 1 Pet 5:4.
You may be struggling hard for the rewards of this world. Take care. You are fighting the wrong battle. It will lead to bitter disappointment. Do not be enslaved by this world. Rise up and fight. Enlist in Christ’s army. Fight on, despite fatigue and setbacks.
You may know something of the Christian warfare. Put on the Christian armour. ‘In heaven we shall appear, not in armour, but in robes of glory. But here our arms are to be worn night and day. We must walk, work, sleep in them, or else we are not true soldiers of Christ’ (Gurnall). 2 Tim 2:4. Some have seemed good soldiers for a while, but turned back from the heat of battle. Let us remember that the eye of our loving Saviour is upon us. He was guide us, and guard us. Let us remember that thousands of soldiers have fought before us. Let us remember that the time is short, and the coming of the Lord draws nigh: a few more battles, and the end will be in sight. Rev 21:7.
Based on Holiness (James Clarke edition), 51-67.