Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand…Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints. —Ephesians:6:13, 16-18
And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. —Acts:2:42
What lies ahead, according to the Scriptures, regarding the increasing development of mysticism today has been addressed in the previous two articles presented in October and November. That’s one of the purposes of biblical prophecy: to have believers “take heed.” But being aware of what’s coming is only part of what God would have us know. There is also the “what we are to do” part. And the good news is that He enables us by His grace and His Holy Spirit.
How we go about our life in Christ is critical. Whether in peace or persecution, in poverty or prosperity, in sickness or in health, our condition cannot determine a response that keeps us from being fruitful, productive, and pleasing to the Lord. That certainly makes no sense to the world and, sadly, many Christians are confused by it. Yet that’s the gist of John:10:10: “I [Jesus] am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” How can persecution, poverty, and sickness equate with an abundant life? That doesn’t seem right, but perhaps one’s definition of “abundantly” inhibits a correct biblical understanding of the word.
If we’re thinking that the abundant life is one filled only with the physical pleasures and provisions of life to the suspension of things not so pleasant or seemingly favorable, we’ve misunderstood John:10:10, as well as other verses throughout Scripture. That erroneous mindset cannot reconcile the joy indicated in verses such as 2 Corinthians:7:4: “...I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation,” and 2 Corinthians:8:2: “How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.” Words such as “tribulation,” “trial of affliction,” and “deep poverty” seem at odds with “abundance” and may lead a person to a misunderstanding that could play havoc in a believer’s life in Christ.
Jesus said, “Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets” (Luke:6:22-23). The point of bringing these verses to our attention is because as we draw closer to the return of Jesus Christ, the obstacles, both physical and spiritual, will increase. Many of our brothers and sisters throughout the world are already undergoing horrendous persecution. Where that is limited, such as here in the West, spiritual deception and seduction are running rampant, thereby shipwrecking the faith of multitudes of believers. Ignorance of what the Scriptures teach is a major contributor to said conditions, but there are numerous verses that every biblical Christian needs to understand in order to successfully weather the trials and tribulations that will surely come.
The good news is that God has provided “abundantly” everything a true believer in Jesus needs in order to be fruitful in his or her life in Christ. The Apostle Peter wrote, “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue” (2 Peter:1:3). “All things” means all things, and therefore that must include spiritual protection in the days that Jesus characterized by declaring, “Take heed that no man deceives you,” and “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matthew:24:4, 24). Furthermore, the good news is that the biblical prevention program against being led astray by the cunning deceits of the Adversary is that it is neither complicated nor formidable. Here are the basic elements for preventing being deceived: the Word of God, prayer, and fellowship.
“All things” that the Lord has provided are empowered by the Holy Spirit and enabled through His grace. The preventative process against being spiritually duped isn’t complex, but it does demand a willing heart, a love of the truth, and the exercise of discipline. Avoiding being deceived or seduced by the apostasy must begin with the Word of God and our commitment to it, meaning a consistent reading of the Bible—daily. There is no better habit for the man, woman, and child of God. James gives the primary exhortation for that: “Submit yourselves therefore to God.” (James:4:7) That must include submitting ourselves to God’s instructions. Two things here: we can’t submit to instructions we haven’t read, and submission involves doing what God has instructed.
God’s Word has long been held as a Christian’s authority. Today, although many evangelicals profess that they do believe in the authority of Scripture in matters of faith and practice, in actuality they deny them in practice. A young man who was a local leader in promoting the Emerging Church Movement came in to see me one day. Previous to that, I was praying about how I could explain some things to him and perhaps help him to get back on track with God’s Word. As we were about to start our conversation, I said that I thought it would be very helpful if we acknowledged to what spiritual authority each of us was submitting. With my Bible squarely in front of him, I said, “This book is my authority. What’s your authority?” He looked around, and looked around, as though searching for a response, and then finally said, “My God is bigger than that book.” I wasn’t shocked by his answer because I’ve heard it a number of times. Nevertheless, I followed that by responding that he must therefore have other authorities, and who might they be in whom he was trusting in place of God? Needless to say, our “conversation” went nowhere worthwhile after that.
Most Christians tend to hang on to the belief in the authority of God’s Word, but functionally they bail out on it. That’s because they don’t really believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. That’s unfortunate. It’s also senseless. Why? Because anyone who claims to believe in the authority of God’s Word but denies its sufficiency means he doesn’t believe it has all the answers that it claims. Therefore, if a person feels he must go elsewhere for answers, he’s doing…what? He’s looking for another authority.
It should be obvious that not believing in the Bible’s sufficiency is a rejection of its authority. Again, the Bible makes it absolutely clear regarding its sufficiency. Second Timothy 3:16-17 proclaims: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” These expressions—“inspiration,” being “profitable,” giving “instruction” in order to grow in maturity, and being “furnished” (equipped) for every good work—certainly confirm sufficiency. Ephesians:2:10 spells out a major reason for God making His Word sufficient for every believer: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” And by “all things that pertain to life and godliness,” which we noted in Peter’s second epistle, Scripture is referring to all that is necessary to please God regarding things that have both temporal and eternal value. To what or to whom should a believer in Christ turn for that?
The daily habit of reading the Word of God, recognizing its sufficiency for our growth, maturity, fruitfulness—and then doing what it says by God’s enablement—is necessary for protection against spiritual deception. And that must be undergirded by prayer. “In every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” Philippians:4:6.
Hopefully, we all realize that when the verse says “every thing,” it means everything. A number of years ago when I was in England I was with a couple of believers, guys I hadn’t met before, but after spending a few days with them, I was stunned by their approach to what we were doing: they prayed about everything. Although I wasn’t used to their zeal for prayer, the way they went about it reflected it as a seamless part of their lives. They prayed at the day’s beginning, prior to a drive to a meeting, for the spiritual blessing of the meeting, thanking the Lord at meals, for those we met along the way, and on and on. I found myself singing phrases from the hymn What a Friend We Have in Jesus: All our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer. That experience with them got me both excited and re-invigorated about how important prayer is.
When I came out of the Roman Catholic Church and into a personal relationship with Jesus, it was difficult at first (on my part) to make that relationship truly personal. My early prayer life more closely reflected the rote prayers I practiced for decades when Jesus was hardly a “friend” to me—certainly far less so than His mother. As the evangelical church of late has become enamored with the Church of Rome, many are practicing contemplative prayer, which has been a historic part of Catholicism from the Desert Fathers to the modern-day promotions of mystic priests such as Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton. Although the claim is that contemplative prayer is more intimate and draws one closer to God, the reality is that it involves hundreds of vain repetitions of phrases and singular words, a process that is condemned in Scripture
(Matthew:6:7-8) and renders intelligent communication totally absurd.
Biblical prayer, on the other hand, consists of a believer’s personal communication with his Creator. Although fully God, Jesus is also fully Man. He demonstrated the intimate relationship we are to have with Him and with God the Father in numerous ways He drew away from the crowds in order to commune with His Father: “And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.” and at times He “continued all night in prayer” (Matthew:14:23; Luke:6:12). Prayer, according to the Scriptures, is set forth as an imperative for the believer. We are to pray “without ceasing,” “always,” “exceedingly,” “night and day,” regarding whatever conditions beset us. We are to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ (Romans:15:30), for our rulers, as well as for our enemies
(1 Timothy:2:1-2; Luke:6:27-28). The simple reason that biblical prayer is so important is that we cannot do anything that has eternal value except by God’s grace, and that is mostly received through prayer.
Specific to spiritual protection we are exhorted to pray “always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (Ephesians:6:18). The Apostle Paul asked for prayer “that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men”…declaring that “the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil” (2 Thessalonians:3:1-3). Moreover, and better yet, we have Jesus, who prayed for Peter that his faith would not fail (Luke:22:32), and who now is at the right hand of the Father making “intercession for the saints” (Romans:8:27, 34).
Another necessary element in regard to preventing being seduced or deceived by the increasing apostasy may be the most difficult one to satisfy or maintain. It has to do with fellowship. Scripture declares “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes:4:9-12).
Those verses give simple insight regarding how we should go about dealing with these troubling times that aggressively oppose the Bible’s instructions for living our lives in a way that is pleasing to the Lord. Fellowship with like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ is a major part of the Lord’s instructions, given for our protection, strengthening, and fruitfulness. Ecclesiastes implies that those who disdain fellowship have put themselves into a weak and vulnerable position: “Two are better than one…. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.” A believer who has no one to support him spiritually will find himself in trouble sooner or later. When any of us gets knocked down spiritually, we need a fellow believer to help us up—mentally, emotionally, and, most important, spiritually. As for those who declare, “The Lord is all we need,” too often, their subsequent thinking is out of line with God’s Word. Jesus said in Luke:6:46, “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” We as believers need to “circle our wagons” now and in the days ahead. Our best option is in a church fellowship, supporting the leadership that is steadfast and staying the course of God’s Word, and especially—serving the body. When that isn’t an option, we must ask the Lord to help us to find another committed believer or believers with whom we may have a Bible study, with whom we can pray, with whom we might minister to one another, encourage one another, and with whom we can gather together for doctrinal discernment and spiritual fortification. “And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” First and foremost, that third strand must be the Lion of Judah, the Lamb of God, our Lord and Savior Jesus himself.
In summary, the Word of God, prayer, and fellowship are the biblical keys empowered by God’s grace for a believer’s spiritual protection. By His grace, may we be motivated to make these a priority as we see the spiritual darkness overtake the world around us.