The Danger from Within – Part 5

We’ve been slowly working our way through a study on spiritual warfare from a bit of a different perspective. Rather than emphasizing a battle with demons as in some charismatic denominations, and rather than focus on politically liberal opposition with memes and snark, let alone physical warfare with opposing religions, we have been looking at spiritual warfare from an inside out perspective. We began by observing that God is sovereign over all things, including Satan. In establishing this, we noted that this inherently means Satan is not God’s rival as the dualists teach, rather he is a created being and therefore a subordinate. God ultimately has control over Satan, who must in turn seek permission before beginning his assaults (as with both Job and Peter). This comforting assurance then led us to examine how Satan initiates his warfare on believers which we concluded happens by means of temptation and deception. The first method, temptation, has no power in and of itself apart from combining with our own internal desires (James 1:13-15). This revealed that the primary area of emphasis, at least initially, should be internal, with our own sinful desires from the heart. Next, keeping with our newly established theme of the danger from within, we turned to Satan’s second method, namely deception. With this we saw how Scripture repeatedly warns about the deception of false prophets and teachers infiltrating among believers. The danger of course is not the obvious teaching that is at odds with Christ, rather the danger is the teaching that comes within and pretends to be in agreement with Christ. Finally, in our latest post we examined a second dangerous deception that comes from within, that of false believers, commonly referred to as Christians in Name Only, in other words nominal Christians. These do not only great harm to individuals as we saw with Alexander and Paul, to whole bodies of believers as we mentioned with the recent decimation of entire denominations, ministries, individual churches, but they do great harm to the name of Christ, effectively taking the name of the Lord in vain.

Having now surveyed the battlefield and the opposition, in this post we want to begin looking at the Scriptural response to each, beginning where we left off with the threat of deception through false believers. In beginning here, we need to apply the warnings of Scripture on the dangers of a false profession to ourselves first. Effectively, we are using the principle of taking the log out of our own eye first so that we can see clearly to take the spec out of our neighbor’s eye (Matthew 7:3-4). It makes little difference about whether we are surrounded with an infiltration of false believers if we ourselves are counted among them.

The warnings that Scripture provides are indeed directed to the reader. For example, Paul in writing his second (third) letter to the Corinthians, near the conclusion adds, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test.” (2 Corinthians 13:5-6) We ought to observe that Paul not only presses the exhortation of self-examination upon his hearers but applies it to himself as well. This is our call also, to examine ourselves for the genuineness of our faith and ensure that Christ is in us. In reality, though we are to live with assurance, we ought to regularly test ourselves to avoid over-confidence leading to a false assurance. As we have seen in the warnings from our Lord in Matthew a test begins with the presence of fruit. This fruit would include those listed in Galatians 5:22-23 described as fruits of the Spirit, but would also include growing in knowledge of God, love of God, and love for others, among other things as we will see.

While there are a number of warning passages exhorting those who profess faith in Christ to examine themselves in the light of Scripture, there are two entire books written around this very subject. The first is the book of Hebrews, which exalts the priesthood of Christ and the superiority of His New Covenant over the Old Covenant all structured around five warning passages. The second is the first epistle of John, a circular letter meant to be passed around to the churches in the region of Ephesus. John applies three primary tests for a genuine profession of faith, partly mentioned above: knowledge of God, growing in holiness, and showing love for the brethren.

Again, we are doing this for the purpose of understanding spiritual warfare. If we do not consider that the war begins within us, with our very souls, then we will be found fighting an enemy who we will be standing alongside of in the final judgment. How stark is the warning from our Lord in John 16:2 for those who think they are doing a work of God in killing His disciples. Was this not the case of Saul prior to his conversion, who was so zealous for God’s law that he approved the murder of genuine believers? There is a middle-ground and it is called deception. Therefore, it is critically important, indeed eternally so, to begin with a self-examination in the light of Scripture.

Without rehashing all the previous posts on the book of Hebrews (you can find them here; Warnings), I want to briefly introduce the warning passages and discuss how they apply to the lives of professing believers. The warning passages generally occur in Hebrews 2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:11-6:20; 10:19-39; and 12:4-29. The first is primarily a warning against neglecting salvation. This is a good entry point in the process of self-examination. If we recall from our earlier post on the parable of the soils, neglect comes by way of failing to tend to the heart’s garden into which weeds, i.e. worldliness, springs up and overtakes the seed that was planted before it has time to produce fruit. The counter war strategy to neglect is diligence, keeping one’s eyes fixed on Jesus, and holding fast with hope to the confidence of salvation found in Him.

Second, we find a warning against a heart of unbelief that is hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. In other words, by failing to properly tend to the heart’s garden, using our illustration again, the influx of sin can actually harden the heart. The counter attack to this danger is taking care through discernment, daily exhortation with other believers, striving to enter God’s rest, in other words putting forth effort, and finally drawing near to the throne of grace in our time of need. Third, we are warned against becoming dull of hearing, specifically as to the gospel of Christ and His mediatorial priesthood. Do we know about Him? Do we care to know? Are we desiring to know more and have our affections ever turned towards Him? Or have we grown dull of hearing it, thinking it’s the same old boring gospel and we know it all anyway, therefore closing off our ears off to instruction? In order to head off this danger we must rehearse and revisit the gospel underpinnings of our salvation ensuring that we are making progress in our knowledge of God and daily living as we hold fast to the hope of salvation that comes in Christ.

Following the structure of Hebrews, fourth we have the danger of deliberately sinning and fifth the ultimate danger of rejecting Christ. These two warnings somewhat blend together as perhaps might be expected with two of this magnitude. Here there are several of the strategies to fight against these dangers of false assurance and a false profession, leading ultimately to apostasy, and they have been brought forward from earlier in the book. The final counterattack is to draw near unto Christ, hold fast to Him, and persevere in faith and obedience as we run the race of life.

Have we neglected our salvation, become unbelieving by the deception of sin or dull of hearing, deliberately sinning with no regard for the Christ who died, ultimately resulting in rejecting the salvation that He has freely offered through His propitiatory death? These are the warnings of Hebrews that form an examination of the soul guarding against any presumption of a false profession of faith. They ought to be returned to frequently as though they were a boot camp for battle.

Finally, and briefly, let’s turn to 1 John and the structure of spiritual examination that it contains, as we alluded to earlier. This letter is written in the form of a spiral, meaning that as a topic or theme is introduced it may not be developed fully until later when the author returns to it. Unlike Pauline letters that have more a linear flow, John circles the wagons so to speak. The first spiritual fitness test that he presents is knowledge of God (1 John 1:6-7). More than just knowing facts about God, knowledge of God is relational as one would know a spouse or relative. It is most often expressed in terms of fellowship, the familiar Greek word koinonia. Fellowship with God is foundational to the Christian life in Christ, apart from which there is no genuine faith. Second, growth in holiness, 1 John 3:4-10.  A practice of sinning is incompatible with a practice of righteousness, or growth in holiness. The final test of a genuine Christ follower is love for other believers. (1 John 2:9-11) Just as genuine fellowship with God in Christ is itself evidenced in obedience, growing in holiness, so too does it display itself in love for the brethren. A union with God in Christ through faith alone that manifests in fellowship with God, internally through increased holiness and externally in love for the brethren are definitive tests of saving faith.

Scripture is replete with tests, warnings, and exhortations for genuine salvation. The first and most important step in anything possibly related to spiritual warfare is to ensure that you know which side of the war you are on. In other words, that your confession of Christ as Savior is a genuine profession. What a tragedy it is today to see so many claiming to be partaking in a spiritual war of good vs. evil, by which they mean conservative vs. liberal, while having no genuine standing before Christ. Zealous without knowledge of God. Thinking they are serving God but are actually servants of Satan. By holding up God’s Word before your face like a mirror and applying the scriptural examinations to your own heart it not only provides clarity for one’s spiritual condition, but also provides guardrails for your life in Christ. That is their purpose. In doing so, one can be more certain of genuine assurance rather than false assurance. Some people struggle with assurance, many more have false assurance and never take the time to care if their profession of faith is real. The prevalence of once saved always saved without any regard for the scriptural evidence in our lives is a blight that has plagued professing Christianity for centuries.

With this we have begun to turn the corner in our discussion of spiritual warfare. We’ve moved from an overview of the dangers that are prevalent within to now how they are to be dealt with. Once we have firmly shored up our understanding of the internal realities of spiritual warfare, then and only then are we freed to focus on the external.

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Christian saved by grace through faith.

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