Saturday, May 27, 2023

Spiritual Warfare: Romans 1 & 2

After pursuing the parables, I would like to tackle spiritual warfare.  I researched this topic intensively six years ago, and I believe it is time to talk about it again.

We are in a time where the spiritual battle is intensifying.  I don't think anyone who is a follower of Jesus would disagree with me; we are seeing a nation careening in its inability to hold onto Biblical morality and is in grave danger of derailing altogether. 

Every generation has faced trying times, to be sure.  But as Christianity is being increasingly marginalized in the public arena, a kind of insanity is taking over.  I could blog on and on about the why's of this; I rather spend my time discussing the spiritual ramifications of disregarding God and His ways, and how we as a country are losing our way.  Many people like to invoke Romans 1:26-27 as proof-texts, and how the practice of homosexuality is the cause of a nation's decline. 

Not so fast.  Romans 1 & 2 chronicle two worlds:  pagan and Jewish. Paul is looking at those who do not know God and those who do and he finds sin in both camps. Romans 1 & 2 are a description of how both camps have failed and how Christ is the only solution.  

Romans 1 & 2 describe how sin comes to permeate a group of people, creating spiritual blindness. Paul speaks from personal experience--he was utterly spiritually blind, thinking that God was honoring his persecution of early Christian church--and when he was knocked off his donkey, he heard, "'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?'” (Acts 9:4)  He was blind until he was filled with the Holy Spirit, (Acts 9:17-18) and with a fresh vision (Christ-centered, not Paul-centered) and God's power, he would turn the both the pagan and Jewish world upside down.  

Hence, in Romans 1 & 2, he is diagnosing the spiritual condition of both camps, and wants each camp to recognize that while the causes of their spiritual condition are different, the net result is the same:  Both need the cleansing work of Jesus. 

So, our first stop of what a spiritual battleground looks like, will be Romans 1 & 2--the whole chapters,  not just a few verses loaded like a cannon, so we can send a Biblical cannon ball over the ramparts of the non-believers' castle.  

Spiritual warfare is not Satan running around tempting everyone to be evil; it's way more subtle than that.  It is the process of deception--that wrong is right and that we should determine how to live by our own faculties.  Sound familiar? This was exactly the way Satan ensnared Adam and Eve: “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5)

So, with us in charge in our fallen flesh, Romans 1 & 2 are the results of our deceived thinking.  These chapters paint a picture of what a culture steeped in its own definition of good and evil looks like.  These chapters also chronicle how a culture can fall deeper and deeper into sin, all the while celebrating its "enlightened thinking" over the "narrow" precepts of God's Word.

In other words, Satan told us we could be like God: rich with knowledge and pursuing our own seemingly liberated way of life, in control and filled with power. (Satan is also assassinating God's character here, by implying God's power is something we could  handle.  Why shouldn't finite creatures possess infinite power and wisdom?  It would be like putting an F14 engine into the Wright brother's wee biplane; if something like that could even happen, the net result could only be destruction.)

Humans possess power to be sure, but it's a counterfeit power, and without God's standards measuring our behavior to His Word, we are deceived and consequently seek to deceive others. The result? "There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death." (Proverbs 14:12)

OK, stage set.  Paul, like an Old Testament prophet, proclaims God's Word as the only antidote to the plague of sin and death that is upon the people: 

"I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.' (Romans 1:14-17) 

There's the standard for how we should live.  But, wait, there's more:

"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse." (Romans 1:18-20)

The first step in moral decline is the suppression of the truth.  Not any truth, not yours, not mine, but God's.  Pure and simple.  Instead of eating from the Tree of Life, we take the apple from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and go our merry way--into our own deceived thinking about what is right and wrong, all the while not only denying God's truth but suppressing it.  How do we suppress it? By not role-modeling it with our behavior and not teaching it with our words. By not living it. 

How does this suppression happen? 

"For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles." (Rom. 1:21-23)

Step Two: We either don't acknowledge God, or if we do, we lack gratitude for His provision and kindness. Result? We are useless in how we approach life, for our thoughts circle around ourselves, our ways, our provision, and we studiously ignore the One who made all of this even possible. Our hearts are filled with darkness, for we have forsaken His Word: "Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path" (Psalm 119:105).  

We lose our way.  Jesus commented, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body.  If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matt. 6:21-23). 

The result? We make idols. We replace God with our interpretation of godliness, holiness, and His Word.  The pagans chose animals; we choose money, sex, power, control, education, politics--you name it.  If we love something, we tend to worship it, and if we worship it, it's an idol.  Because we are deceived, we actually think these replacements will give our lives purpose and meaning, and make us happy.  Isn't happiness the end goal of our lives?  That, right there, is one of the most pernicious fruits of our deception and leads to all kinds of miseries.  

So, in summary, a suppression of the truth leads to idols.

That, right now, is where we are at in America. We are all guilty of this, and none of us can boast of our moral superiority. But Paul cries out: "What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!" 

We are serving the flesh here in America, and there is only one way out:  Jesus Christ. 

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