It has long been my habit, which is fitting for the abiding theme of my column here, whenever I speak somewhere, to remind those to whom I am speaking of our historical context. Context is everything. My goal isn’t to place us in the declining years of the west — though that is where we are. Nor is it important to me to note that we have entered the third millennium. Rather, I want people to understand that the context of our lives is the same as the context for everyone’s life, from the first advent of the first Adam to the second advent of the second Adam. All of our lives take place in the context of the battle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. God declares in Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between her seed and your seed. You will bruise His heel, and He will crush your head” (niv). The God who creates the world in Genesis 1 and 2, who divided day and night, sky, land and sea, in turn divides the world in Genesis 3. There is no neutral ground. History, not church history, but history, is the story of the work of Christ in crushing the serpent, and bringing all His enemies into subjection.
It is only recently, however, that I have realized another important truth, or rather a pair of important truths. This one war that is the context of our lives, isn’t the only war in our lives. Years ago we published an issue of Tabletalk with an unusual cover. We showed a boxer, shadow boxing. The title of the issue was “The Fight Of Our Lives.” Inside we looked at the lifelong battle every Christian must wage, the battle against our old nature, that dead old man that just keeps fighting to the death. Sanctification is the process by which we, by and through the power and grace of God, win that battle. Over time, as we grow in grace, our fallen nature begins to fall away, and we become more and more what we were in the garden. As we grow in grace, we better and better reflect the image of our Savior, who is the express image of the Father.
But there is a third war as well, besides the war between us and them, and the war between us and us. It is the war between them and them. That is, just as our old and new natures vie for survival in us, so too in those outside the kingdom there is a battle between the image of God and their fallen nature. But history is moving as inexorably here as it is in our own lives. Just as we become more and more what we were created to be, so those outside the redeeming grace of God become less and less what they were created to be. To put it another way, there are not only three wars going on, but three great siftings. First, the sheep and goats are separated. Second, that which is goat-like is separated from the sheep. And third, that which is sheep-like is separated from the goats. In eternity that which is white will be all white, that which is black will be all black. Grey will simply fade away.
The culture wars are fought in this context. As the culture seeks to live in greater and greater rebellion, we who are citizens of heaven grow more slowly. And as we become salt and light, they, servants of the serpent, decay more slowly. All sinners, those inside and outside the kingdom, want convenience. But all sinners in turn tend to love their own children, a reflection of the One whose image we all bear. A culture is in decline, however, when the love of convenience trumps the love of children, as it has in these United States now for more than thirty years. Forty million image bearers never became warriors in the great battle precisely because the image of God is eclipsed, not principally in how we see them, but in what we are in ourselves. That is, it is the destruction of the image of God in mothers that has led to the denial of the image of God in babies, and through that brought their wanton destruction.
That the evangelical church has barely uttered the least objection is condemning proof that we are not only not fighting well the culture war, but are not fighting well the war within ourselves. Our indifference is a shameful portent of the remaining power of sin in our lives.
It is because our enemies in this great battle yet bear the image of our God that we can and must love them. We love them, however, not by laying down our arms, but by taking them up. We love them not by trying to become like them, but by being the ekklesia, the called-out ones, set apart, separate, holy. We love them by being salt and light. When we seek to protect the unborn because they bear God’s image, we are in turn seeking to protect the already born, because they bear His image.
Though the war is all too real, the weapons with which we fight are not carnal. No gunship will vanquish the serpent. No smart bomb will annihilate the old nature within us. No howitzer will strengthen the image of God in the lost. Rather, the battle cry, indeed the great weapon in all three battles is one, this confession — Jesus Christ is Lord. The more we believe it, the more we will be Him. The more we will be Him, the more they will see Him. And the more they see Him, the more the world will change.