In the last sixty years, the United States government has waged war in Korea, in Viet Nam, in Libya, in Panama, in Grenada, in the former Yugoslavia, in Somalia, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in Iraq again. These are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. None of these wars involved, of course, a congressional declaration of war, but in each of these circumstances, military weapons have been fired against citizens of other nations by military serving the United States. We do not have black-out curtains and rationing as they did in the last World War. We do not have an active civil defense, and young ladies wrapping bandages for the war effort as we did back then. To many of us it seems like a time of peace, but it is not.
Each of these wars, however, are fought in the context of the one, great war. No, it’s not the cold war between capitalism and communism. No, it isn’t militant Islam against American consumerism. The great war transcends these wars and finds its beginning in the garden. The serpent launched his surprise attack when he asked Eve: “Has God indeed said?” And there he secured a victory, as both Adam and Eve, and all who would be born of them, determined to embrace the serpent’s view of reality, rather than to embrace the truth. Praise to our Father He did not take this lying down. His solemn declaration of war followed, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). This war, declared by God, begins in the garden and ends only when the great garden city, the New Jerusalem, descends from on high. This great war is the context of each of our lives, and all our lives together. We all live in times of war.
The apostle Paul was acutely aware of this hard truth. It was he who told us, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (2 Cor. 10:4–6). The devil wins too many skirmishes here, as we are wont to believe that since our weapons are not carnal, that the war itself isn’t real. We are at war with principalities and powers, something Paul would never forget.
Recognizing the reality of this overarching war, however, won’t equip us to fight the war. We need also to recognize that the war is fought on at least two fronts, that our one war is fought in two theaters. The first front is found within ourselves. That is, not only do we war against the world and the devil, which is to say the serpent and its seed, but we war against our own flesh. We who fight our outward enemies likewise fight our inward enemies. This is why Paul calls us to put to death that which is earthly in us. This is why Paul cries out, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:22–25a).
The other front is much like the first. In the first, we have a battle within the seed of the woman. In the second, we have a battle within the seed of the serpent. Our old nature battles with our new, whereas among those outside the kingdom, their war is between the remnants of the image of God yet in them and their fallen nature. They, Paul tells us in Romans 1, worship the creature rather than the Creator. That they worship at all is because of their being fashioned in the image of God. That is, because man as man is made in the image of God, man as man is made to worship. But because man in his fallen nature hates God, he determines to worship a false god, a creature.
In the here and now, these three battles will continue. When we are better salt and light, even those outside the kingdom better reflect their Maker’s image. When we lose our savor, however, we become more and more like walking zombies. We fight the big central battle best by fighting the internal battle well. That is, we will succeed in better having His kingdom come, His will be done on earth as it is in heaven, as we become more like we will be in heaven, as we put to death the old man, and put on Christ.
In eternity there will be no more war. Not only will the seed of the serpent be utterly vanquished, but they will be given over to their sin. Not only will the seed of the woman be victorious, but all those who are in Him will be made new. With the death of death will come the death of our old man. And we will live on forever in peace, under the eternal reign of the Prince of Peace. Paul longed for it, and so ought we.