When it comes to the flesh and the devil, the battle is no less intense. Peter, writing to Christians who were enduring much hardship and suffering, writes, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Later in that same letter, Peter again employs the language of watchful resistance: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Peter 5:8–9). This is why the armor of God is of such importance. “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:11).
The world, the flesh, and the devil are serious enemies, which is why the church on earth is presented as the church militant—engaged in warfare, putting on God’s armor, always alert. But the church in heaven is the church triumphant. On earth, the church may look as though she is struggling and weak, declining in numbers and power, but Christians must never forget the victory of the church triumphant containing all those in heaven whom God has saved. The Bible puts it this way:
You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Heb. 12:22–24)
The reality of the church triumphant ought to give Christians courage today. It is not unlike the situation centuries ago. In the time of Elisha, the Syrian army surrounded the city where he was staying. Elisha’s servant was terrified, thinking that God’s enemies would destroy them. It looked as though all was lost. But Elisha recognized the reality of the situation:
He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:16–17)
So it is today. In the midst of increasing hostility, there are invisible realities that encourage us. The church triumphant worships God victoriously in heaven, and Jesus Himself is in our midst by His Holy Spirit: “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). The church militant can look to heaven and fight on, surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses, . . . looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:1–2).