“Throw down those little old guns and toddle off home,” coaxed the voice on the radio. It was World War II, and Nazi Germany employed an American broadcaster, nicknamed “Axis Sally,” to spread propaganda to the U.S. troops. Her radio program, Home Sweet Home, toggled between upbeat swing music and demoralizing messages to the armed forces. Sally spun visions of warm fireplaces and sweethearts back home to remind the troops of the good lives they were missing out on compared to their present suffering. Her messages were aired to stir discontentment and homesickness in the soldiers in hope that they would forget victory and long for what was left behind.

In creating this propaganda, the enemy uncovered a force that could derail an army from their mission and undermine any soldier’s resolve. It was not the dread of defeat. It was not even the fear of the battlefield. It was the powerful pull of civilian life.

In a similar way, Paul recognizes the corrosive effect the civilian life can have on the soldier of Christ. In 2 Timothy 2:4, Paul tells the young pastor, “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” However, the problem is that Christian soldiers often abandon their posts. They have listened to the propaganda of the enemy that tempts them to give up the suffering at the front lines for the comforts of the good life. Rather than standing fast as battlefield Christians, they have become civilian Christians.

The Call to Be Soldiers

To understand what it means to be a civilian Christian, we must first understand the metaphor of the Christian soldier. The early church used soldier imagery to describe the call and conduct of the believer. They used the term miles Christianus (soldier of Christ) in contrast to the term paganus (heathen or civilian), those who lacked discipline. Paul uses the illustration of a soldier as an example of devotion, courage, and single-mindedness in the face of warfare. When a man enlists, he gives his life away. The most important thing—above family, friends, and work—becomes duty and country. Many times, the cost of such dedication is pain, suffering, or their very life. Likewise, the life of a Christian should not resemble the life of a private citizen. It ought to reflect the call and discipline of a soldier who is willing to sacrifice their life to please their captain.

Getting Entangled

While the concept of the Christian soldier is familiar, it is Paul’s advice to Timothy about “civilian pursuits” that can generate confusion or concern. Is Paul saying that Christians must never enjoy themselves? Should a Christian give up his 401(k)? Are Christians allowed to go on vacation? Paul is not saying Christians should avoid or ignore civilian pursuits. The key word here is “entangled.” In Greek, this word means “to weave in, to entwine.” If you have ever tried to untangle a string of Christmas lights or remove chewing gum out of your child’s hair, you will get the picture here.

This same word appears again in 2 Peter 2:20 and sheds light on the precarious nature of entangled Christians: “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.” Entanglement comes when we take the good things that God has given us and make those things our telos—our aim, our goal—rather than the calling of our Captain.

Civilian Christians subtly embrace the idea that God has no expectation of them once they are saved other than living a fulfilled and happy life. Like Lot’s wife, they look back at the lives they should have left behind. Like Samson, they return again and again to their old pleasures. Like David, they enjoy the ease of their home and avoid the battlefield. They have turned Christianity into a private piece of their lives that has no defining impact on their own lives or others. It is a life sub rosa—lived in private—versus a life coram Deo—lived before the face of God.

God has prepared good works for us to walk in, but when the good things God has given us become ultimate things, then they have become entanglements.

The siren call of civilian life is all around us today. This must come as no surprise as we live in the most distracting and self-indulgent age in history. There are many things we will readily pour our blood, sweat, and tears into, but Christianity typically only shows up on Sunday mornings, or maybe on a t-shirt, bumper sticker, or our Twitter bio. We celebrate being captains of our own lives and think we can maintain dual citizenship with earth and heaven. But Scripture draws clear lines: those who love the Lord must hate evil, and friendship with the world is enmity with God (Ps. 97:10; James 4:4).

Even so, we find ourselves tempted to take that same offer Mr. Worldly-Wise gives Christian in The Pilgrim’s Progress: “I could direct thee to the obtaining of what thou desirest, without the dangers that thou in this way wilt run thyself into.” Kingdom priorities often conflict with earthly loves, but the world will try to tempt us to believe that the philosophy of our age is compatible with Christianity, and that we do not have to give up anything we hold dear in our pursuit of righteousness. But we must be wary of the idea that there can be victory with no battle.

Becoming Untangled

To become untangled from this world, we can start by recognizing the areas of our lives that are overtaken by earthly loves and put them into proper perspective. The Apostle Paul does not give examples of civilian pursuits in his letter to Timothy but rather provides a guiding principle when he describes faithful Christians as “useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21). God has prepared good works for us to walk in, but when the good things God has given us become ultimate things, then they have become entanglements. Rather than seeing God’s gifts as an end in themselves, we must see them as means to further the kingdom and be willing to sacrifice it all if the Captain commands.

If you find you have become a civilian Christian, remember, the Christian life is a life of vigilance, for the battle is not over until the King returns. While there are many victories we can rejoice over, we must never take off our armor. We must never turn back. We must take Paul’s call to “stand firm” as a command and not a suggestion (Eph. 6:13). No one marches in line at all times, but no one is a soldier who does not desire to be. There is grace for the wandering soldier who returns to the camp.

If you find yourself a weary soldier, do not let your seemingly small efforts discourage you. The Lord is your shield, and His arm is not too short that He cannot deliver you from your struggles. While we are called to act like good soldiers, we must not forget that it is only through the strength of God that the battle is won, and the gates of hell cannot prevail against us.

The Captain’s Call

As for Axis Sally, what was her actual effect on the American troops? Corporal Edward Van Dyne said, “Doctor Goebbels [chief propagandist for the Nazi Party] no doubt believes that Sally is rapidly undermining the morale of the American doughboy. I think the effect is directly opposite. We get an enormous bang out of her.” There is no doubt that the enemy believes he is undermining the mission of the Christian soldier. But like the U.S. troops, we must not lose heart because we are certain that no matter the raging schemes of the devil, no matter the seductive pull of the world, or temptations of the flesh, Christ has ultimately won the victory. And so we can fall in line with Christians throughout the ages, singing the rallying cry of, “Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before!”

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