"I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling
of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:14 KJV).
Much of our Christian life calls for a balance between extremes.
One area where this is needed is the balance between striving and
allowing God to act in our lives. In much of our Christian life,
we work and God works. There are times when we can strive too hard.
Sometimes we need to simply get out of the way and let God do what
he wants to do. And we should never try to do in our own strength
what only God can do in his strength.
But, as is so often the case, there is another side to Scripture,
which says that there are also times when we need to put forth effort,
sometimes quite strenuous effort, in order to receive the best that
God has for us. In this paper I want to emphasize that side of the
issue. I do this partly because we American Christians, living comfortable
lives, sometimes need to be reminded of the need to struggle against
apathy and self-satisfaction, and partly because I need it myself.
There are a large number of energetic verbs in the New Testament,
which speak of the effort we may need to put forth. Most are in
a tense that speaks of continuing effort. We find words like "make
every effort", "strain", "struggle", "pursue",
"run with diligence the race set before you", "fight
the good fight", "wage war", "persist', "resist",
"stand", "take hold", "guard", "endure
to the end". I want to look at some of those concepts.
B. Taking the Kingdom of God by Force.
In Matthew 11:12 Jesus declared that "From the days of John
the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully
advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it." Luke 16:16 is
similar. (Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from
the New International Version, and any emphasis is mine.)
What does this passage mean? First, In what sense could
it be said that the Kingdom of God was advancing forcefully? The
statement must have surprised the disciples. They were expecting
a kingly Messiah who would advance by military force to drive out
the Roman occupiers, and restore the kingdom of Israel to the glory
it had in the days of King David. They were puzzled and confused
by a Messiah who showed no sign of doing any such thing (see Acts
But in the spiritual sense I think we can see that Jesus' coming
to earth was a frontal assault on the kingdom of satan.
With the Fall of Adam, satan had become "the prince of this
world" (John 12:31, 14:30). Paul calls him the "god of
this age" (2 Corinthians 4:4; see also Ephesians 2:2; 1 John
5:19). When, in the wilderness, satan offered to give Jesus "all
the kingdoms of the world and their splendor" if Jesus would
bow down to him (Matthew 4:9-10), satan had the authority to make
The reason Jesus came on earth was "to destroy the devil's
work" (1 John 3:8), "to destroy him who holds the power
of death - that is the devil" (Hebrews 2:14). When Jesus brought
God's kingdom to earth, there were now two kingdoms, existing side
by side - "the dominion of darkness" and the kingdom of
God (Colossians 1:13). There were "children of God" and
"children of the devil" (1 John 3:10; see John 8:42-27).
Satan sensed this attack. He tempted Jesus. He tried many times
to have him killed. Wherever Jesus went the demons manifested. They
sensed the threat, for they cried out, "Have you come to destroy
us?" Mark 1:24), "Have you come here to torture us before
the appointed time?" (Matthew 8:29).
Shortly before his crucifixion Jesus declared, "Now the prince
of this world will be driven out" (John 12:31). Paul declares
that Jesus, "having disarmed the [evil] powers and authorities,
he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the
cross" (Colossians 2:15).
The victory is not yet complete, but it is clear that, in the
spiritual world, the kingdom of God has advanced forcefully.
Second, what does it mean to say that "forceful men
lay hold of it", or, as KJV puts it, "the violent take
it by force"? A look at some examples in which people have
pressed in vigorously to the kingdom of God may be helpful.
C. Examples of Pressing in to the Kingdom
The Bible gives us a number of examples of pressing in, arising
in many areas of Christian life. When we add them all together I
suggest that they show that God wants us to pursue him, his gifts
and his promises, with an intense passion.
a. Blind Bartimaeus.
As Jesus was passing by, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus was sitting
by the roadside. "When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth,
he began to shout, 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!' Many
rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more,
'Son of David, have mercy on me.'" Jesus stopped, called him,
and he received his sight. Then Jesus commended him, saying, "Your
faith has healed you" (Mark 10:46-52).
Bartimaeus wanted one thing with all his heart. He wanted to see.
He let nothing stop him. "Many rebuked him and told him to
be quiet" but he "shouted all the more." (Matthew
20:31 says "shouted all the louder".) We don't know how
long this went on; it could have been for some time. He would not
be kept from the healing he sought. When Jesus commended his faith,
I believe Jesus was saying that he had shown his faith by his persistence
in the face of obstacles. Our faith is demonstrated by action, and
this blind beggar demonstrated his by strong, persistent action.
b. The woman with the issue of blood.
On another occasion, as Jesus was walking, " A large crowd
followed and pressed around him." A woman, who had been "subject
to bleeding for twelve years", pressed in, touched his cloak,
and was healed. Jesus asked who had touched him, and she fell at
his feet, "trembling with fear." Then Jesus said, "Your
faith has healed you" (Mark 5:24-34).
This woman persisted in the face of a number of obstacles:
- Women were not supposed to press in through a crowd of men.
- She was ceremonially unclean, and it was unlawful for her to
touch anyone who was clean.
- She was probably weak after a twelve-year illness involving
loss of blood.
- She was afraid.
- Her urgent need motivated her to overcome all these obstacles
and receive the healing she desired. Again I believe that it was
because she pressed in, in spite of heavy obstacles, that Jesus
praised her faith.
c. The Canaanite woman.
A Canaanite woman from the region of Tyre and Sidon came to Jesus,
"crying out, 'Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter
is suffering terribly from demon-possession.' Jesus did not answer
a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, 'Send her away,
for she keeps crying out after us.' He answered, 'I was sent only
to the lost sheep of Israel.' The woman came and knelt before him.
'Lord, help me!' she said. He replied, 'It is not right to take
the children's bread and toss it to their dogs.' 'Yes, Lord' she
said, 'but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters'
table.' Then Jesus answered, 'Woman, you have great faith! Your
request is granted.' And her daughter was healed from that very
hour" (Matthew 15:22-28).
Again, we can see great persistence in spite of seeming rejection.
And again, Jesus saw her persistence, her pressing in, as evidence
of "great faith."
d. The Paralytic.
Once there was a great crowd in the house where Jesus was. Some
men came bringing a paralytic. "Since they could not get him
to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof
above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed
man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic,
'Son, your sins are forgiven." Then he said to the paralytic,
"'Get up, take your mat and go home.' He got up, took his mat
and walked out in full view of them all" (Mark 2:3-5, 11-12).
The paralytic's friends pressed in. It seemed impossible to get
their friend to Jesus, but they found a way. They had to lift him
up onto the roof (while on his mat), make a hole in the roof, and
then lower him down into the dense crowd. Jesus was impressed with
their persistance in the face of seemingly insuperable obstacles.
"When he saw their faith" he healed their friend.
"Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they
should always pray and not give up" (Luke 18:1). The parable
was that of the widow who kept insisting that the unjust judge give
her justice. Jesus ended, "And will not God bring about justice
for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?" (Luke
Earlier he had told another parable about a man who needed bread
to give a visitor. He knocked at his neighbor's door at midnight
to try borrow bread. The neighbor refused, saying he was in bed,
but eventually yielded. Jesus said "Because of the man's boldness
he will get up and give him as much as he needs" (Luke 11:8).
(KJV has "importunity". The word can mean recklessness
Then Jesus went on "So I say to you, Ask and it will be given
to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened
to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and
to him who knocks, the door will be opened" (Luke 11:9-10).
The Greek verbs mean, "continue to ask", "continue
to seek", "continue to knock". And it seems clear
in context that Jesus is saying, "If you keep on asking, seeking,
and knocking with the same persistence as was shown by the man in
the parable, you will receive."
It is those who seek God "with all your heart" who will
surely find him (Jeremiah 29:13). It is the "fervent"
prayer of a righteous man that accomplishes much (James 5:16 KJV).
Paul says that "the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans
that words cannot express" (Romans 8:26). Jesus says that it
is right, and sometimes necessary, to "cry out" to God,
day and night. All of these passages suggest that there needs to
be an intensity and fervency in our prayers. There needs to be passion,
and also persistency.
When Jesus was having dinner at the home of a Pharisee, "a
woman who had led a sinful life" came in, wet his feet with
her tears, dried them with her hair, kissed them, and poured perfume
on them. The Pharisee said to himself, "If this man were a
prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman
she is - that she is a sinner". But Jesus received her worship
and told her, "Your sins are forgiven" (Luke 7:36-50).
Not only did this woman come into the house uninvited, but she
must have sensed the scorn and rejection in the face of the Pharisee
and probably many of his guests. Pharisees would have nothing to
do with "sinners", particularly with immoral women. Yet
she persisted in her act of worship and service, and received a
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled" (Matthew 5:6). "Hunger"
and "thirst" are words of desiring. They can mean a very
intense desire. Strong says that the Greek word for "hunger"
means "famish", from a related word meaning "starving".
"Thirst" in the Near East, can often be an intense thirst.
The form, in the Greek, is "the hungering ones," that
is, those who keep hungering. I believe this Beatitude speaks of
a continuing desire for God's righteousness that may be filled at
one level only to break out again at another level, and is completely
satisfied only in heaven.
Jacob wrestled with God all night. God lamed his hip but Jacob
would not let go. Jacob said, "I will not let you go unless
you bless me" (Genesis 32:26). Jacob persisted until he got
We usually think of salvation as a free gift from God. All we
have to do is to be willing to accept it. That is the way many of
the Scriptures relating to salvation speak. But there is another
thread in Scripture which calls for a vigorous effort on our part.
We cannot win salvation, or earn it, by our effort, but sometimes
we receive it only after a good deal of effort.
I believe Matthew 11:12 is talking about salvation. What does
laying hold of the kingdom of God mean, if it does not include laying
hold of the promise of salvation - a victorious life here on earth
and eternal life in heaven? And Jesus says that it is forceful (or
violent) men who lay hold of this salvation. But there is more.
a. Enter the narrow door.
"Someone asked him, 'Lord, are only a few people going to
be saved?' He said to them, 'Make every effort to enter through
the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and
will not be able to'" (Luke 13:23-24). (We know from Matthew
7:13-14 that the narrow gate or door leads to eternal life and the
wide gate leads to destruction.) The verb "make every effort"
(KJV "strive") is agonizomai, closely related to
our word "agony." It means to struggle, to compete, to
contend with an adversary, to contend for victory. It is in a continuing
tense, "keep on striving".
b. Work out your salvation.
"Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,
for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his
good purposes" (Philippians 2:12). The verb "work out"
, katergazomia, is from ergazomai, to toil, labor,
work (the root of our words "energy" and "erg"
- a measure of work) and the prefix kata which, according
to Strong, "frequently denotes opposition... or intensity."
So we must toil or labor against opposition to complete our salvation.
We do it "with fear and trembling"
c. The pearl of great price.
A different kind of intensity is expressed in one of Jesus' kingdom
"The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine
pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold
everything he had and bought it" (Matthew 13:45-46). The picture
is of a man who has devoted his life to an intense search. When
he finally finds what he is seeking, he sacrifices everything he
has in order to get it. He is happy to make the sacrifice for his
joy in what he is to receive (compare verse 44), but it still means
a sacrifice. We see this in Philippians 3:5-11, where Paul, who
was a "comer" with a very promising future before him
as a Pharisee, gave it all up and considered it rubbish (KJV "dung")
"for the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,
for whose sake I have lost all things."
Scripture talks a good deal about the cost of following Jesus.
(See, for example, Luke 9:57-62). Most of the early disciples faced
martyrdom. Many today, in Muslim and Communist countries, face severe
persecution. Why are they willing to do so? Because they have such
an intense desire for the kingdom of God!
6. Sanctification and growing to maturity.
Once we are saved we start the process of growing to Christian
maturity. This process has a number of aspects. Each of them, at
times, calls for us to put forth significant effort.
a. Be holy.
"Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you
do; for it is written, 'Be holy, because I am holy'" (1 Peter
1:15). "For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a
holy life. Therefore he who rejects this instruction does not reject
man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit" (1 Thessalonians
Being holy, or sanctification, is a necessary part of our Christian
growth. Many Scriptures speak of this as something God does. (See,
for example John 17:17; 1 Peter 1:2). But those quoted above speak
of it as something we must decide to do and then do. "Make
every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without
holiness no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14). Even though
God does it, we also must "make every effort" to be holy.
b. Live by the spirit.
The way to become holy is to live by the Holy Spirit, to live
a life controlled by the Holy Spirit. Scripture makes it clear that
this is a choice we must make, and that it requires constant application
on our part.
"Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires
of the sinful nature" (Galatians 5:16). This is a choice we
make. It is not an easy choice, for Paul says that the sinful nature
and the Spirit "are in conflict with each other" (Galatians
5:17). The consequences of this choice are enormous. Those who live
according to the sinful nature "will not inherit the kingdom
of God" (Galatians 5:21). "A man reaps what he sows. The
one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will
reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the
Spirit will receive eternal life" (Galatians 6:7-8). Those
who succeed in living by the Spirit receive and show the fruit of
the spirit: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23).
Romans is similar. It speaks of an internal warfare, in which
the fleshly nature is "waging war" against God's law (Romans
7:23; see also 1 Peter 2:11). It tells us to live a life "controlled
by the Spirit" (Romans 8:6). It says, "If you live according
to the sinful nature you will die; but if by the Spirit you put
to death the misdeeds of the body you will live" (Romans 8:13).
I believe it is largely of this inner warfare that 2 Corinthians
10:3-5 is speaking when it says that the weapons of our warfare
have divine power to "demolish strongholds", and to "take
captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."
We may have to take very strenuous measures to achieve victory
in this warfare between the sinful nature and the Holy Spirit. "Put
to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual
immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.
Because of these the wrath of God is coming" (Colossians 3:5-6;
see Ephesians 5:6). Paul said "I die every day" (1 Corinthians
15:31). He also said, "I have been crucified with Christ and
I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20).
We must "die to sins and live for righteousness" (1 Peter
Jesus put it vividly. "If your hand causes you to sin, cut
it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two
hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your
foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter
life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And
if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you
to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and
be thrown into hell, where 'their worm does not die, and the fire
is not quenched'" (Mark 9:42-48). Jesus is using colorful imagery,
but the point is clear. Whatever you have to do to get rid of the
sinful nature, do it.
c. Be transformed.
"Therefore I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy,
to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to
God - this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any
longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing
of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's
will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will" (Romans 12:1-3).
Offering our bodies as living sacrifices requires decision and
vigorous action on our part. This passage also commands us to be
transformed. It speaks of a major change. The Greek word is metamorphoo,
which speaks of a metamorphosis like that from a caterpillar to
How do we achieve this metamorphosis? In part it is by deliberately
feeding our inner man with scripture, worship music, prayer, and
sound teaching and preaching. By becoming filled with God's word
and allowing it to work in us (see 1 Thessalonians 2:13). By allowing
the word of God to be "engrafted" in us (James 1:21 KJV).
In part it is by recognizing every false belief and attitude,
confronting it with the truth of God's word, and deciding to live
by God's truth. This is part of the daily, even hourly or minute-by-minute,
process of taking "captive every thought to make it obedient
to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). It is part of the process
of throwing off "everything that hinders" (Hebrews 12:1).
The goal of the transformation is to become like God in character
(see my paper on "Be Transformed"). It takes determination
and effort on our part.
d. Put on the new self.
Scripture refers to this transformation as putting off the old
self and putting on the new self : a "new self created to be
like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:22-23),
the "new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image
of its Creator" (Colossians 3:9-10). This is a gradual process.
It requires repeated decisions. "Which self am I being in this
matter? Which self do I want to be?" It requires action.
Scripture repeatedly calls on us to grow, spiritually. "Grow
up in your salvation" (1 Peter 2:2; see 2 Peter 3:18). Our
goal, as Christians, is to be "built up", "to become
mature", and to "grow up into Him who is the head, that
is, Christ" (Ephesians 4:12-15). Paul prayed that we would
be "growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with
all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great
endurance and patience" (Colossians 1:10-11). He prayed that
Christ may give us "the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so
that you may know him better", and that "the eyes of your
heart may be enlightened" in order that we may know "his
incomparably great power for us who believe" (Ephesians 1:18-19).
Paul commended the Thessalonians for living in order to please God,
and then said, "Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus
to do this more and more" (1 Thessalonians 4:1; see also 4:10).
In whatever way we are living righteously, we need to keep doing
it more and more.
Paul told Timothy to "exercise thyself ... unto godliness"
(1 Timothy 4:7 KJV). The Greek word is gymnazo, which refers
to the intense training for athletic contests. We are to train like
an athlete. Hebrews speaks of those "who by constant use have
trained themselves to distinguish good from evil" (Hebrews
5:14). It speaks of God's discipline which "produces a harvest
of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it"
"His divine power has given us everything we need for life
and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his
own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great
and precious promises, so that through them you may participate
in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused
by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add
to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge,
self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance,
godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly
kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing
measure they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive
in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ... Therefore, my brothers,
be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For
if you do these things you will never fail." (2 Peter 1:3-10).
I find this passage so revealing. God has given us everything
we need. Therefore, we must make every effort, and pursue
our calling and election eagerly. We cannot do anything without
God. "Apart from me you can do nothing" (John 3:5). He
has given us everything we need. "His incomparably great power"
is at work in us (Ephesians 1:19; 3:20). We are "strong in
the Lord and in his mighty power" (Ephesians 6:10). But at
the same time, we must "make every effort" to possess
certain qualities "in increasing measure." "From
the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked"
(Luke 12:48). It is because he has given us so much that we must
"make every effort."
f. Hold firmly to the word.
"By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the
word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain"
(1 Corinthians 15:2). We are reconciled to God by Christ's death
"if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved
from the hope held out in the gospel" (Colossians 1:23; see
also Colossians 2:6). "Stand firm and hold to the teachings
we passed on to you" (2 Thessalonians 2:15). Paul wrote Timothy,
"Watch your life and doctrine closely" (1 Timothy 4:16).
"Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you" (2
Jesus warned, "Watch out that no one deceives you" (Matthew
24:4). He warned against false teaching (Matthew 16:12) and false
prophets (Matthew 7:15). Paul warned that in later times "some
will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught
by demons" (1 Timothy 4:1). He warned against being "blown
here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and
craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming" (Ephesians 4:14).
He speaks of those who have "wandered from the faith"
(1 Timothy 6:21; 2 Timothy 2:18). Peter warns against "false
teachers" who will "secretly introduce destructive heresies"
and whom many will follow (2 Peter 2:1-2). He writes, "Be on
your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless
men and fall from your secure position" (2 Peter 3:17; see
2 John 8). John wrote, "Do not let anyone lead you astray"
(1 John 3:7). Jude warns of false teachers and then says "build
yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit"
Hebrews is full of warnings about falling away from true faith.
"We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we
have heard, so that we do not drift away" (Hebrews 2:2). "See
to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart
that turns away from the living God" (Hebrews 3:17). "It
is impossible for those who have once been enlightened... if they
fall away, to be brought back to repentance" (Hebrews 6:4,6).
"We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very
end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become
lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit
what has been promised" (Hebrews 6:11-12). "Let us hold
unswervingly to the hope we profess" (Hebrews 10:23). "If
we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge
of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful
expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the
enemies of God" (Hebrews 10:26-27). "Do not throw away
your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere,
so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what
he has promised" (Hebrews 10:35-36). Do not "grow weary
and lose heart" (Hebrews 12:3). "Strengthen your feeble
arms and weak knees" (Hebrews 12:12). "See to it that
no one misses the grace of God" (Hebrews 12:15). "See
to it that you do not refuse him who speaks" (Hebrews 12:25).
"Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings"
Our protection from falling away or being carried away lies in
three things. (1) We must be alert: "Watch out." "Pay
more careful attention". "Be on your guard". (2).
We must consciously fill ourselves with true teaching: "Build
yourselves up in your most holy faith." (3). We must hold to
the truth: "Hold firmly." "Hold unswervingly."
"Continue in your faith."
g. Trial and testing.
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials
of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops
perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work, so that you may
be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1:2-4).
Romans 5:3-5; 1 Peter 1:6-7; and Hebrews 12:7-11 are similar. (Note
that James assumes that trials will come. He says "whenever",
God allows, and sometimes brings on us, trials, testings and difficulties
of various kinds in order both to test and to strengthen our character.
We can learn from them and grow from them. But while the process
is going on, it may seem very strenuous and almost beyond our ability
to cope with.
A key word is "perseverance". It is by persevering that
the good soil produces a crop (Luke 8:15). It is by perseverance
that we grow to maturity. Zodhiates says that "perseverance"
"refers to the quality that does not surrender to circumstances
or succumb under trial". (Spiros Zodhiates (ed.), Hebrew-Greek
Key Word Study Bible, AMG International, 1991, p. 1765, #5281).
Perseverance is an essential quality in Christian life.
h. Spiritual warfare.
Whether we like it or not, all committed Christians are engaged
in spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:10-18; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
Warfare is strenuous. Scripture uses strenuous words to describe
it. "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and
he will flee from you" (James 4:7). "Resist him [the devil],
standing firm in the faith" (1 Peter 5:6). "Put on the
full armor of God, so that when the evil day comes, you may be able
to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand"
(Ephesians 6:13). We "struggle" (KJV "wrestle")
against evil powers (Ephesians 6:12). We "wage war" (2
Corinthians 10:3). This is, indeed, a description of forceful or
7. The whole Christian life.
Let me close this section with two Scriptural descriptions of
our whole Christian life which emphasize its energetic character.
"Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that
so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked
out for us" (Hebrews 12:1). "Throw off", "run
with perseverance". These are vigorous words.
Paul wrote, "One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and
straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win
the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Jesus Christ"
(Philippians 3:13-14). If Paul felt it necessary to "strain"
and "press on," can we afford to do less?
D. Why do we need to strive?
Why do we need to strive, to be forceful?
Let me suggest a few reasons:
- Sometimes God wants to be sure that we are serious, that we
mean business with him. Jesus had many followers. Only a few of
them became disciples, and it was to the disciples that he devoted
most of his training effort. Do we seek salvation just as an insurance
policy against eternal damnation, or do we genuinely seek to accept
the Lordship of Jesus Christ and serve him?
- God is primarily interested in developing our character. Often
the best way to develop character is to have to struggle against
- When we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, and allow
the Holy Spirit to enter into us, there inevitably begins a struggle,
a warfare, between the old self and the new self, between the
desires of the flesh and the Holy Spirit. That struggle is not
resolved until the Holy Spirit has won complete control over our
soul and body.
- There is an enemy who seeks to kill, steal and destroy. If
he cannot prevent us from being saved, he will seek to lead us
into falsehood so that we will do his work. If he cannot do that
he will seek to shut us down and make us ineffective. We need
constantly to struggle against him.
God does not want lukewarm Christians (Revelation 3:16). He wants
men and women who will love him "with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your mind and
with all your strength (Mark 12:30). It is those who seek
him "with all your heart" who find him (Jeremiah
29:13). He wants total commitment.
In these difficult days I believe God wants to raise up Christians
to a new level of intensity. I think this will occur only if we
cry out for it, if we seek it with everything in us, if we hunger
and thirst for it.
But we need to remember that in our striving we strive with his
mighty power, not our power. "Be strong in the Lord and in
his mighty power" (Ephesians 6:10). We need to know "his
incomparably great power for us who believe" (Ephesians 1:19).
When we rely on his mighty power, we can, indeed, be "more
than conquerors" (Romans 8:37).