A Faith That Fights
Christians are disciples, and therefore bydefinition, we are disciplined. Hebrews 12:11, "For the moment all disciplineseems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit ofrighteousness to those who have been trained by it," is couched in anexhortation not to grow weary under the discipline of our loving Father. Byusing the illustration of a Grecian Olympic fighter, the preacher to theHebrews teaches us that part of our discipline in the Christian life isconditioning. We need practice.
My son had a great Martial Arts lesson the otherday. Every now and then, his instructor will spend some time differentiatingbetween the sport and real self-defense. Well, this was a real self-defenseday. Before they began getting physical, his teacher, Jesse, asked the studentswhat should be the first thing they look for when they enter a room, such asthe one they were in. Kids started yelling out uninformed answers such as, "apunching bag!" or "a fighting cage!" Clearly, they weren't getting where Jessewas going with this, and so he laughs and says, "No! If you are thinkingself-defensively, you should always look for available exits when you enter anew place."
Then Jesse pointed to the side door in the room andtold the kids that he was going to come up behind them one by one, grab themfirmly, and attempt to carry them across the large room and out of the sidedoor. He told them to imagine they were hanging out with some friends at amovie. How would they react if someone physically tried to take them? Or, maybethe side door represented a car that a kidnapper was attempting to put them in.He explained that it's hard to predict how you would react in such a franticsituation, and that it is good to practice. Then Jesse put some headgear on,and said that any tactic they wanted to use was fair game; just don't let himget them to the car door.
This became both very humorous and eye opening. Thefirst kid he grabbed was clueless. He just meekly called out "mommy" while hewas carried across the room and out the door. Jesse returns and quickly scoopsup a 13-year-old girl. She kicked, elbowed, squirmed, and did a biting motionon the instructor. He let go and she ran. I had no idea how Haydn would react.His dad and I were impressed as H fought hard and wriggled out of Jesse's gripafter a kick to the groin. But he got a little cocky. I guess Haydn's noquitter, so as his instructor was bent over, H kept pounding on him. As he drewin, Jesse grabbed him again and said, "You should've run when you had thechance!" Unfortunately, H got away again, and still lingered too long. He wasgrabbed again and taken away.
Some kids fought hard, some were too submissive.Some were just in shock, even though they knew what was coming. The loud oneswere able to get away, as Jesse told them an attacker would not want to draw ascene. One kid was hanging onto the doorway molding, fighting to the very end.
Anyway, I'm sharing all of this because we need thesame kind of thinking for our theological fitness. Christians are disciples,after all, and we therefore need to be disciplined. As biblical pastors,teachers, and mentors lead us we realize that we aren't quite as spirituallyfit as we thought we were. When we face a challenge or obstacle, we find ourstrength and stamina are weak. We need practice. Trials in life, or unexpectedtemptations often reveal that we do not have the stamina or aptitude in God'sWord that we may have thought we did. These experiences drive us back to ourconfession, and reaffirm our complete dependency on Christ.
And so God gives us "practice" in Word and sacramentevery Sunday. As we gather together for worship, Christ ministers to us and bestowshis grace. We rehearse the great gospel truths, and we affirm our confession ofhope. Perhaps it is good for us, as we are sent out into the world with abenediction, to consider intentional ways that we would react in certainsituations. A fighter knows how to take a punch because he has done just that,over and over again. Sure, we mature through experience and are wiser the nexttime as we grow in holiness. But we can also rehearse ahead of time. Whentempted by a promiscuous pursuer, will we flee like Joseph? When asked if weare friends of Christ, will we deny him like Peter?
Of course God's Word isn't primarily for us to considerhow to "be a Daniel" per se. In the context of our passage on discipline, weare told, "Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility againsthimself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggleagainst sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood"(12:3-4). And we are reminded, "the Lord disciplines the one he loves" (v.6a).We can hold fast through temptation and trial because he who promised isfaithful (Heb. 10:23). Because of this, we can lift our drooping hands andweary knees and get back up again when we do get hit with a particularly hardblow of discipline (v.12).
A warrior is told to trust in his training.Christians have great training, but we trust in God himself to preserve us tothe end. While watching my son's class, I remembered something my dad alwayssaid to me as mental practice for a similar situation. He emphasized that underno circumstances should we agree to get in an abductor's car. Even if they hada gun pointed at us kids, he told us we should run. Basically, a kidnapper maynot shoot, but our chances are better getting shot at than they are after weget in that car. This is a good spiritual analogy. Any suffering we may incurthrough spiritual discipline is far better than the unbeliever who willinglywalks into the doorway of sin. And we should give thanks that our Father lovesus enough to discipline us, to humble us. We learn to look for an exit that heprovides when tempted. We learn that he is good no matter the circumstances. Welearn that faith may be a gift that we receive, but it is a fighting faith thatprevails to the end. And our end is to be like Christ.