This Ordinary, Cosmic War

A number of sources have converged to lead me to this message. First, I preached two weeks ago on Paul’s ministry in Ephesus as described in Acts 19. I was, and continue to be, intrigued by the clash of kingdoms that the chapter describes. Paul and his fellow Christians preached the word of the Lord, a seemingly simple task, yet Luke describes two massive responses, one positive (the burning of books of magic) and the other negative (a riot). The truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ clashed head-on with the pagan idolatry of the Ephesus. Some repented while other retaliated, but neutrality was understood as no longer being an option.

Second, while rereading The Screwtape Letters, I was struck by Lewis’ prediction of “Materialist Magicians” through the sly and deceitful mouth of the demon Screwtape. A magician, as Lewis defined in the preface, belongs to the old guard of paganism, one with an unhealthy, perhaps even worshipful, interest in spirits. The materialist, however, rejects the spiritual realm altogether in favor of empirical data.[1] Screwtape views both the materialist and magician as being in his favor, yet he longs for the day when Materialist Magicians can be created, that is, someone rejects the existence of spiritual realities while at the same time worshiping “what he vaguely calls ‘Forces’” (31-32).

Finally, a brother at my church preached last Sunday evening over the Parables of the Mustard Seed and Leaven. Both parables together teach that God’s kingdom, while it will one day come in its entirety, is presently growing and spreading, often imperceptibly. Just as God did not create the cosmos with one snap of His finger nor did Jesus come to the earth as a full-grown man to be immediately crucified, the LORD is a God of process, who is even now day by day building His kingdom.

So where do these three sources meet? Likely, they do so in many places, yet I’ve particularly been considering in light of how three texts of Scripture relate to one another. They are as follows:

1 Corinthians 10:31 | So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Colossians 3:17 | And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Ephesians 6:11–12 | Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Within these texts, two large ideas are present: 1) that we are to do everything, no matter how insignificant, to the glory of God and 2) that we are present and active participants in an ongoing spiritual and cosmic war. One, therefore, is grand and epic in its scope, while the other addresses tasks as ordinary as our daily acts of eating and drinking. How then do these two ideas meet one another?

Both have worship as their central element. The centrality of worship in doing all things for the glory of God and in the name of Jesus is hopefully quite obvious. To give God glory is to worship Him, to acknowledge Him as the Glorious One. Therefore, even our eating and drinking must be done in worship of the almighty Creator who gives us our daily bread.

The centrality of worship in spiritual warfare, however, might not be as immediately evident. Yet the first overt spiritual battle involving humanity was undeniably about worship. In Genesis 3, Satan as a serpent deceived Eve into doubting the goodness of God’s commands and even into attempting to usurp God’s throne. Although created a little lower in glory than the angels, God bestowed upon humanity the distinct privilege of being like Him, of bearing His image. Although the supreme generosity of God was clearly seen through His delegating dominion over the earth to mankind, Satan convinced Eve that God selfishly hoarding power and authority for Himself. The Tower of Babel provides graphic imagery and replay of the original Fall, we tried to ascend to the heavens only to be brought lower, as a result, than we previously were. Eve, thinking herself to be wise, became a fool.

And the pattern continues still. Like our ancestors Adam and Eve, we continuously reject our privileged position as worshiping servants of God in order to attempt becoming gods ourselves. Indeed, modern Satanism understands the primary tactic of our enemy all too well. Although delighted to be worshiped himself, Satan is more than content with God not being worshiped. His goal in Eden was to dethrone God, not to explicitly (that’s a key word) exalt himself. He portrays himself as the liberator of humanity from God’s tyrannical rule. While God commands us to love Him with all our heart, soul, and might, Satan commands do what thou wilt.

If you haven’t noticed, the slogans of our present day are essentially the same: you do you, just be you, live your true self, etc. We could call this, as Owen Strachan does, the resurgence of paganism, a kind of neopaganism, but essentially the idolatry of the past ages has taken off its poorly constructed mask to reveal what it was all along: a worship of self.

From this platform, it is not surprising that we are also witnessing the rise of Materialist Magicians. As self-actualization becomes the ultimate goal, the heavenly ideal (or perhaps better described, the nirvanic state), the “worship” of those vague Forces is increasingly common. For instance, thanksgiving is not viewed within the context of the sovereign Creator who chosen to bless His creatures; rather, gratitude is a mystical force to tap into each day. Indeed, forms of godliness abound, but they deny the true Power. More and more are glad to describe themselves as being spiritual but not religious because being religious implies that one must submit to a system of belief instead constructing one’s own belief system.

It is impossible not to worship, even when the object of worship is self. And this daily worship is the battleground of spiritual worship, the field on which we champion the kingdom of God or the domain of darkness. Too frequently, we limit this warfare to overtly spiritual activities. We fight the “spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places” each Sunday morning as we gather together to sing against the darkness and submit ourselves to the Word of the true and living God. Amen! We fight “against the schemes of the devil” by daily going before our Father in prayer and studying His Word. Amen! We push back “this present darkness” by the good news so that more and more are called “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Amen and Amen!

Take turning on a lightbulb as an example. In many ways, technology has usurped the role of magic in paganism since both are an attempt to bend the world to our will. Technology, however, is not inherently sinful, but it can easily be used for sinful means. Being a tower is not a sin, but the building of the Tower of Babel certainly was. In the same way, electricity has enabled marvelous advances in civilization, yet it can also be used for sin. Each time we flip a light switch, we are either obey God or rebel against Him. For instance, the usage of electric lighting is used in a myriad of ways as an exercise of human dominion over a sin-scarred world (the ability to light up emergency rooms being a particularly beneficial one). But just as easily we can buy the subtle deception that we make our own schedules and that we can bypass the creaturely limitations of sleep. In other words, turning on a light can either reflect that we are God’s stewards over the earth or the belief that we do not need Him.

We could, however, use literally any other of our actions or realms of life as an example. Of course, the media that we willingly choose to ingest is ripe for pondering. Thinly veiled beneath catchy pop tunes often lies the presently foundational ideologies of our society. Or for all the (rightful) denouncing of pornography, many Christians find no qualms with a bit of nudity in their entertainment, even though that is the unclothing of a real woman (or man) before the indirect eyes
of millions of people. Without thinking (which is part of the overall problem), we can easily find ourselves walking “in the counsel of the wicked”, standing “in the way of sinners”, and sitting “in the seat of scoffers” through the entertainment that we consume.

The primary point is that this grand cosmic war is being fought on shockingly ordinary fronts. We should, therefore, “look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). Every word and deed (or turning on of a light or song listened to or movie watched), no matter how ordinary matters eternally.

Of course, I do not by any of this mean that our salvation depends upon doing everything to the glory of God; rather, we are saved by Jesus’ perfect obedience to the Father and His undeserved death in our place. Our righteousness, therefore, is not grounded in our own merit but upon the merit of Jesus our Lord. Yet Jesus’ obedience in place of our disobedience does not license for continuing in our rejection of God and His commands. Rather, having now been justified entirely by faith alone, we liberated to walk freely in obedience to God and to repent and find forgiveness when we fail again and again. The gospel does not invalidate our doing all things to the glory of God; it is, instead, the foundation for doing so.

We ought to do all things in the confidence that the same God who has (note the past tense) redeemed will also “unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10), including us in our resurrected and glorified bodies. We stand confident that on the cross the decisive battle of the war has been won and that total victory is both imminent and inevitable. So each day, each hour, each moment, we submit ourselves to God “as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). This is how we wage warfare against the enemy. This is how we must understand our place within this ordinary, cosmic war.

[1] I would argue that the recent rise of flat-earth theorists and the like are simply the materialist mindset taken to the Nth degree. Many flat-earthers, after all, essentially hold their ground on the notion that unless they could see the earth as round with their own eyes, they refuse to believe it. Thus, they have limited the reliability of empirical data to only what is immediately perceptible by their own senses.

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