Friday, June 16, 2017

Holding the Phalanx of the Christian Life

22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! ~ Ro. 7:22-25a

As I was reading through my devotional for this morning (which is New Morning Mercies by Paul Tripp, and I highly recommend it), I was struck by something in Ro. 7 that I had never really thought about before. In vv. 22-23, Paul brings out how sanctification is a war in the Christian life. Yes, that is not really new, but the way I thought about it this morning was new to me. Sanctification being a war of sin, temptation, the world, my flesh, and the devil against my my union with Christ requires me to hold the phalanx of the Christian life and march forward always.

The Phalanx

The phalanx was an ancient battle formation that was really brought to its penical by the Spartans in ancient Greece. In the above photo, you get a pretty good picture of what it looked like (though, that photo is from the movie 300, which was really not representative of Spartan battle strategies in any other way than this one scene). The front line of soldiers would line up with shields in their left hand and spears in their right. The shields would overlap, so part of your shield protected you and part of it protected your comrade to your left. Then, the next line would do the same thing, putting their shields right up against the backs of the front line, and so on and so forth back--many ranks deep. Then, they would face another army, and the line would never break. The the Spartans would often just march over entire armies this way or even push entire armies off a cliff, if that was available.

Christian Life Warfare

Since sanctification is a war of sin, temptation, the world, the flesh, and the devil against my union with Christ and since that means I must hold the phalanx of the Christian life, it is then something constant and spiritually exhausting, when we do it in our own strength. Do you ever get tired of resisting temptation to the same sin over and over again? Do you ever get so tired that you give in? Me too. Holding the phalanx can be exhausting, and we often make the same tragic outcry Paul makes in v. 24, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?"

Holding the Line

Yet, what is Paul's answer to his outcry? It is that we never actually do hold the line on our own. We are never meant to! "Thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord... There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Ro. 7:25-8:1) Our Savior--who is the only human ever to hold the line without it breaking ever in His life--delivers us and strengthens us; not just at the moment of our salvation but in every moment that follows throughout our whole life. He beckons us, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Mt. 11:28) He gives us rest, even in the midst of holding the phalanx in the spiritual battles of this life. A phalanx held by me will fail, but one held by faith in Jesus will hold until the end (cf. Php. 1:6).

The Shield of Faith

So, now that you know what the phalanx is, do you see why Paul used the metaphor of a shield for faith? In his metaphor about the Christian life and the armor of God (Eph. 6:10-20), he says, "In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one." Faith in Jesus providing the strength we need is what protects us and what allows us to hold the phalanx, even in the midst of battle.

In Sparta, if you were a soldier, you could be caught without your sword or your spear during a time of war, and you might only receive a minor punishment. If you were caught without your shield, however, that was a capital crime. Why? Because being without your sword or spear would merely mean you could not go on the offensive in the phalanx, but if you did not have a shield, you were a weak point in the phalanx that might cost the whole army the battle. Your shield was absolutely essential, and you had to have it on you all the time during wartime.

For us, the shield of faith is something we cannot let drop for even a moment. We live by faith (Ro. 1:17) and walk by faith (2 Co. 5:7), for we must always acknowledge our need of Him and His gospel every moment. The war of the Christian life is not made of two or three "big" moments in life where temptation comes in a huge assault but of a million "little" ones in our daily, hourly, minutely life--the war is constant! And, we can face none of those moments on our own and hope to succeed. We must submit them all to Christ and His strength, praying that the gospel would drive us, strengthen us, and motivate us in Him to hold the line through them all. That is why Paul ends his metaphor of the armor of God by saying, "...praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication." (Eph. 6:18)

Holding the Line Together

There is one more thing I want to bring out: the phalanx was not a one-man line. That is obvious, but we need to think about the implications for us as believers. We hold the line against temptation with our shields of faith as a community of believers. I stand beside my brothers and sisters in Christ, and sometimes their shield of faith is what encourages me to keep mine up against the enemy. They might do this through their own prayers for me, through accountability, or simply through encouragement, but whatever way it is, one of the ways Jesus strengthens us to hold the line is through His body. We hold the line together.

O Lord, make this true of us today!

By His Grace,
Taylor

No comments: