Friday, November 5, 2010

Decoding the opponent's playbook

I was given the opportunity to write an article for the Christian Legal Journal which is a ministry of Christian Legal Fellowship. It was an enjoyable experience and it was fun to receive the printed journal with the article in it. Since the article is in print, I figure it is OK for me to post it here. Earlier this year I printed an excerpt ... here is the whole thing:

Decoding the Opponent’s Playbook

In football, a major part of preparing for each week's game is a serious evaluation of an opponents tactics, tendencies and strategies. Hours and hours of film study is a regular aspect of making provisions for a game. Individual opponents would be scrutinized, and whole team systems would be analyzed.

Considering football as an analogy of the Christian walk, the faithful Christian must be willing to 'decode' the opponent’s playbook just like the football teams do before facing their opposition on the gridiron. We must reflect on who, or what, the opponents are, and also evaluate how they work against us.

A football game has three spheres in which the battle is contested: offence, defence, and special teams. Similarly, the Christian life faces opposition in three spheres; our self, the world, and Satan. Victory in football is all but guaranteed if a team can win two of the three battles. However, Christianity requires overcoming in all three aspects.

Decoding the Opponent's Playbook: Our Self

As Christians, we constantly battle our sinful natures. Through the atoning sacrifice of Christ we are already justified before God. Nevertheless, our sanctification will not be complete until we see Christ and are perfected. Until that day, we battle. Our selfish nature has one basic way in which it opposes us; sin. This is the one-word playbook of the opponent we find in our own heart. Thomas Watson, the 17th century puritan author and pastor, in his book entitled Heaven Taken by Storm suggests two ways in which we battle ourselves; first, we mortify sin, and second, we provoke ourselves to Christian duties. Watson suggest that to mortify, or put to death, sin we must both avoid temptations and fight sinful tendencies with faith and prayer. And to provoke ourselves to Christian duty we must participate in the disciplines that have nourished the saints from Christianity's onset; reading the Word, hearing the Word, prayer, meditation, holy conversation, fellowship, and the like.

Decoding the Opponent's Playbook: The World

The world is our second opponent. Its playbook, again according to Thomas Watson, consists of the deceitfulness of what we want and defilement of what we have. John Piper presents the same idea in his sermon entitled Do Not Love the World (By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: “The world is driven by these two things: passion for pleasure and pride in possessions.”

1 John 2:16 reads, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.” The deceitfulness of what we want is described as the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes. The pride of life, according to Piper, is “what you possess—the things you have ... the pride of life—refers to the pride in what we do have.” For both Piper and Watson, this is a battle of desire. Watson writes, “The sin is not in using the world, but in loving it ... A true saint is crucified in his affections to the world ...” Piper echoes this idea, “ ... let us desire nothing but God. Possess nothing but God; pursue nothing but God.”

Decoding the Opponent's Playbook: Satan

The final opponent the Christian encounters is Satan. A final reference to Watson's work, Heaven Taken by Storm, will allow us to peer into the devil's playbook. “Satan opposeth us both by open violence, and secret treachery. By open violence, so he is called the Red Dragon; by secret treachery, so he is called the Old Serpent. We read in Scripture of his snares and darts; he hurts more by his snares than by his darts.” The darts that Satan employs, corresponding to 'open violence', are the blatant fears, passions, and lusts that regularly assault our souls. These are temptations that use a full frontal attack to undermine the work of God in the saints. The snares, representing the 'secret treachery', refer to the subtle tactics of temptation. These are numerous and devious; drawing men to evil under pretence of good, tempting with the good and beautiful, enticing to sin gradually, deceiving to sin with lawful things, or persuading men to do evil for good ends. Faith is Watson's weapon for the devil. It is in faith that we resist the devil and he flees. It is faith that keeps the castle of the heart from yielding. It is faith in our Saviour's death and resurrection that convinces us we fight against a defeated foe.

Do What We Do

In conclusion, though a football team spends much time in preparation by 'decoding the opponent's playbook', it spends more time evaluating their own playbook. While playing in the Canadian Football League for 14 years I came across many philosophies pertaining to success in football. One of those philosophies, employed by the defensive players of the Toronto Argonauts, was encapsulated with a slogan; Do What We Do.

It is far more important for a football team to focus on what they themselves do, looking to doing those things with efficiency and purpose. The same is true for the Christian. Though we are opposed by our sinful natures, the world, and the devil, we must devote most of our time to our playbook; the Bible. It is in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the redemptive plan of God as revealed in His Word illumined by the Holy Spirit that we will accrue the most benefit for the battles we face. “[W]e are not ignorant of his[Satan's] designs” (2 Cor 2:11b), and we do “not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15a), and we “Put to death therefore what is earthly” (Col 3:5a). Nevertheless, our victory rests solely in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

To deal with the sinful self, our 'playbook' gives us Romans 6:6-7, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.” To deal with the world our 'playbook gives us Galatians 6:14, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” And to deal with Satan our 'playbook gives us Revelation 12:11a, “And they have conquered him[Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony”. Our playbook invariably and necessarily really only contains one play, and that play has already been run. Jesus secured victory for us in the 'game of life' when he died on the cross for our sins, was buried, and rose from the grave, victorious.

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