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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Apologetics: Divine Power to Destroy Strongholds
Text:2 Corinthians 10:1-5 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Running the race
 
Preached:11/03/2013
Added:2014-01-09
Updated:2014-05-12
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Pastor Ted Gray

 “Divine Power to Demolish Strongholds”

 2 Corinthians 10:1-5

One of the goals in apologetics, the defense of our faith, is in the words of 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, to demolish strongholds... arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.

That is quite a challenge!  We know from 1 John 5:19 that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one, meaning that God, who is sovereign over all, has yet allowed, for His purposes, the evil one to have great sway and influence in our world until the second coming of Jesus Christ.

What are some of the strongholds where the evil one has great sway and influence, today, in the world in which we live?  The influence of evil is in every area, but some areas are especially prone to being strongholds against the knowledge of God. The strongholds are in areas of influence, where evil has a great influence against the knowledge of God.

Strongholds

One area is education, from pre-school through graduate school. As history is re-written, few people today want to acknowledge that the first public schools in New England, the birthplace of our nation, were established to educate students through the teaching of the Bible. The Bible was the main textbook and was accompanied by The New England Primer which taught the truths of the Bible, especially as they were understood by the Puritans.

The Primer taught children the alphabet through pictures and rhythms.  For instance, in The New England Primer, the letter “A” is taught by a picture of a man and a woman standing by a tree, a tree with a serpent in it. And the caption with the picture says: “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.”

The letter “B” has a picture of an open book, clearly printed “Holy Bible” and the caption next to it says,  “Thy life to mend, this Book attend.”

The New England Primer stressed the need to respect parents, to guard against sin, and to seek salvation through faith in Christ. Some versions contained the Westminster Shorter Catechism as well, as the Primer was thoroughly Reformed to Scripture in its theology.

Can you find a public school in America today that would use anything close to the Bible or the New England Primer to teach children the alphabet?  Or respect for parents? Or to guard against sin?  Or to seek salvation through faith alone in Christ alone?

You wouldn’t because schools have become a stronghold. They have become a stronghold that works against the knowledge of God.  Instead of the truth of creation, the concept of evolution is taught. Instead of a warning against sin, children are taught how to use birth control. Respect for parents or other authority figures is seldom found in public education today. In fact, the very values that Christian parents have instilled in their children are often ridiculed and torn apart.  Gideons, who for decades brought Bibles to school children, are no longer allowed on school property.  And children who write of their faith in Christ, as did Erin Shead, are reprimanded and told that such ideas are not fit for the classroom, for there is, after all “separation of church and state.”

Erin is the 10 year old student at Luke Elementary School in Millington, TN. The assignment given the class was to write about the person they held in highest regard, their idol, so to speak.  Erin, who is a Christian, decided to write about  God. “I look up to God,” she wrote. “I love Him and Jesus, and Jesus is His earthly Son. I also love Jesus.” She also wrote that God would “always be the number one person I look up to.”

Her teacher told her that she could not use God as the number one person she looked up to and that she would have to take the paper home.  Apparently it was so offensive that it could not be left at the school, and she would have to redo her assignment.  Incidentally, she re-did her paper by using Michael Jackson as her hero, and that was completely acceptable... (Reported by Fox News 09/11/13).

Not only are schools a stronghold that set themselves up against the knowledge of God, but so are the court systems of our land. Many of the distinctly anti-Christian laws that are being enacted today are mandated, not by popular vote, but by liberal judges who have been appointed to their office by politicians. The courts, the political arena, even the military has become a stronghold against the knowledge of God.

Chaplains in the military are in the front line of a great battle. They are in a war far greater than  WW 2, Afghanistan, Viet Nam or any other war.  They are involved in a spiritual battle where the government is restricting chaplains from praying in Jesus’ name, lest they offend non-Christians.  Meanwhile, in 2011, the Air Force spent $80,000 to build an outdoor  worship center for Pagans, specifically Wiccans - witches and warlocks - at the Air Force training ground in Colorado Springs. That same year, the Air Force converted chapel rooms into places of worship for Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists.

Our challenge in defending the faith is truly huge:  Even much of the visible church has become a stronghold against the knowledge of God. Dr. Peter Jones has written an excellent book on Apologetics entitled,  One or Two. In that book he gives  example after example of how the false church unifies itself, - expands and grows, - all the while giving a message that is directly contrary to the message of Scripture.

A large portion of the visible church, which is supposed to be, in the words of 1 Timothy 3:15 the pillar and foundation of the truth, has turned instead into a stronghold against the very knowledge of God that the true church is supposed to proclaim.

However, not only are we to demolish strongholds, but every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God.   How many arguments are leveled against the truth of the Bible?  How many  “lofty opinions” of  pretentious people will have nothing to do with the knowledge of God?

The challenge is great. Not only are we to seek to demolish the strongholds, arguments and opinions, but vs 5 goes on to tell us to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.  In other words, we are not only to oppose the strongholds against Christianity and seek to demolish them, but also bring all the erroneous, anti-Christian thoughts of this fallen world into obedience to Christ.

An Apologetic Strategy

Where do we begin?  How can people like you and me possibly meet the challenge put before us in verse 4 and 5?  Paul’s defense of his ministry gives us a pattern for our defense of the gospel:

First, we are to live in the world (3a) and not isolate ourselves so that we have influence on our culture. Seeing the overwhelming evil of ourworld there is a natural desire for Christians to curl up in our cocoon, allow the world to go its way, and wait for the second coming of Jesus when everything will be straightened out and made right. And many professing Christians do exactly that.

But that wasn’t the pattern for the Apostle Paul, and it cannot be the pattern for us. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:15-16).

The way we live our life is an important part of both apologetics and evangelism. The way we live our life serves both to advance the gospel and defend the gospel, as it shows people in the world who Christ is.  We are a letter from Christ, Paul told the Corinthians, meaning that by the way we live people read in us what God is all about.  By our lives unbelievers are to see the love of Christ, the commitment necessary to His Word and the blessing of repentance and faith in Him.

But in order for us to witness with our lives we must live our lives in the public eye and not a “Christian cocoon.” I’m all for Christian education, but I’m very thankful that there are Christians who teach in the public schools.  Their influence is desperately needed there.

When we lived in Vermont I was also thankful for the witness of our Christian students in the local public school. For many years the Christian School there only went through the 8th grade.  After that students attended the local high school.  A casual glance through the yearbook in those years shows the witness of Christian students.  Most all of them had as their favorite quote, a quote from Scripture, and you could tell from their lives that Scripture directed their behavior.  The young people from that church had a powerful impact on the local public high school, and that was in a state that has been repeatedly named the most godless state in the nation.

The same Christian interaction is needed in every part of our culture: the political arena, the military, the court systems.  We need to be involved as Christians in every area of life. One of the many blessings of the Protestant Reformation is that it stressed that every calling in life – every occupation – is sacred, and that the gospel is to permeate every area of life. Our Christianity is not a Sunday only experience, but is to have an impact for good in this world of darkness  throughout the week, in all that we do.

As Christians, it is good for us to be involved with other Christians in defending the faith that is so precious to us. Although the news media did not report it, there were about 2,000 Christians in Springfield, IL a few weeks ago, working together to try to influence our legislators to realize the obvious, that marriage is supposed to be between one man and one woman. They were part of the Illinois Family Institute, one of many Christian groups that sheds light in this very dark state and world in which we live.

The Word and Evidence

After pointing out that we live in the world, not a “Christian cocoon,” the Apostle goes on in verse 3 to say, we do not wage war as the world does.  He will point us in the next verse to the spiritual weapons we have, and to the divine power that alone can demolish the strongholds that have set themselves up against the knowledge of God.

Yet this statement of vs 3 we do not wage war as the world does, has an important point for the defense of the faith, for apologetics. There are two main approaches on apologetics. One approach, commonly referred to as Classical Apologetics, seeks a neutral common ground with an unbeliever, and then bases the defense of one’s faith on evidence.

By contrast there is Presuppositional Apologetics, also known as Covenantal Apologetics, which bases the defense of the faith on the presupposition that those we speak to know the truth, but suppress the truth, as Romans 1:19-20 teach: ..What may be known  about God is plain… because God has made it plain…  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities -His eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Most Reformed Christians take the presuppositional approach to apologetics. The reason is that we realize that all the evidence in the world won’t convince an unbeliever to believe in the Lord.  They already know, deep down, that God exists. God has made His identity plain to them by what He has made, leaving all humanity without excuse.

Therefore if you start to converse – or debate – with an unbeliever and you base your argument on evidence, the unbeliever will suppress the obvious truths that you present, and you will get nowhere. And you won’t find the neutral common ground you are looking for, because Scripture teaches that the natural man is at enmity against God (Romans 8:7). There is no “neutral ground.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that there isn’t any place for presenting to others evidence for the existence of God and the need to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. The world is filled with evidence of God’s existence and creative power. The examples  we looked at last week, such as the rotational speed of the earth, or the degree that it is tilted on its axis, may be effective if they can be brought up in a natural way in the conversation.

The same is true for the way the human body is formed, - in  a truly fearful and  wonderful way.  The human DNA of just one individual contains so much information that it would take 8,000 books to hold it all. Whether we look in the microscope at the smallest cell or look in the telescope at the vast array of our galaxy and the galaxies beyond, we see evidence pointing to the creative  power of  our God.

There may even be an opportunity to show the skepticism of evolutionists in their own theories.  As we saw last week, Sir Fred Boyle, the English astronomer who originally coined the phrase “Big Bang” admitted that it was totally impossible that even 1 cell could be randomly formed, - not just the whole world, but just one cell. He compared the random emergence of even the simplest cell to the likelihood that “a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard  might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein.”

It is good to have some clear examples such as those in both defending the gospel and advancing it. But we understand that ultimately the battle is the Lord’s. We aren’t able to convince someone to believe; but we can and must live a life that is a good example and use every opportunity to defend and advance the gospel effectively.

But all the results belong to the Lord. As Luke 16:31 says: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”  And John puts it into perspective this way in 1 John 4:6:  We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

Not the Weapons of the World

A third point that helped Paul defend his ministry, and enables us to defend our faith, is to realize that our weapons are spiritual. In verse 4 he writes: The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to destroy strongholds.

What are those divine weapons? Two of the most crucial are prayer and the Bible. Prayer connects us to God Himself.  Prayer is a crucial and powerful ingredient in both apologetics and evangelism. How are we to use the “weapon” of prayer?  Pray for God’s wisdom in presenting the gospel and defending the truths of Scripture.  Pray also for a receptive heart, an open door, to the person to whom you speak.

That’s what Paul prayed for, and asked for in prayer from others who prayed for him. Writing to the Colossian church, Paul says, Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.  And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ… Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:2-6).

Coupled with prayer as a divine weapon is the Word of God, the Bible.  The reason the Bible is so effective is stated in Ephesians 6:17, where it is described as the sword of the Spirit.  When we either defend the faith, or witness our faith to others with Scripture, the Holy Spirit uses the Word for His purposes.  It becomes His sword to demolish the strongholds of unbelief that have set themselves up against the knowledge of God.

In his book on Apologetics, The Battle Belongs to the Lord, Dr. K. Scott Oliphint uses the example of David.  When he was preparing to defend Israel from their great adversary, the giant Philistine, Goliath, he first put on the armor given to him by King Saul. Saul was encouraging him to fight as the world fights. But David removed the armor for as he previously had said to Saul,  “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”

When Goliath, who represented the strongholds of this world, saw David he despised him and ridiculed him, saying, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?”

David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied…. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and He will give all of you into our hands.” (45, 47)

The New England Primer had it absolutely right with that picture of the Bible and the caption next to it which said,  “Thy life to mend, this Book attend.”  The Bible is the sword of the Spirit, and by the Spirit’s power in the Word, in response to prayer, we have divine power to demolish strongholds…, arguments and every pretension - lofty opinion - that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.

We do have a great challenge before us, but we also have assurance that the battle we are engaged in, both in defending our faith and in advancing the gospel, belongs to the Lord.  The ultimate victory will be revealed at the second coming, but there are many battles to be won before that great and glorious day of Victory.

May you and I be faithful in living lives that reveal to others that we are indeed the light of this dark world. And may we be steadfast in prayer and consistent in using the Scriptures as we witness to a fallen world. Amen.

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 11/0, Rev. Ted Gray

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