Mrs. Meyer is a wife and mother in Hope Protestant Reformed Church of Walker, Michigan.
The first enemy we encounter on this earth is our own sin. And our first attack upon this foe consists of searching for it in our own hearts and lives and repenting of it. This is a spiritual battle, for this is a spiritual enemy. Nevertheless, there are some physical steps that can be taken in order to avoid this enemy. If we want to avoid drunkenness, we won’t let our feet walk into the party or the bar. If we want to avoid the lustful entertainment of this world, we won’t let our finger push the button (if indeed our hands have put such a button in our home at all). We will choose our companions very carefully, fellowshipping only in the light. And we will spend our time wisely, studying Scripture and sound works of Reformed doctrine whenever possible. All this and more we will strive to do.
It might seem that this would take care of the battle. Victory would be the cry! But oh, how much more ground must be won. And the terrain is full of ruts and rocks and all kinds of places for the enemy to hide. Victory over outward sin is hard enough, but conquering inward sin—that is much more difficult. That is where the battle becomes the bloodiest. Yet, as difficult as it is to engage in this warfare, it is absolutely necessary if we are to experience complete victory. “Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults” (Ps. 19:12).
Pride, unbelief, and self-righteousness. These are sins that no one can see, but they lurk deep inside every crevice of the chaff of our soul. “I can do it myself!” (Sound familiar, parents of two-year-olds?) But how like us all. “I’m a pretty good person, better than most. I can do my part, even if it isn’t much. Besides, I’m not so sure God will help me anyhow.” That’s pride and unbelief, and that’s Satan’s burning dart-of-choice for shooting deep within our hearts, trying to destroy any faith that might be there. In fact, it would seem that the outcome is decidedly against us, for our own sinful nature grabs ahold of these lies with complete surrender and relish. The situation looks rather bleak.
Yes, we have to search for these deep, embedded sins within ourselves. We have to help our children see these sins, too—not just the unkind words, but the pride beneath those words. But who are able to see these things within themselves? Who even want to admit they’re there? They’re ugly! Who can bring themselves to look for such horrible things? As the psalmist said—who can understand them? No, the situation is not only bleak—it is impossible.
But may we see that it is impossible. And may we help our children to see that as well. May we see the hopelessness of our ever attaining any victory by ourselves. For then—then—the victory is God’s. Then we can confess in the boldness of God-given faith: “I can do nothing on my own, but God can and will!” “Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.” Greater even than Satan. Greater even than my old man of sin. “Search me, O God,” for I cannot do it myself. I can’t even want to!
The Catechism follows this order as well. We must know our own sin first. We must know the impossibility of our ever gaining any victory over our sin. But then we know our deliverance must be outside of ourselves. And then we experience the victory! “How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort, mayest live and die happily? Three: the first, how great my sins and miseries are; the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance” (Lord’s Day 1, Q. and A. 2). Indeed, when speaking of deliverance and victory, the Catechism knows of only one impossibility: “for it is impossible that those who are implanted into Christ by a true faith should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness” (Lord’s Day 24, Q. and A. 64).
The fruit of thankfulness, i.e., victory over sin, comes by faith. We must “put on the whole armor of God, that [we] may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph. 6:11). Truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, salvation, and the Word of God. These are all necessary parts of that armor. But of all the pieces of armor listed in Ephesians 6, there is one in particular that is above all: “Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked” (Eph. 6:16). Faith is our main defense.
So what exactly is this shield of faith? Let us go to the Catechism again. Faith is a certain knowledge and a hearty confidence (Lord’s Day 7, Q. and A. 21). I know God’s Word is true, and I’m sure God’s salvation is for me. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Where there is substance and evidence, there are no questions. It is sure. It is fact. I know it.
But how can I be so sure?
Here is the pith of the twig. See this, and you see the whole glorious, victorious tree, you and your children, and all those who are called afar off, all the elect, all part of that tree. Again, how can I have this faith? Because not one part, not one jot, not one particle of it depends upon me. It all depends upon God. It is His to give. Faith? I have none. But God is my faith! God is my righteousness! God is my shield.
That’s what our children need to know and have in order to be equipped for the battle. “God is our refuge and strength” (Ps. 46:1). “He is our help and our shield” (Ps. 33:20). These aren’t mere words. It is the truth. It is this true Word that builds this true faith which He gives us. Indeed, the Word is Christ our Lord (John 1:1)! It is the Word as it is given to us by His Spirit of truth. It is the Word as it is interpreted in the Reformed creeds and as it is faithfully and distinctively preached according to those creeds. When we hear that Word—that salvation is all of God—then we have faith. I am nothing. God is everything. That is the basis of our faith. That is the basis of our defense and shield.
But there is more we can say about this shield of faith, for faith is also a bond. Faith is that living connection between Christ and His own; between the Head and the Body; between the branches and the Vine. This bond, this living connection, connotes communion. And communion, in turn, connotes prayer. It is in prayer that true faith is exercised in the most intimate way, for we pray to our Father with Christ as our advocate, based on faith in the promises He swore by His name. The Catechism concludes with a discussion of prayer for a reason. “Why is prayer necessary for Christians? Because it is the chief part of thankfulness…” (Lord’s Day 45, Q. and A. 116). It is, therefore, the ultimate expression of good works and sanctification—of gratitude—of victory!
Indeed, as the Lord teaches us to war, He teaches us to pray. “Lord, teach us to pray,” the disciples asked. And Jesus taught them to pray that perfect prayer in Luke 11: “Our Father which art in heaven….” From our children’s earliest days we fold little hands and teach them these words, too. How important it is that we do this, along with helping them to understand what this prayer they are reciting means. Much can be said about this whole prayer, but for now let us note only the final petition, for it especially applies to our battle on this earth: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Lead us not into temptation, O Lord, for we are weak and cannot stand, but Thou hast the power over all our tempters! The devil and his hosts, the ungodly world, and our own sinful flesh—we abhor and dread the sin that all these foes would have us do. Deliver us, O Lord! Show us our sin, that we may fight it! Show us Thy truth, that we may be equipped to fight it! Grant us Thy grace and Thy Spirit, that we may have the strength to fight it! And come, O Lord, in that final Victory, when sin and lies shall be no more.*
The Psalms echo this prayer over and over. It is a prayer that is to be uttered in perfect confidence. In perfect faith. In our perfection? No, that rotten old man clings to us as ever he did. But in the perfection of Christ it is uttered. He utters it as our advocate on the right hand of God. And not only that—by His Spirit who dwells in our inmost being, He prays for us with unutterable groans! In Him it is a perfect prayer. In His psalms it is a perfect request: “Deliver me, O Lord, from mine enemies: I flee unto thee to hide me” (Ps. 143:9). “For innumerable evils have compassed me about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me … they are more than the hairs of my head: therefore my heart faileth me. Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me…” (Ps. 40:12, 13). “Keep me, O Lord,from the hands of the wicked; preserve me from the violent man…”
And the answer is just as perfectly sure: “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace. But the transgressors shall be destroyed together: the end of the wicked shall be cut off. But the salvation of the righteous is of the Lord: he is their strength in the time of trouble. And the Lord shall help them and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him” (Ps. 37:37-40).
This is the trust that must be built in us and in our children if we are to stand in these evil, last days. Let us do nothing that would take that assurance from us or our children. Let us do nothing that would cause doubt to lurk within our souls. Pray that the Lord Jehovah, mighty over all His enemies, may grant that faith by His Word and Spirit. And may we have the confidence that he, as our Father, will surely grant that request. Our Lord taught us this in Luke 11 as well: “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (v. 13). He will do it. He said so. Go forth and be strong in Him. Psalm 144: “Blessed be the Lord my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight: My goodness, and my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer; my shield, and he in whom I trust; who subdueth my people under me” (vv. 1, 2). “That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as cornerstones, polished after the similitude of a palace” (v. 12). “Happy is that people, that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is the Lord (v. 15).
* See also Lord’s Day 52, Q. and A. 127, and chapters 9 and 10 from In the Sanctuary: Expository Sermons on the Lord’s Prayer, by Rev. H. Hoeksema, RFPA, 1981.