There is a great song by Tom Petty called “I wont back down.” I am sure you have heard it before; it was quite popular. In fact, Johnny Cash did an amazing cover of it. The lyrics are raw and simple and speak to a longing we all have. It is the desire to make a firm stand, to be unmoved, unshakable in the face of difficulty and opposition or whatever this world throws at us. He sings:
Standing our ground, this is what we want to do. And let us be honest, it is no easy task in this world. There is power to be gained by getting you to fall in line with the consensus. There is money to be made by your joining a particular side. There are influences which will press down hard upon you to keep you from doing anything but standing your ground. When you add to that the call of discipleship, the faith you have been given, you find out how both the desire to stand firm and the opposition to get you to move away from your stance increase greatly.
It turns out there are real enemies to the faith, real opposition to standing firm in the true Word of God. For most of us, when we come to faith, we have no idea what we signed up for. We believe and all we want to do is stand firm in that belief. No one warned us there would be opposition. But the enemies are prevalent. In fact, Paul in his letter to the church in Philippi, describes the enemies of the faith as those whose, “…end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” At its core, the Christian faith is to be turned away from yourself, to find salvation in Christ alone, apart from any works you accomplish. Hope comes from outside of yourself. Yet, the enemies of the faith, those whose end is destruction are more interested in having us curve-in on ourselves, where our god is our own belly. I have a print of a painting by Anna Merit in my study called “Eve.” It is a picture of Eve right after she ate the forbidden fruit. She is sitting on the ground with her knees drawn up to her chest and her head bowed down. She is literally curved-in on herself. She has become her own god. Her own voice is her only guide. Everything from the outside is shut out.
I love that painting because it is a perfect representation of what sin has done and what the enemies of the faith continue to seduce us with. The serpent said to the woman when convincing her to eat of the forbidden fruit, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” To be your own god is to be curved-in on yourself. Your word is the final say. Your feelings are all that matter. Saint Paul describes this as being an enemy of the cross of Christ. After all, the cross is outside of yourself. It does not need your permission, your influence, your accent to make it so. It simply is. It is either received or rejected. And to reject it is to go in search of glory within yourself. It is to set your mind completely on earthly things. It is to be pushed about by every wind and wave of false teaching and false hope.
We want to stand firm in the faith we have been given. We want to trust in promises of God and remain unmoved in the face of all the opposition the world marshals against us. But the cares of our age, the powers and influences of our world are enticing. We do not have to search very far for examples of this. We have just gone through a global pandemic which rocked the Church. Questions of whether the Church should or should not meet, how we ought to practice communion, do we sing or not? Suddenly, these became the discussion of those who have no stake in the game, no part in the fellowship. Do the cares and concerns of this temporal age outweigh the eternal promises of our God? Does our love and care for our brothers and sisters in Christ move us from doing what we know is faithful and true? On Thursday, I had coffee with another pastor. We were reminiscing about all of this, and I told him how, in hindsight, the pandemic was a good thing for our fellowship. It challenged us in good ways that tested our faith, which drove us back to the Word of truth. But as I was saying this you could watch his countenance fall, for his congregation was decimated. In fact, it will most likely shut its doors for good by the years end. Such things cause us to wonder where it is we stand. It makes us long for a place to firmly plant our feet.
And as we just begin to get used to our post pandemic world, wars and rumors of wars dominate the news cycle. Russia invades Ukraine. What are we supposed to do about it? What are we supposed to think? Whose side are we on? You hear everything from the insistence that this war on the other side of the world is about our democracy, about our standing as America, about our future on the global stage. But is it? Or is it about power, authority, and military autonomy? Or is it about oil, gas, and climate change worries. What does standing firm look like in the midst of all this? We drink deep of the nightly news cycle. We get consumed by the cares of this world and desperately go searching for solutions flowing from the wisdom, strength, and ambitions of men.
We get consumed by the cares of our age. Perhaps, like me, sometimes you just throw up your hands in indifference. But we do not stay there very long. Out of love and compassion for others we easily go in search of solutions which can bring relief and comfort to others. We are shifted and moved by those who offer solutions. We align with one political party or another. Then we argue over gas prices and solutions to our energy woes. We find ourselves constantly being moved from one crisis to another with no end in sight. Slowly, we come to the realization there is no hope in all this frantic energy.
As Paul reminds us of those who make their bellies their god, those who glory in their shame, he says, “This is not your situation. You are not bound to the cares of this age. Your minds do not need to be fixed on the political solutions to our earthy corruption.” “No,” he says, “our citizenship is in Heaven. And from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.” You are citizens of Heaven. You belong to something outside of your own making, outside of the power and might of mankind’s doing. You are part of something that will outlast our political systems, high gas prices, and international conflict. You, right now, are part of an eternal Kingdom in which there is healing, life, and hope and an end to all politics, war, and strife.
When I hear Johnny Cash and Tom Petty sing about standing firm before the very gates of Hell, I think, “Yes, that is what I want to do. That is who I long to be.” And what Paul is reminding us of, is you already have such a place to stand. You have a firm, unmovable foundation upon which to make your stand. You have the promises of Jesus Christ. You have the work He has accomplished, His death, His resurrection, His ascension to the right hand of the Father. You have a gift from outside of yourself, outside your own fears, weaknesses, and failures. You have something sure and eternal. In fact, the promises of Christ are so complete that all citizens of Heaven will have their bodies transformed, the weaknesses and brokenness you know so well will cease to be.
The thing is, we do not make this stand very well on our own. We are tempted over and again to curve-in on ourselves. We are constantly pulled and shifted by those who profit from our frantic movement. But together, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we can make a stand. Together we proclaim the truth to one another over and again. Each of you becomes the external Word for the other. As citizens of Heaven, we create a fellowship, a community, of hope and strength rooted in the promises of Christ alone. Yes, together as citizens of Heaven, we hear Paul saying to us all, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” Stand firm!