How do you go to war against an enemy you can’t see? How can you battle something you don’t know is there until it “gets” you? Our world is in a panic over a tiny, microscopic virus that is making its way across continents, crossing national borders, oceans, and deserts without restraint. We can’t see it coming; we can only see the results of what it leaves behind.
There are a lot of parallels between the physical enemy of the COVID-19 virus and the unseen, spiritual enemy which plagues every person in the world: the spiritual virus of sin. Scientists are working feverishly to create a vaccine or cure for COVID-19; they may or may not be able to find what they are looking for. The good news is that a cure for the virus of sin was in the making before time began and is readily available for all who recognize they have been infected.
Our pastor (my husband) asked us last Sunday to consider this question: “If you were tested for sin, would it come back positive?” According to scripture, every one of us has this disease, this dormant virus lurking in our DNA from the moment we’re born.
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned. (Romans 5:12)
All men are born guilty before God (Romans 3:23). We inherited Adam’s fallen sin nature, and we are born in sin (Psalm 51:5). R.C. Sproul has been quoted to say, We aren’t sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. You and I had no choice in the matter; we were infected from birth, a gift from our human parents.
So how do we deal with the invisible enemy of our sin nature?
We can’t defeat it by simply addressing the symptoms. We need a transfusion. We need a completely new nature. Like a bone marrow transplant or a blood transfusion, we need the “old” nature to be replaced with a “new nature” which is made in the image of Christ.
This is why Jesus died on the cross. He took the sins of the world on Himself and paid the price of sin: death. God’s Word tells us that if we repent and believe, we can receive the gift of a new nature, and a new life, free from the penalty of sin, because He died in our place. We are also given the gift of the Holy Spirit who frees us from the power of sin today. We are able to live in a fallen world, but not succumb to the “virus” around us. One day we’ll be free of the presence of sin, when we leave this world and enter eternal life in Christ, in the presence of God.
Today we are facing a physical enemy, an insidious virus that is highly contagious and knows no boundaries. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich, poor, well-educated or can’t even read; ethnic and national borders can’t stop it. Our government and health officials have given us a “battle plan” to help us combat the spread, with hopes of containing it.
As Christ-followers, God has given us a “battle plan” to combat the spread of sin in our lives, as we live in its presence all around us. Like COVID-19, it can “sneak up on you” and infect you if you’re not paying attention. Our battle plan is found in Ephesians 6:10-18. As we follow the government’s protocols to protect ourselves physically, let us be reminded of how to protect ourselves from the greater, spiritual, enemy, sin.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.
We must stand firm.
We’ve been instructed to stay at home unless we absolutely need to go out. The temptation is to tell ourselves that we are the exception, and that getting together with a friend who is not sick won’t matter, or that the strict rules are silly. In the same way, we have to take up our position spiritually and stand firm. We must know what the Bible says and stick to it. We can’t waver or make excuses and exceptions for our personal preferences or decide that we can compromise the commands of God in this one instance and that it won’t really matter.
We must gird our loins with truth.
In order to defeat COVID-19, the media is saturating us with information. In this case, we are trusting that they are telling us the truth (take that with a grain of salt…it’s the media), but you can see how important it is to know the facts of how the virus spreads, what symptoms to look for and the real revelation of truth…being tested. In the same way, as a Christ-follower, we need to know the truth about sin. What exactly is sin? What are the commands of God? What does the Bible say about how we should act, speak, and behave? What are the rules?
We must put on the breastplate of righteousness.
What is the most common thing you’ve heard lately? Wash your hands! Stop touching your face! The point is to kill the virus before it infects you. It’s to protect yourself from allowing the virus to enter your body. I’m sure you’ve seen James 4:8 (NIV) posted lately, Wash your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. We laugh because it’s so appropriate, but the real meaning is clear: we need to rid ourselves of anything sinful or dishonoring to God in our battle against sin. The child of God is already positionally righteous (having put on the breastplate of righteousness…past tense), but we must daily, moment-by-moment, strive to live righteously, “washing our hands” of any sin we encounter in our hearts, minds, or actions.
We must put on the shoes of the gospel of peace.
An anxious and fearful spirit is a real thing, and we’re seeing it spread almost as fast as the virus. It’s highly contagious. While we may be a little anxious about the unknown outcome of this virus, in Christ we can have perfect peace. We’ve been justified, and are at peace with God, and we have the peace of God to sustain us, both in facing a physical virus, or the sinful world we live in. I love that the gospel is pictured in the shoes, indicating we have peace wherever we go, and it is also a message of peace to be carried wherever our feet take us. We also stand firm in the gospel!
We must take up the shield of faith.
We’ve been instructed to practice “social distancing” which in addition to staying home and away from people entirely, means not getting within six feet of others if we are in public (literally a physical barrier). This comes from the idea that a droplet (say, your friend sneezes or coughs) will fall to the ground within that six-foot distance, and not spread to you. For those who don’t like to be touched, this is easy to practice, but our natural tendency is to shake hands, or touch a shoulder, or give a hug. Social distancing is hard! Our spiritual “social distancing” is pictured in the shield of faith, which extinguishes the fiery darts of the enemy before they can harm us. It’s a spiritual barrier. A strong faith rooted in the promises of God will defeat those discouraging or tempting thoughts of sin (1 Corinthians 10:13).
We must put on the helmet of salvation.
A physical helmet protects the head. It is a shield around our brain, the source of our thoughts. When I think about this, I am reminded of how important it is to protect our own minds and thoughts as well as those of our children who are close at home with us. Our perspective in this crisis will influence their faith and teach them how to handle difficult circumstances. We need to make our homes a pleasant refuge and sanctuary (not a place of fear). We need to gather up our families and rejoice in what we have rather than looking at what’s been taken from us. In the same way, our salvation is a spiritual refuge for us against the temptations of the culture that would distract us from what’s important. We need to think about this great salvation, ponder its implications, and rejoice in what God has done for us. This perspective will make sin less attractive.
We must take up the sword of the Spirit (Word of God).
There’s not a lot we can do offensively to combat the COVID-19 virus, but we can obey the rules (be a team player in our community so that we honor the health of others) and do our part to eat well, get enough sleep and stay healthy. On the spiritual side, God’s Word is the offensive weapon against temptation and sin, as we obey it, and wield it against the enemy, just as Jesus did when He was tempted in the wilderness. Memorize it, read it, meditate on it, study it, and obey it.
We must pray.
Prayer is spiritual communication with someone we can’t see (God). As we practice “social distancing” we may be tempted to withdraw into our homes and do life alone. That may have been our only option fifty years ago, but today we have lots of ways to stay in communication with our community. We can call, text, and Facetime. We can still send cards and letters. We can still get outside and drop off gifts to one another. Communication with others during this time is very important for our mental and emotional health. In the same way, our spiritual health is directly impacted by our communication in prayer. Being a Christ-follower is not just adhering to the rules; it’s a relationship. Prayer is vitally important in our battle against the spiritual virus of sin.
The COVID-19 virus will eventually go away, but we have no idea yet of the lasting impact it will have on our world. We don’t know how many will be infected. We don’t know who will get better, or whose life it will take. We can only guess. The virus of sin, however, has already been dealt with. A cure is available, and we have all we need to keep ourselves from its recurring presence in our lives.
COVID-19 might take your physical life, but sin will steal your eternity if it’s not dealt with by Jesus. Don’t confuse which is more important.
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. (Romans 8:2)