Spiritual Battlefields: Our Souls

cannon facing old battlefield

We’ve spent the last several lessons talking about the everyday battlefields we face as we go about our lives. These are those simple struggles — faith, temptations, attention, money — that can take our minds off of God and distract us from living spiritually. These skirmishes add up to something bigger. They amount to a battle being waged for our souls, and it’s a battle that happens every day and in every place where we choose how we speak, how we conduct ourselves, where we place our trust, how we spend our time and resources, and how we order our priorities.

The battle may seem overwhelming at times, but the great news is this: it has already been won. We didn’t win it. It was won on our behalf by the only One who could have secured the victory. As we face our daily battles, we aren’t winning victories against the devil. Instead, we are holding onto a victory we already have. It’s the victory of our Savior who died and rose to live again. In His death, burial, and resurrection, we have the greatest of victories.

Losing Our Lives to Gain Our Souls

This victory is unlike any other we can have. Jesus describes it like this in Mark 8:34 – 36:

If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the gospel will save it. For what does it benefit a man to gain the whole world yet lose his life?

He goes on to ask what you would be willing to give up in exchange for your life. Think about it. If you’re life was on the line, what would you be willing to give up in exchange for it? Your car, your bank account, your home? I don’t think anyone here would put their material possessions over their lives. The unspoken question is then this: what are you willing to give up to save your soul?

Jesus says this victory for your soul demands nothing less than complete self-sacrifice. Forget giving up your car. This is about giving up your time, your resources, your priorities, and your attention. This is about giving up yourself totally and completely for the Savior who has won you out of spiritual death.

Victory on the Cross

This victory was won in a way that seems impossible to understand. The victory over death was won through death, but it was a death that led to new life. For your sake and mine, Jesus experienced loss. He experienced betrayal. He was accused of crimes He never committed. He was beaten. He was tortured. He was hung on a cross where He would be separated from God and He would die.

In this difficult victory, He endured quietly. He did not protest against the false accusations. He did not seek to insult or vindicate Himself with those who tortured, abused, and mocked Him. He made no complaint or appeal. He laid down His life, so that we might live. Would we have been as willing to be so peaceful during such events? If we truly want to represent Christ in how we live, we should be trying to find that same sense of peace He had when facing the ultimate trial.

Measuring this by physical standards, the events of the cross look like defeat. But we find victory there instead. With His death, Jesus defeated sin and death once and for all. With His resurrection, He wins us hope for something better than this life. He overcame death through death, and He gives us hope because He lives. This is what Christian victory looks like. This love shows us how we should live to claim that victory.

Greater Love Has No Man…

Think about John 15, when Jesus is describing spiritual love to His disciples. Starting in verse 11, Jesus says:

I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is My command: Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you slaves anymore, because a slave doesn’t know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from My Father.

Jesus laid down His life for us as His friends. And this was more than the cross. He plotted the entire course of His life around the needs of others. His entire motivator was the victory for our souls over death. Everything He did, He did to benefit others. He laid down His life both in death and in living.

As friends of Jesus, we should be doing the same. We may not be asked to die for Him, but we should be living for Him. That is the natural response of a grateful soul to the victory provided us. We lay down our plans for our own lives, and we give our lives completely over to Him. This is about giving up all of those other things that can cause spiritual skirmishes in our lives and handing them over to God. This opens the door for us to then experience the greatest victory — the victory Christ won for us when He died on the cross and rose again to newness of life.

lesson by Robert Smelser

Victory in the Cross

three crosses

Over the course of this series about those close to the cross, we have reviewed four things that increase when we grow closer to the cross: our understanding of His love, our grace toward others, our commitment, and our responsibility. The closer we stay to the cross, the more our lives will look like His. Furthermore, the cross brings us forgiveness and ultimately salvation. It is the death that brings eternal life. We understand that there is victory in the cross.

Victory & Peace in the Cross

I Corinthians 15:50 helps us understand that we will be changed from something physical to something spiritual when Christ comes again. Death will have no more victory over us because we will be clothed in immortality. That victory over death is possible because of the cross.

We are also victorious over sin because of the cross. Isaiah 53:4 tells us the Messiah would be wounded for our sakes and that His pain would heal us. A moment that would be considered defeat under any other circumstances became victory over the sin and death that have so much power in this world.

Philippians 4:4 then reminds us there is peace to be found in the cross. This world and its struggles are not everything. We look for something better. Remember how peaceful Mary and John were at the cross. They had peace — peace that passed all understanding — and we can have that peace as well when we grow closer to His cross. We have the peace of forgiveness, the peace of redemption, the peace of hope.

Sharing the Cross

We then share that victory and peace with others. Hebrews 4:16 calls us to approach God’s presence with confidence, and that confidence leads us to share Him with others. Because of the cross, we will live in a way that sets us apart from the words. The cross changes our lives and attitudes in a way that separates us. We have a peace and confidence that should set us apart.

When we are far from the cross, we blend in with the world. We may be aware of Christ, but we have not completely given ourselves over to Him. The closer we get, our priorities begin to change. Our attitudes and our conduct changes. Our love for others changes and grows. We became something better and new. We have peace and hope because of the victory of the cross, and we should want to share that hope with others. That victory is meant to be shared.

lesson by Donn Koonce

Onlookers at the Cross

three crosses

When we started these studies about the cross, we talked about the increase to our commitment, our responsibility, our understanding of God’s love, and our grace toward others that come out of us living closer to the cross. Then we continued our studies by looking at Mary and John’s reactions to the cross, how they seemed to understand what was coming, and how they supported each other when the moment of Jesus’ death came. Both left changed by the experience. Today, we’re going to look at some others close to the cross.

The Emboldened Mob

Some of these individuals may have been present at Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem a week before this event, but now they are caught up in the moment. In Matthew 27:15, Pilate gives the crowd a choice between freeing Jesus or a more well-known criminal named Barabbas, and they choose Barabbas, even calling for Jesus’ blood to be on them and their children. This is like the covenant made by their ancestors in Exodus 24 when Moses sprinkled blood on the people.

They got what they wanted. The fact is, Jesus’ blood was shed upon them and their children, but it is not a curse. Instead, that blood brings forgiveness and mercy. Hebrews 9:18 speaks of covenants being sealed by blood, and Jesus’ blood is the sealing of the New Covenant between God and His Creation. His blood is the blood of forgiveness. During the crucifixion, many would continue to mock Jesus and revile Him, but He offered nothing back but forgiveness.

The Humbled Individuals

In Mark 15:33-41, the events following Christ’s crucifixion make a lasting impact on a centurion, who states that Jesus must have in fact been a man of God. Luke 23:48 records that these events also shake the mob, and they go their ways grieved for what they had done. In His death, Jesus affected even those who would have hurt and belittled Him. From those who should have known better to those who had no knowledge of God, Jesus touched their hearts in His death. The cross changed them.

This effect was so strong that many remembered those feelings in Acts 2, when Peter preaches to those gathered around him. He preaches Christ’s divinity to them, and, when he reminds them of their own culpability in His death, the people cry out, “What must we do to be saved?” At that moment, everything comes together, and thousands come to Christ for forgiveness of sins. And Peter, instead of placing a curse on them and their children in the death of Christ, tells them that sacrifice brings hope to them and the generations to come. Jesus’ death turns a curse into life.

Coming to the Cross

The same promise is available to us. We and our children have that same hope. Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. Let the cross increase our responsibility and commitment. Let it grow our understanding and appreciation of his love, and let that cross guide us in sharing God’s grace with others. Those early Christians did these things, and the church grew, and it will grow today if we live near the cross and allow it to affect us the same way. Let’s allow the cross to humble us, bring us to Jesus’ grace, and encourage us to live for Him.

lesson by Donn Koonce