This is Part 10 in a 12 Part series. The premise is this: "Two men in their in their late 20’s walk into a coffee shop around 7:00 a.m. In college they had been good friends, but over the past few years had gotten out of touch. Having lived in the same dormitory for three of their four years at City Christian College, they still had many fond—and a few not-so-fond memories—of their time together in college. Just by accident (or so Michael thought) they had run into each other in a hardware store and had set up a time to talk over breakfast. This is their tenth breakfast together.

If you want to read this series of conversations from the beginning (you don't have to start at the beginning), please see Part 1.

Jim: Good morning! Aren’t you glad to be a Christian today?!

Michael: Don’t you know the proverb that says, “If a man loudly blesses his neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse”?[1]

Jim: Yeah, I know that verse. But when did you start memorizing again?

Michael: These days I only memorize for self-defense.

Jim: At least I’m glad to hear that you’re cracking your Bible.

Michael: Better to crack it than to have someone else crack you with it.

Jim: (silence)

Michael: Can I ask you a question?

Jim: Sure.

Michael: … about your work at the Northside …

Jim: Are you reconsidering joining us?

Michael: No.

Jim: Then what do you want to ask?

Michael: Don’t you feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle? I just read that about one hundred people on average are moving into the Northside every week, and that most of them are in very difficult financial straits. How do you handle this? And how do you deal with the violence … aren’t you afraid? It just seems to be getting so much worse all the time. Do you think all your work is worth it? Do you think it’s actually doing anything?

Jim: If I can snatch one person a year from hell, then I think what I’m doing is worth it.

Michael: But the situation continues to get worse. What’s the use?

Jim: If 10,000 people a day are dying because of a drought in North Africa and you send enough money to save the lives of five, what have you done? Have you stopped the famine? No. But you’ve saved five lives. That’s something in itself. What we’re doing at Northside is similar. Few seemed willing to stand in this rather large gap, so we decided that it was time for us to step in. But don’t start thinking we’ll always be as under the load as it seems we are right now. We believe that God is going to turn the tide and that we’re going to really make a difference in the long run. But even if we don’t, we’re willing to die in the attempt.[2]

Michael: I admire your courage. But I still think that what you’re trying to do is almost impossible.

Jim: That’s one of the reasons we’re trying it. God is the one who makes the impossible possible. What do you think, Michael? Is the church a triumphant church, or are we just a band of persecuted idealists?

Michael: In your case I’d say that you look more like a group of persecuted idealists. At the same time, the church does seem to be making strides in many places in the world.

Jim: We’re engaged in a war for the hearts and souls of people. We’re opposed by a very strong and cunning enemy, Satan. As we know from the Bible, in the end Satan is going to be defeated and Christ will entirely win.

Michael: I know all about that. I believe that Christ is eventually going to win the war, but …

Jim: It’s not enough to say that he is eventually going to win the war. He’s already won the war.

Michael: How can you possibly say that? Such a statement is about as far removed from reality as you can get … more typical Christian garbaligook. Look at all the spiritual battles that are lost, both on the individual and the corporate level. What do you mean by saying we’ve already won the war?! We haven’t won the war if we’re still in the war!

Jim: The Bible explicitly teaches that Jesus won the war at the cross. “He (God) forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us, he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”[3] But this doesn’t mean there won’t be any more battles.

Michael: What do you mean by that? When a war is won, there aren’t any more battles.

Jim: Are you sure about that?

Michael: Of course. Once the war is over, the battles stop.

Jim: Actually, the battles only stop when the enemy surrenders. But a war can be won a long time before the enemy surrenders. Look at how World War 2 was won. D-day, when thousands of troops landed on Normandy, was in reality, the end of World War 2. The taking of that beachhead virtually guaranteed victory in the war by the Allied powers. But Hitler refused to give up, always hoping that the war might turn again in his favor. Still, it is clear that the day he lost Normandy, the issue of who was going to win the war was settled.

Michael: But some of the worst and bloodiest battles of the war were fought after Normandy. I see where you’re going with your illustration. You’re going to say that though Satan was defeated at the cross, he is still unwilling to concede defeat. He continues to oppose us, as Hitler did in World War 2, even though his final defeat has been sealed. Satan is trying to take down as many of us with him as he can.

Jim: Just as some battles were lost by the Allies before their final march to Berlin, we can be sure that we will eventually prevail in our war against Satan and his forces, even if some battles are lost along the way.

Michael: OK. You’re saying that we have the assurance that the war is won. But if we’ve already won the war, and if we’re certain that the final results of the war mean victory for the Lord, why do battles exist? Why does God allow them to exist?

Jim: An important reason God allows battles is that he’s trying to do something in us as well as through us. There’s no better place to show what a person is made of than on the battlefield …

Michael: So why do we lose battles sometimes?

Jim: The answer is slightly different on a personal level than on a group level. On a personal level, God has given us every spiritual resource that we need to constantly defeat the devil. Though we may not always win every personal battle—if we believe what God says—when we are tempted we always can win our personal battles against the devil.[4]

Michael: Are you sure?

Jim: One main reason that we don’t win every battle is that we continue to hold on to areas of our former lives and haven’t fully turned those areas over to God. We encounter habits of sin in our lives that are deeply rooted because we have never dealt with them through confession and the spiritual disciplines. Our laziness in failing to deal with them becomes one of the main hindrances to pressing forward to take the ground God wants us to take. If we want to win personal battles, we’ll have to deal realistically and specifically with the habits of sin in our lives that weigh us down.

Michael: Probably another problem is that we aren’t far enough along in spiritual maturity to understand the dynamics of what it takes to engage such a powerful enemy as the devil.

Jim: I’m sure that’s true. Most of us sorely need growth, both in personal holiness and in our understanding of prayer as warfare. But when we cave in to temptation and fail to win the spiritual battles that each of us face, the reason we aren’t always winners is not God’s problem, it’s our own.

Michael: And on a group level?

Jim: On a group level, it’s a little more complicated. We have to understand that the kingdom of God is functioning on the earth, but it’s not fully here in all of its expressions. We bring aspects of the kingdom into areas untouched by Christ’s love through preaching the good news, ministries of mercy, supporting the cause of justice, and so on. But the kingdom won’t be fully here until Christ returns in glory, binds Satan, and establishes Christ’s own peace on the earth. The implication of this is that we can sometimes expect to encounter setbacks when we set out to take the gospel of Christ to a new region, or when we attempt to bring social justice into a desperate situation. Along the way, we are sure to face some persecution and harassment. Jesus himself said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”[5] This verse specifically says that, on the one hand, Christ has already overcome the world, but, on the other hand, that troubles still are coming.

Michael: But if there are going to be so many difficulties in trying to bring Christ’s love to the people of the earth, why try?

Jim: Don’t misunderstand what I’m trying to say. Just because I said that various Christian communities will lose some battles doesn’t mean that the whole picture is negative. In many places in the world, the church is moving forward with great strides. Just look at the forward movements of world-evangelization during the past 100 years. We need to keep moving forward in faith and see God change situations that seem impossible—such as our own inner cities, or in the hard-to-reach Muslim countries. But when we face set-backs, let’s look at the big picture and keep moving forward. Just because we’ve lost a battle this year, doesn’t mean that we won’t win the same battle next year.

Michael: And you think that God is going to turn the tide of the huge migration into the Northside, the difficulties of drug-related violence, prostitution, and poverty, and renew people through the message of the gospel just because your little band of half-crazy idealists are down there trying to do something?

Jim: That’s our prayer. You know, Michael, we may be idealistic, but we’re willing to get our fingernails grimy working out the tough details.

Michael: I know that, and I respect it. But, unless I could really believe that God could break through there, I couldn’t give myself wholly to something like that.

Jim: A change of mind in this area will take a work of God in your heart. Your issue isn’t simply intellectual—it’s the problem of faith. Because of our previous talks, I know that you believe that God wants to do a work in the world. I also know that you believe he can do it. But I think your statement that you would have to believe that God could do such a work before you could give yourself wholeheartedly to such a task may be motivated not by intellectual skepticism but by your fear that God might not come through when it gets really difficult.

Michael: … just like he hasn’t come through in other areas of my life.

Jim: Do you really think that God wouldn’t come through because he couldn’t or didn’t want to?

Michael: I don’t normally question whether God is able, but I do regularly question whether he really wants too.

Jim: Michael, God wants to. I’m sure. He’s been trying to call you to live totally for him for a long time. You’re just so used to resisting that call that you don’t even realize anymore that you’re resisting.

Michael: Deep down my desire is to love him and live for him—no strings attached. But I still find it difficult. Please don’t stop praying for me, Jim.

Jim: I won’t stop praying … I promise.

Questions Over Breakfast #11: What About All the Hypocrites?

[1] Prov 27:14.

[2] Cf. Dan 3:18.

[3] Col 2:13-15.

[4] 1 Cor 10:13; James 4:7b.

[5] John 16:33.