I didn’t always enjoying reading. In fact, I’m the type of person that gets super-annoyed when others declare, “Oh ‘such-and-such movie’ was good, but it was nothing like the book!” Personally, I rather enjoy the visual experience of the medium of film over that of reading a book. However, in the last few months (and years), reading and studying has become my favorite pastime. Perhaps it’s what I’m reading — or rather, Who I’m reading and studying about — that has me enthralled.
A Quick Detour
Believe it or not, the last “secular” book(s) that I read for mere pleasure’s sake was J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The tale that Tolkien recounts is so lifelike and visceral and emotional that it’s impossible to not be swept entirely into the world of Middle-Earth. There’s an intriguing line in The Fellowship of the Ring, though, in which the elf-queen Galadriel speaks of her Lord Celeborn: “He has dwelt in the West since the days of dawn, and I have dwelt with him years uncounted . . . and together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat.” (348) Allow to me expound upon this passage briefly, and then apply it to us.
In Tolkien’s mythology, ever since the great ring was found by Bilbo — perhaps by happenstance, perhaps by fate — the malicious Lord Sauron has been moving and stirring, knowing that if he were ever to be reunited with the One Ring, that it meant certain annihilation of all who oppose him. Thus, with this ring re-surfacing and the quest to destroy it standing “upon the edge of a knife,” Galadriel knows that hope is thin and defeat is imminent. Gandalf even admits as much when he says, “There never was much hope . . . Just a fool’s hope.” (Tolkien, Return, 83) Sometimes, that’s precisely how we view our life with Christ.
The Weight of War
We know, or maybe you’ve come to know, that the Christian life is one of struggle, often great struggle, and it’s because in our pursuit of God, a darkness remains inside us that desires only to bring us down. The spiritual life of the Christian is one of conflict: it’s a battle in your soul between what your old nature wants and what your new nature wants. The “work” and the “effort,” then, is to consistently and constantly yield ourselves to those new desires (Col. 3:1–4, 12–17), and likewise strangle the former ones. (Col. 3:5–11) It’s this struggle that weighs us down. It’s this internal conflict and war that can often demoralize us into thinking that what we’re doing is worthless, and that we’re just engaged in “the long defeat.” I know that, for me, whenever Satan gets the victory and I stumble, that thought races through my head: “Why am I engaged in this futile battle? This struggle is stupid; I’ll never be able to defeat Satan! I might as just give up.”
Sometimes, in the midst of our own sanctification, we can get caught in a routine of “two steps forward, one step back,” or maybe even “one step forward, two steps back,” where it seems as though our old self is getting the better of us. But these thoughts are false, and, indeed, deadly to the life of a believer. They come not from the Holy Spirit, but only the devil, who only seeks to devour you (1 Pet. 5:8), and make you a worthless vessel for the gospel. That’s why it’s so vital, in these moments, and always, to remember the summary of the whole Bible. It’s something one of my Bible professors said in a New Testament survey class that’s always stuck with me, that the summary of Scripture is a mere two words: Jesus Wins! Indeed, we can say, as if looking back at history, that Christ has won, and we, his rescued sons and daughters, are merely waiting for the consummation of that victory.
Once for All Victory
Christian, don’t give up hope, for it rests in the Surety that is Christ Jesus, your Savior and Redeemer and Rescuer. He has already delivered you and assured you of final victory. We’re not engaged in “the long defeat,” but the long victory. Death has no power, Satan has no power; he’s as a declawed and de-fanged lion, with nothing left to impose upon God’s people but lies and regrets. Believer, let your hope and confidence and joy rest in this: that Jesus has established and secured your victory, once for all! (Heb. 10:9–10; Rom. 6:9–11; 1 Pet. 3:18)
We can — and must — embrace this glorious fight for Christ, not out of any strength or fortitude of our own, but solely from the knowledge that life in and under the gospel of Jesus’s grace enables and empowers us to be “more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Rom. 8:37) This is the idea that the apostle Paul was urging upon his Corinthian readers, when he said: “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:54–58 ESV)
Don’t stop short in the race. (Heb. 12:2) Don’t relent in the battle. Be steadfast, knowing that your life of faith stands upon a Firm Foundation and a Solid Rock, knowing that a better life is being made ready for you! “Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, therefore what we do is not done for a dead Christ,” proclaims Charles Spurgeon. “We are not fighting for a dead man’s cause; we are not contending for an effete dynasty, or a name to conjure by, but we have a living captain, a reigning king, one who is able both to occupy the throne and to lead on our hosts to battle. Oh, by the Christ in glory, I beseech you, brethren, be ye stedfast!”
When times of trouble surround you, remember the gospel, remember the cross, that place of glorious triumph where Jesus utterly canceled your debt — thoroughly defeating every one of his foes. (Col. 3:14–15) You’re not fighting “the long defeat,” but a long and glorious victory, whereby God’s magnificence, grace, love, and power get all the glory. Embrace the struggle; engage in the conflict; and live for Jesus. May this, which was declared by Charles Spurgeon, be our motto in the fight: “All for Jesus, always for Jesus, everywhere for Jesus.”
This article was originally written for Rooted Ministries.
J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1994).
J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of The Lord of the Rings (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1965).