At times water can be tranquil and calming. Standing at the edge of a quiet and lonely mountain lake, for example, can fill one with a sense of peace and serenity. At other times water can be terrifying. It can wield unimaginable destructive power. Those who suffered from the Tsunamis in Southeast Asia and Japan not long ago can attest to this reality.
There are two times I can recall being awed by the power of moving water. One was while standing next to the Bosporus in Istanbul, Turkey. This enormous body of water was churning and swelling very close to the top of the structure keeping it at bay. The other time was while standing very close to the edge of Niagara falls. It’s said that almost 700,000 gallons of water falls over the edge of just one portion of Niagara falls every second. That represents unimaginable power.
When I think about how spiritual enemies make use of culture to press people into sin, I picture their efforts as a raging river with an enormously powerful current. Most people are swept away into this and caught up by the flow without even realizing that they are being controlled and directed by evil. Paul speaks of this condition in Ephesians 2:1-3 (NIV):
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.
As noted, we were all born into this condition. We were all swept away by what’s referred to in this verse as “the ways of this world.” Many thrive in this strong and evil current, and even seek to increase its flow. They are seemingly unaware of the waterfall at the river’s end. Once they cross it and fall into the gaping abyss they’ll be separated from God’s presence for eternity.
By God’s grace alone, some of us have been saved. By believing the gospel and trusting in Jesus for salvation we have been empowered to stand firm against the raging current of sin. We remain in this world, but we are not of it.
It’s up to us to follow Jesus as Lord in order to not be overcome by the world. Yes, there is assurance of salvation for those who genuinely trust in Jesus. And yet, even true believers are at times under the river’s control to some degree. When this is the case we are not as effective as we could be for the Kingdom. Believers who dwell there long-term are among those of whom Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 3:1-15. He refers to them as spiritual infants who will be saved, but only as those who just barely escape destruction.
Those who by God’s grace understand what the river represents are encouraged in many portions of Scripture to stand firm against the powerful current of evil and sin. One of the most well-known encouragements is in Ephesians 6:10-13 which in the NIV reads:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Incidentally, the Greek word for “full armor” as it appears in verses 11 and 13 is Panoplia. This was the inspiration for the name of this website and online community.
I highlighted the words “stand” in the quotation above. In these few verses the English word “stand” appears three times. It appears again at the beginning of verse 14. That’s four times in just a few verses. The encouragement to stand against our spiritual enemies and the ways of this world they champion is a central theme of the New Testament.
It’s of interest to note, however, that whereas the English word “stand” appears three times in the few verses above, in the original Greek it only appears two times. The first and third words translated as “stand” in the verses above are the Greek word histēmi. The root meaning encourages us to stand firm, to not be overcome, and to endure the onslaught. Using the metaphor of our raging river, the picture painted by this word is a warrior standing firm in the truth against the terrifyingly powerful rush of water, or the ways of this world, as they seek to sweep him or her away with the rest of humanity.
The second word translated as “stand” in the verses quoted above is actually a different, yet related word. It’s the Greek word anthistēmi. The preface “ant” is what we know as “anti” or against. The meaning here seems to indicate not just standing against the current of the raging river, but pushing back against it and actually moving upstream.
Whereas the Greek word histēmi appears over 150 times in the New Testament, the word anthistēmi is used only 14 times. It’s often translated as to oppose. An example is in Galatians 2:11 when Paul had to “oppose” Peter when the latter was not acting in accordance with the truth of the gospel. It seems clear from this context that Paul was not simply standing against what Peter was doing, but instead he was pushing back against it.
The word anthistēmi in its 14 occurrences is often translated in English versions of the Bible as to “resist.” A great example is in James 4:7 (NIV), which says:
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Unfortunately, many English speakers see the word “resist” in its popular usage as meaning to stand against rather than to oppose. This despite the fact that dictionaries often correctly convey the more forceful definition. For example, the Merriam Webster Dictionary’s first entry for the word “resist” is, “To exert force in an opposite direction.” Again using our metaphor, this paints a picture of a warrior pushing upstream against the raging river of sin that seeks to forcefully sweep him or her away.
As reflected in the number of times these words are used in the New Testament, we are for the most part encouraged by Scripture to live our lives standing firm against the onslaught of our spiritual enemies. And yet, there are times when it’s necessary for us to oppose them and to push back against the raging current of the world. Discerning between the two involves careful attention to the word of God and to the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit as he guides and empowers us.
I’ve recently chosen to “push back” against something in my life that’s given me great difficulty for many years. As I do so I’ve clearly sensed the difference between standing firm on one hand, and fighting to push upstream on the other. I’m so thankful for the Lord’s encouragement in this, and am completely dependent on him for the power necessary to oppose the raging current.
Please pray for me in this endeavor, even as I pray for you to have the faith, courage, and the Lord’s empowerment to push back against our spiritual enemies in any ways that they may have been working against you for years. Praise God for his love and patience toward us as we seek to honor him in every way!