Last night I watched a show that talked about an incident I had never heard of before – a terrorist attack on U.S. soil in 1916. That along with my correspondence with a friend in Iraq reminded me yet again how violent this world is in its sin. More than that though, it has reminded me of the violence which is supposed to accompany our lives as Christians. In fact, a quick glance at Nave’s Topical Bible tells us that there are more fifty than passages related to the believer being engaged in the “good warfare” (1:18) or the “fight of faith” (1 Tim 6:12).
But, unlike the war in Iraq or any other national war taken up today, the violence we are encouraged to is not one against other people; we are never encouraged to fight any sort of Christian jihad. Quite the opposite, in fact, Jesus told us to love our enemies (Matt 5:43-44). So, if we are not fighting people, what kind of war are we waging to enter God’s kingdom? Perhaps the most famous passage on spiritual warfare comes in Ephesians 6 where Paul uses the imagery of the Roman soldier of his day to illustrate the constant struggle of the believer against sin and the devil as he advances the kingdom of God through the gospel (Eph 6:10-20).
But the more surprising passage comes from the lips of Jesus: “from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matt 11:12). The context of the passage (11:7-19) shows us that Jesus is saying it is men of courage and of vigor are embracing the truth of the kingdom. Jesus’ point is that we cannot take the kingdom and sleep. We cannot be indifferent about the kingdom. We must embrace the kingdom like John, a man of vigor. The kingdom of God is not something that we can be blasé about, or apathetic about. The kingdom must be embraced with passion and intensity.
The Lord Jesus was saying in there were people who were embracing the kingdom even while others were standing by and criticizing faithful men like John the Baptist. Their spirituality consists of complaining about what they don’t like in the messenger and they’re not exulting in the message of the kingdom of heaven. And, so, He’s exhorting us to take heaven by storm. Not that we can earn our salvation by works – no, that is by grace through faith alone (Eph 2:8-10). But, we must respond to the gospel and so enter into the kingdom. We cannot sleep our way into the kingdom. It demands action and commitment – a response to the message of the gospel. Commenting on this passage, the great Puritan pastor Thomas Watson said, “Men could be content to have the kingdom of Heaven; but they are loathe to fight for it. They choose rather to go in a feather bed to Hell than to be carried to Heaven in a ‘fiery chariot’ of zeal and violence.”
All of this should causes us to ask ourselves: Are we living like men and women of valor and courage, fighting against our own sinfulness (Rom 6:12; 8:13) and the decaying culture (Rom 12:2)? Or are we half-heartedly hoping to enter God’s kingdom, rubbing the sleep out of our eyes? How we pursue God and his kingdom may say something about the kind of relationship we have with God. Let’s pray that we can make evident our calling and election and seek to take heaven by storm!