Ever heard of Wilmer McClean? On Saturday evening April 8 1865, McClean, an American wholesale grocer, heard a knock on the door of his home in the small town of Appomattox Court House, Virginia. That knock led to a meeting in the living room of McClean’s house where, the next day, Southern General Robert E. Lee officially surrendered his army to Northern General Ulysses S. Grant and ended the Civil War. The rest, at they say, is history. But there’s a twist in this true tale. Four years earlier McClean was living in a farm-house near Bull Run Creek, some 140 miles to the north of Appomattox Court House when the first major battle of the War Between the States occurred. It took place on 21 July 1861 and was called The First Battle of Bull Run (Confederates named it “The First Manassas”). The battle was ferocious and resulted in thousands of casualties for both sides, providing the first clear indication that the war would be a long, brutal and bloody affair. According to McClean the battle left his house shot to pieces. Out of fear for the safety of his family, he moved them some 140 miles southward to escape the war. But alas, by the time Lee and Grant met in his parlor, the war had come to Appomattox Court House where much of the farm McClean lived on had also been damaged or destroyed. He begrudgingly found himself in the middle of a war he just couldn’t escape! He sought to leave the war, but it wouldn’t leave him alone.
Christians face a situation similar to Wilmer McClean’s, at least in some respects. The Bible depicts the Christian life as a ceaseless, ongoing conflict. The apostle Paul charged Timothy to “wage the good warfare” and to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 1:18 and 6:12). Peter urges Christians to “abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Peter also warned that the devil is every Christian’s “adversary” who “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The apostle John pictures the devil as a dragon who is enraged with God and His children and who wants to “make war” with those who “keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12:17). All these verses remind us that not only are we in a war, but it is a war we can’t escape. The devil sees to that. He brings the war to us every day everywhere we go. Stay ready for the fight, because it’s coming. And then there is this unambiguous statement at Galatians 5:16-17 that suggests we are in a war we cannot escape — “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” What the apostle Paul calls “the flesh” pulls me toward what he labels “the works of the flesh” (including sexual immorality, hatred, explosive anger, jealousy, selfish ambitions, drunkenness, etc.). These come about when people fail to “walk in the Spirit” (vs 16) or refuse to be “led by the Spirit” (vs 18). Conversely, the Holy Spirit seeks to produce the “fruit of the Spirit” in our lives. This fruit is produced and displayed in the lives of those who submit to and follow the guidance and governance of the Spirit. That guidance and governance is laid out in “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17 [the Bible!]). That fruit includes, “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” We can’t escape this war, but with the help of God’s Spirit and His Word we can win it!