I’ve logged more hours playing the Mario Bros. series of games than I care to admit. I’m pretty sure I could beat both the NES Super Mario and Super Mario 3 (the one with the racoon tail) in under 30 minutes. It’s certainly not rocket science. You make use of the Warp Zones, collect your mushrooms, fire flowers and racoon tails, time your jumps, and beat the bosses.
The game is straight forward: there’s a goal (save Princess Peach), a path toward it, and strategies to defeat the enemies that stand in your way. Analogously, the Christian life has a goal (the glory of God in all things; Isaiah 43:7; Romans 11:36), a path (the warp and woof of your life, sovereignly ordained by God; Job 23:14; Ephesians 1:11), and enemies that stand in your way (the world, the flesh, and the devil; Ephesians 2:1-3).
Though Christ has won the victory and gone before us as our Conquering King, there remains the fight of faith for every Christian (1 Peter 2:11). We do not fight as defeated, powerless people, but as hope-filled soldiers, confident in Christ and free from enslavement to sin. In our fight God has given us weapons for our warfare (2 Corinthians 3:10) that are primarily, but not limited to, prayer and God’s word (Ephesians 6:17-18).
As a pastor I’ve met and counseled many people over the years who confessed to struggling with specific sins while feeling defeated in the face of them. Often, I asked what their spiritual disciplines look like and what they were doing to fight their flesh. I am never surprised to hear when there’s little to no consistent time in their life when they’re reading their Bible and praying. If not explicitly, my internal response is always, “Then you’re not struggling! You’re laying down. Of course you’re feeling defeated. You are.”
A struggle means an active fight. The dictionary defines it as: “a forceful or violent effort to get free of restraint or resist attack.” If we do nothing in the face of sin then we are not struggling with sin…we’ve surrendered to it. Our response to sin should not be to surrender but to struggle. Defeated by sin and disciplined for godliness are inverted realities for the Christian life. When one goes down the other goes up. We should not expect to stand firmly in the face of temptation and sin when we’re sinking in apathy toward spiritual disciplines. Let's not confuse surrender with struggle.
Prayer, Bible study, scripture memorization, corporate worship, Christian fellowship, Sabbath rest, service in the local church, and even tithing are gifts from God used by Him for our good and His glory. We must make use of these things in the face of our enemy and to fail to do so will result in a failure to stand firm. Paul loved to use athletic metaphors for the Christian life. To the Corinthian church he said, "I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified." (1 Corinthians 9:26-27) Paul did not advocate a saved-by-discipline gospel (which is no gospel at all) but knew an undisciplined life and a disqualified life go hand-in-hand. This is not a pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps approach to godliness which is grounded in works-righteousness. However, this is a make-use-of-the-means-God’s-given-you approach which is grounded in faith that trusts God to graciously move and work through the means He’s given us (1 Timothy 4:7-10).
Toward the end of his life Paul wrote this to Timothy, his son in the faith, "the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 3:6-7) Paul's fight was the Christian fight. The Christian fight is our fight. In the face of our enemies, our courage is Christ with us, our hope is His victory, and our call is the struggle.