For those who enjoy watching college basketball, this is a fun time of year as there are three national tournaments going on simultaneously, the NCAA (called “The Big Dance”), the National Invitational Tournament (the NIT, which initially was “The Big Dance”), and the women’s NCAA tournament. Oh yes, and there’s also a tournament held by Christian colleges, but that doesn’t receive television coverage.Those who don’t like watching basketball are probably impatiently waiting for “March Madness” to be over so they can watch their normal television programs.
Our son, who happens to be a high school basketball coach, always challenges the family members to fill out brackets for the NCAA tournament and each of us does, including all the grandchildren. It’s fun watching to see how our picks end up doing. Fun that is, until your favorite teams loose (like the Zag’s!). But as you think about it, of the 64 teams that are privileged to make it to “The Big Dance,” 63 of them will end their season with a disappointing loss. Only one will end up with a win, the national champion. Last year’s national champion, the University of Kentucky, didn’t even make it this year to the NCAA tournament. They played in the NIT and lost out in the first round.
As I thought about how only one team will end up winning, I couldn’t help but praise God that, as believers, we are on the “winning team.” We are in a great spiritual battle against the powers of darkness. The Apostle Paul, in writing to the church at Ephesus, challenged the believers with these words: “Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:10-12). Our opponent, our enemy, is Satan (which means adversary), also called the Devil (which means accuser, because he accuses God’s people day and night before the throne of God…Rev. 12:7-11). Working with him are demons or evil spirits which are angels who also rebelled against God along with Lucifer (who thus became Satan…Rev. 12:4; Isa. 14:12-15; Ezek. 28:11-17).
As Christians, we actually face three enemies: the world, the flesh and the devil. “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air…Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh…” (Eph. 2:1-3).
1) The “world” refers to the system around us that is opposed to God, that caters to “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (I Jn. 2:15-17).
It is the secular, humanistic society that leaves God out.
2) The “flesh” is the old, sinful nature that we inherited from Adam, a nature that is opposed to God and can do nothing to please God (Ro. 7:18; Gal. 5:16-22).
3) The “devil” is, of course, the fallen angel Lucifer, who opposes all that God is and does and attempts to keep people from coming to Christ for salvation, or to dis-
courage and defeat them if they do in order to ruin their joy and testimony. He is “the ruler of this world” (Jn. 12:31).
Sooner or later, every believer discovers that the Christian life is a battle ground, not a playground, and that he faces an enemy who is much stronger than he is–apart from the Lord. That’s why Paul emphasizes that we “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” You see, by His death and resurrection, Christ overcame the world (Jn. 16:33; Gal. 6:14), the flesh (Gal. 2:20; Ro.l 6:1-6), and the devil (Eph. 1:19-23; Heb. 2:14,15). So, as believers, we do not fight for victory–we fight from victory! The Holy Spirit enables us, by faith, to appropriate Christ’s victory for ourselves so we can “walk in victory.” “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 brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (I Cor. 15:56-58). “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ…” (II Cor. 2:14). “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Ro. 8:35-37).
“March Madness” turns to “March Sadness” when your favorite team loses out. The seniors on the team will have played their last game for that university, but the team will be back again next year, hoping to make it even further. On an infinitely more significant note, those who are playing on, or following a “losing team” when it comes to spiritual things, will not survive to “play another day.” All who are putting their hope of an eternal future in heaven in anyone or anything other than the death, burial, and resurrection of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, are going to end up in defeat and hear one day, “I never knew you; depart from Me” (Mt. 7:23). When all is said (by those who are teaching the myriads of religious views) and done (by those who are working to gain eternal life), there will be only one team left standing victoriously at the end of time. It will be made up of all who trusted solely in the work of Jesus Christ on their behalf, acknowledging that “He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor. 5:21).
It is disappointing when your team loses in the NCAA tournament, but can you imagine how folks will feel when they come to the end of this life and find out they have been on a “losing team,” and face an eternity separated from Christ! Such a sobering thought should spur us who know Christ to pray for boldness and open doors to share the Gospel, the “Good News,” with those around us who haven’t entered into victory through the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you know that you are on the winning team? If not, I suggest that you prayerfully read I Jn. 5:1-13, and make sure, for you can “know that you have eternal life” (v. 13), and it is not in any religion, or code of ethics, or ritual. It is in a person, the Lord Jesus Christ.