Living Behind Enemy Lines

April 30, 2018 • Life for Leaders

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.

Ephesians 2:1-3


My father-in-law, Bill Swedberg, fought for the Allies in World War II. He was a member of an Army reconnaissance team in Europe that would go behind the German lines in order to report on their activities and plans. He spent a good deal of time literally behind enemy lines, not exactly a place we’d want to find ourselves.

A chainlink fence with a garden on the other side.Yet, in a way, we live right now behind enemy lines. It’s not uncommon for Christians to think of reality as having three layers. The top layer is Heaven, the place of God and goodness. The bottom layer is Hell, the place of Satan and evil. In the middle is the world. It is neither good nor evil, but rather a kind of demilitarized zone between good and evil, a neutral battleground in which the cosmic war between good and evil is fought.

This notion of the neutral world is not taught in Scripture however. In Ephesians 2:1-2, for example, it says: “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…” The original Greek refers to the “aion of this world.” Aion can mean “length of time, age, or eternity.” In verse 2, it could well be translated as “the ways of this world,” as in the NIV, or as “the course of this world,” as in the ESV and NRSV. The Message paraphrases well: “You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live.”

When Paul speaks of “this world,” he is not thinking about the physical earth: rocks, trees, water, and so forth. Rather, he is thinking about what we might call culture, worldview, or the spirit of the age. He is envisioning the world as a system of powers that pulls us in the direction of sin and death. When we were dead in our trespasses and sins, we were living according to the ways of the world, a world that entraps us and entices us to live contrary to God. We were living behind enemy lines.

It’s crucial for us to see the world from a biblical point of view. Though God’s ways can be found in the world because God is present, the dominant system of the world opposes God’s values and practices. We all live in cultures, communities, and contexts that lure us into the ways of sin and death. Because we are so familiar with these ways, they don’t feel wrong or dangerous. They simply feel normal. Thus, we need to develop a divine perspective on the world so that we might see it for what it is, acknowledging the ways in which it opposes God.

Yet, this does not mean we should withdraw from the world. Quite the contrary! Because God is in the business of restoring it in Christ (see Ephesians 1:9-10), you and I are called to participate in God’s work of restoration. We do this through how we live in the world. But, because we live in this world, we need to discern what in the world is of God and what in the world opposes God, so that we might experience and share the life of God rather than the death associated with the ways of this world. We need new vision, new values, and a new vocation. Ephesians is helping us have all three.

Something to Think About:

As you think about your world, does “living behind enemy lines” make sense to you?

Where in the world do you see evidence of systemic sin and death?

Where do you see evidence of God’s presence?

What helps you to be “in the world but not of it”?

Something to Do:

Talk with your small group or with a Christian friend about the idea that we are living behind enemy lines. Share how you respond to this idea. What do you think? What do you feel? Is this idea helpful? Could it be harmful? How might it rightly shape your thinking and acting?


Gracious God, we live in a world that is not what you intended it to be. Around us we see sickness and death, oppression and injustice, sexism and racism, selfishness and corruption. We see people praising that which opposes you and condemning you and your ways.

Though you have delivered us from the death associated with this world, we are still, in many ways, influenced by it. Our thinking and our acting are not yet fully consistent with you and your values. Forgive us, Lord. Help us to discern rightly what is worldly and what is godly. In every context of our lives, may we look for—and may we long for—your truth, your justice, your righteousness, your love. Amen.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
Living According to the Spirit (Romans 8)



2 thoughts on “Living Behind Enemy Lines

  1. Larry Brook says:

    I do not presume to question your theology, in fact, I find your writing to be a key ingredient in my recipe for renewal. I only wish to offer a slightly different perspective on your “Living Behind Enemy Lines” piece.

    As you think about your world, does “living behind enemy lines” make sense to you?

    What if, instead of thinking in terms of war scenarios and enemies, we thought of the world as a garden. Surely, filled with dirt, debris, and dandelions, but it is all of those that make for rich soil to grow the beautiful flowers with fragrances that float through sunlit meadows.

    Approaching those who have yet to awaken to the great gifts God has planted for them, with an opposition frame of mind, immediately sets up a caste system which promotes us to a superior position while reducing others to being an object in need of repair. This gap is one that is almost impossible to close. Thereby, much of the work we like to refer to as ministry winds up widening that chasm and the renewal we had in mind makes building bridges almost impossible.

    Fortified by hearts wide open and looking to establish relationships with other created beings, perhaps we would be met with far less resistance from those hurting hearts that unknowingly long for something more.

    Often, I am quick to say, “Jesus is the answer!” before I find out what questions others are asking. It is through tiling the soil of relationship with tender loving hands and not a pitchfork; we should accompany others as they grow into the lovely flowers that once appeared to be dead and lifeless seeds.

    The relationship of the Trinity is our example, and the work of God is salvation and resurrection while ours is to be a working model of the unconditional and eternal love that feed us all. I would like to look on others as not the enemy; but as God’s vegetable garden in need of tender loving care.

    • Mark Roberts says:

      Larry, thanks for your thoughtful comment. As you know, the Garden imagery is strong in Scripture and gives us one way to think of our lives. But, we also find the battle imagery, especially in Ephesians. I believe we need to take in the broad diversity of biblical perspectives, to learn from each of them.

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