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A Fresh Take on a Tired Phrase

The best defense is a good offense. I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase before. Though initially meant for a military context, it has since been applied to all kinds of situations far beyond warfare. It has also been turned around so occasionally you will hear people say, “the best offense is a good defense.” Today we most often hear in the phrase in the context of sports, and now that football season is upon us—the sport of a thousand cliches—I suspect we will be hearing it a lot.

When it comes to sports, it is often the case that a strong offense is the best defense. After all, a team with strong offensive production denies the other team the ability to control the ball and to tally points. The phrase works well in sports like soccer or hockey where, especially in the game’s closing minutes, a team will attempt to control the ball (or puck) for long periods, knowing that this will keep the other team from scoring. But maybe it works best in football. Football is a sport I used to watch a lot and there were many occasions where I saw games where the first possession would last an entire quarter, or very close to it. As the team marched slowly up the field, with play after play, they maintained constant possession of the ball. The defensive team remained on defense and had no opportunity to put any points on the board. The best teams have this down to an art and have mastered the ability to take large chunks of time off the clock while accomplishing little more than keeping the ball out of the other team’s hands. In this case offense serves as defense. The offensive team plays defensively, not attempting to score points as much as they try to keep the other team from getting control of the ball.

The more I live this Christian life, the more I see that there is a spiritual level of truth in that old and worn phrase. The best defense really is a good offense. The best way to protect my heart and life is to be constantly on the offensive. It is in those times that I ease off, those times where I grow complacent and disinterested, that I am most prone to sin, most prone to wandering. It is in those times that I begin to lose battles. The words of 1 Corinthians 10:12 seem applicable: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” When I think I can stand on my own power I am priming myself for a great fall.

Remaining on the offensive is a lifelong process and one that is surprisingly uncomplicated. God gives us the tools we need to stay on the march (You’ll be glad to note, no doubt, that I resisted retaining the sports metaphor and saying that he gives us the “playbook…”). He gives us his Word, the Bible, which is the sword of the Spirit. He gives us prayer which helps us submit ourselves to his will and to plead for those things that please him. He gives us Christian community as the natural context to grow in our knowledge of him and to grow in personal holiness as our sin is lovingly brought to our attention. And he gives us the preaching of the Word which pierces our hearts and arms us for conflict. There’s nothing surprising about it; I’ve got nothing new and fresh and original to say. The same things that sustained the earliest Christians are the things that sustain us today. Thousands of years of Christian history have passed but the offense remains the same.

So if I wish to remain on the offense and thus maintain the best defense, I need to study the Bible, asking God to help me understand and apply it. I need to remain in a constant posture of prayer, sharing my burdens with God and seeking his face. I need to commit to my local church and to the community God has established there. And I need to rejoice in the preaching of the Word, letting God’s Word penetrate my heart and my life.

In all of these things I am actively putting aside sin, actively seeking God, actively pursuing holiness. I am on the offensive against sin, against Satan and against the old man. I am depending on God, relying on his strength, and trusting in his sovereignty.

These are good questions to ask myself on a regular basis: Am I on the offensive? Or am I showing complacency? Am allowing myself to fall back to a defensive posture? If the best defense is a good offense, how am I actively combating sin right now?