The best defense is a good offense. You’ve probably heard that phrase before. As far as I can tell, it was coined by the Prussian military historian, theorist and tactician Carl von Clausewitz (a name I’m quite sure I haven’t written since military history classes way back in my college days). Since then it has been applied to all kinds of situations far beyond the military. 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 this was the context in which I heard it applied in a sermon a few weeks ago. I got thinking about the phrase and realized how applicable it is to the Christian life.
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 (far too much, really) and there were several occasions where I saw those 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 possession of the ball. The defensive team remained on defense and had no opportunity to put any points on the board. Of course many teams have this down to an art and in the game’s closing plays 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 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. It is in those times that I begin to lose battles. The words of 1 Corinthians 10:12 come to mind: “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, at least the way I see it. I thought about it for a time, asking “how can I stay on the offensive?” It’s simple, I think. 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 which 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.
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.
It is a worthwhile question, I think. Am I on the offensive or am I showing complacency, allowing myself to fall back to a defensive posture? It is a question I have to ask myself often.