Have you ever heard of “stolen valor?”
This term is used to describe individuals who pretend to have served in the Armed Forces. You can find channels on YouTube that specialize in calling this sort of thing out (though, I have to warn you that the language gets a little colorful at times).
Like any theft, stolen valor is a matter of taking what isn’t ours: in this case, that special measure of dignity and respect we give our men and women in uniform for putting themselves in harm’s way on our behalf.
As I reflected on our sermon from this past Sunday and the idea of spiritual theft, I couldn’t help but think of how man-made religion manifests a form of stolen valor. Follow these rules, pray these prayers, wear these clothes, offer these sacrifices. Then, you’ll emerge victorious from the battlefield with a chest full of award ribbons earned in spiritual combat.
Yes, we’re all veterans of a spiritual battle that rages unseen (Eph 6:10-20). But those who take up the sword of works-righteousness are not the victorious overcomers they claim to be. Rather, they’ve given up the fight, for they’ve already sided with Self against Heaven.
We know that ribbons earned through “righteous” deeds are but filthy rags in God’s sight (Isa 64:6). We cannot steal valor before the eyes of Him who sees all (Prov 15:3). But, we can receive it. That is precisely what happened when God “made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).
As Christians, we must not—indeed, we cannot—steal our valor. Rather, we live by the worth of the only One who could actually win the battle. By grace, we have been conscripted into His spiritual army. Through faith, the meritorious ribbons we wear are not intrinsically ours, yet they have been imputed to our account by the Christ who lived, died, and rose for us.
This is the paradoxical nature of the gospel. We wear the uniform, though we did not earn the dignity and honor it conveys. We fight in the battle, though the form of our overcoming is not our own works done in righteousness but the word of our testimony (Rev 12:11).
We tried to steal our own valor, but the grace of God in Christ humbled us. Now, we live on valor given. I pray we would all rest in that gracious gift, even as we continue to engage in spiritual battle for our friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers.
Your brother in Christ,