Surprise in warfare means more than “to cause wonder or astonishment or amazement because of something unexpected.” It means “to attack or capture suddenly and without warning.” The passage from Romans 5 clearly tells us that the love of Christ expressed in His death for us was unexpected. If the message is used with people who are dependent on their own effort or relative goodness, they will be “amazed.” If the messenger catches that man with his defense down, he will be “amazed” and surprised. In other words, he will be captured suddenly and without warning.

Surprise may be increased even more if we combine the message with a surprise in time and place. To hear the gospel in a Sunday evening evangelistic church service is no surprise. It is even possible that the message itself will surprise no one in the audience. On the other hand, a personal testimony of the saving grace of Jesus Christ backed up with the Word of God will be an effective surprise when it comes from a line officer. It will surprise noticeably when this occurs in a bar, at a cocktail party, in the office, in the field, aboard ship, or in combat.

It is much easier to be vocal in an evangelical church than in the above places. It is always easier to train for combat than it is to engage the enemy in a fire fight. The reason is simple: in the evangelical church, as in military training, there is no enemy. The presence of an enemy means fear and knots in the stomach, even though we have the opportunity to take the initiative and catch him by surprise.

On the defensive we have no choice but to fight. But when we have the opportunity to surprise the enemy, the decision to fight is ours. We would hardly pass up such an opportunity in physical combat, though it means fear and the possibility of death. Likewise, let us press our advantages in spiritual warfare, despite the problems and fears. Do not reject surprise in time and place.

To forewarn the enemy is to ask for strong resistance to any attack. The principle of surprise is one of the prime means of thwarting such resistance. This principle applies equally in personal evangelism. If we give men the chance, they will hide, cover up, and defend sin. Even if it is only a bluff, they will make a last stand defending sin. They will do the same with their ignorance Let us catch men with their guards down. Give them as little opportunity as possible to hide or defend sin. Above all, use the Word of God:

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:12–13, RSV).

This is our surprise. It is devastating. Remember, our objective is not to win an argument, but to win people to Jesus.

*Excerpted from Principles of War. To purchase, visit Christ.