Why is the Christian life a life of war? A Meditation on Judges 3:1-2

February 6, 2008 at 1:27 am (Christian life) (, , , , , , , )

When I was growing up, we often sang, “Onward, Christian soldiers, Marching as to war, With the cross of Jesus Going on before! Christ, the royal Master, Leads against the foe; Forward into battle, See his banner go!” We also sing a song sometimes with Abigail entitled We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder which ends with the phrase, “soldiers of the cross.” And when I graduated from Bible College, we sang the seminary hymn which begins by saying, “Soldiers of Christ, in truth arrayed, A world in ruins needs your aid.”

What the writers of these songs understood is that there is a very real aspect of the Christian life that is war. For some reason, God has deemed it so that most of us should enter Heaven as battle-weary saints rather than as spiritual pacifists. Before I go on, let me just say that I am not suggesting a second Crusade, nor am I about to unveil the master plan for the Christians to take over the world. I am merely trying to show that much of Scripture uses war-like language:
1 Timothy 1:18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare.
1 Timothy 6:12 Fight the good fight of faith.
2 Timothy 4:12 I have fought the good fight.
1 Corinthians 14:8 And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?
2 Timothy 2:3, 4 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.
2 Corinthians 6:4, 7 As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way . . . ;with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left;

And so, we see that the most important battles going on right now are not between any two governments. They are not between the terrorists and the Democratic Republics. They are not between Israel and her most recent neighboring Middle-Eastern aggressor. Rather, the most important battles going on right now belong to the same war that has been going on for more than four thousand years –the war against God for the souls of men. Compare this truth with what A.W. Tozer said a number of years ago, “Men think of the world, not as a battleground but as a playground. We are not here to fight, we are here to frolic. We are not in a foreign land, we are at home. We are not getting ready to live, we are already living, and the best we can do is rid ourselves of our inhibitions and our frustrations and live this life to the full.” Unfortunately, most of us have settled into a peacetime, rather than wartime mentality.

Of course, we know that the commanding general of the opposing forces is none other than the great enemy himself, the devil. It is against this devil that Paul writes his famous armor of God passage:
Ephesians 6:11-13 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

Unfortunately for us, we are born on the wrong side of the war. We are born as spiritual rebels, all on Satan’s side. We had no choice in the matter, this is the just effects of our first parents’ sin. For this reason, our first enemy (the devil) along with his host of evil spirits is aided by another host of wicked people. Jesus told us that “in the world [we] will have tribulation” (John 16:33) and so we should not be surprised that our second enemy (the world) is the playground of our first—after all, he is “the ruler of this world” (John 14:30). Unfortunately, living in the world, many of us are often tempted to also be of the world. For this reason, James wrote to the baby Jewish Christians: You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4) Do not be deceived, you cannot be at home with the world and still have a home in Heaven.

But, truth be told, we don’t have to go to the mall, to school, or watch the news to see evil. We don’t even have to read about Satan’s workings in the Bible to see evil. It is in our own selves –dwelling there within us –remaining sin in its deaththrows, lashing out and causing all of the wicked destruction that it can—right in our own bodies! It is our third and most dangerous enemy –our flesh!
Romans 7:23 I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
2 Corinthians 10:4, 5 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.
1 Peter 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
James 4:1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?
Galatians 5:17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
The great teacher on this subject, John Owen put it this way, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.” We must constantly be doing battle with the sin that dwells within us because it takes no rest in its battle against us.

Though the Bible has more to say about the three enemies of the Christian (the flesh, the world, and the devil) and about how to fight these enemies, for now I am going to focus in on the grace of God in calling us to be a warring people. Specifically, I want to answer the question, “Why does God want us to have to fight on our way to Heaven?” And to attempt to answer this question, I’m going to look at the book of Judges. Take a look at Judges chapter 3.

The book of Joshua is all about the people of God claiming the promise of God by taking the land God had prepared for them to take. And the way he told them to take it was by violent force: And you shall consume all the peoples that the Lord your God will give over to you. Your eye shall not pity them, neither shall you serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you. (Deut. 6:16)
But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction (Deut. 20:16, 17).
The book of Judges, however is the dismal picture of the failing Israelites who have not accomplished what God had set out for them to do. It is also a picture of the mercy of God, the judgment of God, and the sinfulness of man’s heart.
Judges 1 gives us a little background:
And the Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron. (v. 19)
Keep in mind that this verse is coming on the heels of Joshua and the beginning of Judges 1, all about the victories against the Canaanite peoples that God had given them. Is the God who gave them all these victories really too weak to handle some iron chariots?
We read on through verse 36 and see that there were many areas where they did not fulfill the Lord’s command to take the land and slaughter the people.

Chapter 2 tells the grim facts. Verse three says, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you. We know that the great warrior of Israel was no mighty soldier or king, but rather the warrior God of His people. It was the Lord who gave His people all of the conquests described in Joshua and in the beginning of Judges. The question now is, if He did before, and He could now, why won’t He again? Verse two lays an accusation at the feet of the Israelites that they must answer: you have not obeyed my voice. This is the reason –they are a sinful people who were not faithful to their ever-faithful God and God is punishing them. But there may be more to it than that.

Look now, to verse 22. We see another dynamic, it was in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did or not. There is an old saying that goes, “When you’re flat on your back, you only have one way to look—up.” Unfortunately, this is not always true. God lays many people on their back as He did the Israelites and they still respond with more sin—anything but “looking up.” God was testing them to see if they would repent and be faithful to the covenant that He had entered into with His people. We see it again in our Judges 3 text: Now these are the nations that the Lord left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. So, in answer to our question, “Why does God want us to have to fight?” we can say that one reason is because of sin. We live in a sinful world and are ourselves sinful people and God is testing us to see if we will rise above this sin and be faithful to the covenant that He has entered into with us. What is the nature of this test? War.

It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before (Judges 3:2). God wanted his people to be a people of war –this was His test. We know that this was something that God did on purpose (though all He does is on purpose), because He told us so: I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died (2:21). So we know that God drove them out in the past and He made the decision not to drive the remaining Canaanite nations out to test His people who had not tasted war.  This leads us to another question: What is it about war that God wanted them to know? We know that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23) and that many wicked people die in war. So, there must something that He more pleased by than He is displeased by the death of many wicked people.

I believe this thing (and the answer to our question) is: His glory displayed in our reliance on His infinitely holy and loving grace and mercy.

What did He want from the Israelites? To be honored, worshipped, cherished, prized, and depended on above all else. The test was war because war takes every ounce of reliance upon other things and sweeps it right out from under you, like a rug. So, why does God do this to us today? Same reason. To be honored, worshipped, cherished, prized, and depended on above all else.

Think with me, if you will, back to the time when you were a brand new Christian. Chances are, you had some sins in your life that dropped like flies and you are still struggling with others. How often do you rely on God’s grace to get you through the day without committing those sins that dropped dead? How often do you praise Him for His infinite grace to you by ridding you of this sin that you haven’t knowingly committed since the day you became a Christian? What if God gave instantaneous victory to us like this over every sin in our life? How much would we honor, worship, cherish, prize, and depend on God then?

The Israelites had a God-sized task before them. It was only as the people depended on Him –first, under Moses, then under Joshua –that God gave them the grace to complete this God-sized task of conquering the Canaanites. It was not until the rule of David hundreds of years later that the Israelites were finally able to complete the conquest of the promised land. A major theme of the book of Judges is that imperfect people can only bring imperfect deliverance. One of the purposes of Judges is to show the need of a perfect Savior—Jesus.

So, what do we do with this truth? 1. Realize that we are in a war! If you don’t see it, you have become passive, asleep, and blind and you need to wake up! It is all around –Satan is laying traps and snares for you and your family at every turn. The world is doing its best to lull you into a comfortable peacetime mentality with all kinds of God-denying entertainment and education. And your flesh is vicious and relentlessly exploiting every area of weakness and temptation that you have, trying to get you to sin away every ounce of your assurance of salvation.
2. Realize that the Lord is a merciful warrior God who delights in fighting for His people. Listen to what God has said to his people in the past:
The Lord will fight for you Exodus 14:14
The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you Deuteronomy 1:30
Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s 2 Chronicles 20:15
Our God will fight for us. Nehemiah 4:20
Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory! Psalm 24:8
And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies, and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am you servant. Psalm 143:12
3. Realize that Christ has the victory!
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of  of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. Hebrews 1:3
Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. Colossians 15

So, yes -it is frustrating that the Christian life is a battle, but the battle serves a purpose. May He be made stronger in our weakness.

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2 Comments

  1. Claudia said,

    AMEN!! and AMEN!! how true that we are making ourselves at home here and worrying about things that are of no consequence in THE BIG picture. Thanks for the reminder of what’s eternally important. love you, Son, mama

  2. Pastor Mike Hamby said,

    Clay, Found your blog from E. Douglas. You’ve created quite the smooth weblog thingy! I’ve often thought, “I wonder what Clay Hall’s into?” Our church website/blog thing is cbcmadison.com. I don’t think we’re that far apart. I would love to catch up sometime. I’m planning on attending the SBC next year, so maybe there. Give our best to Monica and may God bless you. Mike Hamby

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