Take & Possess: Canaanites, Weeds, & Driving Out Enemies (Part I)

Pulling Weeds

Weeds don’t take no for an answer. The Canaanites would dwell in the land. To take is not the same as to possess.

So how can you drive out the enemy and truly possess the land?

How Persistent These Weeds

My proud, melancholic temperament turned up again Thursday. It might have looked like low-spirits, sickly, and weak.

And as much as I’d like to think it was because our family is weary of fighting off Covid-19 and because layers of a loved one’s harmful stronghold keep unfolding. I’d like to think it was those—those “tough life circumstances.”

But if I search my heart, hard as those are, the real trigger is my sin within, my bad habits, my mental weeds. Self-pity is one. Comparing gifts—I’ll call it what it is, coveting—is another. These joy-killing natives in the land—these godless -ites—have have dwelt so long in my life that they dislike being dislodged.

They’re stubborn. The roots are deep. They go way back.

Back to the dejected five year-old hiding in Grandma Wustmann’s dark coat closet because she felt slighted by an aunt. Back to the eight year-old crying bitter tears because my up-north cousins go to Grandma Considine’s overnight grandma parties and again when my best friend Jane got a pool. Way back.

My sins are ever before me. They tell me that I need to be satisfied in God, that I need salvation’s joy restored (Psalm 51:10-12). But why should these enemies, these weeds, leave their dwelling-place?

After all, like the Canaanites in Promised Land- they were in the land first.

What Are Your Evil -ITES?

Do you know about the evil -ites? They’re the natives in the land; the enemies God’s people faced when they finally entered the Promised Land. God made it clear that Joshua was to destroy them and drive them out.

When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Deuteronomy 7:1-2

Why so severe?

God made that clear too. Because coexisting with Canaanites leads to compromise, “for that shall be a snare to you” (Deut. 7:16, also 7:17-26). That’s why this Canaanite must be conquered. The Canaanites were real godless people who lived in a real godless place. They were not an ignorant, innocent people.

To escape the evil, corrupting Canaanite influence, God told the Israelites to destroy them and drive them out.

But I think the -ites also represent our besetting sins, the sins that “cling so closely.” I mentioned a couple of my evil -ites, coveting and sullen self-pity.

They’re pesky and persistent—these “Canaanites.”

This Canaanite Must Be Conquered

But God commands us to deal with them the same way he commanded the Israelites to deal with the evil, godless -ites. “Let not sin reign in your mortal bodies…For sin shall not have dominion over you,” wrote the Apostle Paul.

Do you see how the imperative—let not sin reign— is grounded on the indicative—for sin shall not have dominion. This means that when God gives us a command to do, it’s rooted in what He has already done.

Christ has already set us free from sin’s ruling power (Romans 6:2,14,22). His death on the cross has already disarmed evil rulers (Colossians 2:13-15). What’s more, the Holy Spirit is ready to war against the sinful desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:17).

Which means, “The hasty temper [or the self-pitying, melancholic temper] may be natural to you: but seeing that your position is Christ is supernatural, this Canaanite must be conquered,” F.B. Meyer declares. “Talk no more of these Canaanites who would stay in the land; but say of the blessed Spirit, ‘He is well able to drive them out.‘”

If, by the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body, we will live (Romans 8:13). We are well able to drive them out, to uproot our weeds.

Weeds—and -ITES—Have No Rights

Sometimes, at the beginning of our Christian life, we make a feeble effort against them, and hope to cast them out; but they stubbornly resist, says Meyer. If conscience strikes, we reply, “Do not find fault; we couldn’t help it. These Canaanites are self-willed and persistent, they would dwell in the land.”

Meyer is referring to Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land, the land west of the Jordan. I just read about that in the book of Joshua and the start of Judges.

The book of Joshua opens with these words,

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

The book of Joshua is about how God was with Joshua on those conquests, gave victory over enemies, and gave Israel the Promised Land.

The Earth Is The LORD’S

Which means that their enemies had no right there. The rightful owner of the land, the Creator of the heavens and earth, had promised it to his people way, way back. In fact, hundreds and hundreds of years even before the Israelites were slaves in Egypt God promised this very land to Abraham.

For, “the earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). Which means the wicked -ites had no rights—no right to dwell in or to possess the Promised Land.

So too, our bad habits, our besetting sins, have no right to persist in our lives. We walk in newness of life.

These weeds have no right to grow in our united-with-Christ lives (Romans 6:1-11).

All Came To Pass

Because God keeps his promises. And He promised us his overcoming power. Remember 1 John 4:4, Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world?

God is greater than the enemy -ites. And He said if we obey, he’d drive out our enemies; and none of God’s good promises fail.

Not one.

These next few verses come near the end of the book of Joshua,

Thus the LORD gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the LORD had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. Joshua 21:43-45

It is ours to obey, and not to make peace with the enemy (See Judges 2:2). The whole soil of our hearts has been made over to the Son of God, Meyer writes, and there should be no part left to weeds.

Where “COEXIST” Cannot Exist

Whatever you might think of the bumper sticker, it was impossible for Israel to coexist with the Canaanites and thrive. And it is impossible for known, unrepented sin to coexist with righteousness (Romans 6:15-23).

There can be no peace between you and Christ, C.H. Spurgeon said, while there is peace between you and sin.

Which means that I had to do some fighting with my self-pity, whose roots were deep in coveting a life and I don’t have, and deeper still in discontentment.

There can be no peace between you and Christ while there is peace between you and sin

C.H. Spurgeon

I must wield the sword of the Sprit—real gospel truth—against these Canaanites. Truth like, The vinedresser prunes branches that bear fruit and the Lord disciplines those he loves. Like, in everything give thanks and be content with what you have.

Because we cannot possess what we do not first dispossess. We cannot possess what someone else controls. If coveting rules my heart, the peace of Christ won’t. Those two can’t possibly coexist. Don’t you know, James asked, that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?

The Israelites could not possess that part of the land where they coexisted with the Canaanites, even if they “kept” Canaanites as slaves. Instead of destroying or driving them out as God had commanded, the Israelites allowed them to live in their midst.

But if they had the power to enslave the enemy, they had the power to drive them out. (More on that in Part II.)

Living With The Canaanites

Judges chapter one gives an account of the successes and failures of the Israelite tribes in “possessing” what had been “taken” under Joshua. Judah did okay, but the other tribes did not.

At first, the Canaanites are dwelling among the Israelites (1:21), but soon after we read that the Israelites were dwelling among the Canaanites (1:32-33).

Do you hear the difference?

In the beginning of the account in Judges 1, the Israelites are driving out the Canaanites while a few pesky Canaanites lived among them. Even the finest manicured lawns have a few, isolated bursts of April dandelion bloom.

But eventually the Israelites are either using the Canaanites as forced labor—trying to put sin to work for them—or even worse, living among the Canaanites. That’s the yard so emblazoned with dandelion weed, you barely see green.

Dandelions And Grass

Here’s the progression from a few dandelions in a sea of green to a splash of grass in a field of dandelions.

It’s in Judges chapter one,

27 Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages[…]for the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. 28 When Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not drive them out completely.

29 And Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites lived in Gezer among them.

30 Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, or the inhabitants of Nahalol, so the Canaanites lived among them, but became subject to forced labor.

31 Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, or the inhabitants of Sidon or of Ahlab or of Achzib or of Helbah or of Aphik or of Rehob, 32 so the Asherites lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not drive them out.

33 Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, or the inhabitants of Beth-anath, so they lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land…

34 The Amorites pressed the people of Dan back into the hill country, for they did not allow them to come down to the plain.

The tribe of Dan didn’t even make it out of the hills. And so Israel failed to possess the land.

Not To Conquer Is To Be Conquered

Not to conquer your spiritual foes is to be conquered by them, A.R. Fausset warns. They will push the first advantage you give them over you, until step by step you are brought down from being their master, to become their dependent vassal.

We have all unconquered ‘Canaanites’ in our hearts. And friendship with the world is enmity toward God. We must be alert to our inward foes, whom we imagine we have “under control,” and so treat them leniently. Soul-foes like nursing a grudge, throwing a pity party, or maybe just “blowing off steam.”

But no. We can’t all just get along. These can’t righteously coexist.

Partial Obedience = Incomplete Victory = More Weeds

This was not a complete victory for God’s people. Despite the promise God made to give them the land and give the enemies into their hand, this is not that story. God had said to drive out these Canaanites. Israel was to get rid of them and then to dwell where they had dwelt. The tribes failed to drive them out.

There are things that God has told us to drive out of our lives. Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” In other words, fight your sin with urgency.

If your eye causes you to see, don’t look. If your foot causes you to sin, don’t go. If your hand causes you to sin, don’t do.

JOHN STOTT

Irish Pastor David Legge warns, Do not flirt with it! Do not allow it to take root! You see, if you do not obey God completely, only in a partial obedience, you will be conquered. If you do not conquer that sin, that sin will conquer you! 

I drive out the -ites in my mind. Sin has roots in thoughts. I must go deep to pull out weeds and plant that place with the excellent and praiseworthy.

Because gratitude and self-pity don’t coexist. Joyfully pressing on doesn’t dwell with discontentment. So I fought hard. I wrote thank you notes and sent I-care texts, and I thought on what is true. That’s how I took back the land.

Keep Up The Good Fight

I know I will have to keep up the fight because the Canaanites are persistent. But day by day, moment by moment, I can push them back. Because Christ died and rose again to give us His power to overcome.

So don’t make peace with sin. Don’t let the enemy possess the land. If you know it’s a sin, drive it out.

Don’t let the Canaanites dwell in your land.

When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his inheritance to take possession of the land.

Judges 2:6

*Look for Part II of TAKE & POSSESS coming soon.

As The Ruin Falls: A Poem For A Hot Mess

Are you a hot mess? A broken soul? Ruined and a wreck? Check, check, and check- all in the past two weeks, I’ve been. But there is a balm in Gilead. There is a poem for that.

But I am not a poet and- haiku and limericks, excepted- I do know it.

Still poems bowl me over in ways most prose can’t. A good poem cools a hot mess and soothes a broken soul.  A great poem kindles my heart and nourishes my spirit. The best of poems have undertones that you can’t quite name on the first read-through. I turn the page and say, I don’t get it all the way. But the words are tantalizing, and I return. I know it is there.

It was there, like that the poem,  As the Ruin Falls.

As The Ruin Falls

All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.

 

Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love- a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek-
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.

 

Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.

 

For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains

You give me are more precious than all other gains.

C.S. Lewis, Poems, Edited by Walter Hooper

It was to these words I returned this week, as my ruins fell.

 

Let us not love in word or talk. (A scholar’s parrot may talk Greek.)

Like a partly-pieced puzzle left on the dining room table, I kept returning to those lines, trying to make more pieces fit. But turn the lines as I might, this line– And everything you are was making- would not conform to my prose-formed mind. Those words were an itch I couldn’t quite scratch, a word stuck on the tip of the tongue. I was deaf to its meter.

But I persisted. I kept going back to that poem until I could make the exquisite piece fit, until I could read that third stanza right.

I think it finally happened last night.

First, a word about stanzas one and two.  Because if we’re honest, we are here: fallen image-bearers, lost and ruined by the fall, all of us with pride-tainted, self-seeking, mix-motived love.  In our heart of hearts, we all know our flashy rhetoric about loving God- and his children too-sometimes feels like hollow, empty talk. A scholar’s parrot may talk Greek. 

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth, the beloved disciple wrote. Because words are cheap. Then, when friends correct us and break our rules or dare make us wait. Then our love-talk rings hollow. We see how much our love was all about us.

Yes, there is a gap.

 

I see the chasm. And everything you are was making

Now enter the third stanza. The one with tricky line with you are was above. Those words threw me and kept me coming back to decode.

Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.

I see the chasm. Everything you are-was making my heart-into a bridge-by which I might get back from exile, and grow man. That’s it in prose. The -‘s mark the pauses as I read. Read like this, I think I finally understand what Lewis meant.

I see God, the God I say we love, the God who is love over the chasm of my self-seeking, separating sin. And once I see Him, I am undone. Like Isaiah, I see my unclean lips. Lips that speak lightly of love. Flashy rhetoric.

 

My heart a bridge…And now the bridge is breaking

Do you see what so long eluded me?

That everything you are was making, is God’s mercy? That He is folding all of our hot-mess wrecks to build a bridge back to him? The sooner we see that the crumbling bridge is meant to loosen our grip on the things of earth, the fitter and more free for both heaven and earth we’ll be. We’ll see that the Great I AM- Lewis’ YOU ARE – our God, HE IS working all things together for our good. 

Those broken dreams, that cancer, those tests were a bridge he built (then broke) to bring us back to him.

We see the measures God would take- and everything you are was making our heart a bridge to get back– to cleanse and reclaim us sinners ruined by the fall. He would remove our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh. 

I will sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  (Ezekiel 36:25-26)

There is a hound of heaven.  There is  a Creator who reclaims his own lost and ruined by the fall from sin’s hard exile. Ruined sinners to reclaim is why Jesus Christ came. So yes to Mr. Tolkien: Everything sad will come untrue.  The Man of Sorrows makes all things new.

But denial of self and death to the flesh hurt. Ruin and pains come before everything sad comes untrue.

 

Pains more precious

Once we’re back to God, once our warfare is completed and we are reclaimed and remade new, we’re still this side of heaven. The bridge will break. In mercy,  He will shake us from the chains that bound us. And surgeries and getting old and broken dreams just might be the ruins falling.

But His love is in the crumbling ruin, too.

For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.

The suffering that’s not worth comparing. The pain that builds in us a longing for a better place, where no moth and rust and thief destroy and where there is no crying or dying or heartache.

But we’ve got to be longing for that gain. We’ve got to be longing for his appearing and not looking back across the bridge to where the ruin fell.

 

Saints don’t look back

Lot’s wife looked back. Remember her, Jesus said in Luke 17:32. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.  And in Luke 9:62 he warned, No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

Saints look forward. Hebrews 11:15  says, If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.

So, no. Saints don’t look back. The faithful  recognize these pains- of dying to self and slaying pride- as a saint’s growing pains. And they welcome them as a mother welcomes a baby’s kicks in her once barren womb. It’s Christ being  formed in you.

The ruin- even our ruin-must fall. As it falls, will we echo Saint Paul?

Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7-8)

Will we come to him and bless Him as the ruin falls?

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and pow’r.

Come, ye weary, heavy-laden
Lost and ruined by the fall
If you tarry ’til you’re better
You will never come at all.

-Joseph Hart

Still Struggling? (And why that might just be a very good thing.)

Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is… You find out the strength of the wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. –C.S. Lewis

Something MUST be wrong, she said. I still struggle with the same sins that I did ten years ago. I struggle to forgive the same old things and sometimes I still get so mad at the kids. And just when I think I’ve got my discontentment nipped, a new envy blossom buds. 

No matter how hard I try and how much I pray and try to rely on the Spirit, I just can’t seem to master these things. Something must be wrong. This stuff should be overcome by now. 
Has a friend ever confided that sort of frustration to you? Or maybe you are that discouraged friend? And you- or your friend- have wondered, If Christ made me new and lives in my heart wouldn’t these battles be over? Shouldn’t the struggle be done? 

I should be over this.  

Not so fast, Sherlock. Who says your struggles should be done? 

Chesterton knew: A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it. Paul, knew too, that it’s only when the Spirit brings life that the struggle comes: 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 prevent you from doing what you would” (Galatians 5:16).

The point? Real Christians experience real struggle. Even when we’re converted, new creations, there is such a thing as indwelling sin. John Newton, who wrote Amazing Grace, also knew the reality of clingy, indwelling sin.

It is inseparable from us, as the shadow from our bodies when the sun shines upon us. The holiness of a sinner does not consist in a deliverance from it, but in being sensible of it, striving against it, and being humbled under it, and taking occasion from thence to admire our Savior, and rejoice in him as our complete righteousness and sanctification.

So don’t let a flawed description of the Christian life bring you down. A Christian isn’t someone who doesn’t experience bad desires. No- a Christian is a person who struggles with those bad desires by the Holy Spirit’s power.


Or, as only John Piper could put it,  

Conflict in your soul is not all bad. Even though we long for the day when our flesh will be utterly defunct and only pure and loving desires will fill our hearts, yet there is something worse than the war within between flesh and Spirit; namely, no war within because the flesh controls the citadel and all the outposts. Praise God for the war within! Serenity in sin is death. The Spirit has landed to do battle with the flesh. So take heart if your soul feels like a battlefield at times. The sign of whether you are indwelt by the Spirit is not that you have no bad desires, but that you are at war with them!

The Spirit has landed. But the road to victory is not easy.

The Long Hard Road

For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. Romans 7:15

The author of Hebrews wrote that we who have believed enter that rest, and verses later urges, Let us therefore strive to enter that rest. The same Paul who wrote that blessed verse we love to quote, If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is gone. Behold! All things are new. (2 Corinthians 5:17) also wrote, I discipline (or pommel) my body and keep it under control (1 Corinthians 9:27).

That’s boxing-ring, fight talk, not victory-lap chat.

Even when Jesus called the weary and heavy-ladened to come to him for rest, he calls them to take up his yoke and burden. These are easy and light, because they are borne with Christ, I think. But still, Christ calls them yoke and burden (Matthew 11:28-30).

Another verse we sheep love to quote, I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly, is followed by the Good Shepherd’s reference to laying down his life. And that was laced with bloody-tears and struggle (Luke 22:42-44).

In “The Cross of Least Resistance,” (Touchstone, March/April 2017) Robin Phillips asks,

If Christ himself struggles to be obedient to his Father’s will (Matt. 26:36-44), why should we as his followers expect anything less? On the contrary, if we want to be Christ’s disciples and experience abundant life, there is only one way: we must embrace the struggle, take up our cross, and follow him.

In other words, if we’ve been in the “struggle-is-bad” crowd, we’ve got to get out.  We’ve got to see that perseverance in the good fight with the steadfastness of Christ is cause to rejoice. Rather than seeing struggle as bad, we’ve got to see struggle against sin as evidence of spiritual life.


Maybe, we even praise God for the war within!

Let Go And Let God?

Let go and let God is not a Bible verse. I’ve fought the good fight, I’ve finished the race, and Take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and We take every thought captive to obey Christ, and If by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live- those are.

Oh, sure- to be fair, we are definitely called to come to Christ, and lie down in green pastures and rest. And to throw off everything that hinders and the sin that entangles. But why? So that we may run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Christ. But perseverance and running sound a lot more like struggle than let go and let God and give up the fight.

But, okay. In a way we are called to let go. To let go of our selfish desires, to put off and put away all manner of sin (Ephesians 4:22-32, Colossians 3:8-14). We are to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Hebrews says, there is a Sabbath-rest for the people of God (4:10). But the following verse says, Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest.   

And if by let God, we mean, Keep in step with the Spirit and put on the Lord Jesus Christ, which incidentally is followed by,  and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Romans 13:12-14)- well then, Amen!- let God. Let God control you. Or like Paul wrote, the love of Christ controls us (2 Corinthians 5:14).

All the warfare and athletic metaphors in the New Testament and Paul’s own example of fighting the good fight and finishing the race point to this one thing: the Christian life, the normal Christian life necessarily involves struggle. Until the mortal is swallowed up by life, there will at least some level of Spirit-flesh fight.

No, whatever letting go means, biblically it does not mean struggle-free. To the Philippians, Paul wrote, Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is Christ who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (2:12-13). He put it this way in 1 Corinthians 15:10, But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 

Work is involved. Struggling and wrestling are not abnormal. Far from it. They are the precise means God uses to grow strong saints. And to magnify his sufficient, glorious grace.

Why Struggle Is Good

1. Growth.

The language of the New Testament describes the Christian life as a life of growth and increasing spiritual strength. We’re born again as infants. But Scripture says we grow. We’re called children and young men or older women, even fathers in faith. Grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, Peter wrote.

It’s in our struggle we grow and build our stamina. That’s why I used an Asian style math with the boys. I wanted to see them persist, to struggle a bit, in their work. They did the kind of problems that take 10 minutes of trial and error. Of fight. These same behaviors that American regard as failing, the Japanese think of as learning.

Persevering through setbacks sets us up for future success and spiritual strength.

2. Grace.

Paul pleaded three times for his thorn in the flesh, his harassing messenger of Satan to be removed. You know what God said: My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Paul got it. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12: 9-10).

Do we get it? Or do we think being in Christ on this earth means that we get to shed all our weakness and let go of our struggle? That comfortable here is our right? That grace comes better when there’s no indwelling sin left to fight?

Do we know that groaning and grit lead to spiritual growth? That struggle and stress and strain are God-ordained means to rely on his grace? 

The Burden That’s Lifted When You Don’t Let Go

Can we be clear that spiritual struggle is not out of place for the Christian? That, quite possibly, if by Spirit, we’re struggling against sin we’re right where God wants us to be, on the high road to holiness where God’s grace strengthens us weak, struggling saints?

Realizing then, that spiritual struggle and facing ongoing temptation are God’s normal means to growing us up into Jesus and getting us more dependent on Christ– actually lifts the burden.
We don’t see struggle as sign that something is wrong with us anymore, but as confirmation that something is quite right. When we see the struggle as part of the growth and grace process we’re able to reframe our daily temptations and inner battles as opportunities to grow spiritually. We stop struggling against struggle.We see that rather than being a sign of failure and futility, our struggles might very well be evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in us. After all, if God’s grace was not at work, strengthening us, we would surely have given up.

So you’re struggling. That just might just be a good thing. Because it’s not only the force of wind we feel when we stand against. We feel the power of God’s sufficient grace, too.

Looking To Christ’s Sufficient Grace

In Newton On The Christian LifeTony Reinke presents a beautiful and compelling portrait of a man who reveled in God’s sovereign, sufficient and boundless grace. To all of us who would despond in our ongoing sin struggles Newton (via Reinke) writes:

To not feel the sting of sin is a form of sickness, a deadness, a leprosy of the soul. But to feel the sting of sin is a mark of health, a sign of life, and a necessary experience if we are to appreciate the sin-conquering work of Christ (p. 123).

Our struggle, then, against sin is good insomuch as it makes us,

[W]onder how such a weak sinner’s faith has been sustained. Indwelling sin should cause us to marvel when we awake each morning with a remaining spark of hope and faith in Jesus. The faith-sustaining grace proves the power, wisdom, faithfulness, and love of God toward us. How can it not? Faith survives in the most unlikely of places: within us! (p. 115)

Like a spark burning in the water. That’s how Newton sized up Christ’s power in maintaining us-his own work- in the midst of such opposition, such struggle. Opposition which includes our pesky, clinging indwelling sin.

While Newton is most famous for the phrase amazing grace, he much preferred the phrase sufficient grace (p. 42). In fact, he actually wrote another song about grace titled, aptly, “My Grace Is Sufficient For Thee.” 

Reinke describes this song as a “micro-look into how grace gets applied to warfare in the Christian life.” I can’t think of a better way to close.

Oppressed with unbelief and sin,

Fightings without, and fears within;

While earth and hell, with force combined,

Assault and terrify my mind:

What strength have I against such foes,

Such hosts and legions to oppose?

Alas! I tremble, faint, and fall;

Lord, save me, or I give up all.

Thus sorely pressed, I sought the Lord,

To give me some sweet cheering word;

Again I sought, and yet again;

I waited long, but not in vain.

Oh! ’twas a cheering word indeed!

Exactly suited to my need;

“Sufficient for thee is my grace,

Thy weakness my great power displays.”

Now I despond and mourn no more,

I welcome all I feared before;

Though weak, I’m strong; though troubled, blessed;

For Christ’s own power shall on me rest.

My grace would soon exhausted be,

But his is boundless as the sea;

Then let me boast, with holy Paul,

That I am nothing, Christ is all.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

1 Corinthians 12:9

I found each of these resources to be rich sources for biblical encouragement on spiritual struggle:

1. Robin Phillip’s March/April 2017 Touchstone article, The Cross of Least Resistance

2. Tony Reinke’s biography of John Newton, Newton on the Christian Life: To Live is Christ ch. 5,12

3. Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones’ sermon, addressing “Let Go and Let God,” Who Does The Fighting?

4. Pastor John Piper’s sermon, How To Kill Sin- Part 2