Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cutting Room Floor: "But they have chariots!"


In the message on Sunday, I mentioned some of the ways we try to justify our unfaithfulness to the Lord.  One of the chief ways is found in Joshua 17:14-18
The people of Joseph came to Joshua complaining that their territory was too small for their large numbers.  Joshua conceded and told them to take the land of the Perizzites and the Rephaim as well.  The tribe of Joseph replied, “The hill country is not enough for us. Yet all the Canaanites who dwell in the plain have chariots of iron, both those in Beth-shean and its villages and those in the Valley of Jezreel.”
Joseph had plenty of real estate, consisting of both hill country and plains.  Were they to possess every part of their allotted portion, they would have had plenty of room.  The problem was that the plains were occupied by Canaanites with chariots of iron.  We’ve talked some about the distinct advantage that chariots had over foot soldiers - they were mobile fighting platforms that allowed the archers who rode on them to keep a safe distance between themselves and the enemy while also having the speed and mobility to strike quickly and decisively.  They could reach the foot soldiers but the foot soldiers could not reach them.
And these were not your typical run of the mill wooden chariots.  There were made of iron, practically indestructible.  And so convinced were the people of Joseph that they could not defeat these chariots that they stayed in the hill country and eventually asked for more land.  Taking possession of the plains seemed to be an impossible task.
Humans are masters in the art of self-excuse.  We hold others to high standards but when it comes to an area of unfaithfulness in our own lives, we excuse ourselves by magnifying whatever it is that impedes us from obedience.  We produce physiological, psychological, relational, or emotional reasons why we are unable to overcome a certain habitual sin.  I’ve tried and tried but I can’t beat this. 
It is almost always the case that someone who speaks words like those is striving in his own strength against a temptation that has captured his attention and focus.  It is a common experience to become so taken with the enormity of the obstacle in front of you that you forget about the surpassing greatness of the God who promised He would grant you victory over that obstacle. 
This is exactly what the tribe of Joseph did.  They forgot the sufficiency of the strength of the Lord.  God told them precisely what to do when they became overwhelmed by the sight of the enemy: "If you say in your heart, 'These nations are greater than I. How can I dispossess them?'  you shall not be afraid of them but you shall remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, the wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, by which the LORD your God brought you out. So will the LORD your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid (Deut 7:17-19).
God promised that He would give the Israelites victory over their enemies.  Their duty in moments of fear was to remember the greatness of God and His history of protecting His people and bringing utter destruction upon their enemies.  At this point in Israelite history, God has an excellent track record against chariots.  Pharaoh’s chariots have been at the bottom of the Red Sea for over 40 years and all the chariots of Northern Canaan have been used for firewood (Exod 14; Josh 11).  Surely the fact that this new batch of chariots is made of iron would not pose a difficulty for Almighty God.  Just prior to the allotment of the land, God unequivocally stated, "I myself will drive them out from before the people of Israel" (13:6).
Likewise, we also should look to what God has done for us in Christ.  We were dead in trespasses and sins, servants of the prince of the power of the air, and by nature children of wrath.  But God made us alive, raised us up, and seated us with Christ, marshaling His own power to remove from us the guilt of sin (Eph 2:1-7).  Reflecting on that truth will bolster our faith that He can deliver us now from the power of whatever sin entangles us.
If the Israelites were required to fight in their own power, they most likely would have failed.  But since the Exodus, the Israelites have benefitted from God working on their behalf, working through them.  So the chariots excuse was hollow because they were not to fight in their own power but in the power of God.  Joshua rejected the excuse, saying, “You shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have chariots of iron, and though they are strong” (17:18).
But what about us?  Can we expect God to work on our behalf, to help us live faithfully?  Yes, if we are in Christ.  God’s objective for those He has redeemed is to sanctify them, that is, to transform them into the image of His Son for His own glory.  He has every bit as much interest in our holiness as He did in the Israelites coming into the land.  Philippians 2:13 tells us, It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.  The power of God at work in us is the fuel of sanctification.  Paul writes in Ephesians 3:20 that God is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.  Ephesians 1:19-20 reveals that this power that works in us is the same power that raised Christ from the dead. 
So we have unparalleled power available to us in our sanctification.  This power gives us what we need in order to be faithful. But just like the Israelites had to go and take the land, we also have to strive toward holiness.  The New Testament is filled with such imperatives:  discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness…make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue…work out your own salvation…strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord…abstain from the passions of the flesh  (Phi 2:12; 1 Tim 4:7; Heb 12:14; 1 Pet 2:11; 2 Pet 1:5). 
Where we run into trouble is seeking to do this in our own power, rather than trusting in God for the power to obey.  There are at least a couple of the references mentioned above in fragments that if put together show the cooperation that takes place in sanctification:
Now may the God of peace…equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever (Heb 13:20-21).  God equips us for obedience.
Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil 2:12-13).  We work and God works.
Our striving against sin must be done in the power of Christ.  We move forward trusting in Him to equip us to obey.  In 1 Cor 6, Paul names a number of what we might consider “big sins” and declares that they can be past tense realities for those who are in Christ:  neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6:9-11). 
If we say that we cannot be faithful in a certain area of our lives, the truth is that we are either striving in our own power or we are not striving at all.  If we will strive for obedience trusting in the grace and power of Christ to enable us to obey, we will be able. 
Are you, like the Israelites, more impressed with the formidability of the obstacle before you or with what God has accomplished in Christ?  Christ overwhelmed our sin on the cross (Rom 5:20), the very sin that you claim you cannot overcome. Like God called the Israelites in Deut 7 to remember God's past work on their behalf, you also should meditate on what the cross accomplished for you.   It may be that the cross of Christ has become a peripheral entity in your life.  But the more you gaze upon the cross, the beauty and the horror, the more you will trust God and love Christ, and the more you will want to be like Him. 
Chariots are no match for God and neither is the sin with which you are struggling.

Posted by Greg Birdwell

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