Why this old battle again?
When someone first experiences the salvation of God from sin, there is great joy. Even the angels rejoice (Lk 15:10). Then the “honeymoon phase” comes to a close, and we must face the prospect of serving God with more than just a positive emotion. Things are exciting when they are new – a new house, a new car, a new job, and even a new spouse. Then the self-sustaining excitement begins to dissipate, and we become aware of the responsibility attached to these new things. Houses come with mortgages and maintenance. Cars come with loans, oil changes, and repairs. They depreciate instantly and get a few scratches and dings. That new job has pro’s and con’s like everything else and a new boss. That new spouse comes with strengths and weaknesses like every other person including ourselves, and thus we must choose to adjust to this relationship and exercise our will to make it work.
This may sound insulting to God, but we must realize the same thing happens when we begin a relationship with God. It is not that God has any negatives that we have to learn to accept. He is perfect in every way we can possibly know, and in ways that are beyond our comprehension. Even though this is true, our initial emotional “high” will not last forever. We cannot maintain a long-lasting relationship with God based on emotions. We must realize that we must choose to serve God with our will, not just our feelings. There are similarities in our relationship with God and our relationships with others, although there are also differences because it is God. Our relationship with God is often described in the Bible as that of a father and child and that of a husband and wife. That is so we can relate it to something we can know in this life (Jn 3:12)
When we initially experience the liberating power of God from that which had control over us, and we are filled with the glorious baptism of the Holy Ghost, there is excitement and joy. We are sure that we will never go back to our old ways, and we want to tell everyone about what happened to us. Over time, this initial feeling dissipates, and we find ourselves confronting battles. We begin to wonder what happened. Have I failed? Does God still love me? Am I still saved? Why am I having to go through this? This world is a battlefield, and Christians are not exempted. In fact, when we choose to obey the gospel, we have chosen to enter a battlefield we have not fought on before. Now we are declared enemies of the enemy of God – the devil. The name Satan means adversary, which is clearly demonstrated in its use in the Bible (1Chr 21:1, Job 1-2, Zech 3:1-2, Mk 4:15, Acts 26:18, 1Thes 2:18). We are not the enemy of Satan before we repent and make a commitment to God. When we practice a lifestyle (really a death style) of sin, we are God’s enemies (Rom 5:8-10, Rom 8:7-10, Eph 2). When God saves us, we change sides, so we should expect God’s enemy to become our enemy. Nevertheless, we have God on our side fighting with and for us. We win as long as we stay on the winning side. People often equate Israel crossing the Jordan River and entering the promised land with dying and going to heaven, which has some validity (Heb 3-4). However, it is a more accurate symbol of someone going from wandering in the wilderness of sin into a relationship with God by repenting, passing through the water of baptism, and receiving the promise of the Holy Ghost (Lk 24:47-49, Acts 3:38-39). There were enemies that needed to be conquered in the promised land, but God promised them total victory if they kept His commandments (Deut 7:24, Deut 11:25, Josh 1:8-9).
The same promise is given to us spiritually in the New Testament (2Pet 1:1-11, 1Jn 5:1-5). It is also contingent upon us keeping His commandments. If you have obeyed the gospel, you are free from the control and effects of sin as long you abide in the Lord through His word (Jn 6, Jn 15). If you have done this for even a little while, you will notice something about your battles. You were immediately freed from some things that used to have dominion over you, but you still have to battle other things. This also happened to Israel when they entered the promised land. Some enemies fell quickly and with relative ease. Others took years to conquer. God told them He would not drive out all the enemies at once, but little by little. There were two reasons for this. One was so the land would not become desolate and the animals would multiply out of control against them (Ex 23:27-30, Deut 7:21-23). That was a practical reason. The other reason was to test them to see of they would keep God’s commandments (Deut 7).
There is another question that arises when people find themselves in a spiritual battle. Why do we find ourselves fighting things we had victory over before? A basic answer is because we have become slack in our diligence to keep God’s commandments. We have allowed things we had destroyed to be rebuilt (Gal 2:18). Things we once had a conviction about we start to allow back in and justify. We become comfortable with where we are spiritually and think we can coast for a while like David did (2Sam 11-12). Several kings of Judah who were disconnected from God found themselves fighting enemies which had been already conquered. God sent those enemies because of their sin. God sent Hadad the Edomite and Rezon the king of Zobah against Solomon (1Ki 11:14). These enemies had been conquered years before (Num 24:18, 1Sam 14:47, 2Sam 8:3 and 14). Rehoboam was attacked by Shishak king of Egypt (1Ki 14:22-26). Israel was to never have to face Egypt again (Ex 14). When Rehoboam and the people repented, God delivered them (2Chr 12:1-13). The issue is always us allowing sin. The solution is always repentance and obedience to God. The Edomites came against Jehoram (2Chr 21:6-10), as did the Philistines and Arabians (2Chr 21:16-17). Joash was attacked by Hazael the king of Syria (2Ki 12:17-18). Syria had already been defeated (2Sam 8:6, 1Ki 10:29). Rezin the king of Syria attacked Jotham (2Ki 15:37), and against Ahaz (2Ki 16:1-6). Ahaz was also attacked by the Edomites, Philistines, and Assyria (2Chr 28:16-20). Jehoahaz fell to Egypt (2Chr 36:2-3). All of these battles and losses could have been avoided with simple obedience to God.
This brings up the question, “How could God allow the enemies we have already defeated to attack and overcome us again?” First of all, these passages do not say that God allowed the enemy to attack, they say God sent them. Doesn’t that seem ever worse? “Is God loving, forgiving, just, and merciful?” is really the question we are asking. The answer is resoundingly yes. The problem is not with God. It is with us. God gave us the power to choose from the beginning (Gen 2-3), and He will honor that. If we choose to invite what He has already delivered us from back in, then we choose our master (Jn 8:3-44, Rom 6-8). Sometimes the Israelites were conquered by the very nations whose idols they chose to worship instead of God.
Perhaps the most fearful passage in the Bible is the parable of the two servants (Mt 18:23-35). One man owed 10,000 talents to the king. The value of a talent has varied in different kingdoms and times, but a Roman talent was worth about 1.5 million U.S. dollars. So, based on that 10,000 talents would be about 15 billion dollars. The point is that the man owed more than he could ever possibly pay. He was forgiven all that debt just because he asked, but then met someone who owed him 100 pence. According to Matthew 20:2-13, that was a day’s wage. So, let’s say today that would be about $100. That would be about $10,000. The man who owed that money used the exact same words as the man who had owed $10 billion to ask for forgiveness. He refused and had the man thrown into debtor’s prison. When the king heard what happened, he reinstated the $10 billion debt the man had already been forgiven of. Then comes the scary statement of Jesus which is the point of the parable. “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses (Mt 18:35).” Those are the words of Jesus. When we fail to forgive others their debt to us, which is so much smaller than what God forgives us of, we open ourselves up to having our already forgiven debt reinstated, and we can find ourselves battling things we were once delivered from. The Lord requires us to forgive as we have been forgiven (Mt 6:12-15). That is key to our own forgiveness as well as the reconciliation of relationships (Mt 18). God wants us to be victorious over sin’s hold on our past, present, and future (2Cor 1:10), but that deliverance is conditional upon us repenting, obeying, and forgiving others. Then we can work on maintaining the victory.