This morning I sat down to “hang out” with God. I barely opened my Bible where there’s a flyer marking some random book, saw the title of a book and was suddenly flooded with revelation that sent me writing feverishly in my journal and flipping back and forth between books of the Bible, recording, processing, crying.
You probably already know the things I’m about to share, but let me tell you anyway.
The book fell open to Joshua.
First of all, as background I’ve been chewing a lot lately on the idea of holiness. I used to have the view that because it was obviously too hard to be really holy, God didn’t expect perfect obedience from me. He loves me, after all, and isn’t some cosmic police officer. But I’ll be honest- I have often swung between “striving” to please God then giving up exhausted, and falling upon grace. There was a real sense of my unworthiness and God’s goodness and the mystery of his acceptance, but I have never really understood that non-legalistic holiness existed.
Back to Joshua. If you haven’t read it, I’ll give you a little sum up. The Israelites wandered in the Sinai desert for 40 years. On the brink of The Promised Land, Moses gives an epic speech and then croaks, handing the leadership over to Josh…
In Moses’ speech (aka Deuteronomy), he says several times that they must get rid of all of the inhabitants of Canaan. But it’s not so straight forward as God promising them a land that they had to conquer (although it kind of is). Deuteronomy 31:5 says,
“The Lord will give them over to you, and you shall do to them according to the whole commandment that I have commanded you.” Then in the beginning of Joshua it says, “Prepare your provisions…. you are to take possession of the land that the Lord God is giving you to possess.” (Joshua 1:11 esv)
Their job, essentially, was to prepare for battle, go into battle and then watch as God gave them victory (my favorite story of this happening another time is in 2 Chronicles 20 with Jehoshaphat). In every situation that they did this, God gave them victory.
These wiry nomads conquered settled cities when they were obedient to what God was saying.
But their obedience didn’t last for long. They thought, “What’s so wrong with these Canaanites, anyway? Isn’t it kind of mean to totally destroy them?! Isn’t that just a lot of work when God had promised that this land would be ours? I’d rather build a house than keep going to battle. No big deal.”
What follows is the book of Judges. Judges starts out pretty encouraging- spies and victory and all that. But then Josh dies. The generation that comes after Joshua’s doesn’t “know the Lord” (Judges 2:10) and they are even less obedient to do what He has asked. Thus begins a cycle of sin that leads to their enemies getting the better of them. They cry out to God and he hears them and sends a judge to save them from their enemies. Hurray! They are happy! Somehow their happiness leads them back to forgetting God and the cycle begins again. This goes on until they’re a horrible mess of disgusting idolatry, rape and feuding.
The whole thing reminds me of my own struggle with holiness and this takes us to the book of Hebrews. In chapter 10, the author gives us this succinct statement of what it means to be saved,
“For by one sacrifice (Christ) has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (10:14 niv)
Made perfect forever and being made. The big time Christiany words are Justification and Sanctification.
Then in Chapter 12 of Hebrews, it goes on to give these beautifully practical instructions about how to walk in holiness.
Wait- am I being made holy, or am I putting in the effort?
Athol Dickson, in The Gospel According to Moses says it so well;
“… faith by the grace of God leads to obedience to God. On the other hand, if I rely on God’s grace as if it were an excuse to disobey, the Lord will stay far from me, which leads to even less concern about heartfelt morality and ethics, which leads to even more disobedience, which takes me even farther from God. One cycle spirals up, the other spirals down. I am free to choose the road I wish to follow and then I am led along it, either downward by my foolish pride, or upward by the grace of God.”
My problem all of these years has been that it seemed either, or. It always looked like a “free” gift that I had to work hard to receive. And so I stopped trying to kill the destructive internal natives, sought just to be comfortable and hope for the best even while I felt the negative effects of giving up.
Recently I’ve discovered another way.
It involves neither getting off my butt to get-er-done, nor just laying on my face to merely receive. It’s the other way around. This order of operation is a vital difference. In moments where I see that my will and God’s will collide, instead of either pulling up my bootstraps to obey or drooping with discouragement because I know I don’t have it in me, I simply turn to God.
I turn to God and I say, “God, I see what is good, but I confess weakness, or my desire to do the opposite. As I step forward to obey you, help me to really obey you!” And then I step forward trusting Him to conquer the enemy. I suit up (so to speak), head onto the battlefield, and then watch with gratitude as his victory pours through my outstretched hands.
What if I get it wrong one day? What if I want to sin so much more than I want to obey and I just don’t listen to his invitation to let him help me? What if I spend a while thinking “these wild internal beasts don’t seem that beasty?” That happens. But when I finally turn to him and face the truth, say I’m sorry, he’s already taking my hand to walk happily on with me.
God’s grace is more than enough and I’d rather fall upon it than fall into legalism, but the real road to holiness is available to us through regular and surrendered communion (relationship) with God. He is always inviting us to walk that road with him. The road does not exist apart from him.
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”