‘He failed to get to grips with his sin’. Can you imagine a more damning indictment on a man’s life? It’s a scathing assessment. And it’s one I’d be keen to avoid.
It’s so ruthlessly frank that in an obituary, it might just get you done for libel. I’m a fan of obituaries. I’m not morbid, but I like reading them. After the sport and the first few pages it’s where I next turn. Most weeks an elderly serviceman’s life is written up and I find those fascinating. Richard Winters, made famous by the Band of Brothers, passed away recently. The BBC covered it here and Adrian Reynolds blogged on it here. Now he was an impressive man; Dick Winters, not Adrian. The tales of heroic exploits of men like Winters are challenging, humbling and inspiring. And I sometimes wonder what might be said about me one day. I don’t for a moment expect that my obituary will make it into any kind of newspaper; national, clerical or local! But I do wonder what my reputation will be amongst my children and my Grandchildren. Sure we can worry too much about our reputation. We can make an idol of it. But just what am I passing on to those who come after me? That’s worth thinking about, isn’t it?
This train of thought was provoked by my time in Judges 1 last week. We’ve just begun a series in that terrific Old Testament book and so I’d been pondering its implications all week.
Judges 1 is the first of two introductory sections. It sets the scene and explains the roots of Israel’s apostasy. It records Israel’s military predicament and in particular their failure to deal with the Canaanite tribes. Seven times the refrain ‘they did not drive out’ occurs. It’s repeated like a mallet hammering a reputation down to size. Israel did not respond to the Lord with obedient faith. They preferred to employ the Canaanite tradesmen rather than eradicate them, as they’d been told to. Israel made peace with them rather than punishing them, as God had expected them to do. It’s as though Israel preferred anything for a quiet life. And after decades of conflict you can understand their weariness. But their failure to deal with those nations came back to bite them. Israel’s life in the Kingdom would be undermined by the ongoing irritating presence of unbelievers. The Canaanite tribes were like pockets of resistance, unwilling to submit to the Lord and unwilling to leave his people alone. And so Israel would not enjoy rest in the Kingdom until their enemies were removed.
It dawned on me that Israel’s failure to drive out the indwelling nations warns the Christian not to make peace with our sin. God expects us to engage it and eradicate it. We mustn’t contain it, tolerate it, domesticate it or employ it. We must simply drive it out. If we don’t, then like the Canaanite tribes, it’ll come back to bite us. And so this begs the question, ‘are we prepared to be ruthless with indwelling sin?’ Is it time to gear up and go to battle? Have you become a little battle weary, run up the white flag and negotiated a truce in the hope of peaceful co-existence?
I’ve been a Christian for twenty years. And there are times when I’m tired of fighting. But I will not enjoy rest in the Kingdom of God until those sinful pockets of resistance to Christ’s rule are eradicated. Ultimately God will do that when Christ returns. Bring it on! But he expects me to make some progress before that happens. And the truth is I need to get back in the game. With the help of the Spirit, depending on the resurrection power of the Lord I need to engage in conflict and put my sin to death. Often I quit because the battle is unending. My sinful nature will persist until glory, but that’s no reason not to oppose its work. There are lots of sins in my life. But there is no sin that Christ is incapable of dealing with.
And perhaps, like the Israelite generation of the conquest, it’s good for me to be reminded that if I don’t deal with my sin now it’ll only be worse in the future. There are sinful patterns of life that I wish I’d dealt with when I first entered the kingdom. There are ways of thinking, ways of responding and habits that are deep-rooted and well-practiced. They hassle me and undermine my enjoyment of life in the Kingdom. And those sins have just got stronger the more I’ve practiced them. They coexist with my efforts to live in holiness. And they prevent it. It’s my fault, no one else’s. But if ‘me of now’ could speak to ‘me of then’, I’d urge ‘me of then’ to be more ruthless with sin. I’d encourage ‘me of then’ to trust God’s promises to redeem me from the power of sin and fight. And so those of you who read this, who are younger than me in the faith, let me encourage you to plan a spiritual conquest against your sin. The ‘you of the future’ will thank the ‘you of now’ for it!
‘He failed to get to grips with his sin’. That’s the New Testament equivalent of failing to drive out the nations, isn’t it? And for so many reasons, it’s a scathing assessment I’m keen to avoid.