January 14, 2010

To Live is Christ — take no souvenirs

The battles in the Old Testament were real people fighting real enemies. God told His people to oust the pagans from the land that He gave them and to protect themselves against their godless ways by destroying them.

I’ve heard the question: How can God be so mean and violent? How could He tell His people to slaughter not only armies, but even women and children? Two answers come to mind.

First, because of His holiness and the dreadfulness of sin, there is no reason God should allow anyone to live. He should destroy us all. However, He chose a nation through whom He would send a redeemer. For the Jewish nation to be the vehicle He desired, they needed to follow Him and keep themselves from idolatry. The Old Testament stories depict the history of how God revealed Himself to Israel and how they struggled to obey Him and fight against all that threatened their spiritual identity. They were not to marry with, mingle with, nor worship like their pagan neighbors.

Second, the Old Testament stories are also illustrative of Christian living. When I was saved, God showed me that the sinful habits in my life must be conquered. Like those OT battles, I also battle the enemies that threaten my spiritual life. If I am going to win those battles, I must obey God and be diligent. My efforts against sin are instructed by those OT stories.

One story begins in early Jewish history and ends in 1 Samuel. It is about a pagan nation that attacked Israel just as they were escaping bondage in Egypt (a picture of bondage to sin). God told them to destroy this nation.

Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were coming out of Egypt, how he met you on the way and attacked your rear ranks, all the stragglers at your rear, when you were tired and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore it shall be, when the Lord your God has given you rest from your enemies all around, in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance, that you will blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. You shall not forget. (Deuteronomy 25:17–19)
Later when Israel entered their land, they asked for a king and wound up with Saul. To him, God said. . . . 
Thus says the Lord of hosts, I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him. (1 Samuel 15: 2–3a NASB)
Essentially, Saul was supposed to wipe out Amalek: all the men, women, and children and all possessions. Later verses confirm this, but also confirm that Saul failed to do it. He kept some of the “best” goods and did not kill their king. As a result, Saul lost his position as king and became a disgrace.

From this story, my devotional says when I win a spiritual victory over sin, I need to remember this principle. “In other words . . . take no souvenirs.”

One positive encouragement is that God will lead me in victory. Whenever I win a battle over sin and temptation, that victory is sufficient because if I do as He says and destroy that ‘enemy’ then I will be done with it.

The instruction about taking no souvenirs could mean no keepsakes or reminders, nothing that even looks good or seems harmless. Do not leave so much as a seed to sprout from the defeated enemy.

Suppose a married man has an affair and decides to stop this sin. Is he going to have complete victory if he keeps a photo of his mistress in his wallet? Suppose a thief decides to stop stealing. Is he going to win over his sin if he hoards away all that he has stolen and goes to look at his stash every day?

God wants me to be as ruthless about my sin as He wanted Saul to be ruthless with Amalek. He wants every remnant of my sin ousted from my life and utterly destroyed.

Jesus was sinless and didn’t have to battle sin the way I do. Instead, He bore the penalty of my sin and came to live in me so I can defeat sin by obedience. Each time I give in to temptation, I am laying sin on Jesus. Each time I obey God, I am joining Jesus in victory over sin.

Being like Jesus will not happen totally until I step into eternity, but as long as I am here, living for Christ means hating sin and battling against it, taking no plunder and keeping no souvenirs.

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