The Christian Civil War

An awful thing has happened. I was traveling, when, during the night, some of the wicked men of Benjamin arose and came after me with the intent to kill me. They raped and killed my concubine, so I divided up her body parts and sent them to the rest of the people of God so they would know what evil has taken place (Judges 20:3-6 Paraphrased).

In the child of God there is a civil war raging. There is flesh and there is spirit. There is the new nature and there is the remaining indwelling sin, and like Israel’s first civil war, drastic action must be taken. As John Owen once said, “Let no man think to kill sin with few, easy, or gentle strokes.”

The first thing we must do is recognize the evil for what it is. When the Levite learned of the sinfulness at work in Israel, he did not partition it off as something that could be tolerated if they would simply keep it quarantined. He saw it for what it was, and he knew it needed to be killed.

One of the most dangerous aspects of sin is its deceitfulness. It is always trying to convince us that it is not that bad, and we can simply section off our lives and still be happy and spiritually healthy. This is not the case. There is no quarantine that can keep our sinfulness from poisoning every other aspect of our spiritual life. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. We must put it to death.

Once we see the danger, we must take action to kill it. Just as the Levite took drastic action to notify all of Israel of the danger, we too must make sure to sound the alarms. Not only within ourselves, but also to our fellow believers. God has not called us to fight alone. You need to find a band of trustworthy brothers and sisters in Christ to whom you can confide and find help. The purpose of this alliance is to gather strength to kill the enemy. So all the Israelites got together and united as one against the city (Judges 20:11).

Our hope is that this will be an easy war, and our flesh will simply lay down its arms, but this is never the case. As we begin to take this action against our iniquity, our sinfulness will also fortify itself. At once the Benjamites mobilized twenty-six thousand swordsmen from their towns, in addition to seven hundred able young men (Judges 20:15). The strength of the emeny will gather, and there will be causalities in this battle.

The Israelites went out to fight the Benjamites and took up battle positions against them at Gibeah. The Benjamites came out of Gibeah and cut down twenty-two thousand Israelites on the battlefield that day (Judges 20:20-21).

When we face a loss like this, we realize how daunting the enemy truly is, and we wonder if we should continue. The bloody nature of the fight rightfully leads us to the Lord to see if we should go up once again. The Israelites went up and wept before the Lord until evening, and they inquired of the Lord. They said, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites?” The Lord answered, “Go up against them” (Judges 20:23).

This will always be the Lord’s response when it comes to fighting our indwelling sin. Yes, you are to fight. This command of God to go up against our sin can often lead us to assume the next battle will be easy and the victory painless because he told us to contend. This, however, should not be assumed. The Israelites drew near to Benjamin the second day.  This time, when the Benjamites came out from Gibeah to oppose them, they cut down another eighteen thousand Israelites, all of them armed with swords (Judges 20:24-25).

Why would the Lord do that? Why would he tell us to go fight and then let us lose the battle? I believe Israel’s response to the defeat gives us the answer. Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the Lord. They fasted that day until evening and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the Lord (Judges 20:24-25).

As we contend with our sinfulness, we will be bloodied and bruised. Maybe you are there now. You have been fighting for some time with no success. The only proper response is to draw up under the wing of your God. As we lose battles, we begin to learn the most important lesson. This battle cannot be won in our own strength.

Much like when God wrestled with Jacob, the contest was not about Jacob getting something out of God, it was about God getting something out of Jacob. One of the most important aspects of that event is that Jacob, when he realized he could not win, went from contending against God at the beginning of the match, to clinging to Him at the end. This is exactly what our failures in our battle with sin should do to us. It should drive us closer to our Lord and cause us to cling more tightly to him.

Know this, this civil war of flesh and Spirit will rage until the day we die, but there will be victories as we lean more and more on God. We may be hesitant to continue the fight, but as you trust less and less in your own power and might and trust more and more in his Spirit, ask Him again if you should fight.

They asked, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites, or not?” The Lord responded, “Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands” (Judges 20:28). The more we know that the battle belongs to the Lord, the more he will give the enemy into our hands. He will use our hand, but it will be his power that is at work.

So how do we begin to fight? How does the Lord direct us to march? “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Benjamites?” The Lord replied, “Judah shall go first” (Judges 20:18). Jesus is the lion of the tribe of Judah. Though we will win some and lose some, there is only one way in which we should march. Advance with Jesus in the lead. He is our forgiveness and righteousness. If he is our head, then our ultimate victory is assured even if we lose some battles.

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. – 1 Timothy 6:2

-D. Eaton

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