"Go in and take possession of the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their offspring after them." – Deuteronomy 1:8
God keeps his promises. Four centuries before Moses uttered the words cited above, God swore to Abraham that the land in which he sojourned would one day be his posterity's possession. And now, after forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the ransomed children of Abraham were about to see God come through on his promise. He brought the Israelites to the border of their soon-to-be home and basically told them, "Go and get it!"
But notice in Deuteronomy 1:8 by what means the Israelites were to inherit the promise: they were to "take possession" of it. This land was not deserted. There were wicked, dangerous people still residing in it — people whom God commanded the Israelites to obliterate. Taking hold of this promised blessing was not going to be an effortless task. They were going to have to pick up their weapons and fight for it.
Can you imagine the distress the Israelites might have experienced? Well, there is no "might" — the whole reason they spent so many years in the wilderness was because they were terrified of the inhabitants of the land! They considered their foes too big, too many, and too mighty to conquer. They initially shrunk away from the blessing God had for them because they failed to have faith in his other promise. God didn't say, "Okay, here's the land. But you can only have it if you, in your own power and capabilities, can conquer it. Best of luck! Bye!"
No — he swore to them that he would fight for them!
- "Then I said to you, 'Do not be in dread or afraid of them. The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.'" – Deuteronomy 1:29-31
- "Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the Lord has promised you." – Deuteronomy 9:3
The Israelites would not be battling alone or in their own strength — they would be warring alongside and in the might of the Almighty! God assured them that he, with his unlimited power and resources, would cause them to prevail over their enemies. This land would be theirs, just as he promised. They needed only to obey him and trust him to do what he said he would do!
So much of this narrative translates into the life of the modern-day Christian. God has promised all who trust in Christ an eternal Kingdom of unending happiness and rest. However, like the Israelites, we must strive and wrestle and fight to enter into it.
Someone might object, "No, God's Kingdom is received by faith! Christ purchased it for us!"
Indeed, it is. And indeed, he has. The promises of the New Covenant depend on grace alone and are received by faith alone (Romans 4:16).
But what is faith? How is it expressed? What does it do?
According to the Bible, it is by faith that the people of old "conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight" (Hebrews 11:33-34).
Faith is passive in the sense that it simply believes God and trusts in him. However, as we see in Hebrews 11, true belief and trust always give way to active obedience. Faith fights. It conquers. It overcomes (1 John 5:4)!
In Jesus' day, people of faith were so eager to enter the Kingdom he preached that he described them as "violent" men who took it by force (Matthew 11:12)! Now, Christian "violence" is not inflicted against other human parties. Rather, our battle is against our own sin and the spiritual principalities that seek to destroy our faith. God calls us to kill the fleshly deeds of the body (Romans 8:13) and to stand firm against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:11). We must, as the author of Hebrews wrote, strive to enter God's eternal rest (Hebrews 4:11).
Though it may seem anti-gospel at first glance, these are conditions we must meet to inherit God's Kingdom. We must deny ourselves. We must mortify sin. We must resist the evil one. However, the reason this is not anti-gospel is because God empowers us to meet these conditions! He doesn't merely call us to do his will but also "works in [us], both to will and work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). Just as he enabled the Israelites to prevail over their enemies so that they could inherit the land, so he enables us to prevail over sin and Satan so that we can inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.
The best news any of us will hear today is that the LORD our God, an omnipotent and undefeatable Warrior, fights for us. He fought for us at Calvary, triumphing over sin and death in the person of his Son. And he will fight for us all the way to glory. He will keep us in the saving hand of Christ (John 10:28). He will enable us to keep striving for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). He will soon crush Satan under our feet (Revelation 16:20).