We Christians need vision and courage and we must fight. We are commanded to fight. We must fight against sin and we must fight against the Lord’s enemies as we seek to advance the kingdom of God.
But make no mistake, the Church’s victory over evil in this world will be driven not by the “ways of this world” but by personal holiness. This is what Jesus meant when He said that His “kingdom is not of this world”. The power of His kingdom comes not from tyranny or lording it over others.
Instead, the kingdom of Jesus Christ runs on the rails of obedience to God’s law. The greatest in His kingdom is the greatest servant. Power in His kingdom comes from obedience to His law. And the advance of His kingdom on earth is fueled by the holiness of His people and their obedience to His call. Personal holiness makes us fit and able to obey His call and do His work. He commands us to pray “thy kingdom come” in the earth. That prayer is a prayer for the holiness and obedience of God’s people.
So as you seek to advance God’s kingdom never lose sight of the fact that the primary call for each and every believer is the holiness of our own lives, the devotion of our own families. Seek the Lord. Devote your whole heart, mind and life to Him each day, all that you are, all that you have, all that you think, do or say.
And be devoted to reading His word, the Bible. Both the Old and New Testaments. Ask questions. Wrestle with it. Struggle with it. Pray about it. Be changed by it. His word is living and active, sharper, more dangerous and effective than any sword. Let it do its work in you. Be humble. Ask for His guidance. Spend time in His word.
There are many idols which compete for our attention today. But just like the Israelites of the Old Testament we are called to wholehearted devotion to our God:
“The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
he is the one you are to fear,
he is the one you are to dread.”
— Isaiah 8:13
The “fear of the Lord” comes from recognizing that God made us, that He is holy, that He is the judge, and that the world is the way that He says that it is. He blesses obedience and curses disobedience.
Consider for a moment the blessings which God promises to His people in Deuteronomy 28 if they obey Him:
2 “All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God:
3 You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.
4 The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.
5 Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed.
6 You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.
7 The Lord will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.
8 The Lord will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The Lord your God will bless you in the land he is giving you.
9 The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the Lord your God and walk in obedience to him. 10 Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you. 11 The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity—in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground—in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you.
12 The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. 13 The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom. 14 Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left, following other gods and serving them.”
— Deuteronomy 28:2-14
Consider also, however, that just as God blesses obedience, so disobedience will incur His punishment over the course of our earthly lives. I do not mean that a believer can be separated from God’s love or lose his eternal salvation. We are eternally secure in Christ and that cannot change. But when we disobey God, we can incur some very harsh consequences for disobedience. And we can be disqualified from doing the work that He prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10). Consider these words of God, from Deuteronomy 28, to His people about disobedience:
“15 However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you:
16 You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country.
17 Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed.
18 The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.
19 You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out.
20 The Lord will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him. 21 The Lord will plague you with diseases until he has destroyed you from the land you are entering to possess. 22 The Lord will strike you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew, which will plague you until you perish. 23 The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron. 24 The Lord will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed.
25 The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You will come at them from one direction but flee from them in seven, and you will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on earth. 26 Your carcasses will be food for all the birds and the wild animals, and there will be no one to frighten them away. 27 The Lord will afflict you with the boils of Egypt and with tumors, festering sores and the itch, from which you cannot be cured. 28 The Lord will afflict you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind. 29 At midday you will grope about like a blind person in the dark. You will be unsuccessful in everything you do; day after day you will be oppressed and robbed, with no one to rescue you.
30 You will be pledged to be married to a woman, but another will take her and rape her. You will build a house, but you will not live in it. You will plant a vineyard, but you will not even begin to enjoy its fruit. 31 Your ox will be slaughtered before your eyes, but you will eat none of it. Your donkey will be forcibly taken from you and will not be returned. Your sheep will be given to your enemies, and no one will rescue them. 32 Your sons and daughters will be given to another nation, and you will wear out your eyes watching for them day after day, powerless to lift a hand. 33 A people that you do not know will eat what your land and labor produce, and you will have nothing but cruel oppression all your days. 34 The sights you see will drive you mad. 35 The Lord will afflict your knees and legs with painful boils that cannot be cured, spreading from the soles of your feet to the top of your head.
36 The Lord will drive you and the king you set over you to a nation unknown to you or your ancestors. There you will worship other gods, gods of wood and stone. 37 You will become a thing of horror, a byword and an object of ridicule among all the peoples where the Lord will drive you.
38 You will sow much seed in the field but you will harvest little, because locusts will devour it. 39 You will plant vineyards and cultivate them but you will not drink the wine or gather the grapes, because worms will eat them. 40 You will have olive trees throughout your country but you will not use the oil, because the olives will drop off. 41 You will have sons and daughters but you will not keep them, because they will go into captivity. 42 Swarms of locusts will take over all your trees and the crops of your land.
43 The foreigners who reside among you will rise above you higher and higher, but you will sink lower and lower. 44 They will lend to you, but you will not lend to them. They will be the head, but you will be the tail.”
— Deuteronomy 28:15-43
God blesses obedience and curses disobedience. Righteousness exalts a nation (Prov. 28:14). A man sows what he reaps (Galatians 6:7). If we would bear good fruit and walk in God’s blessing and see His kingdom come we must love Him with all our hearts and obey His commands including His command to disciple the nations of the world. As Jesus said, “If you love me you will obey my commands.” (John 14:15)
As God’s people grow in holiness and obedience to Him they will be blessed by God across all areas of life. Likewise, however, as God’s people grow in obedience, our enemies (who are also God’s enemies) will be punished.
Consider for a moment how God dealt with Israel. When they would not walk faithfully with Him, He empowered the kings of Assyria and Babylon to attack and overwhelm Israel and Judah. God used ungodly men as instruments of discipline on His people.
But God promises that when His people are faithful that He will bless them and at the same time curse their enemies. Consider this prophetic utterance in Deuteronomy 30 regarding God’s people under the future New Covenant:
“6 The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. 7 The Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies who hate and persecute you. 8 You will again obey the Lord and follow all his commands I am giving you today.”
This promise in God’s law explains the cries of the writers of the Psalms, “How long O Lord? How long?” They were calling on God’s promise to punish their enemies.
It is important to remember, however, that God’s promise to punish the enemies of His people depends heavily on the obedience of His people. Consider that at the edge of Canaan, God had promised the Land to His people and He was ready to judge the Canaanites. He told His people that He had given them the victory, but that they needed to go in and fight in faith. Instead of having faith, however, they were afraid and disobeyed. As punishment they wandered 40 years in the wilderness until a generation arose that would be faithful. When that generation was ready to obey, then and only then, was punishment unleashed on the Canaanites.
In other words, the timetables of history hinge on the obedience of God’s people — their holiness and their obedience to God’s call to disciple the nations. In the Great Commission, Jesus told His Church that He had won the victory and He sent them off to carry it out in His name and authority. But like Israel at the edge of Canaan we will not be victorious until our hearts and vision are right — until we walk in the holiness which God desires and accept our call to disciple every nation on the earth to obey God’s commands (Mt. 28:18-20).
So, if you would advance God’s kingdom know that you must fight. But do not lose sight of the fact that our first and greatest call is to gain victory over sin in our own lives and grow in holiness. The Church’s victory, the eventual fulfillment of the Great Commission, hinges on the holiness and obedience of God’s people. That holiness will produce prophetic boldness. But our victory doesn’t hinge on boldness. Rather in boldness we obey God’s calling and God Himself has promised His blessing on our labors and the defeat of our enemies when we are faithful to His call.
Seek Him with all your heart. Devote yourself to Him every day. Pray that He would make you to be the man or woman that He has called you to be. He has prepared in advance good works for you to do (Eph. 2:10). Labor in the Lord to grow in holiness so that you will not be disqualified (1 Cor. 9:27) from doing the work he has for you to do.
God has promised both holiness and victory to His people. But each generation can succeed or fail just like the Israelites at the edge of Canaan. My prayer is that you and I and our generation would be faithful. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.