Learning to Fight
by J.D. Greear
At one point or another, every Christian I know has asked God in frustration, “Will this struggle ever end? Why doesn’t God just remove this?” This isn’t the question of a skeptic who is trying to prove that God doesn’t exist—the famous apologetic “problem of evil.” No, this is the personal question of a believer who is trying to discern what God is doing with the continued struggles in her life. It is the question of someone who reads, “For those who love God, all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28), and tries to reconcile that theological truth with her present circumstances.
One of the most surprising insights into this question comes from Judges 3: “Now these are the nations that the Lord left, to test Israel by them . . . in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war” (Judg. 3:1–2). God could easily have driven the Canaanite armies out. So why didn’t He?
In one sense, as the book of Judges pounds into our heads over and over, the enemy nations were left in the land because Israel didn’t believe God enough to drive them out. But that’s not the whole picture. We also see that God left them there so that Israel would learn to fight.
God wanted to give Israel the land of Canaan. But He wanted to do it through struggle. So He continued to test them, to see if they would believe Him, to teach them to trust Him in their fight. He does the same with us, though (as Paul reminds us) our battle isn’t against flesh and blood, but against spiritual powers. Why doesn’t God remove our struggles when we become Christians? Because He wants us to keep relying on His grace, not on our flesh. Many of the weaknesses and trials in our lives are there—by design—to keep us humble.
What this means is that sometimes God allows us to struggle with a lesser sin to keep us from falling victim to a greater one—pride. Because if we were immediately cured of certain sins, we’d become insufferably arrogant. God has done that with me repeatedly. I hate experiencing suffering and battling sin. But I know how wayward my heart is without them. Struggle is a sure and constant way of driving the proverb “There but for the grace of God go I” into our hearts.
The persistence of pain in our lives—especially the pain of battling against sin—shouldn’t make us complacent. God didn’t leave the Canaanites so that Israel would eventually get comfortable with their being around. Rather, He left them so that Israel would learn to fight.
So when you are tempted to despair because you continue to struggle, remember what God is doing through your circumstances. Look to Christ, whose resurrection guarantees victory. Look to Christ, who fought for you when you were His enemy. Look to Christ, the only Savior who can give you the strength to stand, and who will pick you up every time you fall. Look to Christ, and fight.