Hold Fast to the Fight

This term has been weird. It’s been real weird. Here are some key updates for the life of Jasmine:

-I’ve been the busiest I ever have for as long as I’ve been in college

-I’ve become obsessed with figs (seriously, they are the most beautiful of all the fruits)

-I’ve impersonated Kid Rock on multiple occasions (and am actually quite good at it)

-I’ve had bronchitis (ew)

-I’ve gone to almost every class this term (very impressive if you know me)

-I’ve learned more about the Old Testament than ever before.

But I’m very tired. There have been days that I’ve cried over how drained I felt, days where I couldn’t manage to conjure up any deep or profound thoughts (since I mostly just dreamed about figs and imagined new ways to terrify my roommate with unexpected texts containing pictures of Kid Rock), and days where I felt like an uninspired blob (if you know me, you know this is my nightmare).

What’s funny, though, is that this has been one of the sweetest terms so far. Yes, I am exhausted, but I am becoming increasingly convinced that this is the way God intended for our lives to be lived. No, I don’t think we should always feel beaten down and drained, and I don’t believe that it is healthy to run at full speed all the time and do everything that is thrown in front of us. But I do think there is something to be said about being tired, and that there is something valuable to be found in the place where little stamina remains. It’s in the moments when we feel tired and uninspired that God proves himself to be the one who is fighting the battle and calling the shots, and he is also the one who is supplying the equipment necessary to go to war. What God has been teaching me is this: we are called to fight for what is good, and the gospel is indeed good. Living underneath the shelter of the gospel requires that we fight to stay there, that we engage in battle, for this is not a stagnant war.

We find this war-time language all throughout Scripture, perhaps the most well-known being 1 Timothy 6:12:

“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” (ESV).

We see it again in Ephesians 6:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (ESV, verses 10-12).

And yet again in Psalm 18:39: “For you equipped me with strength for the battle.” Supplementing this, we see Scripture command such active participation through the constant charge to “hold fast”:

“…you shall serve him and hold fast to him.” (Deuteronomy 13:4)

“Let your heart hold fast my words…” (Proverbs 4:4)

“I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go.” (Job 27:6)

“Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” (Romans 12:9)

hold fast to the word I preached to you…” (1 Corinthians 15:2)

holding fast to the word of life…” (Philippians 2:16)

hold fast what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21)

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23)

There are far more verses like this all throughout Scripture, but I think you get the idea. It is made very clear in the Word that we are to engage—to participate—in the work that the Lord is doing in us and in the world. What I see much too often, in myself and in the lives of those around me, is that we are culturally conditioned to chase after that which instantly gratifies; we want what is good, but we don’t want to have to fight for it. After all, if something really is that good, why would it have to be chased so relentlessly? If God wants us to experience his goodness, why make the stakes so high? Because when we chase after something, when we wrestle to take hold of the object of our desires, we begin to understand its worth. We put forth the effort, and we now understand with unclouded eyes and sober hearts just how beautiful our prize is.

But what has happened is that we have let culture shape our thinking in such a way that we are now disillusioned to believe that understanding the beauty of our Prize should come naturally, or that if something is really enjoyable then it will appear “in its own time” or “when it is right.” The problem is, I don’t think this ideology is in accordance with the Scriptures. In fact, this very line of thought often causes people to fall away from Christ and his church. They are (rightly) told that the gospel is good, and then, because of the way culture has shaped our pursuits, they are led to believe the goodness that accompanies the gospel should simply follow suit. They are trained to believe that it should all come naturally, with little effort, because they have reached the destination. But here is the missing piece in this misconstrued puzzle: we have not reached our ultimate destination, and will not until we are no longer on this earth. This challenges us to consider: if we are still here, and if God is purposeful in everything he does, then he must have something for us to do. If we had reached the destination, I doubt that we would still be sitting stagnant.

I’ve been reading through the Old Testament with the high school youth group at UFC, and I’ve been able to see this truth play out in the lives of the Israelites as the Lord brings them out of captivity and into the Promised Land. The story goes like this: The people of Israel, aka God’s chosen people, had been living in Egypt in captivity for about 400 years. God promised to deliver the people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, and he chose his servant Moses to lead them out. It took a bit of time and a lot of plagues for the Egyptians to finally let the Israelites go, but God brought them out, using Moses as his mediator, and split the Red Sea for the Israelites to escape. This then brought them into the wilderness where they wandered for 40 years, and most were not even permitted to enter into the Promised Land (because of unbelief, but that is a longer story). Moses died and passed on his role to Joshua, who then led the remainder of the Israelites into the land which God had promised.

What I want to hone in on here is the time the Israelites spent in the wilderness. The time in the wilderness lasted about 40 years, and it was not easy nor pleasant. Time and time again, the Israelites would complain about how difficult life in the wilderness was, longing for the old days when they lived in captivity in Egypt (hey, at least they had figs. I’m not making this up…they literally complained about not having figs anymore. I get it). And it was this empty nostalgia that killed them. They forgot about the Lord, about just how awful captivity was, and how sweet the Promised Land would be, and became consumed by their discontent. And they gave up. They forgot and thus did not fight in the ways he was calling them to. They died in the wilderness and never saw the Promised Land. I want to be clear here: they didn’t die in the wilderness because they failed to work hard; they died there because of disbelief: they forgot about the God who had brought them out of a place in which they knew only death. They forsook their God.

I want to be cautious about making this pursuit of the goodness of the gospel one that is fueled by works. That is not the objective here, nor is it good. What I am aiming for, though, is to challenge us to consider why God would even ask the Israelites to fight in the first place. If God already did the work for them, why should they have to do anything? The reason Scripture calls us to hold fast, to fight, is because we are no different than the Israelites: we soon forget the Lord, and forgetting the Lord will lead to our death. It is not just flesh and blood that we wrestle against, but forces and powers that we cannot even see or comprehend are working against us, whispering for us to just “let go” and join the world in its downstream drift (see Ephesians 6). Our flesh forgets, and the enemy entices us to long for the land in which we were captive. Thus, God calls us to fight.

Like the Israelites, we’ve been brought out of a place that we deserved to die in, and we’ve been promised admittance into a place that we have not earned, but we can’t just sit idle. The time in the wilderness is a parallel to our time here on earth; the Israelites had been brought out of captivity in Egypt and were being led into the promised land by intercessors (Moses and Joshua). They couldn’t leave captivity on their own, and they couldn’t enter into the promised land on their own. They first needed the Lord to fight for them (Exodus 14:14) and needed someone to carry out the work of the Lord to get them there (the prophets). Like the Israelites, the work has been done for us, but we are called to remember the Lord; to be overwhelmed with gratitude for what should have been and what now is because of his great mercy. And we must fight for what is good. God has finished the work, but we are not to be passive bystanders in the wilderness. For when we forget, we die.

So why the wilderness? The wilderness is meant to remind us, to prepare us, and it is meant to be temporary. God did not cause the Israelites to stay in the wilderness without purpose. He was getting them ready for what was promised. He was equipping them for battle. In the same way, God is keeping us in the wilderness for a reason. He is doing things in and through us that we are not aware of, and if we are still here, our work is not yet finished. We have battles to fight for the sake of the gospel before we can enter into the land that is promised.

There is one last thing I think is worth mentioning, and that is the way in which God brought the Israelites out of Egypt and the way he brought them into the Promised Land. God brought them out the same way he brought them in: by parting the seemingly uncrossable waters, and by leading them by the hands of mediators like Moses and Joshua. Exodus 14:29-31 tells of the exit from Egypt in this way:

But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.”

They saw the Egyptians dead behind them; they were free because of God’s deliverance through Moses. Similarly, God brought the people of Israel into the promised land by splitting the Jordan River with the leadership of Joshua and the priests. God knew the people couldn’t make their way out of slavery or work their way into freedom on their own: he did the work himself, and he did it through Moses and Joshua. Jesus is the better Moses and the better Joshua. He interceded for us, he lead us, and he made a way for us to cross (Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25, 2 Corinthians 2:14). On the day when the Israelites fled from captivity, they saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore, just as we see our sin dead on the cross. Like the Israelites, we are able to enter safely into the wilderness having seen the faithful provision of the Lord, by seeing the great power of the LORD on the bloody cross. God is faithful, and is sure to keep his promises. He is consistent and reliable when everything else seems chaotic and uncertain. He fights for us even when we are tired. He will bring us into the Promised Land the same way he brought us out of captivity: through the work of His Son. That is what we have to cling onto. Christ fights for us: he brings us out and he leads us in. All we need to do is trust him, hold fast to the cross, and run the race already set out before us.

We are to fight, because the Lord Almighty fought for us, and we should not hold that in vain. The gospel is indeed good, and we are to fight for what is good.

-Jasmine Creighton-Manis

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