When War Isn’t Hell

“If you have no temptations it is because the devils are your friends, your leaders, and your shepherds. And by allowing you to pass your poor life tranquilly, to the end of your days, they will drag you down into the depths.”
-St. GregoryWeary Soldier

General William T Sherman was right, of course, in his famous observation of 1880: War is hell. It’s bloody, murderous, heartbreaking and repugnant, a necessary evil made no less horrible by its necessity.

But honorable war is always better than dishonorable peace, and in no area is that clearer than in a man’s personal, private arena of thoughts and passions.

I should know, because I’m at war. Have been for decades now. I have a new nature in Christ and an old nature in Adam, and do I really need to tell you they don’t get along? Those boys fight, I’m rooting for one and crucifying the other, and that means war.

So said Paul:

“For the flesh wars against the Spirit and the Spirit wars against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other.” (Galatians 5:17)

Internal war, then, is an inevitable fact for the believer, one he or she may not enjoy, and in fact I don’t. But there’s something about that war we can celebrate. It means we’ve refused false peace and made no dishonorable surrender.

To Pursue Holiness is to Instigate Adversity

I’ve hugely enjoyed teaching a weekly men’s Bible study on the Book of Joshua. There’s no better book on battle strategy than this one, seeing that it chronicles Israel’s conquest of Canaan and recounts, in detail, some of their key battle strategies and adventures. It’s a fascinating read, and in last week’s study something awfully simple but so meaningful jumped out at me:

The battles didn’t start in earnest until they’d occupied the land.

Duh, you might say, and I’d agree. After all, they were wanderers up to then, waging occasional skirmishes. But generally, they were sojourners in wait of a permanent home. Only when they finally crossed Jordan and stepped in promised territory did they begin doing regular, earnest battle.

Because the Canaanites were in Canaan – not in the wilderness, not in Egypt, not in Israel’s former bondage or wanderings – but in Canaan, the Promised Land. Only upon entering God’s promise did they simultaneously enter ongoing battle.

And so it is with us. I had no internal battles going on when I was unregenerate, and why should I have? I loved my sin; I was dead in it and happy to be that way; I was clueless as to my eternal destiny and my enmity with God. So what was there to struggle with? As Paul told the Ephesians:

“Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” (Ephesians 2:2)

I went with the flow, like a good citizen of the world I belonged to. Now that my citizenship is in heaven, I’ve gone from Subject to Rebel, marching against the course not only of the world, but it’s dark, temporal prince. So my “yes” to God was also a war cry, a declaration of enmity with everything I used to befriend.

Including me, or at least part of me: my Flesh, that nasty old Adamic self-stuff that no longer rules me but, good grief, does it want to! And there, more than with Satan or the world, does my battle rage long and loud.

I hate it. I hate the energy and yes, the effort it takes to say “no” to my old self so many times daily. It’s a struggle I’m looking forward to doing without, but meanwhile, I’m hopefully learning to have a whole new perspective on it.

A War I Can Appreciate

Which is this: My internal war is proof of my new nature, my divine allegiance, the Redeemed Joe made alive in Christ who cannot and will not be satisfied with sin. (Not that he’s gonna eradicate it, for sure. But he’ll never make peace with it
again, either.)

And that makes my struggle against sinful temptations and tendencies proof positive of my divine nature. Some people say, quite un-Biblically but understandably, that if you still struggle with temptation, then you’ve never changed. I like to turn that argument on its head by pointing out that, had you not changed, there’d never be any struggle whatsoever! Because you’d be fine yielding to sin, content going with the flow, at peace with your carnal nature.

But look at you! You do struggle. You resist, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, but you’re still in there swinging! You mourn when you fail, something an unredeemed man has no need to do, because when you’re already dead in sin, what’s to mourn? You crave higher ground, you want holiness, and are taking all sorts of steps live out the sanctified life.

Today you can look at your struggles as proof you’re unchanged, a slimeball, a failure. Or you can view them as evidence that you cannot make peace with sin, so your dissatisfaction with your current state is proof of your new nature in Christ, and your allegiance to Him. Your war isn’t hell. It’s proof of Heaven, and your citizenship there.

So Lord, today give us fresh eyes to view our struggles as You do, and to thankfully recognize that, were we not truly Yours, these temptations and tendencies we war with would be our friends rather than our enemies. Crank up, with Your holy fire, an even deeper hatred within us of all you hate, and a love for Your and Your Ways, motivating us to stay pumped for battle, and hungry for the day the Prince of Peace declares again, one last time and for all time, “It Is Finished.”


  1. Beautiful. So good. So true.

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