We love the biblical idea of God fighting for us. We love quoting Moses standing with his back to the Red Sea and his face towards the approaching Egyptian army: “The Lord will fight for you, you have only to be silent” (Ex. 14:14). We rightly love to reference another set of words by Moses to the people of God:
“And when you draw near to the battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people and shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory’.” (Deut. 20:2–4).
Yet, we struggle to receive and cling to the reality that the same love that fights for us is also deeply committed to fighting against us.
Love that Stands Against My Sin
I’ll never forget something my husband said to me during our first year of marriage. We had come to an impasse (which is a euphemistic way of saying that we were in a bit of a disagreement). I think I said something alongside the lines of “I need to know that you are for me” to which he wisely replied, “I am for the Spirit in you, but I am against your sin and your flesh.” In the moment, I don’t think I liked his response very much; however, the reality of a love that would stand against me and my sin has deeply shaped me and helped me understand God’s fiercely faithful and faithfully fierce love for his children.
Now that I have children, I can better understand the ferocious side of love. While I am not generally a yeller, I have yelled loudly at my children to protect them danger. I remember crying as we disciplined our very young children for touching the stove. And now, as my children are becoming adolescents, my husband and I have had to keep them from things they have deeply desired to protect them from harm. I will never forget the story of a father friend of ours. His daughter was in the depths of depression which was leading her to seek escape in rebellion and substances. In love, he would sleep in front of the front door to offer himself as a physical barrier to that which would cause her lasting harm.
An Unsettling Promise
I was stopped dead in my tracks yesterday when I was reading the book of Jeremiah. At this particular part in the book of the weeping prophet, Jeremiah has recently been imprisoned and tortured by the priest in the house of the Lord for speaking truthful (but very hard-to-swallow) words from the Lord. God’s people simply wanted nothing to do with the truth that would check, challenge, and convict them in their sin. Their spirit is summarized in one verse:
Then they said, “Come, let us makes plots against Jeremiah, for the law shall not perish from the priest, not counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, let us strike him with the tongue and let us not pay attention to any of his words” (Jeremiah 18:18).
Later, when Babylon began to attack them, they conveniently decided they would like to hear the word of the Lord again (as if God and his prophets were lucky rabbit’s feet to be rubbed when desired). God sent Jeremiah back to the same priest who had tortured him with these startling words, “I myself will fight against you with outstretched hand and strong arm, in anger and in fury and in great wrath” (Jer. 21:5).
God refused to relent and yield to his people’s desire for prosperity and security apart from him. He loved them too much.
A Deeply Settled Love
For those who are in Christ, God’s wrath has been poured out upon Jesus. He drank the cup of wrath down to its dregs. Thus, God does not punish his children. The Holy Spirit, does, however, stand against them in their sin, waging war against the remnant of flesh that lives within us in the already/not yet of the kingdom of God (Gal. 5: 16–26). Just as Jesus loved Peter and therefore rebuked him when he had his mind set on the things of the earth rather than the things of God, God will lovingly rebuke us through his discipline (Matt. 16:23; Heb.12: 3–11).
If God allows us to be wounded or corrected, it always comes from his scarred hands and issues from his deeply settled (and publicly-shown) love for us.
Martin Luther wrote the following about the loving correction of God:
“When God sends us tribulation, it is not as reason and Satan argue: ‘See there God flings you into prison, endangers your life. Surely He hates you. He is angry with you; for if He did not hate you, He would not allow this thing to happen.’ In this way Satan turns the rod of a Father into the rope of a hangman and the most salutary remedy into the deadliest poison. He is an incredible master at devising thoughts of this nature. Therefore, it is very difficult to differentiate in tribulations between him who kills and Him who chastises in a friendly way.”
If we are buffeted and checked by the Spirit of God who wars against our indwelling sin, this is ongoing proof of our place as true daughters and sons. Receive his fierce love as marks of ownership from the Father.