Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Are You Driving Sin Out, or Putting It to Forced Labor?

There is a strange passage at the beginning of Judges that sums up the state of Israel at that time. Here is an except from Judges 1:27-30:
But Manasseh did not drive out the people of Beth Shan or Taanach or Dor or Ibleam or Megiddo and their surrounding settlements, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that land. When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labor but never drove them out completely. Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer, but the Canaanites continued to live among them. Neither did Zebulun drive out the Canaanites living in Kitron or Nahalol, so these Canaanites lived among them, but Zebulun did subject them to forced labor. Nor did Asher drive out. . .
You get the point. It goes on and on from there. Simple formula:
1) They did not drive them out.
2) Instead, they subjected them to forced labor.
Why does this matter? Be patient.
In Numbers 33:55-56, this is what God told the people:
But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live. And then I will do to you what I plan to do to them.
God specifically warns the people. Drive out the surrounding nations. Otherwise they will ensnare you in their idolatry and immorality. They will drag you down.
So, what did Israel do? Instead of driving them out, they kept them around and forced them to be their slaves.
And what happened? Exactly what God predicted: they got caught up in the idolatry and immorality of the people they had refused to drive out.

Here is the purpose for bringing this up. This is the exact way that we often deal with sin in our lives. We are called by God to drive it out. If we are struggling with lust, we are called to be completely pure with our eyes, our bodies, and our minds. If we are struggling with drunkenness or drugs, we are called to stop using them for that artificial, quick-fix high that they bring. If we are struggling with gossip or slander, we are called to stop and to speak about others the way we want them to speak about us. If we are struggling with pride, we are called to be completely humble. While we constantly deal with temptations and struggles, we are not called to drive out most of our sin, but to seek complete purity, making "no provision for the flesh" (Romans 13:14).

This by no means indicates that we are expecting to find complete freedom from our sin. It simply means that we don't intentionally allow an "acceptable" level of sin to linger around. With the power of the Holy Spirit, with the leading of Christ in our lives, and with the partnership of brothers and sisters in Christ, we can experience increased freedom from the influence of sin in our lives. But sometimes we decide that a little sin here and there is relatively harmless. We treat it as if it is no big deal.
Often this is exactly what we do. Instead of driving out sin, we put it to forced labor. We say to sin, "I am going to take over and be in charge. That means that physical violence is out. And adultery is out. And drunkenness is out. But, since I am in charge, I am going to say that dirty jokes, occasional fantasizing, and minor gossip get to stick around and do hard labor. Make no mistake, I am still in charge. But I will let these guys hang around as my slaves so that they can make me feel good every once in a while."
And, then, inevitably, we learn a hard lesson. We are never, ever in charge of sin. We let it stick around to serve us, but we end up serving it. Anyone who sins is a slave to sin, as Romans 6 tells us. When the Israelites put the Canaanites to forced labor, they ended up ensnared. And when we let "little" sins stick around, we end up enslaved.
We do this when we drive out promiscuous sex and one-night stands, but let monogamous sex outside of marriage stick around and serve us. We do this when we drive out harsh and biting comments directed toward our family, but let the same comments directed to political figures stick around and serve us. We do this when we drive out flagrant boasting about our accomplishments, but let subtle feelings of superiority stick around and serve us.

We put sin to forced labor anytime we buy into the idea that we can control its impact upon us. The Israelites quickly learned that they were not in charge of the extent to which the Canaanites influenced them. And because of this, their lives and their nation became a shipwreck. Let's not buy the lie that we can let white lies, light lust, and subtle pride stick around and serve us. Sin never serves us. But we often serve it.

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