God wants us to remove every trace of sin from our lives, but sometimes we think that’s too hard. “We can’t get rid of all of it,” we rationalize. So we find excuses to go through that part of town. We procrastinate bringing up our spouse to the attractive new co-worker. We continue to watch the TV series that drags the Lord’s name through the mud. We keep a little bit back for ourselves.
What harm could it do? These aren’t bad sins, right?
But God call us to a higher standard. Remember the Israelites after they had entered the promised land? God told them to rid the land of all the “Ites,” (the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites). Specifically, He said,
“…when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.” (Deuteronomy 7:2)
You might think God was being rather harsh here. What happened to the God of love, right? But remember that God knows all things. The most loving thing He could do for His people was protect them from the Enemy. He knew that all the “Ites” would be used by the Enemy to pull His people away from worshiping the one true God. He also knew that there was no hope for the “Ites.” They were so deep into their sin that they were never going to give their hearts to God. If there were any righteous, trust that God made special provision for them just like He did with Lot before He destroyed Sodom.
Despite God’s command and warning, the Israelites didn’t completely destroy all the “Ites.” As a result, they paid the price. Fast forward to the book of Judges. The entire book is a catalog of the trouble Israel brought on itself by allowing some of the “Ites” to remain. By this time, the original “Ites” had attracted other enemies to the land. Instead of a list of just seven enemies, Israel now had to contend with at least twelve groups, including the Philistines, Amelikites, Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites and Sidonians. Some would prove to be worse than the originals.
In Judges 2, God announces that He is letting them suffer for their disobedience.
“The angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, ‘I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.’” (Judges 2:1-3)
When God rescued us from our Egypt (i.e., brought us out of sin and allowed us to be born again as His children), He wanted us to remove from our lives all traces of sin as the Holy Spirit revealed it to us. When we disobey, those traces of sin become thorns in our sides and snares to us. As soon as we run into a little bit of trouble or have a weak moment, we go back to our old habits of the flesh.
What could have been complete deliverance from our sinfulness now turns into a prolonged and painful battle with the flesh. But even in this, God has a purpose that works to our benefit. Later in Judges 2, He explains why He left Israel’s enemies in the land:
Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel and said, “Because this nation has violated the covenant that I laid down for their forefathers and has not listened to me, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the LORD and walk in it as their forefathers did.” The LORD had allowed those nations to remain; he did not drive them out at once by giving them into the hands of Joshua.
These are the nations the LORD left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience): the five rulers of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites living in the Lebanon mountains from Mount Baal Hermon to Lebo Hamath. They were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the LORD’s commands, which he had given their forefathers through Moses. (Judges 2:20-3:4)
God left their enemies to discipline Israel for its disobedience and test its loyalty, but He also knew that the enemy would teach Israel how to fight. Maybe the reason why you are still struggling with a particular sin is because God is teaching you how to fight against Satan and his armies. I’ve learned more about how the enemy works from my constant battles with him than I ever would have learned if he had left me alone. And the strength and wisdom I’ve gained is helping me to help others.