To Fight

When is it appropriate to engage in combat, to take up arms, to inflict harm? Is there a time to fight? to the death if necessary? Does God require us to be passive in the face of evil and malevolence?

Marine Sgt. Michael Strank

If God ever taught anyone to fight, and He did (Ps 144:1), then there’s a time for fighting, a time for engaging in warfare. (Ec 3:8) When is that, and who should we be willing to fight?

It’s a soldier’s job to fight to the death, and we find many godly soldiers in scripture. (Ac 10:22) What’s unique about soldiers is that they’re under a governor or a king; their combat is subject to civil authority. (Jn 18:36)

In a private context, fighting to defend yourself and loved ones is generally permitted by civil authority; this is common moral understanding and it’s grounded in Torah. (Ex 22:2) Under such conditions it’s right to fight in self-defense, when physical safety is at risk.

But taking up arms to avenge a death (De 19:12), or to put down rioters, looters and anarchists, depends on the attitude of civil authority. Does local government want your assistance? Or at least not disapprove of it? If so, then cooperate as you’re able. If not, stand down, love your enemies and pray for them, seeking their welfare (Mt 5:44), looking to God to intervene with justice in His time. (Ps 119:84)

Herein lies a key difference between Christianity and Islam: Jehovah forbids taking the law — even the divine law — into our own hands (Ro 12:19), and deciding for ourselves when and how to put away evil (Ex 22:3); this is the duty of civil government (Ro 13:4), not the individual. (Ex 20:13) On the other hand, according to Islam, Allah commends killing infidels apart from civil authority, which is what makes Islam so dangerous.

God forbids avenging ourselves and others, righting perceived wrongs on our own, because when we’re offended our judgement is clouded and it’s virtually impossible for us to dispense justice. We can’t know exactly what another person deserves for what they’ve done; this requires knowing their heart and motives, and that’s entirely beyond our reach.

And even if we did know someone’s exact motivation, God has given us little indication how to precisely measure the degree of immorality of any given behavior, or to determine an appropriate ultimate punishment. In fact, God expressly forbids individuals from doing this. (Mt 7:1) His Law only gives civil authority the right to formally assess guilt, and to impose prescribed consequences for specific types of crimes, but even then He’s generally more concerned about cleansing society of willful evil doers (De 17:12) and discouraging rebellion (13) than actually administering justice.

The job of formally righting all wrongs belongs to God Himself, and not to Man (Ro 2:2), and God isn’t doing that just yet (Ec 8:11); He’s prepared a Day in which He’ll begin administring full justice (Ro 2:5-6), and His timing will be perfect.

Meanwhile, when it’s time to defend ourselves, we must do so benevolently, in love (1Co 16:14) — using only minimal necessary force to protect ourselves and others from malevolence, all the while esteeming others better than ourselves and praying for those who would abuse us. (Php 2:3) All other forms of strife, wrath and anger are forbidden. (Ep 4:31-32) So, when we find malice lingering in our hearts, harboring a desire to inflict harm or see evil punished (Pr 24:17-18), it’s time to step back and examine ourselves; our wrath does not work God’s righteousness. (Ja 1:20)

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Made Righteous

The brilliance of the Gospel is that God is righteous and just, yet also the justifier of a sinner believing in Jesus. (Ro 3:26)

The key to unlocking this mystery lies in the concept of a Federal Head: by being in an ancestor we inherit their inward nature, and as that nature manifests in our own behavior we also inherit the standing of that ancestor before God. (1Co 15:22) In that sense we all have a federal representative before God; as he stands or falls before God, so do we.

All of us were born in Adam; he’s our common ancestor, and a sinner; when he sinned in the Garden we were there in Him, participating with him in that sinful act, and we died in him when he died. (Ro 5:17)

Not only did we inherit guilt for the original sin by being in our father Adam, we also inherited his evil nature, such that we all start out voluntarily engaging in sinful acts just like he did: we are all made sinners. (Ro 5:19) All of us start out in Adam as children of wrath just like everyone else (Ep 2:3), the god of this world operating in and through us (vs 2) as he pleases. (Jn 8:44a) We each start out this way, with Adam representing us before God as a sinner.

Yet just as we’re initially born sons of Adam, in receiving Christ we become sons of God. (Jn 1:12) This is no more an act on our part than being born physically is; being born of God (vs 13), conceived and begotten by Him according to His own will with the word of truth (Ja 1:18), is an act of God imparting life to us (Ep 2:5), moving us to trust in Him and love Him, as He becomes one with us. (1Co 6:17)

The sons of God are now in Christ, having a new federal Head, no longer in Adam; since Christ has perfect standing before God, so now also do we who believe. (Ro 8:1) Just as we were guilty in Adam’s sin, we are now innocent and pure before God in Christ because of Christ’s obedience, being made the righteousness of God in Him (2Co 5:21), counted perfectly righteous through the perfect obedience of Christ. (Ro 5:19)

Further, as we were all made actual sinners through the offense of Adam, such that we all inherited his evil nature and participated in it through voluntary acts of disobedience, so we who believe in Christ also inherit the holy nature of Christ such that we voluntarily walk in righteousness (Ro 5:19), set apart by the Spirit unto obedience. (1Pe 1:2)

Christ justly becomes our federal Head as we believe in Him, representing us before God and containing us within Himself, because He is willing to die in our place and become our sin when He has no sin of His own. (2Co 5:21) He is punished as a sinner when He is not a sinner; so the justice of God is honored as He justifies believers. In believing on Christ we experience a divine transaction, the exchange of our guilt for His righteousness: God sees the innocent travail of Christ and is satisfied on our behalf. (Is 53:11)

God is not unjust to receive us as righteous, even though we were born in Adam, because we have now been born spiritually into a new federal Representative: Christ Himself; we inherit His perfect righteousness as well as His righteous nature — while Christ becomes an offense to God on our behalf, and suffers everything we deserve for our sin. So, God can be just, and the justifier of anyone who believes in Jesus. (Ro 3:26)

Federal headship is both positional and practical – we recognize our position in Christ through the ongoing transformation of our inward nature into the likeness of Christ by the power of God. (2Co 5:17) Only being made a new creation in Christ can put us in right relationship with God. (Ga 6:15) The one we are in, who represents us before God, either Adam or Christ, and our nature and behavior, disobedient or obedient (Ro 2:6-8) — it all goes together; the one does not exist without the other. (Mt 12:33)

It is of God that we’re in Christ (1Co 1:30); salvation is a miracle we can’t live without. (Mt 19:26) The gospel is simply amazing, something no one could possibly invent: the wisdom of God in a mystery, which He ordained before the world unto our glory, and His. (1Co 2:7)

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