There’s a break in the artillery barrage. Cannon-fire ceases for a moment, and the sounds of war are swallowed up in the dust-clogged air. A bloody infantryman, shivering as much from fear as cold, scrapes himself a little further into his foxhole.
Recognizing the momentary martial Sabbath, the soldier sighs, “Thank God — I can sleep in peace for a while.” He folds his hands to rest, tips his helmet forward across his eyes, and with a contented grin, stretches out his legs for a mid-battle snooze.
Now, say you’re a fellow soldier. The dust starts to settle, so you snake forward on your face from hole to hole, desperately looking for an ally. You drop into cover with the sleeping soldier — hands folded, snoring lightly, he doesn’t even realize you’re there.
What would you think? What words would you try to put to that feeling in your stomach?
How about horrified fury? A sickness of terror and anger rises to match the level of stupidity asleep in front of you. “This can’t be real. There must be another explanation for this kind of sloth. We’re in the middle of a war!”
Peace Is a Part of War
The Christian life is war, a perpetual battle in which self-crucifixion is the only way to make it off the field alive (Galatians 5:24). But God is bringing us somewhere in sanctification, which means that we’re not stuck sheltered in the trenches waiting for sin’s storm to blow over in death.
Sanctification is an active, forward-moving campaign, which means that our warfare has rhythms. Solomon’s wisdom of “a time for war, and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:8) doesn’t negate the fact that we are always fighting “against the cosmic powers over this present darkness” (Ephesians 6:12). It simply means our battle takes different forms at different times, requiring new and greater levels of faithfulness.
In this sense, even peace is war in the battle against sin. The long view of the Christian life forces us to steward times of spiritual peace, when temptation eases up a little, when we’re growing strong in obedience and the enemy temporarily retreats from the gates. The question is, how do you leverage peace in the war against sin? What do you do when there’s a break in the barrage? If we’re willing to extend the command to “remember your leaders . . . and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7) to somewhat obscure Old Testament kings, we may find help in killing sin.
Build — Because You Have Peace
You may not have heard of Asa before. Even between two parallel narratives (Kings and Chronicles), the Bible doesn’t spend more than a couple chapters on him. But hidden in the history of 2 Chronicles, we’re given a Spirit-inspired principle for the Christian war against temptation and sin.
“Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 14:2), and “the kingdom had rest under him” (2 Chronicles 14:5). So what did he do? “He built fortified cities in Judah, for the land had rest” (2 Chronicles 14:6). This seems like such an unnatural “for.” The land had rest, therefore Asa built cities for strength and protection. There’s already peace. There’s rest. Judah is not fighting. There’s no enemies rising to tear down their gates. In short, this is precisely the time that they don’t need fortified cities.
But what a profound lesson from this faithful leader. Peace, rest, a break in the barrage — a time when the enemies of sin, lust, loneliness, bitterness, discontentment are off your back for a moment — these are the times to go to work. These are the times to “strengthen what remains” (Revelation 3:2), to make strong weak hands, and to make firm feeble knees (Isaiah 35:3). These are times to build.
Fight in the Rhythms of Life
The rest from war, from hardships, from temptations to sin isn’t given for you to get comfortable. Imagine what it would mean to use your “times of peace” as times of building and fortifying. Probably every day there are times when sinful temptations hound us and times when they’re dormant. There is a rhythm built into your days, and even your weeks, and probably years. The idea is that you want to ride those waves such that whether you fight or rest or whatever you do, you do it all to the glory of God.
For example, your day has a schedule. Many of you go into work and every day face that co-worker who constantly tempts you to bitterness because of their air of superiority, or grumbling because they never get their project done on time, or lust because “she just understands me better than my wife.”
But you also have an hour every day at home before you head in to work. An hour of “rest” before you step into that battle zone. Go to work. Build. Fortify. Pray and search the Scriptures for promises to hold before you head into work.
Your week has a rhythm. Go to work in the peaceful times. Start thinking and praying on Wednesday, when you’re busy and satisfied in your work, about the dissatisfaction you feel every Friday — when your married friends are enjoying the weekend with their families and you’re alone in your apartment with private Internet browsing and plenty of time to wander.
Your year has patterns, which allow you to build into your soul safeguards and firewalls against the loneliness you feel on holidays, or the desire to enjoy yourself too much over spring break, or the despair that comes with memorial days of loved ones who have passed away.
Before the fire reaches your fields, work to extinguish the sparks and fire-proof your soul.
Be Impatient in the War on Sin
There is a thirsty, impatient violence we should seek against the desires of the flesh. There ought to be a proactive hatred of sin that is not content to wait until temptations knock at the door. Part of the Spirit’s work in self-control (Galatians 5:23) is to equip you to go out and kill sin even when sin isn’t knocking at the gates of your heart.
This is strength, not only to not have enemies knocking at the gates, but to hold the inner aggression against your sinful flesh and the devil, such that your hatred for them turns their absence into opportunities to rebuild, to fortify, and to re-focus your resolve.
Satan and sin’s work in the flesh are already defeated in principle by Christ’s death (John 16:11; Colossians 2:15; Romans 6:10). Now, what’s left is “to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13). To that end, consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:11), not only when sin rears its head, but when it’s hiding, waiting for an opportunity to lash out. Make the best use of the time, for the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16).
In God’s good plans for you, rest is given for work, and peace is given for war.