“Be strong and of good courage . . . Only be strong and very courageous, . . . Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid or dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (from Joshua 1)
Through the decades, I’ve carried on arguments with myself in my wide-margin Bible. I correct myself, I rebuke myself, I express aghast-ness at my spiritual nearsightedness.
These days my Bible notes are on the computer, but the arguments continue. This is from my note on Joshua 1:7-9 written in May, 1996:
Joshua is commanded to be bold. He is commanded to be strong. Whether he feels like it or not. This has been a challenge to me and a great rebuke. This reminded me of Ephesians 6:10—“Be strong in the Lord.” To keep focusing on your own weakness is sin. Once you’ve confessed, then turn your focus from yourself to Jesus Christ. If I am in Him, I am strong (not just “I can be strong”). I must act on this knowledge as if I really believed it. (How I wish I really did!) This, at least in some small measure, is faith. I think it will help move this knowledge from my head to my heart.
I don’t know how you felt when you read that, but when I read it I was aghast. So here on my blog I’m expressing my aghast-ness.
Do you see the error in thinking? For one thing, I clearly indicated in that note that Joshua’s feelings didn’t matter, that somehow he could be bold without feeling bold. But how can that be? It can’t, because acting bold without a feeling of boldness is just pretending. It’s like that song from The King and I that a friend challenged me with a few years ago: “Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect and whistle a happy tune, and no one will suspect I’m afraid.” She claimed that it seemed that this is what Christians taught. At that time, I vigorously denied it. But isn’t that exactly what I was saying that Joshua should have done—that I should do?
To be strong without feeling strong—this is ludicrous. If a person is strong, he’ll know it, and then he’ll feel like he is. In other words, it will be true not just in theory, but in his experience, in his understanding. When he says “I’m strong,” he won’t be whistling in the dark.
How was Joshua supposed to be strong? Was he going to be strong by developing some “disciplines,” like reading his Bible a half hour a day or being sure to say something about his faith to five people a day, or spend at least fifteen minutes a day in prayer?
Though those things may be good, none of them are the way to be bold and strong. The only way is by faith in the power and strength of God. Joshua was made strong—and I am made strong—through faith. It’s because, in the spiritual realm, there’s no way to stand against the enemy without the strength of the Lord. That’s why Ephesians says “Be strong IN THE LORD.”
I said in 1996, “I must act on this knowledge as if I really believed it. (How I wish I really did!)” I claimed that in some small measure this was faith.
I couldn’t see that THIS WAS NOT FAITH. The very definition of faith is about what you truly believe, and if I didn’t truly believe it, I really wasn’t acting in faith, but pretending.
I said that acting as if I believed it (pretending) would help move the knowledge from my head to my heart. I don’t fault myself alone—this kind of teaching permeates churches—but it doesn’t square with the Bible. This is not sanctifying obedience. This is the kind of “obedience” that sets a person up for Hypocrisy, Apathy, Rebellion, and Depression.
The kind of obedience that works to sanctify a soul—my soul—is the obedience of faith alone in Christ alone. He is the one who makes me strong. Joshua was trusting for God to work through him in the taking of the land of Canaan. I’m trusting for God, through Jesus Christ, in this New Covenant, to work through me in the conquering of souls for His Kingdom of Love.
“Be strong in the Lord,” God commanded Joshua, God commands me. “Trust Me and watch Me work. I will do something glorious. And I delight in allowing you to participate.”
By the way, though I had a lot wrong in 1996, in my muddledness I believe I still had one thing right. Though I wouldn’t say now that focus on my own weakness is categorically and necessarily sin, I still believe that I should confess it and “then turn [my] focus from [myself] to Jesus Christ.”
It’s always the right thing to do.