“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)
Our highest calling in life, the thing that gives the most glory to God, is to become the person we were uniquely created to be in Christ. I do not make that claim out of an extreme individualism; but out of a profound sense that the created – all of creation – is designed to respond to the Creator, to flourish in response to his love towards us. By ‘in Christ’ I mean that our identity is not self-determined, but a gift to be embraced. It is, however, a contested gift: for, just as the Christ comes to bring life in its fullness, so the satan – the accuser – comes as a thief to steal our identity, to kill and destroy.
And so the process of becoming who we are created to be, a process that will take a lifetime and beyond, is encapsulated in the instruction to submit ourselves to God, and resist the devil. Such submission is neither servile nor esoteric, but the honest laying out of ourselves before God. Likewise, such resistance is practical not conceptual. The story of Gideon, recorded in Judges chapters 6 & 7, offers us a worked example.
The angel of the Lord appears to Gideon, and addresses him as ‘mighty warrior’ – which at first glance appears ironic, as Gideon is hiding in a hole in the ground, for fear of enemy raiding parties. But what we have here is Gideon’s identity in Christ being called out of his present experience. The angel of the Lord is not merely an angel, a messenger of God; but God’s visible form. In the New Testament, God is most commonly described in terms of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the Old Testament parallel, and precursor, being God, the angel of the Lord, and the spirit of God. As a Trinitarian, I would suggest that it is the pre-incarnate Jesus, through whom creation was made, who stands before Gideon and names him ‘mighty warrior.’
But Gideon will have to respond, if he is to become his true self. And the first thing he does is submit to God his doubt (6:13): he has heard stories about how great God is, but, to be honest, the stories don’t match up with his experience. God does not take away Gideon’s doubt. But because Gideon is submitting his doubt to God, is holding it out before God, God is able to extend to Gideon the invitation to discover for himself God’s wonders in liberating his people (6:14).
The next thing Gideon submits to God is his own inadequacy (6:15). He is, it would appear, the least likely candidate for the task. God does not dispute Gideon’s inadequacy. But because Gideon is submitting his inadequacy to God, God is able to extend to Gideon the invitation to discover God’s more-than adequacy (6:16).
The next thing Gideon submits to God is his inexperience, his lack of confidence that it is God he is hearing. And he does this in the context of sacrificial worship (6:17-24). Gideon sacrifices resources, skill, time, and the product of these three things: in fact, he submits his experience, what he can do, as well as his inexperience in this action. Sacrificial worship is often the context for submitting something to God: making ourselves vulnerable is always costly, and worship involves a measure of trust beyond what we know of God as well as response to what we do know of God. [There is something in this that ties to my previous post on moving mountains.] Because Gideon is submitting his lack of confidence to God, God is able to extend to Gideon the invitation to experience that The Lord is Peace; that where God is, there is harmony as opposed to dissonance (6:23, 24).
The next thing Gideon submits to God, in response to God’s request, is his family history (6:25-32). Here he is moving from what we might describe as internal angst to relationships (that is, I don’t think anyone in the ancient world divided life like that; but we do). If the process of becoming is one of submitting to God and resisting the devil, Gideon’s family have come undone through practices of resisting God and submitting to the devil. In fact, in this they are typical of their people at that moment in time, which is why the people are collectively come undone, living in fear of their enemies. At some point, we need to face up to those ways in which our actions have resulted not in becoming ourselves but coming undone. At times this will involve recognising the ways in which the actions of others have contributed to this; but such recognition does not excuse us from taking responsibility to turn around the direction we are travelling in, or repent.
The final thing Gideon submits to God is his fear (6:36-40); fear which has already come to the surface in relation to his family, and even more so now he is about to come face-to-face with the enemy armies God has asked him to overcome. And submitting his fear is a process: he has to do it more than once, in more than one way. And, as with his doubts, as we shall see in chapter 7 God does not take away Gideon’s fear. But because he has submitted his fear to God, he will be able to be courageous. Gideon is on the way to becoming the mighty warrior he was created to be…
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