“Spirit of giving” or societal obligation?

A whole hour of talk radio was taken up with the rules of Christmas gift-giving. One lady complained bitterly that she puts a lot of thought into finding the right gifts for people but all she gets in return is the usual stuff like perfume that takes only a few minutes to find and purchase. Someone else then asked what to do if Mother-in-law gives you an awful gift. And there were other questions like “Are you expected to give a gift to a person who gives a gift to you?” or “What if the gift you give is pathetic compared to the gift you receive?” And, believe it or not, “What rules govern ‘re-gifting’ a present you don’t like and giving it to someone else?”

It was mind-boggling. You can’t give a gift nowadays without worrying about what type of gift you must (or must not) give, how a gift ought to be wrapped, what message the gift is giving, what guilt-trips or disappointment it might create, or if it’s cheating if you buy it on sale.

But that’s Christmas. It’s ripping the heart out of giving, making it an obligation, an expectation, a society dictate that all must comply with. Thanks to Christmas we’re losing the meaning of the word “gift.” Gifts are normally something you give with pleasure to someone you love or deeply care for, not because of seasonal expectation, or fear of society etiquette, or to get a gift in return. A gift that has to be given isn’t a gift anymore, it’s a requirement. And a gift that’s given expecting a gift in return is a trade-off, not a gift.

I can’t help comparing all this to God’s gifts, because with his gifts there are no strings attached. They are gifts in the original sense of the word, given from the heart, expecting nothing in return. They’re GIFTS, for Pete’s sake. When Paul writes, “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the GIFT of God,” Ephesians 2:8, he means exactly that, our salvation is a gift. It comes with no rules and regulations to be obeyed, no having to earn it by being good, and no guilt-trips if we don’t do something in return.

That’s the real Spirit of Giving, not the sham our culture calls the “spirit of giving” at Christmas. No wonder people can’t grasp that God’s salvation is entirely a gift, when the very day that pictures God’s greatest gift to us – his Son, Jesus Christ – is made into a nightmare of rules and obligations instead.

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Christmas, Advent, or Incarnation?

Christmas and Advent both celebrate the coming of Jesus to this Earth, but Advent differs from Christmas in that it also celebrates the second coming of Jesus as the Mighty God and Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), whereas Christmas focuses only on his first coming as a baby.

For some Christians, however, neither Advent or Christmas are suitable terms, because neither tell the full story behind Jesus’ birth. Christmas, for instance, has buried the story in a circus of meaningless rituals, and Advent is an old-fashioned term that makes for nice children’s calendars leading up to Christmas, but offers no insight to non-Christians as to why Jesus was born. The term these Christians prefer for celebrating Jesus’ birth, therefore, is ‘Incarnation’.

Incarnation is defined as taking on the body and nature of a human, which is exactly what happened to Jesus. He was God in human flesh, and Incarnation focuses our full attention on that, not on all those pesky Christmas customs that don’t tell us anything about why Jesus was born as a human being. It’s better than ‘Advent’ too, because Advent is associated more with a season than on Jesus the person.

But ‘Incarnation’ is not a perfect term for celebrating Jesus’ birth either, because the Incarnation didn’t begin at his birth. It began before we and our world existed. Jesus was slain before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8, 1 Peter 1:19-20), so from where God sits and in how he views time, the Incarnation of Jesus happened long before he was born as a baby from Mary. Jesus knew “before the creation of the world” that he would become a flesh and blood human being (Ephesians 1:4) who would die on a cross (verse 7), so the Incarnation was already in motion before we existed, and Jesus’ willingness to go through with it made it a certainty.

The time would then come (Galatians 4:4) for Jesus to take on the body and nature of a human being (Philippians 2:7-8), but he would continue in that state after his death too, because three days later he came back to life in human form again. And after he ascended back to heaven the disciples were told he would return one day in the same way he left too (Acts 1:11), meaning Jesus will return in the appearance of a human yet again.

When using the term “Incarnation”, therefore, it recognizes that Jesus being human didn’t begin with his birth, nor did it end with his death. The Incarnation extends way beyond his short stint here as a human being. It includes his human birth, but the Incarnation began before our world existed, and it continues forever into the future too.

“It was meant to be”

How many times have you heard people say, when things happen in their lives, “It was meant to be” – as if it was supposed to happen according to some fixed invisible purpose?

Supposing it’s true, though, that whatever happens to me is meant to be, and everything I do is actually following some preset plan for my life. That means, then, that when I decided to cross the road yesterday morning and a car came out of nowhere and hit me, it was meant to be. Or if I’d decided not to cross the road at that particular spot at that particular time, and crossed the road instead at another location where no car hit me, that was meant to be as well.

Or, because I drove my car to work at 8:17 am instead of my usual 8:15 am, I ended up in a traffic accident and was carted off to hospital for surgery, followed by months of recovery and a lifetime of pain. But was that “meant to be” too?

It sounds horrible, especially when every waking second we make choices, and every one of those choices sets a course of action, or thought, in motion, each with its own set of consequences. If I’d turned left after crossing the road, for instance, I might have noticed a car for sale in someone’s driveway that turned out to be a real deal, but turning right I tripped over a sleeping dog and broke my nose.

But was breaking my nose instead of getting a hot deal on a car the result of outside forces directing my life into fulfilling foregone conclusions made for me long ago? No wonder people are wracked with superstition and they carry lucky charms to assure themselves that fate is on their side.

But fate has always been on our side according to Paul in Colossians 3:3, because our lives are now “hidden with Christ in God” – meaning every human life and destiny is already safely tucked away with the powers of the universe. That’s a hard one to grasp when so many horrible things are happening to people, but Paul reminds us in verse 1, that “Since you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts (and minds, verse 2) on things above…not on earthly things.”

Fix our minds, in other words, on what really and truly is the fixed invisible purpose for every human life, which, according to Paul is this, in verse 4: “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” No matter, then, what happens to us now, this in the end has always been how “It was meant to be.”

“Get a life, chum”

To a person who’s moaning about how tough his life is it’s tempting to tell him, “Get a life, chum” – meaning, “Come on, live life the way it can be lived, full of challenge, excitement, creativity, learning, ideas, projects, and all the things that make a human leap out of bed in the morning ready to hit another day with all cylinders firing.”

And for many people that is the goal, so that one day they can look back on a life well lived, a life lived to the full, a life that made a difference, a life that wasn’t wasted. But is that really what “getting a life” means?

Not according to Colossians 3:4. To Paul a person has only “got a life” when Christ is his life. Only when Christ is living his life in us do we actually come alive (Colossians 2:13). Our “hope of glory” – or getting the life God had in mind for us – is only possible with “Christ in us” (Colossians 1:27).

These must be shocking statements to people who think they’re getting a life without Christ. But Christ came to this planet to show us that he alone is the source of life for us, because wherever he went things “came alive” that couldn’t come alive of themselves. He gave sight to the blind, raised the dead, and calmed raging storms in a second. Suddenly, here was a man who controlled life, gave life, and re-created life in the lifeless. Life obeyed him, life came from him, and dead life came alive again. How much clearer could it be that in him was life?

But why was it necessary for Christ to show us that? Because humanity was hopelessly lost looking for life from other sources. In Jesus’ day there were thousands of gods and idols, all of which people depended on as sources of life, just like people today who look to all sorts of physical activities and experiences to “get a life.” But none of our gods can give us life because we all start off life “dead in our transgressions,” Ephesians 2:5. No object or action of our own creation can reverse or correct that, either. But Christ did and Christ can, because we “come alive with Christ” (same verse).

And by life Paul meant being “filled with all the fullness of God,” Ephesians 3:19. This is no ordinary life we are given with Christ; it’s the fullness of God which Christ himself is (Colossians 1:19). To come alive with Christ, therefore, means coming alive with his life in us, so that we can, at last, get the life GOD meant us to have from the beginning.

What makes life worth living?

For many Christians it’s going to heaven that makes this life worth living – the chance to get off this Earth and away from all its misery. But if there’s nothing worth living for in this life, and it’s only temporary anyway, why not end it now and go to heaven?

I can see why Catholics say suicide is a mortal sin, because if people cotton on that heaven is when the real living begins, people could see suicide as an obvious thing to do. Get this life over and done with as soon as possible. Or for a year do all the things you’re supposed to do to get to heaven, so you’re really in God’s good books, and then kill yourself.

And it’s tempting when you hit the wall and realize this life is just a growing list of misery as you get older. So if I was faced with a group of university students wanting to know what I thought makes life worth living, now that I’m old enough to know what life in this world has in store for them, what would I say?

Well, what makes me keep wanting to live this life is having Jesus alongside me explaining what life is all about. I gather this was his plan all along from how he set things up with the first human in Genesis. It was God and the man working and talking together. And in their working and talking together God began explaining what life was all about.

Jesus did the same with his disciples, and so do parents with their children. Jesus loved his disciples and parents love their children, and how is that love expressed? It’s expressed in gradually explaining, bit by bit, what life is all about. I can’t think of a more loving thing to do than someone explaining what life is all about, because what’s the point of living at all if we have no clue what we have life for? And please catch me when I’m young too, so I’m clued in right away.

I would love to explain to university students, therefore, that Jesus is real and they can prove it, by asking him to explain what life is all about from the Bible, where he dropped all the clues we needed in the first place. He didn’t leave us clueless. But he did leave us to get on with it, and like good students we go on the hunt for answers. For me, then, this life is worth living, because it’s a treasure hunt, that bit by bit God is showing me what he’s always had in mind for us humans.

How does a Christian “give up his life for others”?

Remembrance Day honours those who gave up their lives to rid the world of evil.

But is that what God calls Christians to do, to sacrifice their physical lives in war to stop evil?

Two answers come to mind, the first being that we will never be able to stop evil by the sacrifice of human life. We’ve already proved that many times over, where an evil is stopped but another soon takes its place, or the evil simply continues in another form, like those who taught and practiced terror tactics in World War 2 taking their craft and teaching terrorists elsewhere after the war, the results of which we are still experiencing today.

Human sacrifice, therefore, no matter how well-meaning, is not the solution to evil. That’s because the sacrifice required to rid this world of evil was never ours to make in the first place.

That job went to Jesus, according to 1 John 3:8, which says: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” And it so obviously took him to do it too, because for thousands of years before he appeared on Earth we humans had never been able to destroy the devil’s work. Evil ran rampant in the pagan nations. Vicious empires came and went, leaving an endless trail of human misery and death. God’s chosen people, the Israelites, were never able to stop evil either. They were supposed to be God’s instruments in saving the world from evil (Isaiah 49:6), but they ended up needing to be rescued themselves. Only Jesus has been able to resist evil and defeat it, so the only need for human sacrifice to stop evil was his to make, not ours.

The second answer that came to mind was the statement in Romans 12:1 about Christians being a “living sacrifice,” not a dead one. In other words, the days of God’s people going to war and killing and being killed – like they did in the Old Testament – are over. Jesus has replaced that in the New Testament with a better way for his people to give up their lives for others.

It’s in verse 2: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The “pattern of this world” in stopping evil has always been war, so Christians do not conform to that. What they do instead is seek to get rid of the evil in their own heads, which is exactly what Jesus said he’d do for us in 2 Corinthians 3:18. So, again, Jesus is the only solution to evil, which he’s now demonstrating in the lives of living Christians, not dead ones.

What’s the balance for Christians and war?

I have huge respect for those who want to join the police force or the military, because in this world they are putting their lives on the line, and they are risking great hurt for their families too. Every time I hear a police car thundering down our road with his siren blaring, I just pray, because at that speed a blown tire, or an animal crossing the road, or someone backing onto the road not seeing him, could spell death or horrible injury, which the officer’s family then has to live with for years afterwards.

I have vivid memories too, of what it was like for our daughter when her husband was in Afghanistan, and due to some emergency out there she would not hear from him for days. We’d spend hours on the phone with her and we’d talk every morning with our granddaughter before she went to school to send her off happy and calm. But we remembered what happened after our son-in-law’s first tour in Afghanistan when our daughter found him in the basement with a noose round his neck, about to hang himself. She had now experienced life and death in the raw, and we now lived with it too, and it was scary.

But then off he went on a second tour, this time as a sergeant in charge of a group of men, whose job it was to head out each day to patrol and protect the area round the camp. Half way through that tour he came home on leave and he showed us some videos from his helmet cam, including a close up of one of his men blown up by a roadside bomb, and a man he killed running through an orchard. He admitted quietly to me after showing those videos that he now felt what he was doing was wrong. But despite being transferred to a non-combatant role with the stress of his conscience removed it wasn’t enough to recover his mental state or save his marriage.

And we could probably repeat that story for millions of other soldiers and their families in every war fought. But that’s the world we’ve had to live in since the moment Adam and Eve rejected God’s rule in their lives, witnessed the tragic murder of one of their sons by the other, and then watched in horror for the rest of their long lives as violence and evil swept through the land, consuming everyone and everything in its path except one man, Noah. It’s interesting, then, what God said to Noah after the flood in Genesis 9:5-6.

“And for your lifeblood (and all human lifeblood),” God says, “I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal that kills a human, and from every human who kills another human too. Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.”

This is a landmark ruling in the Bible, because it’s the beginning of human government. Before the flood there wasn’t government of any kind – no armies, no police force, no justice system. God didn’t even require the death penalty for Cain murdering his brother, so capital punishment didn’t exist either. But the result was total anarchy, because “every inclination of the thoughts of people’s hearts was only evil all the time.” And SO evil did that world become that God even regretted creating humans in the first place (Genesis 6:5, 7).

But in his love for humans he set up a new system that would prevent evil doing that to humans ever again. It was based on valuing life – of both animals and people – but specifically people because as Genesis 9 says, God made humans in his image. For human life, therefore, God says in Genesis 9:5, “I will surely demand an accounting.” If a human is killed by an animal, or by another human being, the life of that dead person must be accounted for by the death of the animal or person that killed him.

And who carries out that death? The answer in verse 6 is: “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed.” So now we have capital punishment for the first time too, involving people being assigned to execute humans who intentionally and unjustly kill other people: And that requires a formal government being set up to make sure that God’s ruling is obeyed. It also involves people being assigned to investigate what happened, decide who’s guilty, and have the guilty party punished with death. So now we have a justice system being set up as well, all of which put together is now God’s way of controlling and reversing the horror before the flood of evil people slaughtering each other without any respect or reverence for life. It’s the first Constitution or Charter of Rights, based from this point forward on the solid, unmovable footing of the value of human life and stopping evil spreading like it did before the flood.

It is now the God-given duty of this new human-ruled government to execute those who do not value the lives of their fellow humans, and do not take the eradication of evil seriously. How that was administered isn’t mentioned, but in Genesis 11:1 “the whole world had one language and a common speech,” which is a very different picture to what was happening before the flood.

What we see in these early chapters of Genesis, then, is civil government being set up by God involving law enforcement, a justice system and capital punishment. It’s not ideal, because it still involved the deliberate and forceful killing of humans by humans to eradicate evil, but this is what God set up at this time in human history to nip evil in the bud.

I imagine this all sounds very familiar, of course, because we have much the same set up today to deal with evil, and based on exactly the same principle too, of good people banding together and by force removing evil people. And isn’t that the way you stop evil spreading today as well? You nip it in the bud by forcefully removing the people who do not value the lives of other people. And again, what you need for that is total commitment by human-ruled government to uphold God’s mandate of eradicating evil. Any threat to that God-given mandate must be put down quickly and conclusively by execution of the guilty party.

It was just and right in God’s sight, therefore, to remove evil people by killing them. So Scripture includes a just cause for killing. It’s “just” because in reality it’s based on self-defense, to protect society from the cancer of evil spreading and evil people getting the upper hand. It also explains why God allowed anarchy to rule for hundreds of years before the flood, because it clearly shows what evil can do when it’s left unchecked, and evil people are allowed a free hand.

Meanwhile, if someone accidentally killed another person, with no evil intent, then later on in Moses’ day God provided Cities of Refuge to protect the innocent from those who sought revenge and nothing else. But the decision of innocence or guilt was still presided over by a jury of elders. And that meant courts requiring at least two viable witnesses, and judges coming up with a final verdict. And if a witness lied he was killed too.

So God set up a system governed and ruled by humans to protect the innocent, deal with the guilty and stop the spread of evil. And that system has remained in place ever since, as we see in Romans 13:1-4, because here’s Paul saying: “Let everyone be subject to the (human-ruled) governing authorities, because the authorities (and human-ruled government) that exist have been established by God. So, whoever rebels against that authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves….For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good….(and) they (the civil authorities) do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants and his agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

Paul is describing the same civil government system that God set up in Genesis 9, that still has the power of “the sword” to protect people by forcefully eradicating evil and evil people. And this system must still be respected by Christians too, as we see again in 1 Peter 2:13-14 when Peter also writes: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers.”

This handily answers the question for Christians as to whether civil government is still God’s way of dealing with evil in this world. Yes, it is. It also answers the question as to whether it’s right and just in God’s sight to kill evil people who do not value human life. Yes, it is. It also answers the question as to why God allowed so much killing in the Old Testament – at his own hand, as well as ordering Israel to wipe out entire cities and tribes, including their women, children and their livelihood (by having their animals killed as well). To those who question how a loving God could do such a thing, his answer is simple: Just remember what it was like before the flood, the clear message being, “If you don’t nip evil in the bud, it will spread and destroy you.”

In a world without the Holy Spirit operating in all human hearts yet, this has been God’s way of protecting the human race from the crippling, cruel and utterly destructive force of evil. And when a human-ruled government understands this is God’s purpose, and that God is the one who put them in power as “his servant to do good” (Romans 13:4), they can rightfully call on him to bless their efforts in putting down evil by force. And that applies equally to squashing evil within one’s own country, and in war against an evil power.

We see that in so many examples from Israel’s history in the Old Testament. The Amalekites, for instance, were the psychopaths of their day. They did not respect God or value human life in the least, witness their brutal attack on the stragglers at the back of the “weary and worn out” trail of Israelites on their way out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). So God tells Israel that when they’re settled in the land “you shall blot out the name of Amalek, and don’t you forget.” But Israel never did kill them off, and Amalek remained a thorn in their side. It reinforced God’s message that you don’t compromise with evil; you eradicate it.

Which is exactly what Samuel did. When King Saul did not kill the Amalekite King Agag as God had commanded, Samuel, who wasn’t even a soldier, grabbed a sword and did Agag in himself (1 Samuel 15:32-33).

But we have one different example in Israel’s history in how evil was dealt with, which hints at what human-ruled government can also do when threatened by evil forces. Picture Jehoshaphat, king of Judah and God’s ruling servant for good at the time, when he’s given the news in 2 Chronicles 20:2 that a vast enemy army is on a blitzkrieg mission to wipe out his country, and it’s only 15 miles away. The first thing the king does is panic, of course, but the next thing he does is call for a National Day of Fasting and Prayer (3-4).

Jehoshaphat himself then stood up before “All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones” at the temple (13) and prayed, “If calamity comes upon us, O Lord God of our fathers, we will stand in your presence and cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us….For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you” (9, 12).

The answer from God through Jahaziel, a Levite priest, was swift: “Do not be afraid or discouraged by this vast army, for the battle is not yours, it is God’s. So go out tomorrow and face them, and the Lord will be with you” (14-15, 17).

Jehoshaphat then did something that no other king in Israel’s history had done before. At the very front of his army as it headed out to meet the enemy he had a choir of men singing, “Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever” (21). And they sang until they reached a high point overlooking the desert where the enemy’s forces had gathered and, shock upon shock, the entire enemy army was just a heap of dead bodies. Not one of them was left alive. It took three days to collect the enemy’s clothing and equipment, after which Jehoshaphat and his army “returned joyfully” to the temple in Jerusalem to loudly thank God with all sorts of musical instruments (24-27).

Jehoshaphat had every right, of course, and with God’s backing, to fight to protect his people from that vast army with its evil intentions, but in his prayer at the temple Jehoshaphat twice mentioned the words, “your Name,” because it was God’s name and HIS power and might that their nation represented, and it was GOD’S judgment he wanted on the enemy, not his own (6-9, 12). And look what God did in response to Jehoshaphat’s prayer: the entire enemy army was destroyed without any loss of life on the Israelite side. The surrounding nations were also so impressed with “how the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel,” that “the kingdom of Jehoshaphat was at peace, for his God had given him rest on every side” (29-30). This was peace accomplished without war.

So why didn’t all the kings of Israel and Judah follow Jehoshaphat’s example? More to the point, why don’t the governing authorities today follow his example? According to Paul in Romans 13 and Peter in 1 Peter 2, today’s civil government leaders are just as much “servants of God” under the same system God set up in Genesis 9, so their mandate is exactly the same, to value human life and protect their people from evil. And here they’ve got the true story of a king – faced with an evil enemy determined to wipe his people out – who admits to being utterly helpless and he trusts God to sort the situation out, the result being that no human life under his care and authority was lost. Not one.

So why didn’t our governing leaders facing the might and evil of Hitler do that? But they decided to fight evil, which was their right, yes, according to Romans 13:4 (the governing authorities “do not bear the sword for nothing”), but many thousands of dead soldiers later the Allied Army had been totally surrounded by the Axis powers and was on the verge of being completely eliminated. It was at this point, though, that a humble, stammering, unimpressive man, King George V1, called for a National Day of Prayer. He was willing to admit their helplessness and he turned the nation’s attention to God to sort things out. In other words, a Christian king did exactly what king Jehoshaphat did.

Such an idea could never have come from Winston Churchill. He loved war, and admitted it, but who could refuse the king? So up and down the country and all over the Empire people poured into churches and gathered in parks and stadiums to pray. And suddenly, only 10 miles from Dunkirk, Hitler ordered his armoured columns to stop, a massive storm then grounded the German Luftwaffe, and a great calm settled over the English Channel for several days, allowing a vast armada of boats and ships to rescue and save the lives of a third of a million men.

It was the same king who then called another National Day of Prayer on the 3rd of September 1942, when the Allied Forces were in full retreat in Northern Africa and were holed up at El Alamein. One more decisive victory by Rommel here and the battle was over. But then, very suddenly, the German advance stopped again, this time because Rommel’s tanks had not been sent the fuel they needed, and Rommel himself became ill for the first time in his life and he had to return to Germany. The commander who took his place then died from a heart attack, Rommel’s Chief of Staff was on leave, and so was the man responsible for getting Rommel’s supplies through to him. Throughout the battle of the next few days, therefore, Rommel’s tanks were often just standing there out of fuel, and by the end of October the battle that could easily have been won by Rommel was over.

Five more National Days of Prayer were called during World War 2, resulting in a terrific storm that blew away the barges meant for Hitler’s land invasion of Britain, an earthquake that threw Hitler’s second invasion boats 80 miles off course, and when defeat seemed inevitable during the Battle of Britain, Hitler suddenly ordered his Luftwaffe to attack London instead. And in Britain when there was a desperate shortage of food – to quote a newspaper from that time – “divine power gave us a record harvest just when we most needed it.”

You wonder, of course, why a National Day of Prayer wasn’t called the moment it was obvious what Hitler was up to, especially after King George V had called for a National Day of Prayer on the 4th of August 1918, and only 100 days later World War 1 was over. Both government and churches had clear evidence from Scripture – and now from experience too – that when we humans turn to God for his mercy and help, even after we’ve made a horrible mess of things because we ignored or misunderstood his clear teachings, he responds, just as he always did to the cries of the Israelites.

So war isn’t the only option our government leaders have when dealing with evil, and it was two Christian kings who reminded them of that, and with amazing results that proved it was an option too. They were illustrating a different way of dealing with evil, that didn’t exist back in Genesis 9. There were hints of this different way, though, in the example of Jehoshaphat turning the entire nation to God and trusting him to sort things out, and look what happened. And now two Christian kings had followed Jehoshaphat’s example, and look what happened again. With these marvelous examples tucked away in our history, therefore, who in his right mind can ignore that something different is possible in the eradication of evil, other than just killing people?

And isn’t this what we Christians should be focusing on? It’s not on whether Christians should go to war or not, it’s on what God has ALSO made possible in dealing with evil – and even more so since Christ’s death.

OUR identity as Christians is in Christ, not in civil government, because as Jesus said in John 18:36, his kingdom is not of this world. But here we have a chance to see how our identity in Christ and his kingdom plays out practically in the world we live in today. We know, first of all, for instance, that “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” So the eradication of evil has ALREADY HAPPENED. It was the sacrifice of JESUS’ human life that did it. All the human sacrifice needed to eradicate evil, therefore, has been done.

But evil still exists, right? It’s no wonder, then, that Paul and Peter talked about the continuing need for human-ruled government to keep evil in check, until the time every human has the evil in his heart removed by the Holy Spirit. That hasn’t happened yet, so in the meanwhile we still need armies, a police force, a justice system, law enforcement, jail time, and capital punishment to keep evil in check. And as Christians we support that, knowing it is still God’s way of dealing with evil UNTIL Jesus comes again to set up his kingdom in full.

But God also has us Christians in this world to illustrate a different way. And it’s not by being dead sacrifices it’s by “offering our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – which is your spiritual worship,” Romans 12:1. And spiritual worship, verse 2, means “no longer conforming to the pattern of this world; it means having our minds transformed.” In other words, we don’t combat evil the way the world does, by force and violence. We get right down to the only real and permanent way of eradicating evil, which, verse 2, is the human mind “testing and approving what GOD’S good, pleasing and perfect will is.” That’s where the battle against evil for us lies; it’s having our minds transformed into God’s way of thinking, and focusing on that in every situation we face.

So what does this say to Christians who went to war, believing that eradicating evil by killing people was God’s good, pleasing and perfect will for Christians too? Paul’s answer for that is Romans 8:33 – “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” We can’t judge what other Christians do, because God’s grace is sufficient to cover whatever decisions we Christians make. But Peter did say in 2 Peter 3:18, “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” We understand his grace – that he’s merciful and he forgives us if we’re muddled in our thinking – but he also expects us to grow in our KNOWLEDGE of God’s good, pleasing and perfect will too.

So our thinking may change over the years, including our thinking about war and the balance on war for us Christians. But here’s another reason why “Our Identity in Christ” is so important, because the living Jesus Christ is now the one “working in us to will and to act in accordance with God’s good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). Who knows, then, how many Christians who went to war had second thoughts? But even if they didn’t, Jesus is their teacher and judge, and he lovingly met them where they were at in their understanding of God’s will at the time.

We don’t judge, therefore, but in our pursuit of right knowledge we can ask penetrating questions, and the kind of questions that need to be asked as we Christians “press on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of us,” Philippians 3:12, so that all our minds are more and more in tune with his.