“…for you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God … put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature …” (Colossians 3:3,5)
I was lying in bed the other morning in a very self-righteous state of mind, counting the cost of transactions already made with the Lord. Parts of myself I have willingly given up and submitted to the Lord, things in life I have placed in His hands and not taken back, although I may have wavered at first. Battles with self that I have won … I was thoroughly patting myself on the back and recommending myself to the Lord in what can only be described as a disgusting display of self-pride. This was my usual prayer time and the Lord was there too, bearing witness to my self-love until He no doubt had enough. He very tenderly (but also firmly) reminded me of a story in the Old Testament that wiped the smile right off my face.
Samuel anointed Saul for a specific conquest and told him to destroy the Amalekites. The men, women, children, livestock … they were to be destroyed completely. Nothing to even suggest they ever existed was to be left. He then left Saul to the battle.
“When Samuel reached him, Saul said, ‘The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.’
“But Samuel said, ‘What this is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?’
“Saul answered, ‘The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.’
When Samuel returned, he was indignant. Saul greeted him with a victor’s hello, but Samuel immediately knew something was not right. Saul boasted in his victory and paraded the livestock and even the king of Amalek around as a spoil of war, bragging that he had completed the mission God had sent him on but that was not how God saw it at all.
“Samuel said, ‘Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And he sent you on a mission, saying, “Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; wage war against them until you have wiped them out. Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?’
“’But I did obey the Lord,’ Saul said. ‘I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag, their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.’
Samuel repeated the instructions God had given Saul, but Saul still wouldn’t admit that he had done anything less than completely obey. He was blinded by his own pride. He kept Agag as a sort of trophy for having defeated an army that was notoriously vicious and most often victorious. In the same breath, Saul defends himself and says he did exactly what God commanded and destroyed all of the Amalekites, but admits to keeping Agag alive. Um, hello Saul! Is Agag not one of them?!
In his mind, Saul was justified in keeping Agag. He also distanced himself from the sin of keeping the livestock by blaming it on his soldiers. Twice. With all authority in his hands, he shrugs off his soldier’s defiance against the orders of God. And in case that wasn’t enough to satisfy Samuel, he tells him that the best of the livestock was purposed for God anyway.
When the Lord begins to deal with us in matters of the flesh and our earthly nature, He comes at us resolutely with the command that all must die. All of ourselves that is flesh and not spirit must be given over to death so that we may live in the new way of the Spirit. Because we love Him, we zealously thrust forth everything He points out as being unholy in us and nail it to the cross we are bid to carry. We easily identify our lusts and our unrighteous inclinations. We know they don’t please him … in fact, they no longer please us either, so it’s an easy sacrifice. But if we go on in this way for long enough, God begins to deal with things we would rather He leave alone. Things we carry around as trophies, spoils of war from days gone by. We look Him in the eye and insist it will be dealt with, then squirrel it away out of sight so we can take it out when we think God isn’t looking and admire it some more.
There are things in our flesh we are sympathetic to that we will never willingly submit to God if we are functioning in our self-will. We have to submit to His will entirely in order to see the job done correctly, or like Saul, we will kill off only the things that serve no real purpose in our lives while keeping parts of us that doesn’t please God. We might even think, in our deceptive hearts, that what we have kept will serve a real purpose in His kingdom. And it will … just not God’s purpose. It will serve earthly purposes. Devilish purposes. Never God’s.
You see, God commanded Saul to utterly destroy the Amalekites because He knew the threat they posed to the kingdom of Israel. The rampant idolatry, the constant destruction and war. God wanted His people to live in peace in the land He had so lovingly reserved for them. The Amalekites threatened their peace and security, and their presence threatened their purity and devotion to God. Saul’s sympathies – or pride, as it were – endangered the Israelites for centuries afterward.
There is sin in us – deep, hidden things that when brought to light, we will defend instead of surrender – that are traitorous to us. There is treason within our hearts just waiting for the moment we sympathize with it. Things God has said must go that we have hidden away because it seems to serve a purpose, or exalts our lowly pride. We will even look at God and insist we have given over all of ourselves, put to death all the misdeeds of the flesh, while glancing back at things we know He commanded us to give up and kill completely. We don’t realize how serious a threat these things can be. How detrimental to our faith and our walk with the Lord. God wants us to live with inner peace and joy, and we are allowing things of the flesh to rob us when all we have to do is kill those desires and inclinations in us and we would be better off for it!
Be careful what you side with in your character. Each of us should bare every part of ourselves to the Lord and let Him approve or disapprove. We will no doubt approve of things that does not please the Lord, so to be all that God desires, we must allow Him to show us what in us is not of the Spirit, and then we must immediately kill the things that displease Him, dishonor Him, or violate our witness in any way. We cannot offer to God parts of ourselves as a holy sacrifice that He has already deemed as an unholy thing. We can never pride ourselves in a job well-done, because to pride ourselves at all is to admit that the job isn’t done. When we have completely died to flesh, we will find ourselves mortified, humbled yet gloriously alive in the Spirit and a pleasure to our Heavenly Father. To become such, we must first abandon all of self to death, so that we can be raised to life in the Spirit.
“To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22)