If you say in your heart, "These nations are greater than I. How can I dispossess them?" you shall not be afraid of them but you shall remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, the wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, by which the LORD your God brought you out. So will the LORD your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid. (Deuteronomy 7:17-19)The nation listened to these words as they waited by the Jordan River, about to enter the land promised to their fathers. They knew giants, walled cities, and barred gates filled the land. They knew that they could not conquer one city in their own strength. Moses knows how the people will think. The nations of Canaan were greater than they. A few moments before, Moses had said, "It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples." (Deut. 7:7) The logical conclusion appears in how Moses describes their probably future attitude. "These nations are greater than I. How can I dispossess them?"
To combat this materialist worldview, however logical, Moses commands remembrance that the nation does not live in a materialist world. The people are to remember the supernatural activity of God to rescue His people from Egypt. They personally witnessed the powerful works of God for them. As those who live in that world, whose God fights for them, the conclusion changes radically. They are not to think "I cannot dispossess them." They must think, "God will dispossess them."
This mindset does not allow them to remain on the east side of the Jordan, rather it forces them to walk into the lions' den. They cannot sit idly expecting the Lord to drive out the nations. In fact God describes the opposite. "The LORD your God will clear away these nations before you little by little. You may not make an end of them at once, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for you." (Deut.7:22) The nations fall as Israel advances and grows.
How are we confident to go forward in obedience to the Lord's promise being so weak? Paul's repeated exhortation to remember the power and miraculous salvation that God performed for us appears throughout the New Testament. Listen to how he refers constantly to the necessity to remember the cross of Christ.
"For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (I Cor.1:18)
"But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." (Gal.6:14)
"[H]aving the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places." (Eph.1:18-19)
"[T]hat Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." (Eph.3:17-19)
"[F]illed with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God." (Phil.1:11)
"And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. " (Col.1:9-11)
Israel only looked back at a physical rescue, but we look back at the power of the cross. God satisfies His own omnipotent wrath in His Son for us. What God did to sin, death, and Satan, He will do to every foe that hinders our obedience. Paul uses the cross and the victory of the resurrection to encourage the church to greater faith and obedience.
Obedience does not require us to fight physical foes. It does not give us license to reckless behavior in the name of faith. We don't fight the human giants that Israel faced. The giants we face are our obedience to God, what we call progressive sanctification. How can we be made more like Christ when we fail so often? How can we improve when the forces that prevent holiness are stronger than we. The gospel impels us to attack the walls of those fenced cities of our idolatry. Paul encourages us to remember that the Lord fights for us marches us into the land of obedience.
Perhaps the current questions about sanctification could be solved by remembering the instruction of the Old Testament. We cannot do better or try harder, because we are too weak for the giants of sin. We do, march forward, and stand because we remember that the Lord does to our indwelling sin what He did to our forensic sin on the cross. You stand on the shores of Jordan every morning. Four options confront you as you face the promise of your holiness. Shall you attack sin in your own strength? That ends in defeat. (Num.14:36-45) Shall you linger, waiting for the Lord to drive out your enemies without you? God promises you no advance without your entry into the promised land. (Deut.7:22) Shall you simply give up the pursuit of holiness? Beware. (Heb. 6:1-6)
The final option must be yours. March forward. Watch Christ put your sin to death as He died for sin. Bear the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God to your own heart. (Heb.4:11-13) Never relent, for the Lord your God fights for you.