To Fight or Flee
Like Israel of old, the Christian has many enemies––and generally enemies are to be fought. It was a sad day when Israel fled from their enemies. However, when Israel was about to enter the land not every nation they met was to be engaged in battle: Moab and Ammon were to be excluded (Deut. 2: 9, 19). Now the enemies of the Christian are the world, the flesh and the Devil. Of this trinity of evil, two are outside the Christian and one is inside. The world and the Devil are our external enemies, the flesh is the enemy within, and as any soldier knows, the enemy within is the most difficult to deal with. The world outside is under the Devil’s control since he is its prince (John 12: 31, 14: 30). However, our position relative to the internal enemy (the flesh) is to be the opposite of the external enemy (the Devil). What then is the position in regard to the Devil? Are we to fight or to flee? The saint of God is never to flee from the Devil; he is to be resisted. “Resist the devil” we are told “and he will flee from you” (James 4: 7), which is much the more satisfactory ending to any conflict. Towards this enemy then the front alone must be presented. It is very significant that no armour at all is provided for the back (see Eph. 6: 10–17) so this must not be exposed to the enemy by fleeing from him.
However, there is an enemy from whom we must run away, and, strangely enough, this enemy is within us, not outside at all. Listen: “Flee fornication.” (1 Cor. 6: 18), “flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10: 14), ––idolatry being covetousness (see Col. 3: 5), “Flee these things” (1 Tim. 6: 11)––the love of money etc., “But youthful lusts flee …” (2 Tim. 2: 22). Thus throughout the epistles we are consistently warned not to try to fight the old man, the flesh, with all its evil desires; but to “flee”. Our path homeward, like Israel’s of old, does not lie through Edom––a figure of the flesh. We are not to conquer there, but to turn away (Num. 20: 21). How much we pervert these things, and think that we are called to fight the flesh, while we flee from the Devil!
So let us have done with vague, indistinct notions as to both of these things. We can only turn away from Edom when we realise that our way is not in that direction. Only as strangers and pilgrims can we abstain from fleshly lusts; having our hearts’ interests and affections elsewhere. It is with these lusts that the poor man in the last part of Romans 7 is trying to wage an unequal conflict, until, with a sigh of relief, he finds that the Spirit’s law is not self–conflict––is not occupation with the enemy within––but occupation with Christ. The practical realisation of the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus makes him free from the law of sin in his members. In the language of the Old Testament, he turns away from Edom.