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You Cannot, But in Christ You Can

You Cannot, But in Christ You Can

MARCH 11, 2021

/ Articles / You Cannot, But in Christ You Can

by Barry Smith

When the LORD brings you into the land you are entering… (Deut. 7:1a).

The people have not arrived at this place, on the verge of entering the Land promised to Abraham hundreds of years before, by accident. They did not just stumble upon this place or arrive there because their own plan. They are there because God brought them there.

It is God who led them and prepared them for this moment. They have everything they need because God led and cared for them. In the same way, it is God who leads and prepares us for whatever it is that he wills for us. Wherever we are, whatever we are doing, whatever it is we are facing, it is because of God’s providential direction. There is great comfort in knowing whether life is good and easy, or painful and hard, it is the Lord who brought us to this place.

…and clears away many nations before you…more numerous and mightier than you, and when the LORD your God gives them over to you… (Deut. 7:1b-2a).

There were seven nations Land, that though small by modern standards, were “more numerous and mightier” than Israel. They were enemies and obstacles that stood in the way of Israel taking the Land and fulfilling the will of God for them.

From a human point of view, it was impossible for Israel, an assemblage of former slaves and nomadic wanderers, to attack and defeat these nations. “Not that these cities were of the extent or population … of Nineveh, Babylon, or Memphis. But to a people who were little better than a horde of fugitives accustomed to the simple camp life of the wilderness … the prospect of scaling the walls and conquering the inhabitants was appalling.”[1]

But though it was humanly impossible for Israel to wage a successful military campaign against these fortified citadels, the success did not rest on human abilities. They were not going to be successful because they were stronger than the seven nations. They were not. They were not going to be successful because they were bigger, or had better strategy, or because they were better equipped. They had none of those things.

Israel was going to be successful for one reason only, because God was going to “clear away the nations” and “give them over” to them. They would succeed when it seemed humanly impossible because God was going to provide the victory.

And that’s how it is in the Christian life. God has called us to love him and others, to grow in practical holiness, to die to self and to serve others sacrificially. But we cannot. In our own power and with our own will we cannot.

We have enemies and obstacles that stand in the way of receiving and living fully in the promises of God and his will for our lives. We “wrestle… against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). We continue to struggle with the “old self, which belongs to [the] former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires” (Ephesians 4:22).

These spiritual forces and these remaining deceitful desires of the old self are too much for us. We do not have enough power to overcome and defeat them. Like Paul, we must admit “that nothing good dwells in [us], that is in [our] flesh. For [we] have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Romans 7:18).

In ourselves we cannot. But, in Christ, we can. That is the gospel. The gospel is not just that our sins are forgiven and that we have eternal life. The gospel is also that the power of God dwells in us and will defeat all of his and our enemies.

We may be afflicted in many ways, we may be perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. But we will not be crushed, driven to despair, forsaken or destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:8). And if we are not, it is only because of his “divine power which has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).

“There is no disease, no addiction, no demon, no bad habit, no fault, no vice, no weakness, no temper, no moodiness, no pride, no self-pity, no strife, no jealousy, no perversion, no greed, no laziness that Christ will not overcome as the enemy of his honor.”[2]

Adapted from Deuteronomy: Love and Grace in the Law of God by Barry Smith.


[1] International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1915,  https://www.biblestudytools.com/encyclopedias/isbe/fortification-fort-fortified-cities-fortress.html
[2] John Piper, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/jesus-will-trample-all-our-enemies
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