Everywhere we look today, we can find how-to guides that tell us ways to accomplish practically anything. We can find instruction on how to surf, change the brakes in a vehicle, properly iron clothes, make the ultimate cheesesteak sandwich, brew a perfect tea, use a ride-on lawnmower, fly a radio-controlled plane, find the best deals at department stores, write a book, buy a home, effectively wash our hair, and the list goes on and on! But we would be hard-pressed to find material on how to not completely do something.
In an indirect way, there are places where the Bible also gives us information on how to not completely do something. If we published a stand-alone booklet as an example, the title could be something like “How to Have an Incomplete Victory.” The first section would likely include, among other instructions, these verses: “When the Lord thy God shall bring thee into the land [wherever] thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou; and when the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt [strike] them, and [completely] destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor [show] mercy unto them”(Deuteronomy 7:2-3).
Successive paragraphs or chapters could describe how the Israelites came into the land that God promised them and drove away the inhabitants, to the point of death, just as God had told them. But the conclusion would be where we would find the heart of the whole guide: “And it came to pass, when Israel was strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute, and did not utterly drive them out” (Judges 1:28). The booklet could end with the fact that the Israelites disobeyed God’s command, their triumph was not complete, and that we will also suffer the same results if we do not follow what God tells us to do. And that, in essence, would be the whole guidebook. It probably seems too brief to be of any value. Yet that is the point—it doesn’t take much to violate God’s word, and the result when we do will be something less than what God intended for us.
In the example above, God specifically told the Israelites to completely remove the current inhabitants of the land He was giving to Israel. They were successful in doing this initially, but as they increased in prominence in the region, they eased off. Instead of eliminating everyone living there like they had been told, they made them their slaves. This was a big mistake, because the people they were to conquer were idolaters. They worshiped deities with practices completely contrary to the commands and laws of God. They lived in rebellion against God, and had no desire to change.
On the surface, it may not seem like an important matter on the Israelites’ part. But their partial lack of action opened the door for the enemy’s sins to pollute them. It was like adding a little bit of poison to a bottle of pure, clean water occasionally. It won’t be long before all the water in the bottle is polluted.
In the same manner, God does not desire for His children to follow the example they provided. When we stop short of fully conquering the sin of our old self, the flesh, then we allow room for sin to overcome us once again. We can never simply make sin our slave—it will always enslave us. This is one reason why God gave us a record of the actions of the Israelites—so we will not make the same mistakes in our spiritual battles that they made in their physical battles.
The Bible can basically be considered our how-to guide for living successfully in God’s Kingdom. It tells how to be both victorious and defeated. It even shows us how to have partial victory. Out of all of the handbooks written throughout history, none are more important or have more value than God’s Word does. Our degree of victory will be determined by the degree to which we obey His instructions and commandments set forth there. The children of Israel found that when they fully followed what God told them to do, they would successfully defeat the people of the land. But when they began to do what they thought was right, even a little bit, they no longer completely drove out the ungodly inhabitants. This eventually caused the idolatry of the land to fill their hearts, and it was not long before they abandoned their relationship with God.
Let’s learn a lesson from the Israelites’ mistakes, and not fall into the same kinds of error ourselves. God wants us to completely drive out the flesh—our old sinful, ungodly nature—and not make any kind of peace or compromise with it instead. We’ve seen how to have an incomplete victory. Now let’s be obedient to what God declares in His Word, and then we can have complete victory over our old sinful self.