Bible Insights,  Devotions,  Education

Resting and Wrestling: Striving and Contending for the Faith

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“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.”

Ephesians 6:12-15

Today, I can quickly search Google to pull up a plethora of books on the topic of rest; spiritual rest, emotional rest, and physical rest. While rest is important and established by God in Genesis 2:2, so is the work that we are called to do as new creations in Christ. The problem we have is living in the reality of both. God tells us to come to Him, and He will give us rest. This is possible all the time. We can be at peace within our souls, finding rest in the strength of God AND be striving to grow in faith and wisdom. For a believer, they are lived in tandem, not in balance.

“Faith by its very nature must be tried, and the real trial of faith is not that we find it difficult to trust God, but that God’s character has to be cleared in our own minds. Faith in its actual working out has to go through spells of unsyllabled isolation. Never confound the trial of faith with the ordinary discipline of life. Much that we call the trial of faith is the inevitable result of being alive. Faith in the Bible is faith in God against everything that contradicts Him — “I will remain true to God’s character whatever He may do.” “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” — this is most sublime utterance of faith in the whole of the Bible.”

Oswald Chambers

Grace and works are constantly in tension within the believer’s mind. There are many who would work themselves to death while many others that believe grace is all they need, tending toward the idle.

I find that it is easier to discuss rest and grace than the concepts of wrestling and working out our salvation. But all are parts of the Christian life. We are saved by grace through faith and not of ourselves; it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). We aren’t saved by our works, but works are a result of an obedient life surrendered to Christ. Through being attached to the vine, confident in our salvation, and desiring to love God with all we are, we can strive in peace. We can rest in our wrestling.

In a previous post, I discussed the definitions of grace and the concepts of resting in the spiritual sense. I find resting and abiding in Christ are much harder to put into practice than taking a physical rest, because they are less concrete actions. Most of us have no problem sitting down to lounge on the couch for some Netflix but spending time meditating on the things of God proves more challenging. Even harder is the concept of striving as a believer. Striving bears a negative connotation in our world, because it feels contradictory to grace and peace. Without striving, grace won’t be activated in our lives and lead to growth.

Striving Defined

Striving means to devote serious effort or energy to; to endeavor. It also can be defined as to struggle in opposition; to contend. When we strive for something, we work with a set purpose (Merriam Webster).

As a Christian these definitions perfectly apply to the biblical command to become holy as He is holy. 2 Peter 1:5 tells us to make every effort to supplement our faith and to respond to God’s promises. In Jude 3, we are told to contend for the faith. In our opening verse, we are warned not to wrestle the wrong things, but we are told we will wrestle against spiritual forces, the natural world, and our own sinful flesh. And we are told to work as unto the Lord and not to men in order to complete the good works He assigned us long ago.

So, is striving a negative word for a Christian saved by grace? Emphatically, no.

Here is a list of action-oriented, striving words found in the Bible:

  • Wrestle
  • Fight
  • Contend
  • Seek
  • Make every effort
  • As much as is in you
  • Put on
  • Take off
  • Die to sin/self
  • Study
  • Run
  • Renew
  • Capture
  • Test
  • Labor
  • Build
  • Strain (Press on)
  • Examine
  • Think

All of these actions are to be said of Christ-followers as they seek to be obedient and grow in His likeness. As we work, the Spirit transforms and strengthens us to persevere. Through remaining in Jesus, His power strengthens us to stand and hold on to hope. He is our place of refuge and rest.

Wrestling implies sweat, tears, and exhaustion and seems to be in tension with resting. But wrestling is an important step in reaching the rest we long for in Christ. It is a part of the human experience that can lead us to walk beside the still waters in complete trust in God. First, let’s look at a biblical definition of the term wrestling.

In the ESV and KJV translations of the Bible, there is only one specific instance of the word wrestle. It is used figuratively in Ephesians 6:12 for the spiritual conflict believers are engaged in. The Greek form of pallo means to sway or vibrate (Strongs). But there are many other words used to illustrate the struggle we are in, such as labor, striving, contend, build, test, press on, fight, and strain. All these words show the effort it requires to work out our salvation and grow in faith, character, and godliness.

As I began to study the word, test, found in I John 4:1, I saw how it related to the concept of Christian wrestling. It means to “test, examine, scrutinize (to see whether a thing is genuine or not), as metals”. To test our faith means to “recognize as genuine after examination, to approve, deem worthy”. James 1:3 says that the trying of our faith produces patience.  We are encouraged to test in order to prove and recognize the truth of what we proclaim and believe.

Proving, testing, and recognizing something takes time and thorough attention; it requires that we wrestle toward understanding through spending time with God and His words to us.

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I also looked at the current cultural understanding of the concept of wrestling from Merriam Webster. It is a verb that means:

1to contend by grappling with and striving to trip or throw an opponent down or off balance

2to combat an opposing tendency or force (wrestling with his conscience)

3to engage in deep thought, consideration, or debate

We are to contend with doubt in order to have victory over our roaming thoughts and fears. We should put the enemy on his toes by studying and wrestling to expose sin and lies in our hearts and minds. And we should engage in deep thought and consideration for the truths found in Scripture, so we can easily detect error.

Results of Not Wrestling

Our pastor recently preached on the transfiguration of Christ and how Moses was present. He also talked about how Moses, saved by faith and secure in His eternal destiny, missed his earthly promised land because he failed to wrestle and fight his sin. Because of his anger that led to disobedience, he suffered the consequence of never entering the promised land that he had faithfully led the people to enter.

If we refuse to strive in our walk with God, we risk falling and ruining our testimony, our effectiveness for the kingdom, and missing out on all God has planned for us. The reality of what Moses experienced is sad, but it not optional to be obedient to God. He gives more grace than we deserve, but sometimes, He allows us to experience the just rewards of our decisions.

Life is never as easy as a 1-2-3 step process. It’s messy, real and hard. Our struggle with our flesh and spirit is real. Circumstances on earth can challenge the strongest among us. Failure is not easily forgiven (but Christ does) in ourselves and others. Many struggle and wrestle silently for fear of judgment and someone misunderstanding their questions. A lack of faith is hard to admit even though everyone is there at times.

Applying Truth

Ephesians 6:12 leaves no room for doubt about the struggle we are in – we are engaged in a spiritual conflict as believers…it is wrestling…but, the strength comes from God. All His power is within us.

Some would say the topic of striving and wrestling is discouraging and impossible, but all of Christ’s power resides in us and is accessible through faith and the indwelling Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11, Galatians 2:20, I Corinthians 3:16). We can wrestle while resting in Christ AND we are guaranteed victory (I Corinthians 15:57, Romans 8:37, Romans 8:31, 2 Corinthians 2:14).

We are more than conquerors as heirs with Christ. Do you believe that promise today?

In what ways are you striving to make time for your relationship with God? How are you making every effort to pursue His likeness and grow in your character through the grace given to each of us? If you feel frazzled and frustrated by your efforts, you may need to consider what your motivation for service is and whose strength you are striving in.

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