Posts Tagged 'consecration'

By the Numbers, 4

pearl1

ARE YOU A NAZARITE?

You can laugh at the question, but it is a valid one. Are you a Nazarite? You probably don’t know how to answer that question, so let me help you out a little. In the Bible, a Nazarite is somebody who comes from a town called Nazareth. But the word “nazarite” means “separated” or “sanctified.” So, now can you answer the question, Are you a Nazarite?

Before you answer that question, you should know that not everybody thinks being a Nazarite is a good thing.

Nazareth! Can anything good come from there? (John 1:46 NIV)

After reading that question and knowing what “nazareth” really means, the question asked by Nathanael is kind of shocking. Notwithstanding his opinion, who wouldn’t be impressed with meeting a “sanctified” or “consecrated” or “separeated” person? Surely such a person would be the salt of the earth; a person completely devoted to God. So maybe the real question ought to be, not Are you a Nazarite? but What’s the point in being a Nazarite?

Indeed. In the 21st century, is there anything to be gained from being a sold-out Christian? Can a modern Christian be sanctified, devoted, consecrated to Jesus Christ? Is such a relationship possible these days?

Of course, there aren’t really any Nazarites around these days, but there are Christians, and all Christians should aspire to be like the Nazarites who lived so long ago. Unfortunately, most Christians are not at all like the ancient Nazarites. Most Christians are not all that devoted, sanctified, or consecrated to Jesus Christ. Most Christians, instead of separating themselves from the world, find creative way to keep one foot in Heaven and the other in the world. Which explains why there are so many disappointed Christians these days. Their prayers go unanswered. Others get blessed by they don’t. God seems to be a million miles away from Christians who live a million miles away from Him. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s see what we can learn from the Nazarite vow. It was –

Voluntary

When either a man or a woman takes the special vow of a Nazirite, consecrating himself to the Lord in a special way… (Numbers 6:2 TLB)

The “Nazarite vow” was one of the truly unique provisions God made for His people. It wasn’t just for residents of Nazareth; any Israelite, man or woman, from any tribe could take this vow. The person who took this vow could do so for a certain period of time or for a lifetime. It was a means by which the average Israelite could get closer to God; to have a deeper, more meaningful walk with Him.

The thing about this vow was that it was far stricter than even the vows taken by priests. Among the more famous Israelites that took this special vow were Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist.

In this vow we see the stage being set for the New Testament Gospel; the fact that the possibility of living a life utterly and completely devoted to Jesus Christ was for anybody. Anybody can enter into a close, personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

This is not insignificant. So many people, even some Christians, think of God as the One who is always out to get them; He’s always looking for a way to judge them and punish them. But, in fact, God is always on the lookout for somebody – anybody – who wants to do His will and live for Him. That’s who He’s looking for!

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. (2 Chronicles 16:9 NKJV)

And entering into that kind of relationship is completely voluntary. God never forced anybody to take the old Nazarite vow and He doesn’t force anybody to devote themselves to Jesus Christ. If you want God to “show Himself strong” on your behalf, you must show yourself devoted, consecrated, and separated on His behalf. It’s not rocket science. If you call yourself a Christian yet seem distant from God, you’re the problem, not Him.

Complete

Devotion, separation, and consecration to God must be complete. You can’t be partly devoted. You can’t be partly consecrated. And you can’t be partly separated to God. It’s an all or nothing proposition. In the case of the Nazarite vow, its separation included:

[No] strong drink or wine or even fresh wine, grape juice, grapes, or raisins! He may eat nothing that comes from grapevines, not even the seeds or skins! (Numbers 6:3, 4 TLB)

The one who took the vow couldn’t get close to anything produced by a vine. What was the big deal about grapes, raisins, or wine? Actually, it all has to do with the principle of “separation.” This included:

…he must never cut his hair, for he is holy and consecrated to the Lord; that is why he must let his hair grow. (Numbers 6:5 TLB)

And it included this:

And he may not go near any dead body during the entire period of his vow, even if it is the body of his father, mother, brother, or sister… (Numbers 6:6, 7 TLB)

None of these were bad; not grapes or wine or hair or dead bodies. The principle of separation had nothing to do with avoiding bad or sinful things. It had little to do with principles of right and wrong. The principle of separation as far as the Nazarite was concerned had to do with an attitude; with something on the inside of the person, not on the outside. And it’s the same with a Christian. Christians are supposed to live separated from the world. We can see that in the way Quakers live, for example. But it’s what’s on the inside that matters to God – it’s your attitude toward the things of the world that counts. That Quaker, for example, who abstains from AM radio yet finds joy in hand-rolled cigarettes, has accomplished nothing for God. In other words, if you are a Christian, you need to consider where your joy comes from. It’s not, “alcohol is bad,” but rather, “why do you drink it?” It’s not, “that certain friendship is bad,” it’s “does that relationship mean more to you than God does?” The principle of separation has to do with keeping your priorities straight. If something in the world gives you more joy than God does, you need to separate yourself from it.

The Nazarite vow is very illustrative of how Christians should be living. We should be wholly devoted to Jesus Christ, so that if anything or anybody causes a rift to develop in our relationship with Him, then it has to go.

To the Lord

…and he is consecrated to the Lord throughout the entire period. (Numbers 16:8 TLB)

So you see, it’s not a matter of “giving this up” or “giving that up.” It’s a matter of devoting yourself to the Lord. Giving something up for the sake of giving something up is useless. Giving something up because you think it makes God happy is not what this is about. The Nazarite person was a separated person – separated from certain activities of the world so that they could take more time in serving God. It’s not that God derives some kind of strange joy in wanting to keep certain things away from certain people. It’s that He wants to spend more time with His people. He wants His people to get to know Him in a more profound way. Our Lord described it this way:

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34 NIV)

Did you see that? It’s not just “denying,” it’s “following.” But you shouldn’t think that Jehovah or Jesus thinks that devotion to Him is all about legalistic works apart from the right attitude of the heart. Remember, the vow was completely voluntary; it was a matter of the heart. How long it lasted was up to the individual. Serving the Lord is up to you. And that’s how God wants it to be. He wants you to want to serve Him. He coerces no one.

Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. (2 Corinthians 7:1 NIV)

God wants all of His children to be Nazarites in their heart and in spirit.

Public

The nature of the Nazarite vow was that it was completely out in the open, for all to see. You could spot a Nazarite a mile away. He was the guy with messy, unkempt hair. His hair, so to speak, was a public testimony to his character. You couldn’t hide the fact that you were a Nazarite. The consecrated, dedicated, and separated life of the believer cannot be hidden, either.

Don’t hide your light! Let it shine for all; let your good deeds glow for all to see, so that they will praise your heavenly Father. (Matthew 5:15, 16 TLB)

You shouldn’t brag about your relationship with Jesus Christ, but you shouldn’t hide it either. You shouldn’t keep your faith from anybody, for any reason.

For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:26 NKJV)

A special benediction

May the Lord bless and protect you; may the Lord’s face radiate with joy because of you; may he be gracious to you, show you his favor, and give you his peace. (Numbers 6:24 – 26 TLB)

Following all the verses concerning the Nazarite law of separation, we read about the grace of God. The so-called Aaronic blessing (verses 22-27) was given to all Israelites, but it was especially relevant to the Nazarites. If God promised to bless the average Israelite, how much more would He bless the ones completely devoted to Him?

In this benediction, we see the attitude of God. We’ve looked at what the attitude of His people should be toward Him and what He wants, and now we see His attitude. And what is God’s attitude toward His people? He blesses them. God isn’t “out to get them.” He blesses them. Or more accurately, He wants to bless them.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. (James 1:17 NKJV)

If we take this verse literally, and we should, God blesses His people and that’s all He does. “There is no variation of shadow of turning.” God won’t change His mind regarding the people He loves and blesses.

But there’s more to this blessing:

…the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you (Numbers 6:25 NIV)

What a beautiful statement. There’s nothing for you to fear in God’s presence. He’s not scowling at you. He’s not making a mean face when He looks at you. If you are His child, His face is beaming.

Lastly, we come to this:

…the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:26 NIV)

The Lord will never turn His back on the ones He loves. Isn’t that a wonderful thought? And not only that, God gives His people peace. Peace of mind. Peace of heart. Peace with Him.

The Bible is a divine Book. It’s divinely authored and ordered. There’s a reason why this benediction follows details concerning the Nazarite vow. God wants us to make the connection between complete consecration, dedication, and separation and God’s blessing. God’s very best is for those who love Him the most.

EZRA/NEHEMIAH, Part 14

Revive Us Again!

Nehemiah 8

For people who don’t find history interesting, Nehemiah chapters 8—11 are a refreshing change of pace. The first 7 chapters of Nehemiah’s book are two parts history with one part of intrigue. Very often, the following 4 chapters are referred to “revival chapters,” because they contain all the elements of a genuine spiritual revival. Students of revivals throughout Church history will readily recognize the four elements:

  • A renewed and sincere interest in the Word of God and a return to expositional preaching;
  • A conviction of sin under the ministry of the Word of God;
  • Fasting, prayer, confession of sin, and heightened awareness of God’s justice and mercy;
  • A commitment to learn and follow the will of God.

When these four things are present in a church, then we might say that church is in a state of revival. Add verse 10 into the mix, and we not only have a revival, but a truly satisfied congregation:

…the joy of the LORD is your strength.

The setting of chapter 8 is found in the last verse of chapter 7:

When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns…

Let’s look at what happened when the people of Judah had finally settled in their towns. It all began with the Preacher.

1. The Preacher, 8:1

They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel.

We haven’t heard from Ezra in a long time; it had been years since the end of his book and the beginning of Nehemiah’s. But Ezra hadn’t been idle during those years. While he may not have been directly involved in Nehemiah’s reconstruction efforts, he was very much involved in his own reconstruction efforts. Scholars generally agree that Ezra had already been teaching the Scriptures to the people of Judah; he was “reconstructing” the Law of God in their hearts. This was important because the generation now living in Jerusalem had no exposure to the Temple, the festivals, or most of the aspects of the religious life of their parents and grandparents; they had to be taught, and Ezra did just that.

It was not accident or coincidence that the people asked Ezra to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses. Their hearts were ready for more of God and ripe for a move of God.

2. The Place of Meeting, 8:3, 4

It’s hard enough for a modern preacher find a congregation that can pay attention to the Word of God for a mere one hour Sunday morning, but here, Ezra read the Word of the Lord all day, and the people listened!

Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. (verse 4a)

So we have recorded for us the first time a pulpit was used in the ministry of God’s Word. It wasn’t the Baptists that invented it, it was the people of Ezra’s day. It was a special elevated platform (the Hebrew means “tower”) built specifically for this purpose, about 300 feet from the Temple grounds.

To most people, a 40 minute sermon seems like an eternity, but the people who had gathered to hear Ezra had been in captivity all their lives; they heard stories about the old days when God moved during the ministry of His Word; they had a taste of His Word and they were hungry for more.

3. The Listeners, 8:2—3; 5—6

A. They were many but not all, verse 2

the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.

Notice who was there to hear the Word: those who could understand it. This tells us a couple of things. First, from the perspectives of Ezra and Nehemiah, some preparations must have been made. Ezra had prepared their hearts for more through his ministry. Perhaps they made arrangements for babies and children to be looked after so as to keep distractions down to a minimum. But also, not every citizen was there; some didn’t show up for “whatever” reason. Maybe they had better things to do that morning, like wash their cars or plant their gardens. The point is, a true revival of faith is brought about when faithful followers of Christ have an interest and show up.

Second, the people that cared enough to show up that day already had an understanding of Scriptures. They didn’t need to be taught more; they didn’t need to be convinced to listen to Ezra. They understood what God wanted of them because they understood the Scriptures.

These things help us understand the nature of a true revival. It starts, not with an evangelist and praise band; it begins with individual believers who are already sold out to God; who are already in His Word and devoted to studying it. To those, revival comes.

B. They listened, verse 3

And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

This verse is quite remarkable for two reasons. First, the people, who already had an understanding of Scriptures because they knew them, listened “attentively” as Ezra read it. They knew it, they could probably recite it, yet they still listened “attentively.” They paid strict attention as they heard the Word being read. This is really astonishing. Very often, we Christians, who are so familiar with the Bible, have the bad habit of skipping over the verses or stories we think we know so well. They were more interested in the book than the preacher; they sought the message, not the man.

The other reason this verse is so remarkable is the fact that the those who gathered to hear the Word read, stayed and listened “from daybreak till noon .” Imagine that! For some 5 hours or longer, the faithful stood and listened as Ezra read the Scriptures. Talk about devotion and reverence. They were really interested; they had been held in exile for 70 years, finally they’re out and they can’t get enough of the Word of God!

C. They were reverent, verse 5

and as he opened it, the people all stood up.

They didn’t have padded pews to sit on. They stood up as Ezra read the Word for 5 hours. They stood up; a sign of reverence and obedience. These people, as a show of their high regard for the Scriptures and of their devotion to its admonitions, “stood up.” No wonder revival came to these people; they were ready for it every way.

D. They responded, verse 6

They people responded in two stunning ways:

…and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!”

When the crowd shouted, “Amen! Amen!,” they were basically shouting to Ezra, “We’re with you! We’re with you!” And the fact that they repeated it twice shows how intense the feeling was behind their affirmation.

Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.

Their second response was to “bow down.” This phrase occurs only a handful of times in the Old Testament and it’s an undignified posture. These people got down on all fours, with their foreheads on the ground in humble, reverential worship of God.

From the posture, they “worshiped” God. They responded to the demands of the Word by assuming a humbling position and offering God the adoration of their hearts. They yielded completely to the Scriptures with all their being.

4. The preacher

A. He blessed the Lord, verse 6

Ezra praised the LORD

Literally, Ezra the preacher began by “blessing the Lord.” He recognized God as “the great God,” far greater than himself or his ideas. The message of God was great; Ezra was merely a messenger. To “bless” the Lord means to make God smile. When we bless the Lord, we make God happy.

B. He stuck to the Book and spoke clearly, verse 8

They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.

It seems as though several preachers read and interpreted the Scriptures that day in addition to Ezra. Some scholars think Ezra was the “head reader” and the Levites were assigned by him to paraphrase the Hebrew into the language of the exiles. Some of those born in exile may not have had a good understanding of the Hebrew language, so Ezra made sure that he did whatever was necessary to make the plain meaning of the Word clear, and the people understood.

Ezra and the Levites made the Law of God clear, they did not teach their own ideas. They simply enabled the people to grasp what was being read: the Book of the Law. They did no engage in silly histrionics in trying to make it more interesting. How different from today’s church, where all manner worldly methods are employed in “preaching the Word.”

As R.L. Stevenson correctly observed: “The Bible should be read as freshly as a book, not dreamingly as the Bible.”

Ezra and the Levites were not song-and-dance men, they were not entertainers. Their job was to make the people understand the Word of God. For the preacher, it is not enough simply to read a verse or two and tell humorous stories. It’s not enough for the people in the pews to simply hear the Word. They must use their reasoning minds to understand it; to grasp intelligently the mind of God.

We have to admire Ezra as much as we admire Nehemiah, for he was faithfully adhering to the prophet Jeremiah’s admonition:

Let the prophets who have dreams tell their dreams, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:28)

5. The effect of the Word

A. They wept, verse 9

For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

This was the first response of the people to the Word of God. They were filled with sorrow because of a consciousness that the Law of God had been broken. The powerful exposition of God’s Word will always bring about a deep conviction of sin. Notice, it wasn’t a hymn or worship chorus that brought about the tears, it was the preaching (exposition) of the Word of God. This is what brings about revival in a person’s heart. Revival is not an emotional gimmick, but a conviction of the heart caused by an honest exposition of God’s Word, not a manipulation of it.

This kind of sorrow is not a kind of self-centered remorse, but a genuine sadness of knowing how far from God’s ideal you have fallen and how much you have offended Him. But this kind or sorrow is not meant to last long:

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

B. They rejoiced, verse 12

Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.

When the Ezra and Nehemiah saw the people weeping, they said something that may sound odd at first, but was actually very wise:

This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” (verse 9)

This revival among the people was NOT about the people; it was about God. The day during which the Word was read was a holy day to God; it was set apart for HIM, not THEM. Had the people continued in their weeping and mourning, the day would have degenerated into a wishy-washy self-centered celebration of emotionalism, and that is not what a revival is for. The religious leaders forced the people to get a grip on their emotions and to remember Whose day this was.

Then they told the people what they should be doing:

Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (verse 10)

Repentance was to be followed by celebration. God’s Word, at first, may cause sadness and conviction and it may cause a heart to melt or break, but that’s not the end it! The end-goal of godly conviction must always be rejoicing and celebration in the Lord. Or, another way to look at it: mourning because of sin must always precede the joy of salvation.

C. They ministered to those in their midst in need, verse 10

Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared.

The beautiful words at the end of verse 10 have formed the basis of many sermons: The joy of the Lord is your strength. Now you know the context. Repentance, followed by joy leads to service, which leads to the ability to tap into God’s strength. This is how believers look after each other. Those who have share with those who don’t have, in the strength of the Lord. True revival will lead to needs within the community of faith being met.

The Word of the Lord, read and taught faithfully, will bring about a revival in the hearts of those who hear it IF they are seeking more of the Lord. The Word of the Lord will convict of sin, which will lead to repentance, ending in joy. This idea of “joy” was one reason why John wrote his first letter:

We write this to make our joy (or your) complete. (1 John 1:4)

God does not want any believer to be miserable, He doesn’t want you to have a little bit of fun. God wants His people to have a whole lot of fun around His word and in service to Him. Studying the Word of God and listening to its exposition ought to bring an abundance of joy into your life. If it doesn’t, there is a problem in your life that you need to face up to. Something is seriously wrong with a Christian who has no interest in God’s Word; no interest in reading it, studying it, hearing it preached, and no interest in Christian fellowship. Those are the things that must precede any revival.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

Anointed for Service

Galatians 1:11—17

Understanding this section of Paul’s letter to the Galatians hinges on verse 10, which serves as a kind of transition.   In the first nine verses of this letter, Paul stated his reason for writing it, now he turns his attention to his first main point, the Gospel.  But verse 10 connects this first main point to his reason for writing the letter—

Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.  (1:10)

He had been accused of being a “man pleaser” by his opponents and with verse 11 Paul launches into an explanation of the Gospel and where it really came from.

1.  The Gospel came from God, verses 1, 2

I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

Many so-called gospels were floating around during Paul’s day.  Each “gospel” claimed to be the “only” gospel.  Some of Paul’s opponents asked, “There may be only one gospel, but how do we know Paul’s is the right one?”  Paul’s answer to this is to stress the supernatural origin of the Gospel he received from Jesus Christ.  The fact is, the Gospel Paul preached was not his own; he was not preaching words designed to please anybody.

Paul denies three obvious sources of his gospel:

  • It was not written or made up by any man;
  • He did not receive it from any man.  In other words, he is not merely parroting what he was taught;
  • He was not taught it like a student would be taught something.  While most of us learn the Gospel this way, Paul says he did not.

Paul’s amazing claim was that he received the Gospel through a special revelation from Jesus Christ Himself.  This is not referring to a “general” revelation, like through preaching, but rather to a special and personal revelation.  In other words, he was taught the Gospel by Jesus just like all the other apostles were.

2.  Before Christ:  zealous opposition, verse 13, 14

For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.  I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

Paul reminds his friends in Galatia that they knew all about him.  Indeed, Paul was well-known in Christian circles as Saul, the persecutor of Christians.  But he was also well-known as a strict adherent to the Jewish faith.  He refers to his Jewish faith his former “way of life.”  His faith was not merely an outward exercise; it was the way in which he lived.

In this very brief autobiographical section, Paul describes two particular points of his past. First, he hated anything to do with Christianity and was committed to persecuting the Christian church.  Second, he was a zealous Jew.  The Greek words translated “extremely”are kath hyperbolen, meaning “to an extraordinary degree” or “beyond measure.”  So Paul is painting a picture of one absolutely sold out and committed to his beliefs; he was what we would refer to as a “fanatic” in every sense of the word.  This fact alone makes the next verse so startling.

3.  Anointed from birth, verse 15a

But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace…

This verse startles us because it is so unexpected.  We may expect Paul to write something like this:  “As I was persecuting the church, God suddenly and miraculously called me.”  But no, he says God “set him apart” before he began to zealously persecute the church.  This statement reflects what the prophet Jeremiah wrote—

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.  (Jeremiah 1:5)

The Greek word Paul used for “set me apart” is aphorizo and actually means two things:  “separated from” and “separated to.”   As Paul used it here, it refers to his special appointment or commission to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  God appointed Paul to do this at his birth.  The KJV makes this verse even more startling—

But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace…

That first phrase, “when it pleased God” means that God wanted Paul; it was God’s will to, according to 16, send this man Paul to the Gentiles.

This verse begs the question:  Would God have chosen Paul as a baby if He knew what kind of man Paul would grow up to become? The answer is a loud YES.  God makes no mistakes.  Of course this verse is referring to God’s sovereign choice, but it also reveals much about the character of God.

First, the words, “who separated me” and “called me by his grace” reveal not only the sovereignty of God, to do what He wants in choosing people we may not to choose, but they also demonstrate God’s incredible love and mercy.  We could easily picture God choosing a man sympathetic to Jesus Christ’s message as the one destined to carry it to the Gentiles, but Paul?  A man confirmed enemy to the Gospel?

Second, the most powerful thought of all:  God did not wait until Paul proved his worth to the kingdom or proved his faithfulness to Christ’s Kingdom before appointing him to a specific task within that kingdom.  From the moment of Paul’s birth, God had a plan for Paul’s life and God was never discouraged from that plan by Paul’s momentary behavior.  What a marvelous and comforting thought!  It adds meaning to what Paul would write to the Ephesians—

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.  (Ephesians 1:11)

Third, we have in this verse not only God’s effectual call of salvation through sanctification, but we also see the assignment of a very specific task and a call to complete surrender to God; what Hendriksen refers to as “plenary apostleship.”  Regardless of anything else Paul may engage in, God had called him to make fulfilling His will the most important thing in Paul’s life.

So we have in Paul’s anointing and appointing an illustration of God’s grace, for if God’s grace could transform a man who lived to wipe out the message of the Cross into man who fearlessly preached the message of the Cross, how much more can grace change us?  Paul’s stainless career as a Jewish student and teacher of the law, in fact, only served to make God’s grace stand out ever more.

4.  The primary purpose of Paul’s calling, verse 16a

To reveal his Son in me.

The KJV brilliantly exposes why God’s grace was demonstrated so graphically in Paul’s life:  to reveal Christ in him.  If God had called Paul to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, the purpose of that calling was also to highlight something about God:  he could be gracious enough to use a man like Paul to graciously save people like the Gentiles.

Everything about our salvation should point to the graciousness of God.  Indirectly, then, Paul’s call—and our calling—was not just to be saved, not just to a specific task to be performed within the Body of Christ, but also to a life of consecration and dedication whereby the image of Christ was to be so totally engraved upon his heart that the world, when it looked at Paul, would see it.  So it should be with us.  When Christ comes into our hearts, we are created anew; we may look the same, we walk the same, we may talk the same, but Somebody new lives inside.  When people look at us, do the see Jesus?

Another question this may prompt is this:  Can we separate God’s calling to salvation from His calling to a specific task? Perhaps Peter answered this question in his first letter—

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  (1 Peter 2:9)

The answer, then, is no.  God calls us to be saved, so that we may be engaged in His work, so that He may be seen and glorified in us.

Conclusion

Paul’s life-changing experience with Christ became the motivating factor in everything he did and it was the focal point of his life.  Today, the Christian needs a comparable point of reference in their lives.  While Paul’s experience with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus was truly unique, it illustrates the need for a personal encounter with the risen Lord in the life of all men.  Christ’s presence in a life is the spiritual reality so many people are looking for today.  We may try many other things:  meditation, good works, church attendance, etc. to create that spiritual reality, but what we need is a confrontation with Christ.  One does not “ooze into” Christianity, as Paul Little observed.

An encounter with the risen Lord is the beginning of a new life in every man—a transformed life begins with that encounter.  When Jesus Christ meets a person where they live, He remakes them and they are able to say, “I was once blind, but now I see.”

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

On Consecration

Joshua 24:14—28

The key to being the kind of Christian God intends for us to be is found in understanding one old-fashioned word:  consecration.  According to the dictionary, this is what the word means:

[D]edication to the service and worship of a deity.

That is an adequate definition.  As far as consecration in Christianity, it has been said:

Entire consecration embraces three things—being, doing, and suffering.  We must be willing to be, to do, and to suffer all that God requires.

By the time we get to verse 14 of Joshua 24, Joshua has recounted God’s obvious greatness and goodness to His people.  He has reviewed the nation’s history, and in light of God’s miraculous interventions in the past, Joshua makes a national appeal.

Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD(Joshua 24:14)

This is a shocking thing for the leader of Israel to say.  How is that the people of God had to be reminded of their first Commandment?   But here, at the end of his career and near the end of his life, Joshua had to admonish the people to worship God only, and to get rid of all their other gods, because, apparently, the people had not stopped worshiping Jehovah, but had taken to worshiping idols in addition.

How could people who had such a glorious history with God still be struggling with false gods after all this time?  Achan’s sin of disobedience was not tolerated for an instant, yet this sin of idolatry seemed to go unchallenged for a generation in the Promised Land.  God had made a stunning covenant with Abraham that He would especially favor and bless Abraham and his descendants.  This covenant had been renewed several times since, with Isaac and Jacob, for example.  But if Joshua’s generation was to continue to be part of the covenant, they had to make a choice.

1.  Time to decide, verse 15

But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.

Man was not created to serve two masters.  There is no such thing as a “part-time Christian.”  Years after Joshua gave this speech and years before Jesus taught about the futility of serving two masters, the prophet Elijah said this to the people of Israel—

“How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”  But the people said nothing.  (1 Kings 18:21)

The question needs to be asked:  What in the world is wrong with God’s people?  Jew or Christian, it doesn’t seem to matter, we both struggle with putting God first in our lives.  Our idols are different looking than those the Jews worshiped, but make no mistake about it, there are idols in the Church of Jesus Christ today.  Paul wrote this to the Roman church—

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?  (Romans 6:16)

Yielding to sin makes us slaves to sin.  When we give into temptation, we serve sin; we are not serving God, because if we were, we wouldn’t be sinning!   Yielding to God makes us servants of God.  This is what Joshua is saying to his people:  stop serving the idols, and start serving God! It’s a decision they had to make, and it is a decision we have to make each and every day.

Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  (Luke 9:23)

2.  Determination, verse 15b

“But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

Joshua was calling on all Israel to make an honest commitment; he wanted the whole nation to show solidarity in choosing to serve God.   He started with his own family.

We can never underestimate the power of the Amorite fertility God.  The Jews were attracted to the cult’s immoral practices, but also as an agricultural people, they were attracted to the cult’s promise of rain and fertile soil.   They were able to justify their devotion to a god other than Jehovah.  Think of how easily we Christians are able to justify our devotion to things and people other than God.  Think about how easily we put, for example, our jobs or careers ahead of God.  We put our sleep, our children, our spouses, our homes, our hobbies, and countless other things ahead of God.

Salvation is an individual matter; we stand before God alone.  We will give an account to God alone.  But at the same time, Joshua as the leader of his household had to lead his household in making the decision to serve God alone.  Maybe, among the Christian community, it’s time for leaders of families today to step up and make a commitment to serve God on behalf of his family.   That may not be politically correct, but it is Biblical.

Joshua confronted the people with a choice that parallels the choice Christ confronts sinners with today.

  • It is more than reasonable to choose to follow Christ.  Your eternal destination changes from Hell to Heaven, but your quality of life improves when you serve God.
  • The choice involves life or death; both eternal and temporal.
  • The choice involves your well-being, spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental.
  • The choice challenges us to aspire to the best life possible; we want to become the best husbands or wives, the best employer or employee, the best student, and the best citizen we can for Christ’s sake.
  • We are motivated to achieve great things and be a positive influence on the world around us by the love of Christ.

3.  Reflection, verses 16—18

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods! It was the LORD our God himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled.  And the LORD drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the LORD, because he is our God.”

Joshua was a great leader; he made his choice; he set the example he wanted the people to follow.  He was willing to give every Israelite the freedom to choose or reject God.  His reasoning was sound:  he set the example, but Joshua believed that the merits of God’s way and God’s past dealings with the people would be more than enough to influence their decision.   In fact, the people seemed almost shocked by their apostasy.  When they reflected on their own history, they realized that it was indeed the Lord who had blessed them and made them what they had become.  Their success had not been determined by fertility gods or anything the people had done for themselves or had done for them.  Their history revealed that all of their achievements nationally and individually had been because of the relationship God had with them.   But they needed to remember.

Christians have shorter memories than the ancient Jews did.  Consider these verses alone—

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.  And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

This was something Joshua’s people never had!  But we have the Holy Spirit in us, convincing us of our special relationship with God.  And yet, for so many Christians, such a powerful, indisputable witness is more of an inconvenience, as they find ways around submitting to God.

But, Joshua’s appeal brought about the desired response from the people—

Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods!

This response revealed a couple of things.  First, the people basically denied the charge of idolatry.  Like the child caught with his hand in the cookie jar denying his father’s charge that he is pilfering a cookie, the people denied that they were worshiping other gods, all the while holding the little trinkets and statues in their hands.  But secondly, the people claimed that, despite their idolatry, the Lord had always been and always would be the focus of their devotion.  There is a word that describes this kind of thinking:  schizophrenia, and a lot Christians suffer from Christian schizophrenia.   Here is the definition of schizophrenia:

1.   Severe mental disorder characterized by some, but not necessarily all, of the following features: emotional blunting, intellectual deterioration, social isolation, disorganized speech and behavior, delusions, and hallucinations.

2.   A state characterized by the coexistence of contradictory or incompatible elements.

Christians are good at acknowledging God and His goodness and loving-kindness, but inexplicably, stubbornly refuse to be consecrated and devoted to Him.  We are prime examples of schizophrenics.

4.  Reality, verse 19

Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the LORD. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins.

Joshua’s response to the people’s response is really unexpected.  After encouraging the people to make the right choice, he told them they would be unable to keep it.  He challenged the sincerity of the people.  Rightfully, he thought their promises were made far too quickly and glibly.  They could not serve the Lord and cling to their idols at the same time because God is “jealous,” and He will not tolerate anything or anybody ahead of Him.  It is a dangerous thing to put the person you love ahead of God.  Jesus understood this—

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.  And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.  (Luke 14:26—27)

The claims of God on His children are exclusive, both Joshua and Jesus knew this and wanted their people to know this.  Like the Jews of old, Christians today are good at being enthusiastic about God and the things of God in “the moment.”  During a stirring sermon or some evangelistic event we are able to make all kinds of commitments to God; then comes Monday morning and the weekly routine and the promises we made to God evaporate faster the morning dew on the grass.

God is a holy God and sinful man cannot stand before Him.  God is a jealous God and will not tolerate our divided affections.  God cannot and will not condone “semi-loyalty” and will not tolerate insincerity.

Joshua had been by Moses’ side for years and knew full well how easily the people made promises in the past.  This time, he wanted their consecration to be genuine; the people needed to know that compromise in any form was neither practicable nor possible in this covenant.

Conclusion

In Matthew 6:24, Jesus Christ taught that “no man can serve two masters.”  Jesus’ brother, James, years later taught the same thing, “A double minded man is unstable in all he does” (James 1:8).  What happens when God’s people—Jew or Christian—refuse to live lives of consecration?  In the case of Israel, the troublesome practice of “pseudo-loyalty” to God resulted in tragic consequences:  they were cut off from God’s blessing.  God, the Source of all good, when by His children’s choice is no longer part of their thinking,  has no opportunity to do them any good.

For Christians, the time to choose is long past.  The state of the Church and the state of the Christian family demonstrates that our hearts are far from God.  We pay Him tremendous lip service every Sunday, and we know “God-talk” backwards; we can give the right answers when asked about questions of our faith.  But too many of us are not dedicated or consecrated to God, and we wonder why we struggle so much in our walk.  It’s time to count the cost, if we would call ourselves Christians and serve Christ with all our heart, mind, and soul.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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