by Mike Ratliff
19 Then Joshua said to the people, “You will not be able to serve Yahweh, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgression or your sins. 20 If you forsake Yahweh and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you after He has done good to you.” Joshua 24:19-20 (LSB)
One of the products of the growing apostasy of the Church in our time that is especially tragic is the loss of the understanding of God’s Holiness. Several years ago I wrote a post about our great need to walk in fear of God. Some of the comments I received on that post were heart breaking. Some insisted that Jesus was their buddy or their homeboy or their ‘bro’ and he loved them so much that it really did not matter how they lived. My brethren God has not changed. He is immutable and perfect. He neither changes nor has any need to do so.
The lie that has inundated and corrupted the Church causing this casual and carnal approach to being a professing Christian goes something like this, “God is love and by His grace we do not have to worry about offending His Holiness now that we are on this side of the Cross…” The concept is that God’s Love, mercy (not receiving the judgment you deserve), and grace (receiving good things you do not deserve) trump God’s Holiness, Righteousness, and, Justice. Since Christians are saved by grace then there is no need to be concerned about that… This is a lie my brethren. If it was true then why have all of the exhortations and commands all through the New Testament for Christians to live holy and pure lives?
When Joshua told the Israelites (above), “You will not be able to serve the Lord, for He is a holy God.” he was not being peevish nor was he stating something that is only Old Testament for God has not changed. His point is that serving a holy and jealous God cannot be done casually or without divine assistance. What does it mean that God will not forgive the transgressions or the sins of those who fail to serve the LORD as He has commanded? This isn’t talking about an exception to God’s mercy, but is talking about the reality of apostasy. When apostasy reigns in the midst of those who are called by God’s name then the reality is that those in unbelief and rebellion within have crossed a line of no return. This is true because no one can walk in repentance and faith outside of the grace of God and when He withholds His grace then all that those who have forsaken Him have to look forward to is God turning to do them harm and to consume them.
19 Then He struck down some of the men of Beth-shemesh because they had looked into the ark of Yahweh. He struck down of all the people, 50,070 men, and the people mourned because Yahweh had struck the people with a great slaughter. 20 And the men of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before Yahweh, this holy God? And to whom shall He go up from us?” 21 So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-jearim, saying, “The Philistines have brought back the ark of Yahweh; come down and take it up to you.” 1 Samuel 6:19-21 (LSB)
The Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant in battle. Plagues came upon them until they realized that they were dealing with the Holy God of the Israelites. They sent the Ark back to the Israelites on a cart pulled by two cows. When the men of Beth-shemesh discovered it, they rejoiced until some of them opened it to look inside. God killed them because they violated His Holiness. No one can approach our Holy God without first bringing a blood sacrifice. What about Christians? We don’t have a temple and sacrificial system where blood is shed, et cetera. That’s right because our Lord Jesus Christ came as the Lamb of God. He became the sacrifice that atoned for the sins of His people. This shedding of His blood was sufficient and complete. There is no need to continually repeat it to cover new sins. They were all paid for at the Cross.
Does this mean that we have license to serve God perfunctorily or casually, taking His Grace and Mercy for granted?
17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (LSB)
This is Paul’s description of the regenerate, the Born Again. This is the redemption of a people who now live for Christ by living for others, all by the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:3, 6, 18) and the death of Christ (5:14-15). This is the beginning of the “new creation” that was destined to come amid this evil age (Isaiah 43:18-19 ; 65:17-23; 66:22-23). These regenerate are able to serve our Holy God because of these things. What a wonderful thing our redemption is my brethren. However, I know from conversations with many reading this that most still struggle at times with making vows to God to not commit certain sins or to do certain works, and it seems that this simply frustrates them, causing them to plunge into doubt and even despair at times. I know all about this my brethren for I have been through this myself.
The problem is that we are attempting to serve God with the fruits of the flesh just as Cain did (Genesis 4). Failure at the altar of God always causes failure in the field. Service that glorifies God comes from a humble, contrite, worshipping heart that knows that the best one can do outside of that is as filthy rags in God’s sight. It does no good to make vows and attempt to use will power to please God. His grace will never inhabit that and so when we do it that way we are on our own. We will eventually fail. There is only one way to stop this cycle of futility. It begins by drawing near unto God by faith in devotion, submission, and yes, fear (Philippians 2:12). When we do this, what does God do? He draws near unto us (James 4:8). When He does this, what do we always do?
7 Be subject therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be miserable and mourn and cry. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. James 4:7-10 (LSB)
Yes, that’s right, we confess and repent of our sins. We come to the throne of Grace and we will then walk away to serve God in submission and humility. Forget the vows and the will power. Instead, submit yourself to God in humility and worship and you will not commit that sin that clings so close and you will serve God in those areas that seem so hard when you try to do it in your own abilities.
We can do this because we do have God’s mercy and grace. We are able because of His enabling us to do it, but we will never be able to do it at all until we get things right at the altar. When we get it right and walk in the joy of the Lord with our eyes firmly fixed on Christ it will always be in submission to Him and all those around us. Pride is banished. Meekness rules. This is what we do when we abide in Christ (John 15). We can only serve the Lord on these terms. Outside of these terms, we are on our own and that is an ugly, inconsistent, casual place to be. It is devoid of the joy of the Lord and we will find that our worship here is all emotion with no substance. On the other hand, when we are working out our salvation with fear and trembling we will have the joy of the Lord no matter what our circumstances. We will have success at the altar and, therefore, success in the field as did Able.
This age is evil my brethren. I never thought I would witness a President of the United States turn his back on Israel and promise Jerusalem to the Palestinians or give an encouragement to the Homosexual activists in our country to have pride in their depravity. I have been saying for the last several years that God is purposefully clarifying His Church. There is the true Church and those in it are regenerate and will be on the narrow, straight path that leads to God. At the same time there are large numbers of professing Christians shaking their fists at God in their apostasy, rejecting His truth for a yoke of slavery to sin. This evil age will eventually give way to the age to come. In that age, our Lord’s Kingdom will come in fulfillment. When He returns, judgment is with Him. However, in the meantime, let us submit ourselves to God, resist the Devil, draw near to Him, and walk in repentance.
20 Λέγει ὁ μαρτυρῶν ταῦτα· ναί, ἔρχομαι ταχύ. Ἀμήν, ἔρχου κύριε Ἰησοῦ. (Revelation 22:20 NA28)
20 He who bears witness to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. Revelation 22:20 (LSB)
Soli Deo Gloria