Divine Slavery

-A Slave Of Christ Jesus

The Apostle Paul introduces himself, in his letter to the Church of Rome, with these words, “Paul, a SLAVE of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle and singled out for God’s good news” (Romans 1:1) I respect the editors of the Holman translation of Scripture for their decision to use the word “SLAVE”. Many translations have chosen to use “servant” or “bondservant” instead of “slave” out of respect for our human brothers and sisters that have been, and continue to be, subjected to the inhumane cruelty and bondage of human slavery.  But, here’s the fact – that word in the original Greek language is “doulos” and it means “slave”! So, if we believe the Scriptures are the inerrant, inspired Word of God (and I do!) then we’re left with the cold, hard truth that the Holy Spirit of God inspired Paul to use the word “slave”.

-Moved By The Holy Spirit

It was NOT Paul’s choice! He was moved by the Spirit of God to use that exact word – for a purpose! A “slave” – in the Roman world – was “owned”! A slave was purchased, “bought with a price”! They received no wages for their efforts; and, didn’t have any rights of their own. They were the personal property of the slave owner.  A “servant”, on the other hand, had rights – they were free to quit; and, they were compensated for their work. They belonged to no one! So, I was meditating on Paul’s words to the Church of Corinth, “Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) While he doesn’t use the word “slave” (“doulos”) he does use descriptive phrases that define slavery – “you are not your own” “you were bought at a price.”

-I Am Not My Own

Now, it’s not like I’ve never thought about this before! It’s not like I haven’t preached this passage before – probably numerous times! But, I grasped its meaning in a whole new way – I had an “epiphany”! I am God’s “slave”! I was “purchased” by the blood of Jesus Christ – “bought at a price”! I am not my own! Everything that I tend to see as “mine” is not mine! It all belongs to Jesus – because He bought me! If I live my life as an “owner” of my life then I’m NOT HIS! I can’t have it both ways – I’m either “free” to live as “owner” of my life & with the consequences of that decision! (Not really! Sin is the ultimate cruel taskmaster!) Or, I’m a “slave” to God!

-Does God Approve Of Human Slavery?

Let’s be real! God opposes every kind of sin against humanity. “Kidnapping” and “slavery” are condemned – “He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:16) “If a man is caught kidnapping any of his countrymen of the sons of Israel, and he deals with him violently or sells him, then that thief shall die; so you shall purge the evil from among you.” (Deuteronomy 24:7) ‘Nough said? I thought so! So, why does God inspire Paul to use the word “slave” to describe our relationship with Him? I don’t pretend to know all the reasons! But, clearly, God sets Himself apart from mankind that would enslave other humans! He is love! He is benevolent & well-intended toward us! To be a “slave” to Him is to enjoy the BEST LIFE we could ever have – He is not a “killjoy” in the sky trying to spoil our fun! All His commandments are perfect & for our good!

Speaking Truth With Grace!

Today Is Last Post Until June 15th

-Uncomfortable Subjects!

Over 40 years of ministry, I’ve learned that if I’m going to be committed to preaching the whole counsel of God’s word, I’m going to have to deal with some passages that will make my audience uncomfortable to hear it; and me, uncomfortable to preach it. 1 Corinthians, chapter 6, is one of those passages; and as much as I would love to avoid it, the Spirit of God compels me to preach it and to teach it. It addresses a topic that I cannot sidestep & neither can you. You & I need this message because we need to hear from God on this subject; and if you ever hope to disciple individuals caught up in certain sins, as the Apostle Paul outlines here, they’ll also need to hear what God has to say.

-No Inheritance In God’s Kingdom!

Here’s what Paul writes to the local church of Corinth: “Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or anyone practicing homosexuality, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom. And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). If Paul was writing this letter in our day, it most certainly would have been addressed to the Churches of America. Of the 12 NT epistles, with Paul’s name on it, the sins he calls out the Church of Corinth for most closely resemble our own culture. As I open up this volatile “can of worms” my greatest fear is NOT any negative backlash I might face for taking up a Biblical position on the subject matter! My greatest fear, in presenting this message, is being misunderstood & being portrayed as hateful, mean-spirited & unloving toward the LGBTQ+ community.

-We Neither Celebrate Nor Hate!

The dominant culture today tells us we have only 2 choices; that there are only 2 possible camps! You either “celebrate” LGBTQ+ sexuality, or you’re “haters.” If you don’t support them, you hate them. On Biblical grounds, I reject both of those camps! God gives us a better way! If we grasp the truth of the Good News of the Gospel, then we have something better to bring to this discussion. As followers of Jesus, we cannot base our belief system or our worldview on public opinion! That’s shifting sand! Public opinion is a moving target; but we’re called to live by the immutable, unchanging Word of God. And, as God of the universe, He is the final authority on every matter, including our sexuality. He created us “male” and “female” according to the creation account in the book of Genesis. In other words, He created us gender-specific. In the same creation account, God instructed the “man” to leave his father and mother & cleave to his “wife.” It was God who created marriage; and, we dare not change it!

-So How Do We Respond?

As followers of Christ, then, how do we respond to a prevailing culture that has rejected the absolute truth of Scripture? As followers of Christ, how do we respond to a culture that insists on normalizing sexual behavior that is labeled as sin in God’s Word? The key part of that question is “…as FOLLOWERS of Jesus Christ…” How do we respond as followers of Jesus Christ? I’ve often been amazed at how Jesus never compromised the truth of God’s law; and yet He was loved by sinners! No one ever lived a more righteous life. No one exalted God’s standards more than Jesus. So, how could He also be called the “friend of sinners”? It was because He was full of truth AND GRACE! And, in a sex-crazed & sexually-confused world that’s exactly how we’ll respond if we’re following Jesus. When encountering anyone caught up in sexual sin, we act most like Jesus by showing them truth AND GRACE! Every sinner needs truth mingled with love AND GRACE!

Why We Preach The Gospel!

-It Remedies The Needs Of The Nations!

Over the last couple of posts we’ve mentioned that only as the church returns to the mission that Jesus gave her— to preach the Gospel & make disciples; only then will the church become relevant in the world once again! According to the Apostle Paul’s 1st chapter of his letter to the Church of Rome, we note several reasons why it’s necessary to preach the Gospel. First, because it remedies the needs of every nation: “We have received grace and apostleship through Him (Jesus),” Paul writes, “to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations, on behalf of His name” (1:5).  All the ills of every nation are healed by the Good News of Jesus’ Gospel. Through Jesus, we receive grace to take the Gospel to the nations.

-We Have Supernatural Support!

In context, Paul is saying that grace is the supernatural “support” that Jesus gives us to carry out the commission that He’s given us. Grace is not just supernatural in the way that a totally depraved soul comes to salvation. Grace is also God’s supernatural “gift” of support that He gives us to do the ministry He’s called us to do. The biggest need of our nation is not to place the 10 Commandments in front of every courthouse. It’s not to overturn Roe v. Wade (although we pray that it would be overturned). Those types of issues are just symptomatic of a deeper spiritual problem. Our nation needs to obey the Gospel! Our nation needs to repent of our sin & come to Jesus for salvation. That’s why we must preach the Gospel. That’s how we see our nation change—by making 1 disciple at a time! 

-It Remedies The Needs Of The Godless!

And then, we preach the Gospel not only because it remedies the needs of every nation; but because it remedies the needs of the godless. Have you ever assumed that the lost are perfectly content & happy in their sin? That they wouldn’t be interested in the Gospel if we shared it with them; because they love their sin too much? I have! It’s a mistake to make that assumption! Oh, they may have initially been tempted by the fun sin promised. But, sin turns into a cruel slave master. It enslaves our friends and loved ones! The sin that started as fun becomes an addiction; and, they turn to treatment centers & counseling because their lives & their families are ruined! The Gospel of Jesus Christ remedies that.

-Jesus Is The Answer & The Solution!

Whatever the question, Jesus is the answer! Whatever the problem, Jesus is the solution! Jesus is the solution to everyone’s sin problem. His sacrifice on the cross appeased the wrath of God toward our sin. Look at what God’s Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write next: “For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (v.18). Sin has its own built-in wrath. It creates pain in people’s lives, and they often become open to the Gospel because of it.

-God Delivered Them Over!

We also preach the Gospel because it remedies the needs of the sexually impure. “Therefore God delivered them over in the cravings of their hearts to sexual impurity,” Paul continues, “so that their bodies were degraded among themselves… For even their females exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. The males in the same way also left natural relations with females and were inflamed in their lust for one another. Males committed shameless acts with males and received in their own persons the appropriate penalty of their error” (1:24-27). If you’ve ever tried to help someone caught in the trap of sexual sin, it’s extremely painful to watch. Their lifestyle of sexual sin came about because they “…exchanged the truth of God for a lie…” We live in an incredibly confused world sexually speaking; and, the carnage is piling up! Only God has the answer for true sexual satisfaction because He created sex!

Just Make Disciples!

-The Church Relevant In The World!

The book of Romans is a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in the Church of Rome. It was a church that had no political clout in the Roman empire!  It was a persecuted church; but still, an effective church, because its methods were simple— just make disciples! When the church is busy fulfilling the commission that Jesus gave her, she will become relevant in the world! Now, lest I be misunderstood, let me be clear that I’m NOT against political and government involvement! In fact, quite the opposite. For the believer, there is no “secular.” Everything is sacred!

-God Sovereign Over All!

God owns it all & is Sovereign over all! It is part of our responsibility, as stewards, to be informed. To know the issues & to vote our conscience as we view everything through the grid of Scripture. But, politics and government cannot be where we place our hope! Or, you will be sorely disappointed; as many believers are here in the West! Nowhere, in Scripture, are we called to create a “Christian nation.” Nowhere in Scripture are we given such a mandate. Neither are we called to legislate righteousness! We are called to preach the Gospel & to make disciples. That is our mandate! If we’ll trust God & His plan, rather than the political process, we’ll see our nation & our local communities change 1 disciple at a time.

-The Power Of The Gospel!

That’s what we see in the book of Acts; and, history bears it out—that the power of the Gospel changed entire cultures over time. Rome was no exception. The Church may have endured great persecution at the time that Paul wrote this book; but within 300 years of Jesus’ crucifixion, the Gospel had done such a powerful spiritual work in the Roman Empire, that many historians claim that more than half the population had become followers of Jesus. The 1st chapter of Romans is one of the more significant texts in the Bible. I encourage you to read it often & become familiar with its content.

-Singled Out To Proclaim The Gospel!

From the start, Paul focuses on the Gospel: “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle and singled out for God’s good news— which He promised long ago through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures— concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord…” Paul says he was “singled out” to proclaim “…God’s GOOD NEWS…” The word is εὐαγγέλιον (in the original Greek) or “GOSPEL.” So, he’s sharing the Good News of the Gospel, which he says “…CONCERNS God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord…” And in v.8 he says, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you because the news of your faith is being reported in all the world …” Their faith in the Gospel, Paul says, was having an impact on the whole world!

-Turned The World Upside Down!

When Paul & his entourage went to Thessalonica with the Gospel, it created such a stir that Acts 17 says, “…these men have turned the whole world upside down…” The power of the Gospel outperforms the power of the people every time! Be faithful, church! If you truly have a heart for change in our nation; then, first ask God for a bigger heart for Him; and, second, ask Him for a bigger heart for people! Ask Him for a heart big enough to love hard-to-love people, and to share the Gospel with them. Only His Gospel will change the culture & course of our land. Only when the Church returns to the mission Jesus gave her, will she become relevant in the world once again!  Nothing is happening in our nation that a revival couldn’t change! A revival of the Church! “Judgment must first begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17). We have to love the lost! We need to establish relationships with them! Have them in our homes!

God’s Kingdom Plans!

-An Eternal Throne!

If you’ve read of Israel’s rebellion & falling away from God in the Old Testament, you know that God’s Kingdom plans, for Israel, were never fully realized. But, God is still determined to place a descendent of King David on an eternal throne that will govern not just Israel; but, the entire world! And, we know that Jesus will ultimately be that fulfillment of God’s Kingdom prophecy! And, for us! His Kingdom will finally be achieved beginning with His return; or, His 2nd coming; followed, by a millennial reign on earth; and, then over a new heavens & a new earth, when the substance, of God’s Kingdom, will finally be realized.

-He Will Dwell Among Us!

And, then, for all eternity it’ll be the people of God living in God’s place under the authority of God. And, He will dwell among us the book of Revelation says. Literally, it says He’ll “pitch a tent” in our midst (21:3). But, where we struggle, in our understanding of the Kingdom, is with some of the teachings of Jesus. There’s a tension there! He speaks of God’s Kingdom as both present; and, still future. When He sent out the 70 He told them to preach, “The Kingdom of God has come near you” (Luke 10:9). That’s “has come”; present tense. To the crowds, in Luke 11, He said, “If I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the Kingdom of God has come to you.” Right now! It’s here! In Luke 17:21, He’s even more explicit:  “Behold, the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

-Both Present & Future!

So, how can God’s Kingdom be both present & future? I tend to think that the best answer is that God’s Kingdom is in place right NOW! God IS; and, always HAS BEEN the Sovereign Ruler of the universe. But, the Old Testament was more prophetic; or, forward-looking toward the Messiah’s coming; and, His Kingdom. So, when Jesus came everything changed because the King had come! The Kingdom is in place, in other words. In Mark, Jesus preached the good news of God:  “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near (or, literally, it “has arrived”). Repent and believe the good news” (1:15). So, the Kingdom is both physical and spiritual. Repentance & belief are necessary.

-Spiritual Birth Required!

To enter it physically requires a spiritual rebirth. Look at John’s Gospel, chapter 3, v.1. This is where we begin when we talk about the spiritual aspects of the Kingdom: “There was a man from the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher, for no one could perform these signs You do unless God were with him.’  Jesus replied, ‘I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” You can’t see the physical Kingdom, Jesus told him, unless you’re born again spiritually!

-Reenter Your Mother’s Womb?

And, then, look at v.5. After Nicodemus asked Jesus if he needed to reenter his mother’s womb to be born again, “Jesus answered, ‘I assure you: Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’” To be born of water, many believe, relates to physical birth after living for 9 months in the womb of a mother’s amniotic fluid. And, to be born of the Spirit is easily understood as spiritual birth by the Holy Spirit. You cannot enter God’s Kingdom, Jesus tells him, unless you have BOTH a physical and a spiritual birth. And, in context, Jesus explains the spiritual birth to him in v.16, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” Spiritual birth only comes through belief in Jesus; a belief that He is the Messiah; and, that His death on the cross was necessary for our redemption; and, our entry into God’s Kingdom!

The Humility Of Jesus Christ!

-Humble God!

Perhaps the attribute; or, character quality, of God, that we most often forget, is His humility! The Bible affirms the humility of God in Jesus. And, let’s remember that Jesus said, “...if you’ve seen Me, you HAVE SEEN the Father…”; and, “…I and the Father are ONE…”; or, One & the same, He meant. They were of the exact same substance! So, if you want to know what God is like, just look at Jesus because He IS God! And, because God, in Christ, has written Himself into the story of human history, we can see Him & hear Him! We can touch; and, be touched by Him!

-His Humility In His Birth!

And, Luke, in his Gospel, reveals the humility of Jesus in the announcement of His birth; and, in His entry into this world:  “…shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths & lying in a manger’” 2:8-12. So, again, to whom did the angels announce the wonderful news about the birth of Jesus, the Messiah? To shepherds, right? Really? That’s how God announced His arrival? I’m pretty sure that’s not how most of us would have scripted it if we were God!

-Human Announcements In Contrast!

Actor Chris Pratt; and, his wife, Katherine Schwarzenegger recently announced that they’re expecting a baby in 2022.  Now, I’m pretty sure that on the day their baby is born that they won’t be sending messengers down to the docks so the fishermen can be the 1st to hear the great news; or, to all the cab drivers in America. No! You know how it works with human royalty! There’ll be gold-leafed announcements sent to all the prominent people in Hollywood. And, all the tabloids will have perfect pictures of the couple with their newborn child. My intent, in sharing those thoughts, is not so much to bash on the actor & his wife as it is to emphasize the humility of God.

-Bypassing The World’s Customs!

In God’s humility, He bypasses the customary ways of the world’s rich & famous; and, announces His coming to lowly, disrespected & marginalized shepherds. Bible scholars tell us that, “Shepherds were detestable and unreliable. They sometimes couldn’t testify in court. Nobody wanted to be a shepherd. Shepherds were despised by the ‘good’ respectable people of that day…The only people lower than shepherds at that particular time in Jewish history were lepers.” (From The Shepherd Of Israel by Dwight Pryor). God was revealing something to us about His “name”; or, His character! He reveals that He’s a God who cares for the lowly and the needy!

-God’s Character!

He cares for the humble in this world; for the marginalized and for people who are easily discarded or cast aside. He’s the Savior of everyone who humbly admits they need a Savior. He’s the friend of sinners! He eats with tax collectors; welcomes prostitutes; heals Gentiles; and, He’s willing to touch lepers who hadn’t felt a human touch ever since they were overcome by a contagious disease. He’s a God who doesn’t discriminate based on race or the color of someone’s skin! He created beautiful diversity in people groups. The humility of God, in Jesus, is also apparent in the cloth the shepherds found Him wrapped in. Luke records that they would, “…find the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths & lying in a manger.”  According to the Jewish oral traditions, these cloths were used to wrap lambs that were destined to be Passover lambs; and, they were also used for burial cloths! Jesus’ humble birth was prophetic of his humble death!

The Good News Of The Gospel!

-The Beginning Of Jesus’ Gospel!

At Jesus’ baptism, John the Baptizer said:  “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the One I told you about” (John 1:29-30).  The Biblical writer, Mark, opens his account of Jesus’ life like this:  “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The word “gospel”; or, “euangelion” in the original Greek language, means “good news”; and, it’s found more than 100 times in the New Testament Scriptures. It’s used in the context of “justification”; or, becoming a born again believer; and, “sanctification”; or, spiritual growth as a follower of Jesus; and, even “glorification”; or, the completion of our salvation when we get a resurrected body like Jesus’ body.

-The Gospel In Everyday Life!

So, we need to ask by the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been limited, in many churches, to Easter Sunday sermons; and, to altar calls, as though it only applies to our getting saved; and, not to our growth or sanctification in Christ? If you ask most Christians, “How do you apply the Gospel to the everyday stuff of life?” they wouldn’t know how to answer! I submit to you that the Gospel has everything to do with every single thing you go through in your life. Here’s how we need to unpack the Gospel of Jesus Christ:  “Whatever the question, Jesus is the answer! Whatever the problem, Jesus is the solution!” That’s not original with me; but, I have no recollection where I first heard it! But, I can’t think of a more complete; but, simple way to define the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

-We Never Graduate From Jesus!

What Jesus accomplished on the cross, for you, has everything to do with your family, your work; and, even the painful struggles of life. You need to grab hold of that truth if you’re a follower of Jesus; or, you will flounder greatly in your faith. The Gospel, of Jesus Christ, isn’t just for salvation; or, your justification! We never graduate from Jesus and His Gospel. Whatever you’re questioning in life, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer; and, whatever the problem you’re facing, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the solution! One of the biggest flaws in the way that we have made disciples is we’ve taught them how to successfully navigate the Christian life; or, to grow in their sanctification, without Jesus! One of the biggest flaws, in our prayer life, is that we pray that God will change the circumstances! Rarely will God answer that prayer!

-The Prayer God Wants Us To Pray!

He wants us to pray, NOT for a change of circumstances; but, for a change of heart; and, that only happens as we apply the truth of the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is activated as you prepare the way for Him to enter your life. As Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptizer prepared the world for His arrival. We have to prepare the way, in our own private world, for Jesus to enter. I mean, by that, that we must give proper place to Him. We must denounce all other competing loves!

-Not Worthy Of Me!

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (10:37-39). To prepare the way for Jesus the Messiah to enter your heart, you must see Him as the ultimate value! He is of greater value than all of our other loves! His worth is infinitely greater than even the great worth we attach to our mothers & our fathers & our children; and, to our own lives also! Jesus is the ultimate value of the universe; and, the good news of His Gospel tells us that as much meaning & enjoyment as we may experience in the pleasure of God’s created things around us, none of these will do for us what the Gospel of Jesus Christ will! And, so, we must prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts & lives.

The Gospel Of Jesus Christ!

-Introducing The New King!

In the ancient world, new kings were introduced by a forerunner; or, a herald. Perhaps you remember, from the Old Testament, that Samuel first introduced; and, then anointed King Saul; and, later King David. Every culture & country has its traditions for heralding in a new leader. In our country, where the baton of leadership is usually passed peacefully from one president to another, it’s typical for 2 men to reside over the swearing-in of the new president— one is the Chief Justice; and, the other is the outgoing president. Together, they testify that the man being sworn in is the legitimate successor. It’s our country’s way of heralding a new leader.

-I Am Sending My Messenger!

And, that’s how Mark is inspired, by God’s Holy Spirit, to open his Gospel:  “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘Look, I am sending My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way. A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make His paths straight!’ John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were  flocking to him, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins” (Mark 1:1-5). Unlike Matthew & Luke, who begin their Gospels with the family roots & genealogies of Jesus, Mark picks it up at the actual beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.

-That’s Good News!

Now, most of you probably know the definition of the “Gospel”, right? What does it mean? It means “good news” right? So, Mark is writing about the “good news” of Jesus Christ from, “The beginning…” he says. And, Mark says the Good News begins in the Old Testament:  “As it is written IN ISAIAH the prophet…” v.2. And, then he quotes from Isaiah, chapter 40, which is similarly recorded in the last book of the Old Testament, “‘See, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire—see, He is coming,’ says the Lord of Hosts” (Malachi 3:1). 

-Waiting For The Messiah!

And, from Malachi’s prophecy ‘til the arrival of Jesus Christ, Israel had waited 400 years for Messiah’s coming! They had waited, I want to point out, for God’s “messenger” (little “m”) to herald; or, announce the coming of the LORD; or, the King, the “Messenger” (capital “M”) of the covenant! So, Mark’s focus, at least at the start of his gospel, was more on the forerunner; or, the herald, than the King; and, there’s a good reason for that because Mark is writing to Gentiles. Specifically, he is writing to the Romans, who occupied the land of Israel at that time.

-The Need For A Credible Herald!

Mark knew that if he was writing a gospel about the arrival of a new king, to the Romans, that there would need to be some kind of authoritative, credible herald to announce his arrival. That’s the way it was in the culture of the Roman world. No Roman King or Caesar ever just showed up and said:  “Hello! Attention everyone! I’m the new King here!” No, he always had a forerunner; and, an entourage who went before him; and, prepared the way so all the people would be ready for his coming. So, Mark, to be consistent with the Gentile approach, goes to the Old Testament to find the prophecies that gave authenticity to King Jesus’ herald; and, then he informs his readers that John the Baptizer is that forerunner; and, that’s why John heralds or proclaims these words: “Someone more powerful than I will come after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of his sandals” (1:7). He was preparing the way for King Jesus!

Careless Worship!

-God Confronts Carless Worship!

In recent posts, we’ve identified spiritual drift as a relational stumbling block between God and His people, Israel. They were guilty of slowly moving away from authentic worship as they became skeptical of God’s love and faithfulness toward them! Their spiritual drift became evident as their worship became more and more casual! And, what God’s word reveals, in the book of Malachi, is that He will confront us when we become careless about our worship.

-Spiritual Drift Is Subtle!

From the opening chapter, Israel’s priests had become guilty of despising God’s name by the way they handled the sacrifices in the temple (v.8).  They whined that going to the temple to worship had become a nuisance (v.13-14). It had gotten “in the way” of the rest of their lives! Sound at all familiar? Be careful church! It’s a subtle drift! We can try and justify our decisions not to be in a Small Group; or, not to have our kids in Sunday School; or, not to go to Sunday School ourselves as adults; or, become careless about being the worship service at the start; or, our unwillingness to minister & serve others! But, God tells Israel that it’s because they failed to see & feel the greatness of God that they’d become careless, casual; and, calloused in their worship.

-A Heart In Love With The Creation!

Careless worship is the by-product of a heart more in love with the creation than the Creator! If you fail to see God’s greatness, then all the stuff money buys becomes more impressive to you. A flashlight is pretty cool until you see the sun! You’ll ooh & aah over July 4th fireworks until you experience thunder & lightning! Once you’ve tasted the Creator, the creation is no longer that thrilling! If you’re bored with God, it’s because you haven’t felt the greatness and the weight of Who He is! You need more time with Him in His word; not, less! Your kids need more time in family worship; more time in Sunday School and AWANA; not, less! You need more time with God’s people in a Small Group; more exposure to what God’s doing in other people’s lives; or, the world will tantalize you; and, you’ll find yourself in a slow spiritual drift away from God.

-The Need To Stand In Awe Of God!

Through Malachi, God shows us that He will confront God’s people when they become indifferent to truth (2:1-9). God calls out the priests, of Malachi’s day, for failing to speak the truth; and, He calls out the people for failing to keep the priests accountable to God’s word. God points to Levi, Israel’s first priest, as the example to follow. Levi stood in awe of God; and, the people sought to be instructed by him from God’s word. God testified that Levi “…revered Me and stood in awe of My Name… he walked with Me.” There’s an indifference, across our nation, toward God’s word! And, incredibly, the church is equally guilty!

-Indifference Toward God’s Word!

Even those who profess to follow Jesus have become indifferent to reading from their Bibles, claiming not to have time to read it regularly! But, the same individuals spend hours on HULU, Facebook & Netflix. Many of us have become numb to the spiritual drift of our souls as we entertain ourselves to death! The American church has become complicit in the spiritual apathy of our nation!  Rather than vibrant lives of faith that are impacted dynamically by God’s indwelling Holy Spirit, many in the church have fallen into “moralistic deism” instead of the Gospel. If you’re good enough; if you keep the checklist of moral behavior then God will love you & bless you! That’s moralism; but, it’s not dynamic salvation in Christ! It’s no wonder that we live in a day of spiritual “deconstruction”; whereby, many are walking away from the Church. We desperately need genuine revival among God’s people in the church! God help us!

Our Blindness To Spiritual Drift!

-Drifting Away!

Every so often I see a story, in the news, about someone who had inadvertently drifted out to sea; or, someone wasn’t paying attention as their canoe just drifted downriver toward a falls; and, they barely escaped, with their lives, once they realized that the current was rapidly putting them toward the falls. I remember getting on a blowup raft, on a camping trip, when I was probably in about 5th grade; and, just basking in the warm sun. I was not even aware that I was drifting farther away from the campsite until I came to my senses; and, realized I had drifted too far from shore! I hadn’t yet learned to swim; so, I remember being scared, for my life, as I quickly paddled back to shore.

-How Spiritual Drift Occurs!

By definition, to drift means: “A continuous slow movement from one place to another.” Spiritual drift occurs similarly in our lives! It happens when we slowly move from a place where we’re walking with God; on fire for him; passionate about prayer & reading His word; faithful to the church gatherings & Small Group, to slowly checking out; and, pulling away from the godly influences, of the faith community; and, losing our heart for worship & prayer & God’s word! We become a casualty of spiritual drift!  It never happens overnight! You won’t just wake up one morning; and, suddenly decide to forsake your faith Jesus; or, say, “Hey! I think today would be a great day to start a meth addiction”; or, “Ya know what? I think I’m going to commit adultery with someone today.”

-Where Sin Will Take You!

Big sins are always the sum of many tiny little bad choices! Someone said it like this:  “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay; and, cost you more than you want to pay.” That pretty much says it all. In Scripture, God’s people— the children of Israel— provide a consistent visual of what spiritual drift looks like. In Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, we find the Israelites returning from their Babylonian exile with great enthusiasm & praise for the Lord God. Jerusalem was rebuilt; and, the temple was restored. But, despite the fact they started well, a spiritual drift began to set in. The world’s thinking began to determine their behavior.

-Motives Underlying Religious Activity!

So, God delivers a message, through the Prophet Malachi, to take a fresh approach to the way they were thinking about God; and, to consider the motives underlying their religious activities. And, there’s an application here for us, as well. Our sinful brokenness will always keep us in desperate need of God’s word to confront our spiritual drift. And, it’s God’s word that is our spiritual lifeline. We simply cannot do the spiritual life without it. So, as we consider Israel’s spiritual failure, in the book of Malachi, over the next few posts, we’ll discover that our tendencies are no different! But, there’s hope here; for Israel & us.

-The Hope Of A New Covenant!

The hope that Malachi speaks of is a “new covenant” with God. A covenant that points to God’s great mercy & grace. There is always “good news” with God! Even if you’ve drifted spiritually, He is quick to forgive & restore you to fellowship, with Him, if you humble yourself & confess your sin to Him. But, make no mistake, if you’re a child of His; and, you’ve guilty of spiritual drift, He will confront you over it, as He did Israel, through the Prophet Malachi. God confronts us when we’re skeptical of His love. Israel had become skeptical of God’s love. They had allowed life’s circumstances to jade their thoughts about God’s love for them. How could God love them; and, allow them to be exiled from the land of promise? How could God love them; and, allow Jerusalem to be destroyed; and, the temple to be leveled? They had allowed their circumstances to blind them to God’s faithful love. We’ll look at God’s answer in our next post.