Go Against The Flow!
Jonathan used to have a shirt with a picture of a bunch of mean looking fish swimming in one direction and a "Christian fish" swimming in the other direction. The caption on the shirt was, "go against the flow." As Christians, we do not go along with everything that happens in this world. We have a different set of values and as a result, often a different set of activities. But it is not easy to "go against the flow." For example, suppose you are attending a farm show with a neighbour, who wants to go to the bar to talk, do you go? I attended a grad meeting for the 1999 grad this week and they were talking about the grad party. How do we relate to this event. Do you as grads go? How do you support and connect with classmates and still not be connected with something that includes elements that do not fit for a Christian? Suppose that there was an exercise class going on in the community, and you would like some exercise, but parts of the exercise program seem to have a connection with eastern religions. Would you participate?
We have been studying Deuteronomy which is about Moses' last instructions to the people of Israel before they entered the promised land. In Deuteronomy 7:1-6, Moses warned the people about the situation they were entering and about some of the spiritual dangers they would have to guard against. What he says to Israel helps us learn about how to go against the flow. We will examine Deuteronomy 7 and several New Testament passages today in order to learn about being Christians in a secular world.
I. The Danger
The problem which Israel would face was a clash between who they were and who the people of the land were. In 7:6, " " What a special privilege these people had. They were a people whom God had chosen out of all the people of the earth. What a precious statement for them to realize that not only were they chosen of God, but chosen to be God's treasured possession. He had a special love and concern for them. He cared for them deeply. They were to be a holy people because they belonged to God.
But the land into which they were going was inhabited by people who were far from holy. In the first few verses, we have a list of the nations they were going to dispossess. God had promised that he would give them this land and drive out these nations before them so that the land would be theirs. However, as history would demonstrate, the dispossession would not take place all at once. The reality was that they would live in close proximity with these people for a while. The influence of these nations would be pervasive. Who were these people and what kinds of values did they have?
The Canaanites had an extensive pantheon. They worshipped Baal the storm-god, and Dagon. The goddesses Asherah, Astarte and Anath were goddesses of sex and war. Besides that many other lesser deities abounded. There are indications that human sacrifice was customary. Their worship also included the use of magic, idolatry and prostitution.
The presence of this pagan, idolatrous religion posed a serious threat to the faith of the Israelites. In 7:4, Moses warned them, " ". The danger was that subtle compromises could turn the people away from God. Seemingly harmless external things like marriage with these nations would cause them to stop following God.
That this was not merely a theoretical danger is evident from the fact that it happened. The history of Israel is in essence a history of failure to heed this very warning. Solomon, Manasseh, Ahab & Jezebel and many others lost faith in God because of a failure to heed this warning.
B. Manitou M.B. Church
The situation into which the people of Israel were going to enter is not that much different from the situation in which we presently find ourselves.
As Christians, we too are a chosen people who have been called to live as God's holy people. I Peter 2:9,10 says, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God..."
We also find ourselves living in a society that is increasingly living by pagan values. There was a time when the dominant values in society were Christian or at least Christian based. That is becoming less so. At a time when we are entering more and more into relationship with the society around us, we are entering more and more into a society whose values are not only different, but often diametrically opposed to the values we hold. We live in a society which supports abortion as choice. A society in which the highest value is becoming wealthy. A society in which self indulgence and self centeredness are assumed and expected. A world in which free sex is seen as a right. The question asked is not is it right, but "does it work."
Because of the vast gulf between our status as holy people and our living in a world that is anything but holy, we also are in great danger of being drawn in to false teaching, unholy living and secular values. The warning given by Moses to Israel is not out of place in our society. Moses said, "vs.4 "
This is no theoretical warning. Some who identify themselves as Christians are living together before marriage. Christian leaders are being caught in sexual offences. Businessmen compromise Christian ethics in an attempt to make it. Even churches do their work with methods of politics instead of through the power and guidance of the Spirit of God.
What Moses warned the Israelites about is happening to God's people today because of the challenge to live as God's holy people in the midst of a world that is not holy.
II. The Strategy
What can we do about it?
Moses told the people that they were to do three things in order to avoid contamination. First of all, they were to destroy them totally. In Genesis 15:16, God had told Abraham that the people of this region had not yet filled up their wickdness, but the day was coming when they would be ripe for judgement. Now that day had come and Israel was the instrument of God's judgement.
Because this destruction would not happen all at once, they were told that in the mean time, they were not to make any alliances with these nations. They were not to make a political treaty or even a social treaty as in the case of marriage. They were to have no relationships with these nations that would in any way bring them into close enough contact to be negatively influenced.
Thirdly, they were also to destroy all residue of their worship. They were to smash all their sacred stones, to cut down the Asherah and to burn their idols. All evidence of religious practice was to be totally removed from them so that there was nothing that would tempt them to engage in the wicked practices of the idolatrous and ungodly nations.
B. Manitou M.B. Church
Is this how we are to deal with the problem of being God's holy people in an unholy world?
1.Destroy The Evil Around You
Destroying the evil around you and all the evil people who promote it is one way to avoid being contaminated by it and this is what Israel did. Some people want to do the same thing today. Some people actually justify killing abortion doctors on a basis like this. But is this what God wants us to do today? I think it is quite clear that this is not the case. At that time, Israel was carrying out God's judgement on those nations. God will once again judge the evil in the world, but He will do it in His time. There is no New Testament mandate for us to do this today. In fact, we are called to do quite the opposite. We are repeatedly called to love our enemies, to do good to those who persecute us and to be peacemakers.
2.Separate Yourself From Ungodly People
A second response is to separate oneself from all ungodly people and their influence. Israel was also told to do this.
In 1403, one of the wealthiest men in Paris died. leaving his entire estate to his teenage daughter, Agnes. She was a beautiful and virtuous young woman, and many men wanted to marry her. But Agnes decided to give up her fortune and become a recluse. To isolate herself from society, she asked to be sealed into a cell within the wall of a church. the entrance was plastered shut except for one small hole through which food could be passed. She was confined in that small area at 18 years of age and remained there until she died at age 98.
Bible teacher Vernon C. Grounds asks, "Can we become holy while we are active and busy in the affairs of this world? Or is holiness impossible without a radical otherworldliness, an otherworldliness that motivates us to turn our backs resolutely on this world?"
Many have come to the conclusion that we can't be holy and still live in close contact with this world. The Hutterites, some Mennonites and other Christians have isolated themselves to various degrees from the world in order to avoid contamination by the influences of the world.
There is a certain level at which this must happen. II Cor. 6:14-17 say in part, "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? ...Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.""
This sounds quite similar to what we have read in Deuteronomy 7. Is this what we are to do?
There are times and places when separation is the only way to avoid influence and to avoid compromising our testimony. If a friend constantly drags us into sin, we should avoid that person. The covenant of marriage is far to significant and believers should not marry unbelievers, in fact, they should not even go out with them.
But there are problems with complete separation. Some Mennonite groups have emphasized separation but they have not avoided sin. In fact in some of these groups we find that abuse and incest is rampant.
We also find that people who emphasize separation can become quite legalistic. They emphasize law instead of the grace of God. Such legalism is condemned in numerous passages in the Bible.
We can't avoid being different from the world around us and people will notice that and not all of them will like it. But extreme separation often causes people to become not merely different, but holier than thou.
I believe the greatest problem is that if we are too rigorous about separation, how in the world can we be salt and light?
3.Avoid Evil Influence
Although we should not destroy them, we may sometimes need to seperate ourselves from ungodly people, but mostly we need to live in this world, making sure that we are not influenced by the evil in the world.
a.Why this is the way to go!
This is the way in which God's word teaches us to handle the problem of the world's evil influence. We learn this from Matthew 5:13,14 where we are called to be salt and light. Salt cannot influence without contact and light cannot shine if it is hidden. Therefore, our lives must be fully lived in the world so that the world can see the love and truth of God.
We also know this because Jesus has mandated it for us. In John 17:15ff. Jesus prays for us, "My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth..."
We are not in the world by default, but we have actually been sent into the world to be holy in the world.
b.How do you do that?
So how do we live as God's holy people while constantly being bombarded by the unholy influence of a world controlled by Satan? One thing is certain and that is that we cannot fall asleep but must be constantly alert.
Every day, there are four question which we must ask ourselves in order to make sure that we are remaining true.
1.What/Who do I love?
I John 2:15 tells us, "Do not love the world or anything in the world." So we must be alert and always ask, "do I love the world?" What this verse does is remind us that the problem is not out there, it is in here. This is why simply avoiding the world isn't good enough because the evil is in our heart and even if we are not immersed in wordly influences, we can still love the world in the sense that John talks about. He mentions that the world is in our heart when we are filled with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. Ask yourself often, "what do I love, the world or God?"
2.Influence or influenced
The second helpful question to ask ourselves on a regular basis is, "Am I being an influence or am I being influenced?" Jesus has called us to be salt and light. In any given situation or at any time, we must constantly ask ourselves, which direction am I going here. "Are people seeing God's light in me or have I turned off the light and am I walking in the darkness?"
The greatest difference between us and the people of Israel is that the Holy Spirit did not indwell the people of Israel, but now indwells us. This is what makes it possible for us to do what they were told not to do and that is to live in the midst of an evil world and remain holy. II Peter 1:4 says, "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires."
Are we learning to know God in His holiness? Are we filling ourselves with His Word? Are we allowing the Spirit to fill us? Are we relying on the Spirit of God in every day life? I John 4:4 promises, "You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world."
So the third question we must constantly ask is, "Am I relying on the power of the Spirit of God who lives in me."
4.Who Can Help Me?
The final question we need to ask is, "who can help me?" The importance of the church and fellowwhip with other believers is that we can help each other to gain victory. If we know that we are struggling, we need to find someone who will hold us accuntable. Let us not be shy to go to one another and say, "ask me once in a while how I am doing with..."
For example, one of the hidden temptations which can be terribly destructive is the presence of all kinds of evil on the internet. The other day, I was playing and typed the word "cow" into a browser. Sounds innocent enough doesn't it? Well one of the sites that showed up was "dead cow cult" and a brief reading of the description told me it was not a nice place to go. Just for a moment, I was tempted to take a closer look. I didn't. I would encourage those who use the internet to ask others who are online, "Are you staying away from evil sites on the net?"
We are God's holy people. We live in an unholy world. Our situation in the world is terribly dangerous. So dangerous that Jesus prayed for us that we would be preserved while we live in this world.
By the power of the Spirit of God, that prayer will be answered.
Our part is to remember who we are - Deuteronomy 7:6, remember to rely on the Spirit of God, and to ask ourselves the four questions. If we do that, we will be able to do be holy.
And so today, I want to challenge you by reminding you of what Romans 12:2 says in one modern paraphrase, "don't let the world squeeze you into its mold."