15 June 2020
As we study the Old Testament and see God’s goodness to the nation of Israel, how He delivered them from Egypt in the great Exodus, how He led them through the wilderness, defeated many nations on their behalf, provided them with the law and the commandments and gave them the promised land, we wonder how they could have strayed away so far from God. After Joshua and his generation passed away, the nation ‘degenerated’ to a point that ‘everyone does what was right in his own eyes”. When the nation wanted a king and God granted them this request, even though He was not pleased, the kingdom ‘deteriorated’ in the history of the ‘kIngs’ to a point that it was divided into northern Israel and southern Judah, ending up with the North defeated by Assyria and the South ‘destroyed’ by Babylon. Yet, in the history of Israel as a nation, there was ample teachings and worship in the synagogues; there were instructions to teach the subsequent generations and to uphold the Torah and many prophets were raised by God to guide the nation according to God’s ways. How is it that despite all these, the people of God can ‘fall away’ so badly?
The book of Daniel pointed out that even after the return of the exiled, “the wicked shall act wickedly, and none of the wicked shall understand.” “And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time.”
In the New Testament, the Lord Jesus, in Matthew 24 warned of many falling away with false teachings and false teachers appearing on the scene. Apostasy would increase until the final ultimate rebellion seen in the eschatological Antichrist. This would mean that many who are ‘numbered’ among God’s people will fall away like the Israelites of old despite the abundance of preaching, teaching and warnings from the Lord God.
There are of course many reasons that cause God’s people to stray away from Him both in the New Testament and the Old. But we shall ponder over one major reason at this juncture.
How God’s people respond to the Word of God
We have noted that teachings are ‘aplenty’ for God’s people in the Old and New Testaments. But the response to these teachings can make a significant difference.
We may hear God’s Word and receive it with utter indifference. Fast as the words fall on our ears, the devil may pluck it away and we may end up as if we have not heard at all. The devil may make us ‘sleepy’, disinterested, with our attention focused on the next computer game, the next tv programme, the next film, the next sports and leisure on the calendar. Like those in the book of Malachi, we may complain “how boring and wearisome” is it to serve God. Truth seems to have no effect on our hearts than water poured on a stone.
We may receive God’s Word with pleasure, but the impression produced on us is only temporary and short-lived. The first cold blast of opposition or temptation may cause our seeming belief to wither away. We hear the words through a sermon, through a Christian book, through Bible Study but we do them not.
We may listen to God’s Word and approve of every word it contains – we may be quick to say ‘amen’ but yet get no good from it, in consequence of the absorbing influence of the world around. Israel of old in the promised land were enticed by the ways and values of the Canaanites; today, the world bombards us with her values in the media, the printed word, the internet – pornography, addiction to games on the computer, letting go because everyone else in the world is doing it – all these easily dilute the reception of the Word of God.
God desires us to receive His Word and truth into the bottom of our hearts, believe them implicitly, and obey them thoroughly. Only then will the fruits of the truth be seen – sin will be truly hated, mourned over, resisted and renounced; Christ will be truly loved, trusted in, followed and obeyed. Holiness will show itself in all our conversation, in humility, spiritual-mindedness, patience, meekness and love. There will be something that can be seen and transmitted. The true work of the Holy Spirit cannot be hidden. Subsequent generations fall away from God even though they receive much teachings principally because they do not see the truth in the outworking of the lives of those before them.
The fruit of the seed falling on good ground will always be visible repentance, visible faith in Christ and visible holiness of life. Without these things there is no authentic belief.
JC. Ryle made a very sober statement: “To be without fruit is to be on the way to hell.” When we come before the judgement seat of God, it is not our words but our lives which will be on the “weighing scale”.
It was Augustine and then Calvin who emphasize that the problem of sin or evil was not just theological but relational – a breach of humanity’s relationship with God entailing a breach of all other relationships. The alienation of sin and evil is theological, between God and human beings; sociological, between human beings and other human beings; psychological, between human beings and themselves; and ecological, between human beings and nature.
Are we not seeing these happening in our current covid-19 pandemic? We see people murmuring against God asking all the ‘whys’; we see quarrels and violence between men and women in various societies and nations; we see mental stress and breakdown, made worse by ‘lockdowns’, a rush for amenities; we see human beings destroying forests, causing pollution, precipitating climate change, upsetting ecology, flora and fauna and the animal world, on land, in the sea and probably in space very soon.
It is all due to sin and corruption with the evil one manipulating in the background. And sin can affect the children of God, for we are still in the state of “already but not yet”. The evil one, the world and our indwelling sin are ever so active in seeking our hearts. Be warned that no amount of teaching, preaching or other means can prevent our hearts from being ‘captured’ by all these ‘enemies’. The Lord Jesus has warned us before hand