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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