When we talk about living a victorious life, an overcoming life, being able to live in this world in victory, it is a fair question to ask: Will it last? If I ask you, or any preacher or teacher asks you, to commit yourself to Christ in this way, totally under his Lordship so that you can live in victory, it is a fair question to say: All right, I will do this and have a great experience, but I want to know something. Will it last? Or am I doomed to live on a rollercoaster-kind of Christian life? Up and down, up and down. Or is there such a thing as constancy in the Christian life? I want to answer that question this morning. There are two answers to it. Will it last? Yes and no. Don’t you feel better? We solved that. We may as well quit right now. Don’t get scared off by that word no for it is not a bad no. As a matter of fact, it is a necessary no. It is necessary in order for there to be the yes part of the answer.
Let me try to explain. First of all, I think it is essential that we understand there is no such thing as a quick fix, sure cure, once and for all experience in the Christian life that will immediately elevate us, catapult us into a life of constant victory. We need to understand that. There is no magic formula, no quick fix, no special secret experience that will do that. Understand that. Let’s suppose you’ve come to this meeting, and you realize that your Christian life is not what it ought to be, and you have a hunger for more to experience more. You know that you are not experiencing everything in Christ that you ought to experience. There are battlefronts in which you are constantly being defeated. So you answer the challenge and say I want to live that kind of life. I want Jesus to be absolute Lord of my life. I want the Holy Spirit to have me and fill me so I am coming and committing myself to him today. What you have done at that moment is that you have committed all that you know about yourself to all that you know about Jesus. I’ll call that the present level of commitment.
Commitment is based upon two things: knowledge of yourself and knowledge of the Lord. When I was saved at the age of nine, I took Jesus for all I knew him to be at that moment. I didn’t know a lot about him. I didn’t know a lot about theology or doctrine, but I knew something about him—that he was God’s son, that he died for my sins, that he would save me if I asked him to. So as incomplete as my knowledge was, I accepted Jesus for all I knew him to be at that time. If a person will take Jesus for all he knows him to be at that time, he will be saved. He will be saved. And I gave all that I knew of myself as a nine year old boy to all that I knew of Jesus.
Now, it would be ridiculous to think that my level of commitment was going to stay where it was when I was nine years old. Right? In the ensuing years I have learned more about myself, more than I really want to know, and I have learned more about the Lord. So it is impossible for me to say yes I will enter in at this level, and this is a once-for-all experience. I drive the stake, nail it down, and I never look back. From here on out it is victory all the way. That will not last. That present level of commitment will not last. Why? Because you are going to discover some things about yourself that you didn’t know earlier. You are going to discover some areas of jealousy, or envy, or greed, or other things in your life that you were not aware of. Also you are going to discover that the Lordship of Jesus has a wider scope to it than you thought. He is ruler over more than you realized he was. What are you going to do?
There must be in the second place a progressive level of commitment. With the progressive level of commitment, you can say yes, this experience will last. Why? Because as I learn more about myself, I bring that under the Lordship of Christ, and as I learn more about the Lord, I yield to that. So I am constantly updating that commitment.
In Romans 6:17 there is a very interesting picture there that I think explains it so very well. Paul says that he is thankful that ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. There are two things I want to point out about that statement. The last statement is ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you really ought to read the opposite. The Greek text and most of the newer translations translate it that way. You have obeyed that form of truth to which YOU were delivered, to which YOU were handed over, to which YOU were committed. Do you see the difference? It is not so much that I am delivering the Word of God to you; rather you are being delivered to the Word of God. You are being handed over to the Word of God. The word form there is the word form. It is the kind of form or mold you would build if you were going to pour concrete. So there is a true form, and you have been delivered to this form, and you obey that form to which you have been delivered.
Several years ago when we still had our farm in Arkansas, we all liked to play tennis. As a gift to the whole family, Dad had a tennis court built. I was there and watched them build it. When they had the ground all prepared, they took some wooden planks and built a form. That form was the size and shape of a tennis court. It wasn’t a tennis court, but it was in the size, shape, dimension, design of a tennis court. Then when they had the form built, they brought out a cement mixer truck, backed up to that form and delivered the cement to the form of truth. Do you know what that cement did? I stood there and watched it. That cement obeyed the form to which it had been delivered. When that form said turn right, it turned right; when it said turn right again, it turned right again. When it was finished, that cement looked exactly like the form wanted it to look.
God has given us a form—this book. This is the form of truth. Occasionally, like today, God delivers you to this form. What are you going to do when he delivers you to this form? You are going to obey the form to which you have been delivered. When this book says to turn right, you are going to turn right; when this book says go, you will go; when this book says stop, you will stop. If you do that, then you become more and more like this book says you are supposed to be. It is the progressive level of commitment. A year from now God will deliver you to the truth, the form, and you may see something in this Word, or you may see something in the Lord that you have not seen before—something you have not yet brought under his control, something you have not yet committed yourself to. It is like God delivering the cement to the form. If you obey the form to which you have been delivered, then that will raise the level of your commitment. That is the way you can make the commitment to Christ last. It moves in cycles as God delivers us to this form.
Now, I am ready to read my text for the morning. Open your Bibles to Joshua 24:14. The first 13 verses of Joshua 24 Joshua is rehearsing with the people all the great things God has done. On the basis of that, in verse 14 he challenges the people to a new, higher commitment. I think it is important for us to notice (and you will see this all through the Bible, but especially in the Old Testament) that God never asks us to commit ourselves to him without first of all telling us why we should do it. He always reminds us of who he is and what he has done. On the basis of that, he challenges us to a new obedience. God never asks us to obey him blindly. He never asks us to make a leap into the dark. He always says this is who I am, this is what I have done, and because of this, I want you to trust me. In the first 13 verses this is what is happening.
Look at verses 14 and 15:
Now therefore (because of everything that I have told you), fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the Gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD. And if it seems useless or of no value to serve the Lord, then take deep thought, real concentration, and choose you this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your father served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.
Joshua, an old man about to die, is now issuing this last challenge to the people. It is a challenge to a deeper, new, fresh commitment. The challenge is summed up in three commands found in verse 14: fear the Lord, serve him, and put away the gods of Egypt. In those three commands or statements I believe you have the means whereby we keep our commitment up to date, thereby insuring that it will last, that It won’t just fizzle, that we won’t just drop backin the valley of despair where we were before. Those three statements: fear the Lord, serve the Lord, and put away false gods.
First of all he says fear the Lord. That is one of the most common phrases in the Old Testament. You won’t find it much in the New Testament. Fearing the Lord in the Old Testament is sort of the same as trusting the Lord in the New Testament. In other words, if I were to sum up in one word everything that God expects of me as a New Testament Christian, I could sum it up in the word faith, for without faith it is impossible for us to please him. The one thing that God is wanting from all of us is faith. So I would describe the ideal Christian as a person of faith.
In the Old Testament, if I had to sum up everything that God required of man, I would use the word fear, the fear of the Lord. In the Old Testament, you would designate that religious person as one who fears the Lord. In the New Testament it would be as one who trusts in the Lord. So the designation fear the Lord is the sum of all that God expects from us. To fear the Lord is the beginning and the ending of all wisdom and all obedience.
Joshua says here is what I want you to do. Fear the Lord. There are people that have trouble with that word fear. I was talking to some just a few days ago. They said, “Oh, don’t talk to me about the fear of the Lord. I don’t think we ought to fear God. I think we ought to love him.” That kind of attitude is a result of a misunderstanding of what the word fear means in the Old Testament.
I think there are three kinds of fear. First of all, there is what I would superstitious fear. You serve a god because you are superstitious. A great many of the world religions have been based upon superstitious fear where people serve their gods out of superstition. If they don’t do this, something bad is going to happen to them. I do not mean any unkindness to our Catholic friends, but I believe that a great deal of Roman Catholicism has been based upon superstition. I think sometimes Christians have a superstitious fear of God.
I remember some years ago I was in Wichita, Kansas, in a meeting. I arrived at the airport, and the pastor picked me up. As we were loading my things into the trunk. he said, “Don’t you have an album series on the devil, demons and the occult?” I said, “Yes, I do.” He said, “Do you have one of those with you?” I said, “Yes, it is in that box.” He said, “Would you sell me one?” I told him I would be happy to. He said, “How much are they?” I said, “They are $13.” He said, “Could I write you a check for $12 and owe you a dollar?” I asked why. He said he didn’t feel good about writing a check for $13. This is a Baptist preacher. I should have given him the tapes. He needed them badly. I told him to write me a check for $14, and I would owe him a dollar. Do you know what? He did! Folks, that is superstition.
A group of us were in Switzerland, and we were flying back to the States and had a layover in Paris at De Gaulle Airport. We found out that our flight on Swiss Air was 666. About half our group said they were not going on that flight; they would wait for a later flight. I think that is superstition.
Then I had an evangelist who went to a church and had a dud of a revival. He told me later that he knew why God didn’t bless the revival. He said it was because the pastor drove a Plymouth Demon. Folks, that is superstitious.
If you will think about it hard enough, you’ll find that sometimes your own religion, your own practice of serving God is based on a lot of superstition—is you don’t do thus and so, something bad is going to happen to you.
Then there is what I would call slavish fear. That is the kind of fear where you are scared to death of your master. You hate to hear his voice because you always know he is going to beat you. A lot of people serve God out of that kind of fear. They are afraid not to serve him. I don’t believe this is the kind of fear that God wants.
I believe God wants what I will call spiritual fear, for lack of a better term. The word fear in the Old Testament really has the idea of awe, or reverential awe. It means to hold somebody in high regard, to have high respect. For instance, I fear my wife for good reason. I fear her, but I’m not scared of her. She is not here so I can say that. I love her and hold her in high regard and I respect her. The last thing I would ever want to do would be to disappoint her, to hurt her. I fear my children. I’m not scared of them, but I rather die than do anything that would cause them to be humiliated or embarrassed that I was their father. Do you know what I’m saying? It’s that kind of fear. The fear of the Lord is the kind of fear where we hold him in such reverential awe that we rather do anything than offend him. We want to do the things that please him. We do not take lightly and flippantly our relationship with him. Fear the Lord. That is the attitude.
Second, he says: serve the Lord. Third: put away the gods of Egypt. This second and third, serving the Lord and putting away false gods, are really practical expressions of fearing God. In other words, if you fear the Lord, you are going to serve him, and you are going to put away the false gods.
So the first command is fear the Lord. Then he says serve the Lord. Well, of course, you pay homage to him. That is the idea of the word. It doesn’t necessarily mean to teach a Sunday School class, although that is involved. It doesn’t necessarily mean preach a sermon or sing in the choir, although that is involved. Basically, it has the idea of paying homage to him, both in what we would call service and worship. I think we have too narrowly defined the word worship to where worship is when we come inside the four walls of a church. But worship is paying homage to God in many ways. In Colossians 3 Paul is not talking to preachers about preaching sermons, he is talking to slaves about serving their masters. He says whatever you do, remember you have a master in heaven. Whatever you do, do your best. Why? Because you do it unto the Lord. That’s worship. You may sell shoes, or insurance, or pump gas, or drive a van, or be a lawyer, a doctor, or whatever you do. You say you have a boss. Yes, but you have a higher one, a master in heaven. He is the one you are really serving so whatever you do, do your best. You don’t just try to get by. I think the worst testimony a Christian can give is not giving a good day’s work for a day’s pay—just seeing how little he can do. Paul said whatever you do, you do your best, do it heartily as unto the Lord. That’s worship. That’s service. That’s paying homage to him. So whatever you do, whether it is church work, or secular work, you don’t get with as little as you can do. That’s a dishonor. Laziness has no place in the life of a believer. Whatever you do, you are to do your best, and do it heartily as unto the Lord.
He says you are to do this in sincerity and in truth. First of all, in sincerity. I guess sincerity would be what you see is what you get. Sincerity means that there is harmony between what is on the inside and what’s on the outside. In other words, it is not just that I act like I love the Lord, or I act like I love you, or I act like I’m serving the Lord, I feel the same way on the inside. There is no conflict, no contradiction between what you see on the outside and what is really on the inside. That’s sincerity.
Then he said do it in truth. That is an interesting word there, the same word that is used of Rahab in Joshua 2. Do you remember when Rahab asked the spies to give her a pledge, a promise, some sign that she would know she would be delivered. They gave her one. It is the same word here translated truth. It has the idea of being faithful, dependable, trustworthy. Can you imagine the change in the church if you could depend on everybody who served him, if they were trustworthy? If they said they would do the job, they would do it. If they said they would be there, they would be there. If they took an assignment, they would be there. The shame of a great many churches is that 80 percent of the work is done by 20 percent of the people. Why? It’s because you can’t depend upon the others. We are to serve the Lord in sincerity, truth, faithfulness, steadfastness, dependability.
The last one is put away the gods of Egypt. I want to read verse 14 again, and I want you to see if you notice anything unusual. Fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD. Let me read that one phrase again: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt. Is there anything about that statement that strikes you as being a little strange? He is saying to this bunch, “I want you to put away the gods of Egypt.”
What is interesting there is that these people had never been in Egypt. They had never seen the flood. They had never set foot in Egypt. They had lived their lives in Canaan. I suppose most of these people were under the age of 40, except Joshua. The generation that came out of Egypt all died except Joshua and Caleb. (I think at this point Caleb may have already died, but I’m not sure.) He is talking to a bunch of people who have never been Egypt, telling them to put away the gods of Egypt. Isn’t that something? Joshua knew that even though they had never been in Egypt, yet the seeds of those Egyptian gods were in their hearts. If they didn’t watch it, they would sprout at any moment, like glowing embers under the ashes. It wouldn’t take much to fan them into a blaze.
The truth of the matter is, my friend, no matter how long you’ve been a Christian and no matter how deeply committed you are to the Lord, the seeds of Egypt are in your heart. They are there. A lot of time Christians after a period of years end up doing things they didn’t even do when they were lost. Do you know what I’m saying? Even when they were lost, they didn’t do some of these things. I know Christians who even when they were lost never committed adultery and never got drunk. But after they were Christians a number of years and their hearts grew cold, and they let down their defenses, they did those things. That’s the gods of Egypt in them, even though they had never been in Egypt in that sense.
Do you know what the people said? They said, “We’ll do it. We get the message. We’ll do it.” Oh, yes. Then look what Joshua said in verse 19: And Joshua said unto the people, (not so quick, folks) ye cannot serve the LORD: (That is kind of an unusual pose for a pastor to take. I’m going to give an invitation: everybody choose you this day whom you will serve. If God be God, choose to serve him. Everybody says, we’re going to choose him; we’ll serve him. Joshua said, no, you’re not. You can’t do it. I’ve been in some meetings where the response is so immediate and overwhelming I begin to worry that I’ve not made the message clear.) for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.
And the people said unto Joshua, Nay; but we will serve the LORD. And Joshua said unto the people, Ye are witnesses against yourselves that ye have chosen you the LORD, to serve him. And they said, We are witnesses. Now therefore put away, said he, the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto the LORD God of Israel. And the people said unto Joshua, The LORD our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey.
First of all, Joshua tries to talk them out of that decision. They said, no, we really mean it. We are going to serve the Lord. He said, all right, prove it. Prove it by putting away the false gods and incline your heart unto the Lord. Literally he is saying stretch out unto the Lord.
Every time I read that, I think of a baseball player, perhaps the first baseman. He is standing there, and he hears the crack of the bat as the batter connects with the ball. What does he do? Ho hum, there’s a ball coming. That is not what he does. The minute he hears the crack of the ball, that does he do? He puts that foot on first base, and what does he do? He s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s out to catch that ball. He is inclined, expectant, anticipating. Joshua is saying that you and I ought to always maintain that posture, like that first baseman stretching out, realizing at any moment God is going to send you something; God is going to speak; God is going to lead. You aren’t casual, absentminded, unconcerned, standing around, but you are always expecting something from God. You are stretched out, inclined to him, ready to receive. That is what he is saying.
Will it last? Yes and no. The present level of commitment does not last, but if we maintain a progressive level of commitment, of keeping that commitment up to date, then it will last.
Bow your heads . . .
© Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2005