The Logic of Devotion 

 

The fact there is no middle road is the most powerful imperative to total devotion. The Lord foresaw that it would be possible for His men to be as salt which had lost it’s savour; to appear as His, but for this to have no practical effect at all; and such salt is to be “cast out” in the end (Lk. 14:34,35). Israel were told that because they were the people of God, in covenant with Him, therefore they had to be obedient. If they were disobedient, they would be cursed. And if they backed out of being God’s people, they were also cursed (Dt. 27:9,19,26). There was no way back: total devotion to obedience. God would either rejoice over them to bless them, or rejoice over them to curse them (Dt. 28:63). He isn’t passive; His energy will be expended upon us one way or the other. There are only two types of builder, the wise and the foolish; two types of tree, yielding either good or bad fruit. As with Israel, the ways of life and death are set before us (Dt. 30:15-20; Jer. 21:8). Moses, on the day of his death and at his final spiritual maturity, realized that this was the ultimate choice. His appeal to therefore chose life is painfully evident in its logic. We are either on the road to the Kingdom, or to eternal death; from God's perspective. We may not see the issues of life that clearly; we may not see our direction as clearly as God does. Consider Rev. 3:15,16: " I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot; I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth" . We know that from God's perspective, we are either cold or hot. We either serve Him or mammon. We are either on the road to the Kingdom or to death. So surely the Lord is speaking from our viewpoint; He wished that those believers would have the attitude that they were either cold or hot, rather than thinking there was a middle course. In essence, their weakness is ours; for time and again, we hide behind the philosophy of 'balance' in order to justify a " neither cold nor hot" attitude. Our lack of serious devotion, both individually and as a community, rests in this sophistry of 'balance'; lukewarmness has become respectable, both in the brotherhood and in the world; total commitment is branded as fanaticism and dogmatism. The brother or sister who rejects the opportunity of university in order to concentrate on the Lord's work, who spends their annual holiday studying the word, who devotes all their spare cash to putting adverts in newspapers, who turns down promotion because it will mean less time for the Truth, reorganizes their business because they realize it's getting a grip on their soul, turns away a contract because they're speaking at a Bible School, who spends their Sunday afternoons distributing leaflets rather than lazing away the hours as the world does, who gets rid of the temptation of the TV... such behaviour is seen as fanaticism, as over the top. And yet in God's eyes, this is what we are; either totally committed, 'fanatics' in the eyes of the world and some of our brethren- or stone cold. And if we think that we don't have to be like this, that we can serve both masters, travel both roads, be hot and cold at the same time; we will be rejected. This really is the strongest imperative to the life of total dedication. It's absolutely everything, or totally nothing. This is the choice facing us. And it's the choice we put before men by our preaching, both in and out of the ecclesia: " We are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life" (2 Cor. 2:16 RSV). " And who is sufficient for these things?" , Paul comments- as if to say, 'We simply don't appreciate the power and the implications of the logic we are putting before men'. In the end, the rejected will have all that they have taken from them, and be eternally "sold" for their sins (Mt. 18:25); but the very same words are used about how those who truly find the hope of the Kingdom will sell all that they have for it in this life (Mt. 13:44,46). The total abandon and loss of all in the last day must be ours now.

For it's a powerful, powerful logic. We either love God and hate the world, or we hate God and love the world. We either love wisdom, or we hate wisdom and thereby love death (Prov. 4:6 cp. 8:36). God's Truth which we possess will either save us or destroy us, as new wine is put in either new or old bottles. If we are not wholeheartedly with the Lord, He sees us as against Him (Mk. 9:40). We would rather there were a third way. But as far as God is concerned, there is none. None would say they hate God; not even the atheist. Yet God sees those who love the world as hating Him. Likewise the Bible speaks of the world as being sinful and actively hating God, whereas to human eyes the world is for the most part ignorant. Thus the Canaanite nations did not know much about the God of Israel, and yet they are described as actively hating Him (Num. 10:35 NIV; Ps. 68:1). The mixed worship of the Samaritans is almost derided by the all demanding Yahweh: " So these nations feared the Lord, and served their graven images...as did their fathers, so do they unto this day...unto this day they do after the former manners: they fear not the Lord" (2 Kings 17:33,34,41). Did they fear Yahweh, or didn't they? They did, but not wholeheartedly; therefore from God's perspective, they didn't fear Him at all. The Lord wasn't just trying to shock us when He offered us the choice between hating God and loving Him (Mt. 6:24 cp. James 4:4); He was deadly literal in what He said. The Lord hammered away at the same theme when He spoke of how a tree can only bring forth one kind of spiritual fruit: bad, or good (Mt. 7:18,19). James likewise: a spring can either give sweet water or bitter water (James 3:11). We either love God, or the world. If we love the world, we have no love of God in us (1 Jn. 2:15). The man who found the treasure in the field, or the pearl of great price, sold all that he had, in order to obtain it. If he had sold any less, he wouldn't have raised the required price. These mini-parables are Christ's comment on the Law's requirement that God's people love Him with all their heart and soul, realizing the logic of devotion. Samuel pleaded with Israel: " Serve the Lord with all your heart; and turn ye not aside: for then should ye go after vain things [i.e. idols]" (1 Sam. 12:20,21). If we don't serve God whole-heartedly, we will serve the idols of this present age. There's no third road. If we are God’s people, we will flee from the false teacher (Jn. 10:5). If we do anything other than this, we reflect our basic attitude to God’s truth. The Lord told a telling, terrifying parable. A rich man so loved a pearl which he saw that he became a pauper by selling absolutely all he had- his business, his transport, his expensive clothes- in order to buy a pearl. And, finishing off the story, we are to surely imagine him living the rest of his life in some humble dwelling amongst the poor of this world, daily admiring the beauty of his pearl, totally unrealized by the world around him, caring for it as the most important thing in his whole existence, realizing that in it was the epitome of absolutely all his being: his love, his wealth, his future, his joy of life day by day. And this is how we should be with the Gospel; nothing less.

This theme is to be connected with the many passages in John which speak of the believer as being in a state of constant spiritual strength; e.g. " he that followeth me shall never (Gk.) walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life" (Jn. 8:12). These kind of passages surely teach that God does not see us on the basis of our individual sins or acts of righteousness; He sees our overall path in life, and thereby sees us as totally righteous or totally evil. Thus Proverbs contains many verses which give two alternative ways of behaviour, good and evil; there is no third way. Thus, e.g., we either guard our tongue, or we speak rashly (Prov. 13:3). At baptism, we changed masters, from 'sin' to 'obedience'. It may seem that we flick back and forth between them. In a sense, we do, but from God's perspective (and Rom. 6:16-20 describes how God sees our baptism), we don't. The recurring weakness of natural Israel was to serve Yahweh and the idols (1 Sam. 7:3; 2 Kings 17:41; Zeph. 1:5). For the new Israel in the first century, the temptation was to break bread with both the Lord Jesus and the idols (1 Cor. 10:21,22). But there is no lack of evidence that this was actually counted as total idol worship in God's eyes; thus the prophets consistently taught the need for wholehearted devotion to Yahweh, and nothing else. In essence, we have the same temptation; to serve God and mammon, to have a little of both, to be passive Christians; to flunk the challenge of the logic of devotion. As the reality of Christ's crucifixion made Joseph and Nicodemus 'come out' in open, 100% commitment, come on them what may, so serious contemplation of the Saviour's devotion ought to have a like effect on us. It has been well observed: “that air of finality with which Jesus always spoke [meant that] everything he said and did constituted a challenge to men to reach a decisive conclusion” (1). Examples of this are discussed in The Demanding Lord.


Notes

(1) W.F. Barling, Jesus: Healer And Teacher (notes of the Central London Study Class, 1952), p.16.