What in the World is God’s Will?
Grace, Joshua, Lent, and Holiness
Last month we talked about our inability to earn grace or please God in our own power. In light of that knowledge, how should we live?
We are not saved by works but we are saved for works. James reminds us to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (1:22, ESV). Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to “a merchant in search of fine pearls,who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45-46 ESV). Throughout the old and new testaments we can see stories of people practically and realistically forsaking what is important to them in pursuit of what is important to God. We can also see the dire consequences of people rejecting God’s priorities, holding onto their idols, and bringing destruction on their lives and families because of it. A rather grisly example of this is the story of Ai in Joshua 7-8.
In Joshua, the Israelites have been through a lot already escaping Egypt, wandering around in the desert, and rejecting the grace of God time and time again. Finally they are learning what obedience to God is all about. God asks them to walk around Jericho every day for a week. The people in Jericho probably think the Israelites are crazy. On the seventh day, the walls of Jericho miraculously collapse and the battle is won before it is fought. Everyone is elated! The power of God is real and beautiful. God tells the Israelites to give all of the silver, gold, bronze, and iron of Jericho to him, and not to keep any treasure from the sinful city.
Then the Israelites move on to Ai, confident that the Lord is with them. They lose the battle and about thirty-six Israelites die. The Israelites turn to God, tearing their clothes and mourning. What happened?
There was treasure from Jericho hidden in their camp. A man named Achan had stolen from God’s portion and sullied the beautiful victory with his own selfish desires. The Israelites stoned Achan and burned all that he had. When the evil was removed from their midst, they returned to Ai and won the battle. God then told the Israelites that they could keep all of the treasure in Ai for themselves.
What do you take from this story? Perhaps one observation is that it’s best to obey God even when we don’t understand why. Any other option has disastrous consequences, whether now or later. Sometimes we can wonder, “How do I obey God? What is God’s will? What if I make a choice that is out of God’s will?” God’s will is not some mystery that only senior pastors and philosophers can know. It’s written plainly throughout his Word. God’s will for you – for us – for everyone – is holiness. What is holiness? It is perfect relationship with God.
Have you heard of Lent? We’re in the Lenten season right now. It’s the forty days of fasting before Easter when some Christians give up things that distract them from focusing on their communication with God. The point of fasting is not just to give something up, though, but to replace it with something better. The point is not to succeed in the fast but to recognize our own weakness and need for Christ’s grace. The point of Lent is our holiness.
If you’re not already, try fasting something for Lent. What takes up time in your day? What can you sacrifice in order to spend those minutes quiet and alone and talking to God? There is no substitute for the value of daily prayer, even if it’s for 5 or 10 minutes when you wake up or go to sleep. Start by reading just a couple verses every day. The only way you can obey God is if you know what he tells you to do; these instructions are in his Word. James is a great place to begin.
Radical obedience to Christ is built over time as He changes your heart and desires. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day or two (or seven). Continually speak to God – ask Him for grace, for forgiveness, for discipline, for wisdom. What would it be like if our daily stream of thoughts were a constant praying, talking, listening, giving, and receiving with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?