Allen Jackson - The People Who Choose God - Part 1
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I began a new series in our previous session talking about the people of God, and I want to continue that in this time. Then I want to talk specifically about those people who choose God because it isn't all about God's intent. There's a part that we have to play in the equation. But I want to begin with just establishing this idea that there is a people of God in the earth. In 1 Peter chapter 2 and verse 10, says, "Once you were not a people, but now you're the people of God; once you had not received mercy, now you have received mercy". It's a fascinating verse to me. It's a timing verse. The language in it is all about timing. Once you were not something, but now you are something different. Once you had not received something; now you have received that. Once you were not a people. It's an odd statement.
Of course, we're people and there are many things that bind us together: our ethnicity, our nationality, our gender, our height, our IQ, our economic status, our education. There are many, many ways that we group ourselves. We all understand that. We can all be identified in many different ways. It's not wrong, but Peter says all of those points of identification, all those points of grouping or alignment are secondary. Once, in spite of all of those things he said, you were not a people. You may have shared DNA. You may have shared the same language. You may have shared the same customs or traditions, even the same worldview. You were not a people. But he said, "Now you're the people of God".
You see, in Peter's imagination there is no designation, there's no grouping, there's no alignment that is more significant than being included in the people of God. And I would submit to you that's not just Peter's opinion, that's an inspired opinion. It's the biblical presentation, that if you hyphenate your Christianity you're an idolater. I'm not a southern Christian or a male Christian or a college-educated Christian, I'm a Christ follower and all those other things come behind that. Once we were not a people; now we're the people of God, and that's not defined by the church in which we sit or the denomination to which we belong or the translation of the Bible we prefer. To be the people of God is defined by relationship with a person, and his name is Jesus of Nazareth. All of those other things are secondary. If Jesus is Lord of your life, the Bible tells us that we've been invited to become the people of God.
What an amazing thing. It's the primary component of your life. Everything else is secondary. Easy to say, but that takes some great discipline and training and years of practice to let that emerge in your heart, in how you live, in how you see your world. There is tremendous value in being God's people. I'm going to say that over and over and over again through this series, but I hope long beyond that there is a tremendous value in being in the people of God. More than I want to be included in any other group on this planet, I want to be included amongst the people of God. Too often we attach value to those associations inappropriately. I'm not saying it's wrong to have these other groupings, but sometimes I think if you don't lead with your faith, it's easy to get off course with this.
Suppose if we were to determine to make our affiliation with UT or our advocacy for UT dependent upon it being the most God-honoring university in the nation. Suppose we said, "Yeah, absolutely. I want to be an advocate for Vol' nation, but my first objective in being that advocate is that they have a sports program or an athletic department that honors Jesus in a way that no other athletic department in the nation does". Well, never thought about that. It's because we really haven't been dependent upon being the people of God. We've had so much freedom and so much liberty and so much affluence and so many opportunities and so many schools to choose from we could afford to be petty and bickering about which one was better. We imagine that all of those things that define the opportunities that we dreamt of for our children and our grandchildren really had very little to do with God.
They came from structure, from the authorities around us, from founding documents, from the rule of law, from all sorts of things that we see deteriorating before our very eyes; and now God is awakening us, and he's asking us to look at the idolatry that has been our lives. Comfort and convenience have often been far more important to us than honoring God, so we could choose those secondary things and say, "This is how I'm defined". Again, I don't know that that's evil, but I do know it's diminishing. And I want to ask you to begin to think of the alignments of your life, those groups in which you're listed, identified that are a part of the story that is told when you are discussed. Are you willing to lead back into those places with your faith as the primary component of your life? I think it's important. I think it's important to be the people who choose God, the people who choose God. I'm happy to be identified in other arenas, in other ways that, I don't think it's inappropriate, again, but I think it is essential that we be identified first and foremost as the people of God.
We have often attached value inappropriate, like it also need to tell you out of fairness that historically there has been great hatred directed at God's people. It's true throughout the story of Scripture. It's true throughout the story of the history of the church. And if we believe the words that Jesus spoke and the New Testament gives us, it will be true of God's people as we approach the end of the age. So if you're not willing to face hatred and rejection, you shouldn't imagine that you want to be a part of the people of God. And if you do face it, you should face it with a sense of anticipation. It's like your ears popping when you fly on a plane. It's like the possibility of turbulence. You're not crashing, there's just, that's part of flying. You're not going deaf. Your ears popping are a part of the experience. And resistance, rejection, even hatred because of your alignment with Jesus shouldn't be surprising. It's a part of the journey.
Don't withdraw. Don't back up. Don't go silent. Don't be more timid. Don't imagine that being more tolerant will cause the hatred to go away. It won't. They'll take the grounds you yield and limit the arena in which you're allowed to speak the next time. A lot of talk these days around bullying we're concern for our children. Bullying isn't limited to the children. Bullying takes place at the highest places, at the highest levels of our nation. You all understand that. It takes place in the corporate setting. It takes place in an academic setting. You understand that. Well, there's things you're reluctant to say. You're afraid you'll be canceled, you'll lose your privileges. Out of the lesson I learned a long time ago. I wasn't very big. But if somebody bullies you, what's the best choice? Hit them in the mouth. I'm not encouraging violence, but if you yield to it it will grow in intensity and frequency. If you stand up to it non-violently it may create some inconvenience, some discomfort, even a sense of great threat in the immediate moment, but it produces a much better outcome over time.
We've been bullied into submission. We're going to have to stand up. You see, we understand that to flourish we're dependent upon a power greater than ourselves. That's what it means to be the people of God. We're not triumph because we're stronger or we're greater in number. We're not going to out-organize evil or outthink evil or outspend evil. We are dependent upon a power greater than ourselves. That's not a weakened place, that's a wonderful place because the one that we worship is the creator of all things. He is the establisher. He holds the world in its place as it orbits the sun. He will care for us. This notion of God developing a people goes back to the earliest chapters of Scripture. I've told you many times the initial chapters of the Book of Genesis are universal. Those first 11 chapters deal with universal themes. But when you get to Genesis chapter 12, the story of Scripture changes and it holds that singular course all the way through the conclusion of the Book of Revelation. God is calling a people for himself. It isn't a universal story any longer. It's not about global floods or a creation narrative or a tower of Babel, it's about God preparing a people with a purpose in the earth.
In Genesis chapter 12 and verse 1, "The Lord said to Abram, 'Leave your country, your people, and your father's household.'" There's a separation that has to take place. To become the people of God, there is a separation. It's true in every life. If there is not a separation in your life because of your faith towards God, I think you should rethink the place you have given to that faith. It brings distinction. "Leave your father's household. Go to the land I'll show you. I'll make you into a great nation. I will bless you. I'll make your name great. You will be a blessing. I'll bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you". It's a little window into the gospel that we preach. "All people on earth will be blessed through you. Abram, I'm going to develop a people from you".
Some of you prefer the New Testament. Look at Romans chapter 9. Who were the people that emerged from Abram; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? We know them today as the Jewish people. In Romans chapter 9, that's New Testament if you're tracking with me, it says, "The people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised. Amen". Without Abram's response, without the emergence of the Jewish people; we would have no covenants, we would have no law, we would have had no temple, we wouldn't have the promises of God, we wouldn't have had a Messiah. We are indebted to the Jewish people. In fact, we looked at it in the previous session. Our alignment with Jesus of Nazareth says that we become heirs of the promise God made to Abram. We stand in that covenant.
Now, our way into it was through this new covenant, through faith in Jesus Christ so that every person from every nation, race, language, and tribe was welcome. But it's not a new blessing or a special blessing, and God is still in the business of developing a people in the earth. Now, that story took a dramatic step forward in the biblical narrative in the Book of Exodus. The Book of Exodus concludes with Joseph and his extended family moving to Egypt because of a famine in the land of Canaan. When the Book of Exodus opens it says a Pharaoh arose who didn't know Joseph, and Joseph's extended family now is multiplying so rapidly that the Egyptians felt threatened by them so they enslaved them. And after 100 years of slavery, they are a mixed multitude of people. They have that common beginning, but they've never been an independent nation.
You can't really talk about the Hebrew slaves in Egypt as being Israelites or Jewish. They haven't yet lived in the Promised Land. They never had a capital city. They've never had a centralized authority over them. They're much more Egyptian in behavior than they are anything else. And in Exodus chapter 3 God says to Moses at a burning bush, and you know a bit of his story, I hope. He said, "I have heard the cries of my people. These are my people. I have chosen them". Again, our previous session, he said, "I have chosen them, and I'm sending you to get them out of slavery". They just wanted released from slavery. That was their only agenda. He didn't say, "They've cried out to me to be holy". He didn't say, "They've cried out to me for more miracles". He didn't say, "They have a desire to build the tabernacle and worship me". He didn't say, "There's all sorts of prayers been rising before me of people who want to be priests". None of that. He simply said, "They're crying out to me because of their oppression. They're tired of their oppression, but I'm going to deliver them. I will take them to a land that flows with milk and honey. I will fashion them into a unique people for myself". That is the story.
You see, we learn to be godly. Godliness is not innate. It's not intuitive. Just as the Hebrew slaves knew more about being Egyptian, they knew Egyptian holidays, Egyptian recipes. They knew the Egyptian gods. They knew the Egyptian habits. They knew how to be Egyptian, and God called them out of that place. When he called us out of the world, we knew more about the world. We knew how to be worldly and ungodly and selfish and immoral. We had lots of those experiences. We had lots of connections with those and lots of stories with those. I didn't call your name, but that was our story. We have to learn to be godly. We have to learn to be godly as individuals. We have to learn to be godly collectively. It was true for those Hebrew slaves, and it's true for us.
It's true that God deals with nations, and it's equally true that God deals with persons. We've lost sight of a little bit of that. We've had several decades now, and American evangelicalism are focus upon personal salvation. I believe in that. We've almost totally lost the discussion that God deals with collections of people. We haven't talked about our responsibility collectively. The Scripture is very clear God deals with us both individually and collectively. After God delivered the Hebrew slaves, he began to show them the pathway to holiness. They didn't know. They didn't know what it meant. They didn't have any imagination of that. They had no idea how to walk with God. They knew the Egyptian gods, but they didn't really know the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I mean, there were some stories and there were some lessons, and they were rather loose.
That is the story of the Book of Exodus, and Leviticus, and Numbers, and Deuteronomy; God fashioning this mixed multitude of people who have never conceived of themselves as a nation before. He's leading them. Moses comes down the mountain with the Ten Commandments. He begins to give them all sorts of law, the community rules, the worship rules. "This is how you'll worship. This is how you'll eat. This is what you can't eat. This is how you'll wash. These are the practices of hygiene that will make you healthier". It's not all about just worship and how you hold your hands when you sing a chorus. God is saying, "I will show you the best way to lead your life under the sun". Do you believe that God knows the best way for a human being to live? Yeah, I'll say yes to that too, but then I argue with him a lot. Do you do that? Do you argue with God?
Yeah, I know. It's awkward, isn't it? The stories in the books of Moses is about a people learning to walk with God. Please understand you and I have to learn to walk with God. If you're not learning that, you may have been born again for many years but still be crawling. You know, you still may need someone to change you. You're waiting for people to prepare your food. You know, that's a very brief season of your life where people will prepare your food and bring it to you. At some point we expect you to be responsible for identifying and collecting and preparing your own food. Seems to me we have an American church filled with people going, "You know, I'd be healthier if somebody feed me better".
I know now I'm meddling. This notion of holiness and purity, if I had to look just for a word or two to designate the people of God, I can't think of a better beginning point because holiness is not from us. Holiness is an attribute of God and his character that is reflected in us, but it isn't initiated within us. Leviticus 11, this was God's message to these Hebrew slaves, "I'm the Lord who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God". "I'm the one that delivered you. You didn't deliver yourselves. You didn't have the power to do it, the might to do it, the organizational awareness to do it. You certainly didn't have the military ability to do it. You didn't have the economic resources to do it. I brought you out of Egypt. I'm your God". "Therefore be holy, because I am holy". It's not a suggestion. It's not a prompt. It's not a hint. It's a command. Be holy.
Please understand you shouldn't imagine you can include yourself in the people of God unless you have a committed desire to be holy. It's a New Testament principle just as well. 1 Peter chapter 1, "Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do". Not just holy in how you worship, be holy in how you watch a ballgame. Be holy in what you do with your friends. Be holy in how you conduct business. Be holy in all that you do. "For it's written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'" Holiness is a unmistakable component of the people of God. It's true for us individually. It's true for us as a collection of people, as a nation if you prefer. Malachi 3, God said, "You're under a curse, the whole nation of you".
Imagine that. A whole nation of people under a curse from God, God's covenant people. They have temples and sacrifices and priests, and they keep the right holidays and eat the right food. They've got Scripture. They've got all the external signs, and God said, "You're under a curse from me". Does it have your attention yet? He has mine. In Isaiah 8 it says, "The Lord spoke to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people". That was God's message to Isaiah the prophet. He said, "Don't follow these people amongst you. They're your people". Now, Isaiah in the prophets is perhaps more than any of the rest. He is a court prophet. He's a prophet familiar with the halls of intrigue in the palace in Jerusalem. He has access to powerful people. He's an influential person himself, and God's message to him is do not follow the ways of these people. "Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy".
Isaiah was living in a time with great deception. Imagine that. "Do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it". He lived at a time when there was great fear being propagated. Imagine that. "The Lord Almighty is the one you're to regard as holy. He's the one you are to fear. He is the one you are to dread". Church, our God defines holiness, not our culture, not the CDC. Our God defines what holiness is. He's the one we're to fear, to respect, to revere. He's the one we're to dread. If you don't hold God with some sense of dread, you're too familiar with him. He's the judge of all the earth. You'll stand before him and give an account for every breath, every idle word, every thought. If that does not elicit from you a responsive respect, you haven't imagined it fully yet. Isaiah 9 says, "Those who guide this people mislead them. Those who are guided are led astray".
Again, this notion that God cares about the body of the people. Do you know that's a New Testament principle as well? That's not just some Old Testament concept for the nation of Israel, that's a New Testament principle. Look at 1 Corinthians 12. "In fact, God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be". Paul's using the analogy of the human body to represent the community of believers; and he said just as God arranged your body to make it as efficient as possible, he arranges us in the body of Christ. God does that, Paul says. We don't. "If they were all one part, where would the body be"? It's a good question. "As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you.' And the head cannot say to the feet, 'I don't need you.'"
We've been doing a great deal of that. "I don't have to be a part of community to be a Christian. I don't need a church. I don't need a body of believers. I can do this alone. I can do this in isolation". Well, I will agree with you that you can come to faith with a revelation of Jesus apart. You can do that in the parking lot of the grocery store. You can do that standing in the middle of a forest. You can do that in any setting you can imagine. I believe that's possible. But the Bible says you will not come to maturity alone. You won't grow up in the Lord by yourself. Isn't that awkward? We need one another.
In fact, turn to the person on your right. Say, "As awkward as this may seem, I guess I need you". That's about as excited as we feel about that announcement. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you". And the head can't say to the feet, "I don't need you". We're all diminished unless we're all well and healthy. Same chapter, verse 26, "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it".
We're not bound together by our passport, by the nation in which we live, by the language we speak, by the color of our skin, by our gender, by our hair color or our height. What binds us together as the body of Christ is our allegiance to Jesus of Nazareth as Lord, Christ, and king. We have submitted our will to his will. So we're not first inter-denominationalists, or World Outreach people, or Methodists, or Presbyterians, or Catholics, or Protestants, or Americans, or South Africans, or whatever else we might label. We are the people of God. It's an important principle. If you'll take that step with me, then holiness is the commitment, the assignment of the people of God to let God's character and nature be reflected in us. So wherever we go, to whatever we do, whatever assignment we take up, whatever place we dwell, salt and light is intended to be a reflection of the holiness of God.