This evening I want to begin our thinking with a "what if" situation.

Here is the situation: you have a friend that you have had for years and years. Though you are very close to your friend, you have never discussed religious concepts with him or her. He or she has never given you an opening for such a discussion. In fact he or she has made it quite clear in the past that he or she does not want you to talk about religious concepts with him or her.

Since this has been clearly established, you have honored his or her wishes. The two of you have a lot in common. You relate to each other easily. And it is obvious that he or she cares about you deeply as a friend.

One day, quite unexpectedly, he or she talks to you about religion. He or she says, "I have been watching you as a religious person for a long, long time. I do not want you to make an effort to convert me. But I do have a question I want to ask you. It is a religious question. If it is okay to ask you this question, just answer the question."

You assure him or her that it is quite all right for him or her to ask you a question. You have no idea of what might be asked, but it is okay for him or her to ask anything.

Here is the question: "What is the bottom line, basic objective of being a Christian? What is the basic answer to "why" in seeking to be a religious person? I think I have figured out why you follow Jesus Christ. That is not what I am asking. I am asking that if you go to the most fundamental reason for being religious, why are you religious?"

What would you say? What answer would you give your friend? If you wanted in a truly biblical way to explain to him or her why you choose to be a religious person, what would you say?

Before Israel existed, there were religious people. Israel existed as a religious nation. Christians should exist as religious people--not just a people who have religious habits one day a week. There always have been people who choose to be religious. You choose to be religious.

The question that concerns him or her is why you made that choice. Obviously, your answer will be quite important.

I want to call your attention to three scriptures.

  1. The first scripture I call to your attention is Exodus 32:9-14.
    The Lord said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation." Then Moses entreated the Lord his God, and said, "O Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, 'With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth'? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.' " So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.
    1. Consider the context of the situation.
      1. In Exodus 20 God gave these slaves He led out of Egypt His core laws which we commonly refer to as the Ten Commandments.
      2. In Egypt, these slaves existed for generations under the Egyptian influence of the wrong concept of deity.
      3. The entire experience of securing Israel's release from Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, and sustaining them in the wilderness was to change their concept of deity.
      4. Yet, they clung to the old idolatrous concept and felt comfortable with old concept instead of learning the reality about Who God truly is, and interpreted everything on the basis of old comfortable error rather than the newly understood reality.
      5. As a result, when Moses was absent from them for just over a month, they asked Aaron (Moses' brother) to make them a god (the golden calf) to lead them.
      6. When Aaron presented the calf to the people, the people received the calf with these words: "This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt" (Exodus 32:4).
    2. The impact of their idolatrous behavior:
      1. God was insulted in a fundamental way.
        1. He had done many mighty things to demonstrate that the Creator God is basically different from the idolatrous concept of deity.
        2. Yet, these people failed miserably to see the difference.
        3. God was deeply angered by their rejection!
        4. He wanted to destroy them and keep His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by building a nation from Moses.
      2. In essence, Moses declared to God that such an action would be very unwise in His desired influence on wicked, ignorant people.
    3. Consider thoughtfully and carefully Moses' reasoning.
      1. "God, Your just anger against these people who worshipped an idol, who gave the idol credit for Your deeds, and credited the idol with their deliverance will not accomplish Your purposes."
      2. "Your enemy, the Egyptians, will declare You to be a powerless, evil God."
        1. "They will declare You had an evil intent in Your deliverance."
        2. "They will say You delivered Israel to kill them."
        3. "Why should You provide them opportunity to say these things about You?"
      3. Please note the fact that Moses said that God's enemies would further misrepresent God.
        1. Do not help Your enemies misrepresent You!
        2. Do not be misunderstood by Your enemies!
        3. Understanding You correctly is more important than the mistakes of Israel!
      4. Focus on Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob instead of focusing on the evil of their descendants.
        1. Let Your actions be determined by Your promise to them, not the evil of these people!
        2. Do not forget what You do is more about Who You are, not about the wickedness of these people
    4. The result: God did not do harm to these people who horribly insulted Him.
    5. The key point I would like to stress: Moses said the important concern is Your name, Your greatness, and Your power--not the wicked insults of Israel.

  2. The second scripture I wish to call to your attention is Numbers 14:13-19.
    But Moses said to the Lord, "Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from their midst, and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O Lord, are in the midst of this people, for You, O Lord, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if You slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Your fame will say, Because the Lord could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness.' But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as You have declared, The Lord is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.' Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now."
    1. Again, consider the context of the situation.
      1. About a year from the time Israel left Egypt, they are on the border of Canaan (the land God promised them) ready to invade.
      2. The people who prepared to invade were the same people who wanted an idol in Exodus 32.
      3. Twelve spies were selected from the twelve tribes (leaders from the tribes).
        1. They were to see what the land was like, if the people were weak or strong, and if the people were few in number or many in number.
        2. They were also to report if the land was desirable, and if people lived in camps or fortified cities.
        3. They were to see if there were trees there and to bring back samples of the fruitfulness of the land.
      4. When the twelve men returned:
        1. Ten deliberately discouraged the people by declaring Israel could not possibly take the land.
        2. Two of the men said if God said we can take the land, we can take it.
    2. The impact of the false report:
      1. The people cried all night.
        1. The people grumbled toward Moses and declared they wish they had died in Egypt or the wilderness.
        2. The men said their wives and children would become slaves.
        3. There was even a movement among the people to return to Egypt!
      2. Again, God was rejected and insulted.
        1. "How long will these people keep rejecting Me?"
        2. "How long will they refuse to believe Me in spite of all I have done for them?"
        3. "I will kill them and make you, Moses, a nation greater and mightier than they are!"
    3. Consider carefully and thoughtfully Moses appeal to God.
      1. The Egyptians will hear the You killed these people.
      2. They will inform the inhabitants of Canaan (God's enemies--see Deuteronomy 9:5-- It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.)
      3. Everyone knows how You have led and cared for Israel.
      4. If you now kill these people, Your enemies will say You were unable to do what You promised You would do.
      5. Moses pled, "Use these circumstances to verify Who You are--that is by far more important than justly giving consequences to people who have insulted You."
    4. The result: God pardoned the nation for that insult, but He gave them their wish as a consequence.
      1. God pardoned them so that all the earth would be filled with His glory.
      2. However, instead of killing everyone all at once, this would happen:
        1. They would wander in the wilderness one year for every day the spies were in Canaan.
        2. In that time, every adult (except Joshua and Caleb) who left Egypt would die--they would get their wish to die before entering Canaan!
        3. Their children, instead of being prey to the Canaanites, would inherit the land their parents rejected.
    5. The key point: God's actions were based on God's presentation of His character even to his enemies.

  3. Lest you think this is only an Old Testament emphasis, I call your attention to 1 Peter 2:9,10.
    But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
    1. We are Christians to help people understand Who God truly is.
      1. The primary reason for being a Christian is not about us.
        1. Our hope in Christ is real.
        2. Our forgiveness in Christ is real.
        3. Our home with God is real.
        4. The grace and mercy God provided us in Jesus Christ is real
        5. Yet, all those things exist because God is God.
        6. All of those things are secondary.
      2. We exist to be God's own possession, to declare the excellencies of God, because we who were not the people of God are now God's people who receive mercy because of Who God is.
        1. We have the Christ because God the Father sent him.
        2. We have salvation because God the Father promised a blessing to all through Abraham (Genesis 12:3).
        3. We have a home in heaven because of what God the Father did in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Back to the question we first asked. Why are we religious? Because we want to reflect the true nature and character of God! It has never been about "us." It always has been about God!

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 28 August 2005

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