The emerging message
Our call to a holy and godly life – but not as we have known it
What does a holy and godly life look like? Awe, reverence, a pattern of life by which believers are distinctive – many different expressions of this have had their season. Here are some of them:
- The early Christians faced the risk of death with the joy of being counted worthy to suffer — quite possibly in martyrdom (the word martyr has the root meaning of ‘witness’).
- The monastic movement was based on communal life around the discipline of 24-7 worship.
- Religious Christianity grew up as the early community-based Celtic tradition gave way to a more disciplined and church-based Roman practice which emphasised obedience.
- The Reformation 500 years ago challenged this. Priest became pastor (shepherd) with a return to Scripture as the foundation of faith, and salvation as a Scripture-informed choice to put faith in Jesus.
- John Wesley, an Anglican cleric who had experienced a profound encounter with God, preached to huge outdoor crowds but relied on discipling new believers in small groups in homes for mutual discipleship and spiritual growth. This ‘high churchman’ actually declericalised the church by equipping ‘lay’ people.
- Revivals have been born in a discipline of prayer and repentance, from the 100-year-long prayer meeting in 18th-century Moravia onwards, through Georgian and Victorian England to more recent times.
- The priority of taking the Good News and its lifestyle into the streets and pubs of the poor and needy of the expanding cities took Wesley’s values forward and presented church as a radically alternative mission army for social, as well as spiritual, transformation.
- The Pentecostal and charismatic renewals of the 20th century brought a new understanding of relating to all three Persons of the Trinity and believers being empowered by the Holy Spirit for lives of intimacy with God and engagement in the mission of God.
- More recently, traditional streams which grew up from all of the above have given way to highly contemporary forms of church and new expressions of church, with the beginnings of a fusion of formerly separate, competing institutional silos into an organic movement.
How does this answer what does a holy, godly life looks like? None of these ‘flavours’ offers more than a part of the answer. All are needed, complementing each other. The holy, godly life in a (longish) sentence comprises:
Being who the Lord says we are as His children, working this out by engaging with the world, prepared to witness at personal cost, practising worship in all of life, loving the renewing Word and loving the selfish world with Jesus’ love, empowering and direction – and proclaiming the kingdom of God over and above the claims of man’s understanding of church.
God’s announcement of His intentions through Isaiah look far ahead through the coming judgment and exile which Isaiah ‘saw’ but did not experience, to a time of restoration and preparing for the new era of the Messiah’s coming. God wants His glory to rest in the land. Therefore He has promised the peace of ongoing salvation to those of His people who fear Him, Psalm 85:8-9 , and sent John the Baptist as a herald of His Son who is the bringer of peace through salvation. Jesus, having completed His mission on earth, and ascended to His place of authority in heaven, will return, unannounced, to affirm those who are continuing in His way, with inevitable judgment for those who are not.
Our mission is no more or less than to join God in His mission: to announce His Good News for all who will receive Him, prepare the way for His present working and future coming with encouragement for people to turn back to Him. All this, with the forebearing and loving patience of our gracious God who is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”, 2 Peter 3:9.
All the discussion starters
- What are the obstacles, or obstructions, to God coming to us again and showing His glory?
- How do we do our bit to make straight… a highway for our God?
- In what ways do we need God to revive us again?
- What does He look for, to be able to do this? What does this psalm tell us, that holds back revival?
- Is this turning to Jesus one particular, memorable life event? Or are there many turnings, some particularly life changing and significant, others which are more of a regular course correction?
- Can it be that simple? Why is it that we feel more comfortable engaged in practices and actions that amount to earning favour with God?
- Are we, like God, lovingly patient and persistent with those who are not yet in a place to turn to God and confess their need of Him?
John the Baptist, last of the Old Testament prophets, takes up Isaiah’s and Malachi’s announcement of the Good News in the style of Elijah.
1-3 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way — a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ ”
- As Isaiah 40:3-5 (above). It was not unusual for interpreters to treat Scripture as a seamless whole around a common phrase such as “prepare the way” and this quotation also includes Malachi 3:1 .
4-5 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
- ‘The wilderness’ and ‘the Jordan River’ might seem to be inconsistent. In this part of the Judean wilderness a narrow fertile area around the river is surrounded by rugged and inhospitable terrain.
- Jewish people were used to the idea of repentance – and also knew various rituals for baptism including baptism of Gentiles who converted to Judaism, where it signified a turning to a whole new way of life.
The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
- John’s assignment was to prepare the way for Jesus by clearing obstacles. The main obstacle? Proud, unbelieving sin. So John told his hearers to repent (turn) and recognise that the kingdom of God – God’s righteous rule and order – was at hand, Matt. 3:1-3. Jesus came with exactly the same initial message, Mark 1:15 .
- Baptism does not achieve repentance, but brings an impartation that seals the change of heart. This impartation is seen clearly in Jesus’ own baptism by John with a visible sign of the Holy Spirit – the dove, Matt. 3:16, Mark 1:9-11.
6-8 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the One more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
- The “One more powerful… who will baptize… with the Holy Spirit” is John’s allusion to Jesus, who was John’s cousin. John’s whole purpose was to prepare people through their repentance, and point them to Jesus.
- Malachi, whose prophecy is implied here, referred to the one who would come like Elijah, Mal. 4:5-6. Readers of the time would have seen the connection in the description. Elijah was not a priest or a court prophet in robes, but quite the opposite – an outsider. John is showing himself to be standing apart from the establishment, a voice from the wilderness proclaiming a way in the wilderness which was like a new exodus, a move of God which was about salvation and restoration for His people, Isaiah 43:16-21, also Isa 11:16, 19:23-25, 51:10-11 etc.
- This was a season for Jews of faith to reflect on what they needed to put right with God, in preparation for the move of God which John’s preaching was alerting them to. There are seasons for us to reflect and ‘clear our own roads’ for God. The allusion to the Holy Spirit is important. To make room for more of Him, we have to identify the things that need to go!
Before the gospel writer John tells us much about the Good news, he tells us how it works. It is all about Jesus, the ‘Anointed One’ or Messiah, who will baptise [drench us] not just with water but with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God and He is holy; He empowers us to be a bit different in a good way, showing others the character of God – in short, how we as humans can be ‘set apart’ and holy, while engaging with a world which is frequently the opposite. This is how we do it – by turning to Jesus and allowing ourselves to be empowered by the Spirit of Jesus. It doesn’t work any other way.
5. Is this turning to Jesus one particular, memorable life event? Or are there many turnings, some particularly life changing and significant, others which are more of a regular course correction?