Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dangerous Faith: Traitors for Christ

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see…By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.
Hebrews 11:1, 31

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do…You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
James 2:14-18, 24-26

Do you remember the story of Rahab the prostitute? I know… it’s been a long time. Let me refresh your memory.

The people of Israel were enslaved in Egypt for 400 years until the Lord raised up Moses and delivered them from the hand of Pharaoh. They crossed the Red Sea on dry ground and entered the desert where God brought them to Mt. Sinai and gave them the Ten Commandments. He promised that they would be His people and He would be their God. Then He led them to the Promised Land—a land flowing with milk and honey that He had promised to their father Abraham. When they arrived at the Promised Land, Moses sent out twelve spies. You probably remember that only two of the twelve (Joshua and Caleb) brought back a positive report and believed that God could and would indeed give this land to Israel. The other ten doubted that God could make good on His promise. So, the Lord made Israel wander in the desert for forty years. That entire generation, save Joshua and Caleb, would not enter the Promised Land. Even Moses himself never set foot on that precious soil because he had displeased the Lord (see Numbers 20:1-13 & Deut 34:1-8). Instead, he died on Mt. Nebo and Joshua became Israel’s new leader.

That brings us to the story of Rahab. Joshua has just taken over as leader. The people of Israel are back at the edge of the Promised Land ready to take possession of it, and Joshua sends out two spies. They go and check out a city named Jericho that is well-known for its fortified walls. While in the city they stay with a woman named Rahab, a prostitute (interestingly enough some scholars argue that she may have simply been an innkeeper because the words for innkeeper and prostitute were very similar in Hebrew). When the King finds out that some Israelites had been spotted in his city and that they were seen staying with Rahab the prostitute/innkeeper, he immediately sent guards to Rahab’s house to seize them. (Apparently the news of Israel’s crossing the Red Sea on dry ground and defeating the Amorites had spread throughout the land and struck fear in everyone’s hearts.) But Rahab hid the spies and sent the guards off in the wrong direction. To explain to the spies why she helped them Rahab says, “I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you… for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Joshua 2:9 and 11b). Then she asked the spies to swear to spare her life and the lives of all her family when they come take possession of the land. The spies agreed and Rahab let them down by a rope from her window. They returned to tell Joshua all that they had heard and were encouraged by Rahab’s testimony.  Shortly thereafter the people of Israel marched into the Promised Land and defeated Jericho and Rahab and all her family were spared.

So why are we talking about this obscure Old Testament story of Rahab? Well, because the New Testament seems to think she is worth talking about. Notice that Rahab is the only woman mentioned by name as one who had faith in the great faith chapter, Hebrews 11. The apostle James also mentions her along with the great father of our faith, Abraham, as an example of justification by faith in action. Not only that, but we also find out in Matthew 1 that this Rahab, whether she was indeed a prostitute or just simply an innkeeper, is an ancestor of Jesus Christ himself. So the real question is, what did Rahab get right that we need to imitate?

Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as being “certain of what of we do not see.” From the account in Joshua 2 it is clear that Rahab is certain of two things that she does not see. First, she is certain that Israel’s God was going to give the Promised Land to them. Second, she was certain that Israel’s God was the true God of heaven and earth. She had faith in Israel’s God, and she hadn’t really even encountered Him. Hearing testimony of the great miracles that He was working on His people’s behalf was enough. She believed. But James rightly points out that Rahab did more than just believe; she acted on her faith. She was so certain of these two things that she was willing to wager her life on them. She was willing to betray her king, her city, and all the people in it (save her family) in order to be in right relationship with the one, true God. She was a traitor for Christ.

I want to ask you two questions. First, does your faith work? James says that “faith without works is dead.” If you have a living faith, then it will produce action in your life. It is this “living faith” that is dangerous. It is this type of faith that brings about change in our world and lights hearts on fire for the Lord. Do you have a living active faith? If not, then you should ask God to renew and revive your faith. We serve the originator of all life. It was He who breathed life into Adam and Eve’s lifeless forms, and He can breathe life into your lifeless faith if you ask Him to.

Second, are you willing to be a traitor for Christ? (Be careful! You need to really pay attention here or you are going to misunderstand what I mean.) Rahab valued being in right relationship with God more than she valued anything else…even her own life. She knew that if the king’s guards found out that she had lied, then she would be killed. But she feared God more than death. She valued God above all else. She was willing to turn her back on everyone and everything else in order to follow Him. The Bible teaches us that this world is at odds with the world to come. And I John tells us that “if anyone loves the world, then the love of the Father is not in him.” That seems really harsh, but the truth is that because our world is at odds with God’s new creation we are often made to choose between the two. And here’s the point. When put in that situation what will you choose? Are you willing to “betray” this world in order to be a citizen of the next? Are you willing to choose God over any and everything in this world that could compete for your time or passion? That’s what it means to be a traitor for Christ. You choose Christ over all else. You choose Christ over anything that comes between you and He, because you value Him more than all else. And that is the type of reckless abandon and singleness of passion that pleases God and brings about true change in our world.   

For further reading this week…

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