Holiness (2)

Gideon is one of my favourite biblical characters and I think there are few spiritual problems, which can’t be solved by looking at his story. The story of Gideon portrays a set of circumstances that appear to be real but are actually untrue when compared with reality as God sees it.

Look at the greeting given to Gideon “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” (Judges 6:12) This is statement of fact, but it is a fact spoken from God’s perspective. Look at Gideon’s response; “But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, `Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.” (Judges 6:13).  These are facts seen from Gideon’s perspective. Gideon recognises that God has power but he perceives that as a force that can only be seen and felt in the lives of others – “yes you were with us once but you’re not now.” God dismisses Gideon’s response and doesn’t even grace it with a reply, instead scripture tells us that “The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” (Judges 6:14)

God tells Gideon to go in the strength that he already has – what strength does Gideon have? He has none. What strength is God talking about then? His own! In verse 15 Gideon responds again with a statement of the facts as seen from his human perspective. “But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

This time God does answer Gideon, he answers him from an entirely different perspective, he says “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.”

Gideon’s reality is based on his circumstances and all of his weaknesses, he can only see the evidence that is immediately in front of him and he makes his judgements based on that information. God ignores Gideon’s limitations and instead sees only his own power and the victory that awaits his servant. This is an excellent metaphor for holiness. The story of Gideon is all about God being with us and us being mighty in his power, it’s got nothing to do with our human position, status or ability.

In chapter 7 verse 2 God weeds out those people with no commitment; he says to Gideon “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, announce now to the people, `Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’ ” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained ”

Following this process of selection God then goes on to weed out those who may be tempted to take the credit for themselves;

“But the LORD said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them out for you there. If I say, `This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, `This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.” So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the LORD told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink.” Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouths. All the rest got down on their knees to drink. The LORD said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own place.”

To any onlooker this must have appeared a strange method of recruitment.  On the one hand God weeds out those who are uncommitted to the cause and then he removes all of the professional soldiers from Gideon’s ranks. There is a strange contradiction here, yet it is a contradiction that we must consider if we are to discover the power of personal holiness. We are no good to God if we are not committed to his cause. Jesus told his disciples the man who puts his hand to the plough and then looks away is of little use to the kingdom. Yet at the same time no matter how committed we are – the battle remains the Lords. The moment we start to trust in our own skill and judgement is the moment we will begin to fail.  In Gideon’s time the great victories of God were the stuff of folklore and legend. The people had heard stories about what God had done in the past but there was little evidence of his work in the present. It was important to God that the people would see Gideon’s impending  victory as a modern-day miracle.  No one other than God would be allowed to take the credit for defeating the Midianites.

It is exactly the same in our own lives; personal holiness exists to draw people’s attention – not to us – but to God.  Do you remember what Jesus said to his disciples about being “the light of the world” in Matthew chapter 5 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

It was important to Jesus that the good works performed by his disciples were visible. It seems strange to us with our modern understanding of Christianity that this should be his desire. It was the same Christ who said in Matthew Chapter 6 verse 3 “when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” This verse is more in line with our contemporary understanding of Christian practice than the thought of parading our good works before men.

Yet as with many things taught by Jesus, we need to understand the motive behind the action he is looking for. Why did Jesus want his disciples to parade their good works before the World? Was it so that their friends and neighbours would hold them up as good citizens? Was it because their respectability would help to advance the social standing of the young Church? Was it because he wanted the disciples to enjoy the passing and shallow pleasure that comes from being in the limelight? No it was so that “men might see their good works and give glory to the father!”

Before I became a Christian I had something of a reputation, even now many years after my conversion there are still occasions when I meet people who can only remember the “old man” and have yet to have the pleasure of the “new man’s” company.  Once these people have had the opportunity to spend some time with the new Andrew they are amazed at the change in his personality. Such people do not hesitate to give the glory for this change to God.

A man’s testimony will always speak more to the unsaved than his words alone.  The problem with our words is that they are all too easy to fake; it is too easy to look the part and to talk the part without actually being the person God wants. If Gideon had led thousands of well-trained professional soldiers into battle then the nations around would have ascribed his victory to military might and skill. When the nations around saw that an unimportant man from an insignificant clan with no military training had defeated the Midianites with the help of just a few hundred well-meaning amateurs they would have been compelled to look elsewhere for the source of Gideon’s victory.

If we try and live a life of holiness in our own strength, then because we are human it is inevitable that we will fail. No matter how much we try we do not have the strength, or the resources to become holy.  How many times have we seen talented and skilful people fall from grace?

Are we weak? Are we uneducated and unskilled? Do we have limited resources? Do we think of ourselves as insignificant and unimportant? Do we fail to cut a dash in a world where far too much emphasis is placed upon a person’s looks, possessions and social status? If the answer to some or all of these questions is yes, then there is hope for us. The only thing that impresses God is the quality of our personal holiness. If we dedicate ourselves to him and we are committed to his cause then he will use us to bring glory to him. People will look at us and the things that we achieve and give all the glory to God.

Gideon went on to defeat his enemies not because of his skills as a soldier but because he had the faith to see things from God’s perspective. Anybody reading this regardless of their intellectual ability, regardless of their age, regardless of their talents, regardless of their appearance can in God’s eyes be turned into a mighty warrior.

We are holy, we are strong, we are righteous, we are useful, we are effective not because we think we are, or because the world tells us we are, we are all of these things because God the Holy spirit declares it. As the hymn writer puts it:

All my best works are naught,
Please they not thee;
Far past my busy hands
Thine eye doth see
Into the depths of mind,
Searching the plan designed,
Gladdened when thou dost find
First of all, thee.

The writer of the song understands that the hallmark of true holiness is indeed good works, but not good works which have been manufactured by man alone. As I said in my previous post the Bible describes good works as “fruit”. Fruit is not a tree in itself but it does identity the tree from which it came. True Christians can never take credit for the Holy lives they live all they can do is allow their good works to point people to the God who created those good works in them.

The hymn writer continues…

Now is my will resigned,
Struggles are quelled;
Clay on the wheel am I,
Nothing withheld.
Master, I yield to thee,
Crumble, then fashion me
Flawless, and fit to be
Indwelt by thee.

When we come to God he accepts us as we are “warts and all” and then he changes us from “glory into glory” and that happens when we have the faith and courage to see things from his perspective rather than our own.

Grace and peace, Andrew.

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About Andrew Bale

I am a Salvation Army Officer based in Southend on Sea in Essex, UK. I am passionate about personal holiness and how that is reflected in a 'career of interrupted victory over temptation.' I am married with 4 children (2 grown up and married, one at University and one about to start University.)
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