Tuesday, 20 May 2008 07:57

True Devotion and Dedication To God [1]

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Continuing still with our series on the book of Nehemiah, and looking now at chapters 9&10, let us think about how people should live who say they trust Jesus and follow Him. What does it look like to live in godly devotion and dedication to the Lord? Our Scripture passage helps answer that question for it is all about the Israelites in Nehemiahs time rededicating themselves in thankfulness before God. It is about covenant renewal time as chapter 9:38 states. We read there, And because of all this, we make a sure covenant, and write it Literally the text says, we cut a firmness, in other words, we commit ourselves to seeking and serving the Lord our God in truth. Let us learn together what their godly and covenant rededication looked like. Our theme is thankful rededication to God and notice with me the recognized need for rededication, some real marks of rededication, and the blessings of rededication to God.

We have been in the book of Nehemiah for some time now. You will agree, I think, in the part we are in now, the people seem to be spending a lot of time with worship services and special feast days, etc. Chapter 9 tells us after the seven day feast of tabernacles and the solemn assembly day following, then two days after that the people met for at least a six hour worship service. For three hours they heard reading and explanation of Gods Word and then for three more hours they had a time of confession of sin and of worship and prayer before God. In chapter 9 then we are also given part of the prayer offered to God. What comes across in the prayer is the peoples clear recognition of God as the Creator of this universe and as the one Saviour of sinners. What comes out too is what sinful people the Israelites have been over and over again, and what a patient, longsuffering, merciful, faithful, covenant keeping God the LORD had been. The whole history of Israel is given from Abraham through to Moses, and then the history of the nation of Israel right to the time of the Babylonian exile. It is a history of repeated unfaithfulness on Israels part and ongoing faithfulness on Gods part. Verses 30 &31 probably summarize it all the best. There we read the people saying in prayer to God in regards to His covenant people: Yet many years didst thou forbear them, and testifiest against them by thy spirit in thy prophets: yet would they not give ear: therefore gavest thou them into the hand of the people of the lands. Nevertheless for thy great mercies sake thou didst not utterly consume them, nor forsake them; for thou art a gracious and merciful God. In the last part of the prayer they then also plead for Gods further mercy and help in their present situation and need, and in that context also we hear them commit themselves to follow after God and His Word. They pledge in covenant renewal to walk in Gods ways and to be dedicated and devoted to Him in all their works and ways. They realized from their history and in their present situation what need there was for covenant renewal and rededication on their part. Covenant renewal and rededication of our lives to God and for good comes always in a context of humble confession and recognition that in so many ways yet we fail to live for God as we ought. We all fall so far short from living wholly and only always for God and His glory, and always there is reason for repentance and renewal in Gods ways in our lives. Every day again there is reason for the prayer as expressed in song based on Psalm 51, Gracious God, my heart renew, make my spirit right and true; Cast me not away from Thee, let Thy Spirit dwell in me.

This is always basic to any spirit of genuine thankful rededication to God, and to any spirit of true revival and covenant renewal, namely, then there is a humility of heart before God and a true and ongoing repentance of sin before God. Then you know always the matter of rededication and renewal is an issue and not a non-issue. Remembering in prayer all Gods undeserved mercies, in spite of so much sinfulness and on-going rebellion and being repeatedly stiff-necked before God, the people here are convicted how they need to repent of sin and be resolved against sin, not just before God the Holy One, but especially before God so merciful and kind to them over and over again, in spite of how undeserving they were.

Dear friend, can you identify with this point? Do you know and experience in your own heart and life the recognized need for rededication to God time and again? Do you live in daily faith and repentance before the Lord? Our Scripture shows that is what true godliness is about, and this is what every true Christian realizes and reflects in various measures with the Holy Spirits saving sanctifying work in the heart, applying the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But now having considered something of the ongoing need for godly devotion and rededication to God, and how it shows itself just in realizing the need for it always, let us notice some of the details of thankful rededication to God. Our text gives at least five details about what it looks like.

For one, with thankful rededication you take Gods Word most seriously. Notice how the people placed themselves reverently under the reading of the Book of the Law for no less than three hours as chapter 9:3 states. And even more, look at chapter 10:29. There we read that besides the leaders, Levites, and priests, a whole number including wives, sons, and daughters committed themselves to keeping to Gods Word by all means. Verse 29 reads, These clave to [joined] their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in Gods Law, which was given by Moses, the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord, and his ordinances and his statutes. Gods Word gives promise of blessing when living according to it, and warns of Gods curse and judgment when living in rebellion against it, and the people here place themselves in devotion both under the promise of Scripture in following it and under the curse of God in living in defiance of Gods Word.

They pledged themselves here to take Gods Word so seriously, and this is an essential mark of all true devotion to God and of every instance of true covenant renewal and rededication before God. Is this something you also pledge yourself to, by Gods grace, in dedication before God and others? Or are you a person like so many church people apparently, sadly so, who regard the Bible as a book to make use of when it suits you, to interpret it as you like, and to discount great parts of it as you decide. How false and wrong that is, but it happens all too often by all too many. But when there is true godliness and genuine Christianity, it shows in you then by Gods grace placing yourself in humble submission under the whole of Gods Word, confessing, Lord I will live in the way of all Your Word. Please teach me and guide me so. Is that your confession?

How true what one wrote in this regard, This commitment to Scripture as the only reliable authority in all matters of faith and practice is precisely what we need today. The authority of the Bible has been attacked by friends within the church and foes without. In spite of all criticisms, it stands as Gods Word written. To all who will accept it, it becomes a sure and certain guide to all the many and varied [circumstances] of life. By following its teaching, we enjoy far more than we could ever extract from all the worlds wisdom. It brings all of life into perspective.A contagious enthusiasm among Christians for the Word of God and a return to faith and obedience to its precepts will do more to point the way out of present world distress and despair than all the plans and strivings of men. We can no more afford to neglect the Word of God than the Israelites of Nehemiahs time. We should read it eagerly, ever mindful of its Author, message, and relevance to our daily lives. And we should diligently obey it and regard each imperative as Gods supreme command. Oh, that God would make this all our conviction, yours and mine and more and more so as time moves on and not less and less so.

A second clear detail that marks thankful rededication to the Lord is separation from the world, not participating in ungodly ways or ungodly relationships. In our text, with the response of the people to the Word, we read in chapter 9:2 [vs. 28 and 30 also refer to it] how the people separated themselves from the degrading influence of the heathens and idolatrous peoples around them. The religious practices of these ungodly people were particularly licentious and exceedingly detrimental to the moral and spiritual life of the people. Their history so proved the corrupting influence of ungodly relations with the unbelieving. How this principle of separation from the world though living in this world is still so essential a point in living in true godliness and devotion before God. Especially also in our prosperous times we need to ask ourselves repeatedly, whether participating in something of this world is the right and wholesome thing to do. We need to be willing to sacrifice much that the world offers us in the way of pleasure especially in regards to music, movies, and video and computer games as being actually all a bad and wrong influence on us rather than good. We need to take seriously too the emphasis not to get into marriage relations with unbelievers. Verse 30 states in covenant renewal these people said, We would not give our daughters unto the people of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons. How urgent that also this principle of godly living be upheld, and taught today, that as Paul writes also in the New Testament, you dont marry someone who confesses and shows himself or herself as an unbeliever. Being thus unequally yoked mostly always brings so much weakness and confusion and challenge in the Christian home and family. Too many think they can ignore this guideline of Holy Scripture and the result is spiritual decline and demise, with very few exceptions.

Are you a person into submission to Gods Word and separation from the world? James writes strikingly in his book of practical religion, Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this [among other things] to keep oneself unspotted from the world. [James 1:27] Are you doing that and remaining committed to that? John writes in his first epistle, chapter 2:15ff, Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

There is much more to say here, but we will have to continue the message next time, the Lord willing. I have only yet mentioned just two of the five obvious signs or marks of living in true godliness and praise to God. Will you examine yourself even in what is said so far having the prayer of the psalmist in Psalm 139, Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Amen.

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