Therefore, say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went.
23“And I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD,” declares the Lord God, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight.
– Ezekiel 36:22-23 NAS
God ultimately acts for His name sake not ours. I am reading through Ezekiel 36 in my morning devotions today and this is one of my favorite passages in all the Old Testament. Ezekiel is about to expound on one of the most elegant text revealing the new covenant relationship God will make with His people. But just before he dives into those details he makes this riveting statement about whyGod is about to act. I often get goosebumps when reading this text because it realigns my spiritual compass back to the divine plan. Certainly we can find texts that tell us that “God is for us…” which shows His personal involvement in our life journey. But He is involved in our journey not to make us successful, or popular, or significant, or impressive, or self-sufficient, or any number of other statements we could include here. He is reminding us that God acts preeminently for His name sake, not ours. It is so easy in our culture, and I know I use this statement a lot, to think that God is there as our personal concierge who exists for the sole purpose of making me successful, popular, rich, and impressive to the world.
We often spiritualize the process to suggest that if God can make us better, richer, faster, and more athletic than the world this will create a superior platform to speak the gospel… and maybe that is so. But that philosophy usually comes from the most talented Christians who can pull some of that off while leaving the rest of wondering if we can every have a voice that has any credibility because we are not that rich, talented or athletic. I have no doubts that there are many Christians, like many non-Christian athletes, who have a greater voice and influence because of their success in life… but that is not 90% of us. Praise the Lord for their success and for those who use their success for His glory.
But I believe God uses a different standard for making our impact in the world. In the verses above God does not accuse Israel they are irrelevant. They have become so connected to the world and the cultures of the nations that they have embraced their ungodly practices and have become just like them. God does not accuse them of not being successful. God’s condemnation is not because they are not shrewd. They seem to be extremely creative and exercised ingenuity about exploiting situations for their own selfish benefit. God does not accuse them of being too serious and they are not showing the joy of the Lord. What God is accusing them of is not being holy.
God reminds Israel (and us) that His people are to live holy lives to honor their God who is holy. Holiness does not seem to be a big culturally relevant ambition in life. Holiness is not about just being pure from evil things either. The concept of holiness is about being “set apart”. We belong to God, He has purchased and redeemed us from our sins and adopted us as His children. Being holy means that I no longer live for myself but for Him who died and rose on our behalf. Life is to be directed by Jesus, our priorities are to be given to us by God; our beliefs are not to be what God tells us we are to believe; our behaviors are to match what God calls us to be. We are set apart to allow God to lead and direct our life and we ought to be delighted to follow after Him. Apparently, this is something that Israel lost sight of and ended up exiled from the Land as God disciplined His people for being too much like the world.
If God’s people will not live holy lives God will act to show that He (at least) is holy. This is a little of the disconcerting part. God will ultimately vindicate His own holy name even if it needs to be at the expense of His own people. This analogy will probably not sound fair but remember that when Jesus walked the earth He refused to allow the demons to speak about Him because they will simply discredit His name because their intent is evil. The often spoke what was true about Jesus but they have no credibility because they are ultimately against God. That may be an extreme example but God is concerned about the same thing with His people. They have no credibility amongst the nations because they do not live according to God’s holiness. They live like the other nations. God disciplines and calls His people to repentance but since they won’t listen, off they must go. Go ahead and read the rest of Ezekiel 36:18-21 and see how damaging their “witness” had become.
Our distinctiveness is about being a holy people. We have to remember that we have to operate on God’s terms not our own. We can surmise and theorize until the cows come home about how we think we can effectively have a voice for the gospel in a broken and wicked world. But the problem here is the same thing Jesus mentioned in the Lord’s Prayer – “Our Father, who is in the heavens, hallowed by your name” (Matt. 6:9). The way we make our mark on the world, the way we impact the world, the way we gain a voice is not to seek to prove our credibility but to trust that our credibility is anchored to being a holy people. I think God would trade all our success, accomplishments, awards, promotions and money for a people who will be deeply committed to being holy as He is holy.
Sincerely in grace,