Marks of True Believers
At West Loop, I’ve been preaching on Isaiah every Sunday since the end of June 2015, beginning with How Stupid Can You Be (Isa 1:1-9). This coming Sunday will be my 18th sermon: True Believers (Isaiah 19-20). In this post, I’ll share what the marks of true believers are.
Historically, Egypt has been the enslavers of God’s people and their most memorable adversary. But one day they will be converted, transformed, saved and become the people of God together with Israel. They will display evidences of true believers, such as:
- the fear of God (Isa 19:16-17),
- pledging allegiance to God (Isa 19:18),
- relating all of life to God (Isa 19:19-22),
- being united with those who are unlike them (Isa 19:23), and
- regarding all others as equals (Isa 19:24-25).
Fear God (Isa 19:16-17). The fear of God is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7). The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10). People might generally prefer the love of God to the fear of God. I probably do as well. But I contend that to fear God is not to live in fear as commonly understood, but to live in awe and respect for what the Almighty will do (Isa 19:16-17). Also, I’ve found that when I fear God, I do not fear anyone else (Prov 29:25). Not fearing people does not mean that I become belligerent or disrespectful. It simply means that I acknowledge that my life is entirely in God’s hands, and in not the hands of other people. During Isaiah’s time, everyone lived and behaved as though the world was in the hands of Assyria, the superpower nation of the day (Isa 10:12-14). It is also why an important major theme of Isaiah is to not to trust mere humans (your leaders and shepherds!), but to calmly and confidently trust God alone (Isa 7:4a, 9b). Jesus practiced what Isaiah taught (Jn 2:24-25).
Pledge allegiance to the God of Israel and learn their language (Isa 19:18). To put this in contemporary context, it is like Americans submitting to Koreans and speaking “Konglish,” or Koreans submitting to Filipinos and speaking Tagalog instead of Korean. Some might prefer death to such subjugation and humiliation. But in that day the Egyptians swear allegiance to the God of Israel and learn their language (Isa 19:18).
Relate all of life to God (Isa 19:19-22). They build an altar (Isa 19:19), which signifies reconciliation with God. They cry out to God for help (Isa 19:20b), instead of seeking human and political solutions. They know God as God reveals himself (Isa 19:21a). They understand that to know God is to respond to God’s revelation of himself, and not just them seeking to know God by their own efforts or good intentions. They make sacrifices and vows in response to God’s revelation (Isa 19:21b). They walk the walk. They turn to God and experience healing in times of divine discipline (Isa 19:22), rather than becoming bitter. A true believer relates every aspect of their life–both good times and hard times–to God.
Unite with those unlike themselves (Isa 19:23). Egypt and Assyria were enemies. But in that day, they will worship together. There will be a highway connecting these unlikely bedfellows. The highway–a favorite metaphor in Isaiah–connotes the removal of alienation and separation. We human beings understandably prefer like-minded people. We prefer our own ethnicities and culture, which explains why there are ethnic communities in virtually every city. Even churches tend to be sharply segregated along racial, ethnic and denominational lines. But true believers welcome and unite with those they might not generally welcome or prefer. For virtually all of my 35 years of Christian life since 1980, I have done ministry virtually primarily and exclusively with UBF people, such that I do not really know how to relate well to or interact with non-UBF Christians. I hope to learn the spirit of inclusivity and ecuminism, which John Armstrong introduced to me over the past decade. Reading books by contemplatives such as Richard Rohr has been quite helpful to help me overcome my unique sense of exclusivity. UBFriends, comprising of many ex-UBFers, is also a great place of interaction and unity for me, since in the past I would never have maintained any relationship or interaction with anyone who has left UBF.
Regard all others as equals (Isa 19:24-25). Egypt, Assyria and Israel lived in enmity and animosity for hundreds of years. But in that day they will first acknowledge and submit to the God of Israel (Isa 19:16-17), even humbly learning their language which was foreign to them (Isa 19:18). But they do not remain in a subordinate position indefinitely. Rather, God declares that they are all equally God’s people, God’s handiwork and God’s inheritance (Isa 19:25). This is how God’s people from different ethnicities and cultures become a blessing on the earth (Isa 19:24). This exposes the repeated failure of missionaries over the centuries to this day. Unlike Paul who turned the ministry over to his indigenous converts within a few years during his four missionary journeys (Ac 14:23), Christian missionaries have generally acted as the leaders who continued to lord over their converted indigenous peoples for years and decades. This is well explained in Roland Allen’s classic book, Missionary Methods. I wrote about this in 2012: Let Local Leaders Lead. I sense that many are coming to a gradual realization that each country’s indigenous UBF leader should be leading the ministry, and not the original missionary pioneer nor a foreign overseas director.
I don’t preach what I write because I preach extemporaneously. This write up is part of my preparation and reflection which I may or may not share on Sunday. Please feel free to critique it both as a sermon, as well as for content and substance.