The Blessing of Diligent Service
I will make with them a covenant of peace,
and will cause the evil beasts
to cease out of the land:
and they shall dwell safely in the wilderness,
and sleep in the woods.
And I will make them and the places
round about my hill a blessing;
and I will cause the shower to come down in his season;
there shall be showers of blessing.
~ Ezekiel 34:25-26
We are called to serve in the wilderness of this world. Sometimes we have to spend all of our time there. Like Jesus, we too ‘are tempted of the devil’ as we spend time in this desert.
But God does not want us to fall. Nor does He want us wander aimlessly. He wants us to obediently sojourn and obey His voice as we pass through keeping our eyes fixed on the promise salvation brings.
As a Christian, time in the wilderness begins the day we are delivered from our sin (out of Egypt) and it ends when we die or are changed at Christ’s coming (Canaan).
It is a place of danger,
a place of testing,
of temptation and sin,
of discipline and chastisement,
of tribulation, and toil.
It is a place of sanctification and peace,
longsuffering and patience;
Where God builds our character in Him,
or His wrath in sin.
For all of us, the wilderness is a weary, parched, and desolate place. Problems come because the journey is long and we get sleepy and slumber. Sometimes, spiritual grogginess creeps into our Christian walk.
Lord, make me to know mine end,
and the measure of my days,
what it is;
that I may know how frail I am.
~ Psalm 39:4
My pastor preached on being asleep today and it shook me. He was tired so the sermon like every other one I heard from him was preached from the heart.
The Awakened Life in Christ
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy
shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
~ Psalm 23
Psalm 23 is the reality of a saved and sanctified believer. In a nutshell, it describes:
- The Lord’s role (a Shepard)
- how He provides for our needs (green pastures)
- that He saves (restoreth my soul)
- Provides guidance (leadeth us in paths of righteousness)
- His discipline and protection from evil (rod and staff)
- His gift of the Holy Spirit (anoint-oil-cup-running over)
- and promise (to dwell with the Lord forever)
Reflecting on the 23rd Psalms, it is all about what God does for His obedient, humble, and faithful children. Everything we do, experience, and enjoy springs from His provisional love and assurance in the wilderness of life.
As we journey through this wilderness, we are to set our home safely in the woods; a place outside the influences of the chaos, threats, and alienation from God that the wilderness (of sin) brings.
There are times, that we get slothful and need to be shaken. This scriptural reminder to be awake is needful and timely whether we are serving God, are tired, or when we are (spiritually) dead in our sleep.
He wants us to make it out of the wilderness. Its fields are grand and deceptive. If we are not careful, they can make us tired, weary, lead us astray from the narrow path of holiness.
This brings us to the less commonly known definition of carnality.
The Other Definition of Carnal
And it is yet far more evident:
for that after the similitude of Melchisedec
there ariseth another priest,
who is made,
not after the law of a carnal commandment,
but after the power of an endless life.
~ Hebrews 7:15-16
Hebrews is describing the O.T. commandments. Paul calls them carnal; meaning frail, weak, after the limitations of sinful flesh.
When the Levitical priests offered the sacrifices, everyone was still subject to sin and death. Because the law and sacrifices did not atone for sin. They pointed to Jesus.
When Jesus provided His sacrifice, it ushered in complete redemption from sin and restoration to God.
The Nature of the ceremonial laws were predominantly outward as demonstrated by the priestly rituals. They were images of the spiritual laws to come.
Like Melchisedec who has no beginning or end, the new covenant (the Law of Christ) has no carnal qualities. Its nature has the power to save to the uttermost destroying sin in our lives
Paul calls this law ‘the better covenant.’
But now hath he (Jesus)
obtained a more excellent ministry,
by how much also he is the mediator
of a better covenant,
which was established upon better promises.
~ Hebrews 8:6
and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant,
and to the blood of sprinkling,
that speaketh better things than that of Abel.
~ Hebrews 12:24
We won’t go into the description of carnality known as ‘the old man’ or ‘sinful nature’ here. It does relate deeply to this subject, even more than the carnal law. But our focus here is on the general frailty of our nature and the need to become and remain awake.
Humanity is frail, prone to illness, injury, misunderstanding, deception, and other infirmities. This is different than sin per se. It is human imperfection outside the realm of sin.
The classic biblical definition of sin is, ‘a willful transgression of God’s law.’
The O.T. law was imperfect and weak. It was not sin in any stretch of the imagination. It revealed sin but it was incapable of freeing us from its nature and dominion.
We are just like this in that we can fall asleep through weakness. Through sin, our natural design is not to live life assertively vigilant and abundant in the Spirit.
This can only be done when the Spirit quickens our spirit and we are awakened unto new life. Our strength is external and comes from the grace of God.
There are distinctions in scripture between obedient sleep, frail (carnal) sleep, and (sinful) slumber.
The following verses provide an explanation of each. How we and when it is okay to sleep, when we need to be more alert, and when we need to turn from a sleep that is void of righteousness.
The Perfect Kind of Sleep
When we know we are in the will of God, we can sleep deeply even as troubles surround us.
And he was in the hinder part of the ship,
asleep on a pillow:
and they awake him, and say unto him,
Master, carest thou not that we perish?
~ Mark 4:38
We may even sing and pray unto the Lord at midnight as,
Paul and Silas prayed,
and sang praises unto God:
and the prisoners heard them.
~ Acts 16:25
When we are attuned to the Spirit of Christ:
and our love is made perfect,
we may have boldness in the day of judgment:
because as he is, so are we in this world.
There is no fear in love;
but perfect love casteth out fear:
because fear hath torment.
He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
1 John 4:17-18
This is how our Christian walk is supposed to be; resting in perfect peace. If it isn’t, the question is begged: Are we really serving the Lord at all?
Because if we are not 100% on board, we may be lukewarm and scripture calls us children of disobedience to be cast away and subject to God’s wrath.
The Imperfect Kind of Sleep
But Peter and they that were with him
were heavy with sleep:
and when they were awake,
they saw his glory,
and the two men that stood with him.
~ Luke 9:32
And he cometh,
and findeth them sleeping,
and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou?
couldest not thou watch one hour?
~ Mark 14:37
And he cometh the third time,
and saith unto them,
Sleep on now, and take your rest:
it is enough, the hour is come;
behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
~ Mark 14:41
And when he rose up from prayer,
and was come to his disciples,
he found them sleeping for sorrow,
and said unto them,
Why sleep ye? rise and pray,
lest ye enter into temptation.
~ Luke 22:45-46
These things said he:
and after that he saith unto them,
Our friend Lazarus sleepeth;
but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.
~ John 11:11
These are all examples of people who lack the power of the Spirit to ‘keep us’ awake. These are not occasions of sin, rather, they are occasions of our carnal frailty.
When we are sleeping for this reason, we become susceptible to temptation, deceit, and sin.
Because of the wages of sin, and the frailty of our carnal body, Lazarus died. He was the clearest example of needing the Spirit to ‘quicken unto life.’
I hope it is becoming clear that there are two different issues that place us at risk here. The first and obvious is willful disobedience or violating God’s law, known as sin. This is the Old Man at work.
When we get saved, we have been given victory over him. If we fall back into sin, it is our responsibility to ask for forgiveness and turn away from said sin, walking more and more in the light through the wilderness.
The carnal frailty in our human nature and the disposition that results from our carnal nature (the Old Man) are those things being addressed by the scriptures above.
We need God to help us in our weaknesses to overcome all the snares scattered across the wilderness in this life. Infirmities are not only internal, they are external. They are from the worldly influence of Satan.
Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities,
in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions,
in distresses for Christ’s sake:
for when I am weak, then am I strong.
~ 2 Corinthians 12:10
For we are glad, when we are weak,
and ye are strong: and this also we wish,
even your perfection.
~ 2 Corinthians 13:9
We are commanded to go on unto perfection or spiritual maturity. We are not to be lacking in anything when Christ is giving us his blessings from the abounding love of God in our heart. Our conscience attesting to our obedience of faith; strong unfailing, and sincere.
No longer to we need to return to repentance for our actions do not offend God. We have stopped practicing sin. Our carnal nature is dead and we are alive in Christ.
Now the end of the commandment
is charity out of a pure heart,
and of a good conscience,
and of faith unfeigned:
~ 1 Timothy 1:5
Therefore leaving the principles
of the doctrine of Christ,
let us go on unto perfection;
not laying again the foundation
of repentance from dead works,
and of faith toward God,
~ Hebrews 6:1
The Sleep Sin Brings
And that, knowing the time,
that now it is high time
to awake out of sleep:
for now is our salvation nearer
than when we believed.
~ Romans 13:11
The Greek word for sleep here primarily refers to the inactivity. By nature, we avoid that which is holy and good.
Remember Adam and Eve? The moment they sinned, they covered themselves and hid from God.
Here, sleep also denotes avoiding those things that are of good report; actions done in faithful obedience to His calling.
Paul is telling some in the Roman church that they have fallen into the corruption inactivity brings and need to be awakened and remember our first love when we were saved.
We should not have assurance of salvation if we are slumbering in a moral state inactivity for this is willful sin.
All our Christian duties are important. Life is so short, salvation is nearer every minute. We must be roused from our sleep and perform works meet for repentance.
Awake to righteousness, and sin not;
for some have not the knowledge of God:
I speak this to your shame.
~ 1 Corinthians 15:34
Awake here means in the Greek to become sober-minded after experiencing drunkenness or overindulging in something. Literally, we are to shake off the slumber of sin.
The command is clear: we are not to sin, we are to be awake and live righteously in holiness and sound doctrine.
This type of sleep (overindulging in sin) can shipwreck our faith and hope in salvation.
If Paul is speaking this to their shame, praise be to God for those who hear this rebuke and learn from it. Because when all is said and done, we cannot stand before Jesus when we are shamed by the drunkenness sin brings. We will be condemned.
Wherefore he saith,
Awake thou that sleepest,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ shall give thee light.
~ Ephesians 5:14
This reference to sleep is a little more harsh. It refers to sleep, as being dead to the living. The living are in Christ.
When we are yield to slothfulness and sin, we become indifferent. We are dead to the vibrant, victorious life that salvation brings.
Jesus uses this word when he described the man sleeping while the enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. We cannot allow Satan to come into our life and sow his wickedness. We are to be alerted to him and stop to his entrance.
Storms are arrayed against us all our life. But greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.
We are to follow the instructions laid before us in scripture, cling to that which is good, and cast off that which is not useful.
We cannot do that if we are living in a stupor that sin and compromise brings.
Awake, awake; put on thy strength,
O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments,
O Jerusalem, the holy city:
for henceforth there shall no more come
into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean.
Shake thyself from the dust;
arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem:
loose thyself from the bands of thy neck,
O captive daughter of Zion.
For thus saith the Lord,
Ye have sold yourselves for nought;
and ye shall be redeemed without money.
~ Isaiah 52:1-3
Here is a promise for Israel. It is shaded in images of our life in Christ. Putting on the beautiful garments represent holiness.
The circumsion represents entire sanctification; circumcision of the heart unto purity.
Shaking from the dust is the quickening of death sin brings and awakening to new life in Christ.
Loosing the bands of their necks represents the freedom from sin salvation brings.
Lastly, it speaks of redemption and turning from sin (harlotry) from whence captivity came.
Instructions to Follow
If we follow the instructions below, we will be well suited for heaven and prevented from the temptation that sleep and slumber brings.
The wilderness can be a beautiful journey when our feet are be shod with the gospel of peace and we are clothed in the righteousness that God’s armour brings.
Be ye therefore followers of God,
as dear children; and walk in love,
as Christ also hath loved us,
and hath given himself for us
an offering and a sacrifice to God
for a sweetsmelling savour.
But fornication, and all uncleanness,
let it not be once named among you,
as becometh saints;
neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting,
which are not convenient:
but rather giving of thanks.
For this ye know,
that no whoremonger, nor unclean person,
nor covetous man, who is an idolater,
hath any inheritance
in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
Let no man deceive you with vain words:
for because of these things
cometh the wrath of God
upon the children of disobedience.
Be not ye therefore partakers with them.
For ye were sometimes darkness,
but now are ye light in the Lord:
walk as children of light:
(for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness
and righteousness and truth;)
proving what is acceptable unto the Lord.
And have no fellowship
with the unfruitful works of darkness,
but rather reprove them.
For it is a shame even to speak of those things
which are done of them in secret.
But all things that are reproved
are made manifest by the light:
for whatsoever doth make manifest is light.
Wherefore he saith,
Awake thou that sleepest,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ shall give thee light.
See then that ye walk circumspectly,
not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time,
because the days are evil.
Wherefore be ye not unwise,
but understanding what the will of the Lord is.
And be not drunk with wine,
wherein is excess;
but be filled with the Spirit;
speaking to yourselves in psalms
and hymns and spiritual songs,
singing and making melody
in your heart to the Lord;
giving thanks always for all things
unto God and the Father
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;
submitting yourselves one to another
in the fear of God.
~ Ephesians 5:1-20