Saturday, March 3, 2018

The Set-Apart Life - Illustrating Christian Living From The Life Of Jacob

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Hebrews 11:21By faith Jacob, as he
was dying, blessed each of the sons of
Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the
top of his staff.


Every New Testament truth has at least one Old Testament counterpart to illustrate its meaning. When it comes to the Christian life in the New Testament, the life of faith in the Old Testament has the same underpinnings (salvation by grace through faith alone, with a post-conversion process of sanctification). The opening verse from Hebrews 11 demonstrates the appropriateness of using Jacob as an illustration of the believer's life.

The point of today's post is to consider the Christian-life as the set-apart life. The moment God calls a person unto faith in salvation, the setting-apart begins in conversion. The new-believer quickly learns that conflict must occur in dying to oneself to effectively live by the leading of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God calls every Christian to die to self and to the world. This process of dying to self and to the world marks the ongoing progress of sanctification. In today’s post, we will appeal to Jacob’s life as an illustration of God’s call to the set-apart life.

1. Conversion: The call to die to sin, live for God. Genesis 28:10-22

Jacob was in his mid-seventies when he left his father's home to travel to his Uncle Laban. Israel's ancient origins centered on three patriarchs: there's Abraham, the father of faith; there's Isaac, the son of promise and then there is Jacob, the patriarch of the twelve tribes that would comprise the nation of Israel itself. Father, son and grandson - three generations of men called to function prominently in Israel's history. 

Jacob and his twin brother Esau had a turbulent relationship. Jacob in particular was a schemer. He stole Esau's blessing and connived his way through life (see Genesis 27:36). Jacob had followed his own voice. He was a man of means. Jacob was, to put it plainly, a "self-made" man. It is in Genesis 28 that we find Jacob confronted with a powerful dream from God. The dream is centered upon a stairwell descending from top to bottom. This mysterious ladder or stairwell would later on be revealed as somehow picturing Christ Himself, the only way from God to man (see John 1:51). 

Once Jacob had this dream, in Genesis 28, his life would never be the same. Jacob's grandfather Abraham had his conversion experience in Ur of the Chaledees in Genesis 11 and 12. Isaac, Jacob's father, had his own dramatic encounter with God at Beersheba in Genesis 26. Just because Jacob came from noble stock, did not guarantee Jacob's own personal conversion. Jacob, like his father and grandfather before him, needed to experience a death to sin in conversion.

Each one of us require this reality of what Jesus calls being "born-again". In John 3:8 Jesus reminds us:

"the wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone born of the Spirit."

The wind of the Spirit of God blew in Jacob's direction. John 1:12-13 reminds us too that "as many as received Him, as many as believe on His name, He gives them the right to be called 'children of God'". The reality of this "new birth" (or its Old Testament counterpart, circumcision of the heart, see Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4) is not brought about by man making the first move. Instead, God moves by His Spirit upon the person, with the person in turn responding by the Divine gifting of faith which is made his own (see Ephesians 2:8-9; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23). 

Jacob could not climb up to God. He couldn't climb by way of pedigree - even though Isaac was his father. He couldn't climb by way of religion - even though it was modeled to him by Isaac and even more so by Abraham himself. Jacob could not climb to God by outward moral life, even though when compared to Esau, he had not done anything overtly (that we know of) to grieve his parents hearts in comparison (Jacob of course had issues of character and heart that he kept hidden, save from God of course). The ladder of salvation needed lowered to Jacob. 

Jacob was called to conversion in Genesis 28. He was called to die to sin. Romans 6:6 describes salvation in these terms:

"knowing this, that our old self was crucified with him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin." 

As a result of Jacob's conversion, things changed in his life. We find out in Genesis 28:19 that he renames the city with which he had stayed nearby from "Luz" (meaning, 'perverse, corrupt, turn') to "Bethel" ('house of God'). Jacob recognized he had a dramatic encounter with God. In Genesis 28:20-21, Jacob makes vows and pledges to remain in continuity with God. He expresses desire for God to remain in fellowship with him. In Genesis 28:22 we see Jacob pledge to begin tithing all he has with God. Three "books" change in Jacob's life: the date book, or how he will spend the rest of his days; the pocket book, or how he sees himself transferred out of ownership into management of God's resources; and then lastly, the book of his heart.   

2. Conflict: The call to die to self, and God to live out through you. Genesis 32:24-32

We so often paint the Old Testament figures with a romanticized brush. Did Jacob walk flawlessly with God after his conversion in Genesis 28? Like you and me (if we are truly honest), the life following salvation is at times bumpy. Jacob's 20-year stint at his uncle Laban's home was anything but easy. He still relied upon himself to get out of trouble. Even though Jacob's awareness of God's hand in his life grew steadily, he still had not truly died completely to self. 

Self is that principle that remains a part of the Christian even after conversion. Self is, as one author put it, "me-in-me". The problem with me is "me". When it comes to that grace of "onward and upward" growth in Christ, called sanctification, the journey entails less of "me-in-me" and far more of what hopefully will manifest "He-in-me". To put it another way, the enemy of all spiritual growth in God is "me". Jesus tells us in Luke 9 and Luke 14 that the call to discipleship is a call to "die to self" and "take-up one's cross daily" to follow Him.

Dying to self is both a crisis and a process. The crisis is likened unto what we see in Genesis 32, with the angel (presumably a 'theophany' or disguised revelation of God or Christ Himself, see Hosea 12:4-5) wrestling with Jacob. Jacob needed his will broken. Jacob was strong in the natural. I can testify to how often God has taken me through this. To have strength in the supernatural, the natural human propensity to rely upon oneself must be severed (see Ephesians 5:13-14 or Paul's confrontation with Peter in Galatians 2). Such "crises" can occur at moments of hardship, trial, severity and loneliness. Jacob was experience the perfect storm of God's breaking process.

It is the process of dying to self that categorizes the mane of Christian living. As one old preacher once noted: "He (God) chooses, then bruises then uses, and not until then".  Romans 8:12 summarizes - 

"then, brethren, we are under obligation not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh, 13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit, you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live."

More to the point, the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:31b, "I die daily". So what was the outcome of the epic wrestling match between Jacob and the Angel? Jacob's name was changed to Israel. Jacob's walk or manner of life was altered. We read in Genesis 32:31 "Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh."

3. Consecration: The call to die to the world, and live with God and He with you. Genesis 35:1-8

The Christian life is a life by which God calls His people to a "set-apart life". Jacob has illustrated to us what occurs in conversion, or the call to die to sin. Next, we witnessed how Jacob experienced both crisis and process in the call to die to self. As each Christ-follower lives on in this world, the conflict with one's inner-self is a daily reality. Romans 7 and Romans 8 are two chapters that take us through what we've looked at thus far. There must needs be a conflict with the self. The Christian must daily urge the "old-man" to "die by crucifixion" in order to experience that sweet fruit of victory in Romans 8. 

However, Jacob's walk of faith would experience a third major epiphany of sorts - namely, consecration. Consecration is simply the call to die to the world. God had Jacob return back to the very spot he was converted in Genesis 28. Genesis 35:1-4 picks up the following conversation of God with Jacob - 

"Then God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” 2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves and change your garments; 3 and let us arise and go up to Bethel, and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.”

Life didn't get easier for Jacob. Many think when they get spiritual victory, whatever follows is trouble free. It is one thing to get victory. It's quite another to stay "in the saddle" so-to-speak. There were matters in Jacob's life that had arisen since Genesis 32. He needed to die to the world. Galatians 6:14 reminds us:

"May it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." 

So what is the "world" described in these verses? 1 John 2:15-17 gives the textbook definition - 

"Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in Him.16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever."

The idols of Jacob's family a "fellowship issue", meaning that the time to deal with the baggage of his former way of life had come. Further progress in closeness with God could not move forward until the hidden things were buried and abandoned. Jacob took the lead. You and I, in order to live out a life of consecration, must identify those areas we have put in the place of God (the true meaning of idolatry) and abandon them. Only when Christ is most treasured will we leave behind the trinkets.

This event propelled Jacob into two directions all at once. He now would live on with the name of destiny ascribed to him back in Genesis 32: "Israel". The scent of God's heavenly calling would follow him wherever he went. The other direction entailed the loss of his beloved wife. Following God does not guarantee immunity from trouble. Jacob (now Israel), would carry-on this ongoing process of dying to self and dying to the world. Any saint of God, whether Old Testament, New Testament or church history, has experienced this outline of Christian living that we find in these verses. It is truths such as these that illuminate us to the life of faith as being the set-apart life.  

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