Spirit of Grace Ministries
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A Separate People

Different

by Dennis Pollock

The doctrine of the separation of the people of God is one that has frequently been either totally neglected or abused. Mainline Christianity typically ignores it; the cults and fringe groups tend to abuse it. But like it or not, there clearly is a concept of the separation of the people of God that runs throughout the entire Bible. For both the Israelites and the church of Jesus Christ, God's people have always been called to be a separate people – a people different and apart from all other people on the face of the earth.

In the book of Deuteronomy Moses tells the people of Israel: "For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth" (Deuteronomy 7:6). Israel was not just another nation, among the many nations on the earth. They were special, they were different, and they were to be separate. As God's special treasure they could not do as the other nations did, nor could they intermarry with them, or adopt their customs, rituals, or religious practices.

The survival of the people of Israel to the present day is surely one of the greatest miracles ever accomplished by the hand of God. While a few nations, like Egypt and Syria, have managed to survive to the present, never has a dispossessed people been able to survive for nearly two thousands years in exile and still maintain their ethnic identity. Where are the Philistines today? Where are the Amorites or the Hittites, or the Girgashites? They have ceased to exist as an identifiable people. Perhaps some of the NBA stars may be descendants of Goliath, but if they are they don't know it. Only the Israelites have miraculously been able to keep their identity. Clearly this can be attributed to God, but the means by which He accomplished this was to ensure that His chosen people were a separate people.

Balaam’s Blessing

When the prophet Balaam was hired by the king of Moab to put a curse on Israel, he found he couldn't do it. Instead of a curse, the Spirit of God came upon him and he blessed the Israelites. Some of the first words out of his mouth were these:

How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how shall I denounce whom the LORD has not denounced? For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him. There! A people dwelling alone, not reckoning itself among the nations… (Numbers 23:8,9)

Israel was called "a people dwelling alone." They were unique and separate in almost every way it is possible to be unique and separate. While the other nations worshiped multiple gods, they stubbornly insisted that there was only one true God, Creator of heaven and earth. The other peoples had tangible, visible, and portable gods. Israel declared that the one true God was invisible – in fact no one could see Him and live. The other nations mingled sexuality with their religion, employing temple prostitutes to ensure a steady stream of regular "worshipers." Israel's religion was built around scores of commandments, many of which demanded that the people of Israel strictly keep their sexual expressions within the bond of marriage. The people of Israel seemed almost obsessed with the writings of Moses, teaching them to their children and employing scribes to meticulously copy them word for word and letter for letter. These practices made them so radically different from all other nations that they ensured they would cling together as a people for many thousands of years. As the other tribal peoples were intermarrying, adopting one another's customs and practices, and slowly dissolving into history, the Israelites proved a hardy race that neither time nor their many enemies could conquer. Throughout countless generations they have proved to be exactly what the old prophet Balaam said they were: a people dwelling alone.

 In the Old Testament book of Ezra we read of how some of the Jews returned from captivity to Jerusalem, intent on rebuilding their ancient capital city. Ezra was a respected priest who came there to lead in that effort. But when he arrived he was met by some concerned Jews who told him: "The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands…" (Ezra 9:1). Ezra can hardly believe the Jews are doing this. He tears his robe, plucks out some of his hair, and starts fasting and praying, asking God to forgive them. He calls an assembly and tells the people: "You have transgressed and have taken pagan wives, adding to the guilt of Israel. Now therefore, make confession to the LORD God of your fathers, and do His will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land, and from the pagan wives." Then he institutes a program to carefully discover who has married pagan wives, and demands that they offer a sacrifice for their sins, and leave their wives. This fiery man of God obviously took the concept of separation very, very seriously!

That was then…

While these things are indisputable many would say this is merely an Old Testament concept. Under the Old Testament God was pretty harsh, but surely now He has lightened up! Clearly the New Testament doctrine of separation is not identical to the Old Testament concept, but while it has changed somewhat, it has not disappeared. When you read the New Testament you don't have to look too hard to discover that God still desires his redeemed people to be a special and separated people.

Perhaps the clearest New Testament passage is found in the writings of Paul:

"Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 'I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.' Therefore 'Come out from among them and be separate,' says the Lord. 'Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.'" (2 Corinthians 6:14-17).

Paul could hardly have put it more plainly. These instructions have traditionally been used in respect to marriage between believers and unbelievers, but the passage seems to go further than simply marriage. Questions are asked about what kind of fellowship is possible between two opposing sides. Can light be close buddies with darkness? Would Christ be expected to be best friends with Belial, the chief prince of the demons? Paul goes on to ask, "What part has a believer with an unbeliever?" The answer he clearly expects is "no part." Unbelievers and believers have different values, different goals, and different passions. They serve different masters, lead different lives, and are motivated by a different spirit.

Let us imagine an elderly woman who has always been a highly spiritual lady. She has been a pillar in her Baptist church, having served on numerous committees, taught Sunday school for 40 years, and supervised the annual Christmas musical for as long as anyone can remember. Suddenly she is absent from church. When this goes on for several Sundays, people begin asking about her. One of her friends announces, "Didn't you hear? A motorcycle gang came through town several weeks ago. Mabel met the gang leader, fell in love with him, and has run off and is now riding with him in the gang." Such an announcement would meet with laughter; nobody would believe it for an instant. Light and darkness have no basis for fellowship, and neither would Mabel and a motorcycle gang. Paul's exhortations to the Corinthians are based on this idea – believers are so radically different and their lives so diametrically opposed, it would be foolish to try to maintain the same ungodly relationships we had before believing on Christ.

Jesus & Sinners

It may be argued that Jesus Himself sought out sinners, ate with them, and was even called the friend of sinners. The term "friend of sinners" was actually a term coined by His enemies, who were trying to make Him look bad. When Jesus mingled with sinners, He was a Man on a mission. His goal was to transform them. He went among the spiritually sick as a dedicated physician, replying to His critics: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick… I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance" (Matthew 9:12,13).

At this point I have to state something that will shock you, and go against nearly everything you may have heard: Jesus was not a friend of sinners! He made it plain that his standards for friendship were extremely tough. He told His disciples: "You are My friends if you do whatever I command you" (John 15:14). He was friendly with sinners but He was friends with those who were traveling the same direction He was – and that was to do the Father's will.

Jesus had no problem with spending time with sinners. He shocked Zacchaeus when He told him that he wanted to eat at his home. But He did not constantly hang out with unrepentant sinners. He did not have a gang of thieves, murderers, drunkards, and whoremongers that He constantly spent time with and who were His closest friends. The closest people to Jesus were, of course, His disciples, those willing to forsake all to follow Him. He made one-time guest appearances at parties where sinners hung out and in the homes of proud Pharisees, but the people He perpetually associated with were men hand-picked to be disciples and learners in the ways of God. When Jesus finished speaking to the massive crowds, it was to these men that He would then say, "Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while." There He would quietly talk with them and share secrets and insights that no one else was privileged to hear. Jesus told His disciples, "I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15).

The Bible contains many and varied exhortations that encourage the people of God to be careful in their friendships. In 1 Corinthians we read: "Evil company corrupts good habits" (1 Corinthians 15:33). In Proverbs it says, "The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray" (Proverbs 12:26). Another proverb tells us, "He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed" (Proverbs 13:20). In modern language we could say it this way: "Watch who your homeboys are. They can lift you up, or drag you down and destroy your life."

Social Creatures

God knows we are social creatures. But in our social choices He gives us some sound advice: be separate from the ungodly, except for specific missions to win them to Christ. He does not ask nor desire us to become isolated introverts who never relate to people. In His word He makes plentiful use of a little word translated "fellowship." As the redeemed in Christ, we are called to fellowship with others who have also been redeemed. In 1 John we read, " But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7).

We go to home meetings with other believers and share our triumphs and our struggles. We enjoy pot-luck dinners at church and prayer breakfasts and men's meetings and ladies meetings. We talk and eat and study the Bible, and then in another week or two we come back and do more talking and eating and studying the Bible. This replaces the old relationships and group dynamics we experienced before surrendering to Jesus, where the focus was upon crude jokes, sexual references, hooking up, drinking, and drugs. Peter writes, "For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles --- when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries" (1 Peter 4:3). These things we can no longer participate in – through the cross and resurrection of the Lord Jesus we have become a special and separate people.


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