No Substitute for Vigilance (I)
Based on a sermon series by Aun-Quek Chin—Singapore
Priest or prophet, king or
commoner—regardless of station or position, all men struggle with sin since
time began. While we are on this earth, there is simply no immunity from the
lures of sin and we simply cannot ignore it. We can only acknowledge it,
confront it, struggle with it, and finally either yield to it or overcome it. Yet
more often than we should, we find ourselves yielding to sin. In this article,
we will study one of the main causes for sin in our lives: a lack of vigilance
in our faith.
Today, elders, deacons, preachers,
and believers of the True Jesus Church (TJC) must all battle complacency in
faith. Alas, as we have seen, one too many formerly pious and fervent servants
of God have succumbed to the lures of sin and in the process wrecked their own
faith and worse still, the faith of others as well. Ironically, many a time, it
is the faithful church-going group of Christians who are most vulnerable to
Many pious Christians believe themselves
to be impervious to sin and temptation by virtue of their many years of service
and ministry in church. While regular service and attendance in church does
indeed make one’s faith more formidable, the sense of spiritual immunity it unwittingly
fosters has led many to let their guard down and slacken as they mature in
their faith. The growing lack of vigilance is, as we shall see, a grave
weakness that the devil exploits to destroy God’s best workers.
There are two consequences of this
weakness. Firstly, we reduce God’s majesty by worshipping Him in our own way. Secondly,
we allow our lusts and desires to displace God as the object of our worship,
ultimately prostrating ourselves before artificial idols—glory and money—while mindlessly
chanting the same old “Lord, Lord.”
In other words, a non-vigilant or careless
faith will lead us to distort how
and what we
worship, all the while we deceive ourselves as being faithful Christians.
THE WAY I WANT IT
Firstly, a negligent faith in God
deforms our mode of service to God, causing us to worship God in any way we
wish instead of the ways He has instructed us. Christians often do this because
they believe they can get the best of both worlds by accommodating their
desires with their worship of God. Though by doing so, they invariably prioritize
the gratification of the flesh above their adherence to God’s word.
The episode in Exodus 32 involving
Aaron and the golden calf is a clear example of how such a tragedy can unfold.
Aaron's introduction into the biblical narrative sees him starting out as a “minor
character.” He was to be merely the mouthpiece of Moses, after Moses had told
God that he is “slow of speech and of tongue.” However, God subsequently chose
Aaron to occupy the highly significant sacred office as His very first High
Priest. As High Priest, Aaron was the most eminent religious authority among
the Israelites, second only to Moses, and the Bible even records of God
speaking to Aaron directly just as He did with Moses. Thus it would seem reasonable
to suggest that Aaron should have been intimately familiar with God. Moreover, Aaron
had also witnessed firsthand the powers of God in Egypt; he knew of God's
strictness regarding absolute faithfulness and obedience to Him throughout
their journey in the wilderness. The chosen people of God thus had good reason
to look up to Aaron as a role model.
So how was it that Aaron could
have led his people to commit such grave sin as idolatry, one of the most
egregious and talked-about sins in the Bible? Why did three thousand men of
Israel have to die at the hands of their brothers on that fateful day (v28)? One
of the most fundamental reasons is that Aaron and the Israelites were not
vigilant. While they waited for Moses at the foot of Mount Sinai, they allowed
impatience and uncertainty to cloud the clarity of their faith—the same faith
that trusted in the strength of God’s hands to pull the Red Sea apart.
Consequently, they took it upon themselves to worship God in the manner they
There are two reasons to explain
why believers would alter God’s direct instructions regarding how we ought to
worship Him. The first reason is most evident in the case of the Israelites: we
choose to worship God in the ways that gratify our immediate lusts and vices.
In Exodus 32:6, Moses records that the “people sat down to eat and drink and
rose up to play.” Apostle Paul goes on to elaborate that these Israelites were
taking part in idolatrous acts that incorporated pagan elements into the
Israelites’ once-sacred mode of worship (1 Cor 10:7). To the Israelites, the
invention of such a practice was ingenious: not only could they fulfill their
obligations to God by supposedly worshipping Him as the golden calf, they could
satiate their base instincts of sensuality and revelry in the process.
While it may be difficult for us
to imagine incorporating religious practices of other faiths into our worship, the
danger persists, perhaps even more insidiously, in the form of secularization
today. For instance, the types of music that we choose to praise God with is
one of the many areas of our own worship that is susceptible to distortion by
secular influences. The infiltration of such secular practices into modern
Christianity is often gradual and done in the innocent name of evangelism. For example,
many churches have justified the
inclusion of incredibly sensuous and worldly
activities in their worship by claiming that this is the best way to reach out to the world. Upon seeing
the thousands that flock
to such services, people are compelled to agree. However, this is misguided and as the true church of God, we should not be concerned with
marketing our gospel or packaging it attractively so as to garner mass appeal.
The fundamental spirit of our worship and our service is our trust in the power
of the Holy Spirit, believing that it is indeed only God who gives the growth.
In today’s highly progressive socio-political age, the ability of secular
influences to contaminate the purity and reverence of our worship has never been greater. Hence, we must remember to be
vigilant in how we choose to conduct our worship.
The second reason we alter the way
we worship is to satisfy our own preferences and for our convenience. After we have believed in God for some time, we
might begin to indulge ourselves in the mercies of God and believe that God
would accept changes to the ways we worship, changes that are made to suit our
lifestyles and tastes. The Israelites certainly thought so when they chose to build a
golden idol, created
with their own jewelry and possessions, thinking that this somehow endowed them with authority over the
true God. God’s seeming aloofness, Moses’s delay, uncertainty over the future—these
were inconveniences faced by the Israelites at the foot of Mount Sinai that prompted
them to take matters into their own hands.
If we consider this in today’s terms, we can think of it as
Sabbath services clashing with our treasured, once-in-a-lifetime appointments. Or, perhaps our preference
for certain speakers over others and how we choose to be absent for sermons
given by those we dislike or find less interesting.
Reading of how Saul’s premature
offering to God cost him a critical war and his favor with God, we learn that
it is always God who makes the call. And because we trust in Him to do the best
for us, we follow in faith. We must put God’s instructions and requirements
above our own comforts and preferences, for this is part of what it means
to take up one’s cross and to trust and follow Christ.
When our faith grows inattentive,
not only does the way we worship change for the worse, the object of
our worship changes as well. Gradually, false idols begin to displace God in
our hearts and minds.
False Idols: Self-Glorification
The world presents us with
innumerable idols to emulate and worship. Some secular role models are indeed
worthy of emulation and praise for their heroism or
the ingenuity of their contributions to humanity. However, no one, no
matter how impressive, deserves to be worshipped with the same amount of
dedication and fervor with which we worship Jesus.
While the temptation to worship
others is great, especially when we aspire to be in the positions of our idols
someday, greater still is the temptation to seek for, and bask in, the
adulation others give us. It is hard not to like being worshipped and praised,
but Paul, a man most worthy of admiration
by worldly standards, shows us how we should act when we are placed in such situations. As recorded
by Luke in Acts 14, Apostle Paul, accompanied by his co-worker Barnabas, had
recently healed a born-cripple
in Lystra. The miracle drove the Lycaonians
into a religious frenzy, prompting loud cries of veneration and declarations throughout the city, such as,
“The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” A priest of Zeus even
brought sacrifices to offer before Paul and Barnabas, believing them to be both Hermes and Zeus incarnate
However, to everyone’s surprise, the two miracle-workers of
Christ did not take this well. Tearing their clothes, they ran into the crowds,
trying to shout over the din of misdirected praise and worship:
“We are also men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that
you should turn from these useless things to the living God…”
Why did Paul and Barnabas reject the Lycaonians’ praise and worship?
To any bystander, it would
have been well earned. However, Paul knew that even at his best, he was only a vessel, a
messenger, a servant bearing good news. Paul knew that his hands healed no one
unless they were holding on to God at the same time; his tongue spoke nothing,
unless the words were the Living Word; his feet could bring him nowhere, unless
the Holy Spirit guided them. In essence, Paul knew that all glory and all strength
were God’s, and God’s alone.
What about receiving praise for
our secular achievements, those we believe come from our effort and smarts?
What does Jesus have to say?
“I do not receive honor from men… How can you believe, who receive honor
from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?” (Jn
5: 41, 44)
Very simply, we reject the honor
from men because we know that reserved in Heaven is an even greater honor given
by God. Indeed, there is
nothing to stop us from becoming gods on earth to our fellow mortals but to do that is to
forsake an even greater seat of esteem—one next to our Father, the Creator. Even
while we strive to lead exemplary lives to show the world the powerful
integrity and character of a true Christian, we should do so for the ultimate ends of
bringing glory to God, not ourselves.
False Idols: Money
Interestingly, this formidable
competitor against God for residence in our hearts is inanimate. That one of
our greatest idols is not even a living being is symptomatic of the age-old
disease of materialism: powerful enough to reduce thinking, feeling, spiritual,
and faithful Christians to lifeless money-chasing machines who willingly
sacrifice faith, family, and freedom in Christ for something that can be
literally blown away by the wind. Just as this idol—money—is dead, so are its
most ardent disciples.
becoming a disciple of money is not an option. Jesus clearly warns in Matthew
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love
the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You
cannot serve God and mammon.”
This warning makes the choice
simple, yet exceedingly frustrating, for the Christian. On a fundamental level,
we know how a life spent chasing after a larger bank account is meaningless and is at odds with the meaningful life Christ has
given us through His death. Yet, by putting matters in such an uncompromising binary, Jesus
prevents us from doing what we truly want: to find a “compromise” to gain the best of both worlds. We wish
to have both a meaningful spiritual life filled with good deeds and ministry, and yet also a life with more money and
luxuries. For Jesus to say that such a situation is impossible is indeed deeply
distressing for many. When we choose our gods or God, it was, and still is, all
or nothing. This is the same dilemma the Israelites faced.
Today, when we read of the many follies and failures
of the Israelites, we might be
inclined to think of them
as an extremely fickle,
feckless, and confused group of people, who were constantly sabotaging their chances of prosperity and bliss.
While that may be true, we should not think ourselves as being any better. The
modern Christian faces perhaps even more trials than they did, and in the age
we live in today, our idol of materialism is an even greater delusion. The economic
system of Western capitalism has brought with it an accompanying culture of
materialism that has found its way into Christianity, where it has subtly
displaced God as the object of worship while retaining all the trappings of
Christianity like prayers and hymn-singing. Thus, what we see in many churches
today are people using “Lord, Lord” as a stand-in for their true cry for money
and prosperity. As TJC believers, we should be vigilant and examine whom we are
truly worshipping in our hearts.
FINISH THE RACE
The Christian journey is a
marathon, not a sprint. At certain points in our lives, we experience short
bursts of spiritual energy, invigorated by a sudden display of God’s grace and
mercy or by deeply spiritual experiences such as visions. However, these rarely
sustain us for a prolonged period of time. Sooner or later, we settle back into
our routine of an unreflective pursuit of power, status, and fortune. Therefore,
vigilance is key. Having a
sober faith that is always aware of God’s bigger picture and that always
remembers God’s word, even in the most dire of situations, is the only way we
can finish this marathon—where our enemies are not just distance and fatigue,
but distractions and evil line the paths on either side of us, calling out for
us to yield to the demands of our flesh.
To summarize, to be vigilant is to
remember to be faithful to God alone and to the clear ways He has told us to
worship Him. Just like the
Israelites, we, as the chosen TJC, are now at the foot of Mount Sinai. Just
like Moses, Jesus is descending soon. Will we survive the wait?