This post is a summary of a sermon I recently preached called “Sinful, Saved, & Sent.” It is taken from Ezekiel 36.22–36, and it represents some of my thoughts as I have processed our family’s call to missions.
God acts for the sake of His holy name (vv. 22–23)
God is preoccupied with protecting His name. The fundamental reason God gives in this passage for acting on Israel’s behalf is not grace and mercy, though His actions are certainly gracious and merciful; rather, God’s primary motive in redeeming and renewing Israel is to uphold the greatness and the sanctity of His name. Something in us wants to rebel at the thought of God being concerned primarily with Himself. We don’t like that notion because the only examples we have of self-promotion are from other sinful people, like ourselves, who wrongly want to worship self and promote self above those around them. We accuse these people of conceit or hubris or even idolatry. But God, as God, has no choice but to exalt Himself above all others because He knows perfectly and exhaustively just how great He is. The One who commands that His people “shall have no other gods before [Him]” (Exod 20.3) certainly could not have other gods before Himself. God desires to receive the glory He is due because He knows He is most worthy of being glorified.
We should desire that God receive glory as well, not only because we know how worthy of it He is, but also because we trust that what we do for God’s glory is for our good as well. We see this reality in the verses that follow. God’s desire to exalt and protect His name results in: a regathering of Israel, cleansing from impurity and idols, possession of the land, a bountiful harvest, and, most importantly, a new heart of flesh and the presence of God’s Spirit. These acts are primarily for God’s glory, but they also result in Israel’s good.
God acts for the sake of His holy name to save and sanctify His people (vv. 24–32)
Aren’t we grateful that God has made us the benefactors of His actions to exalt His name in the world? God in His grace has chosen to allow the things He does to glorify Himself to pour over onto His children and bless them, most notably in the forms of forgiveness and salvation. Only God would be so kind as to bless sinful Israel in spite of her ungodliness. The Israelites had profaned His name among the nations and were marked by iniquity and abomination, and God chose to respond to their rebellion with grace, to forgive them of their sin instead of condemning them for it. Yet He did so all for the purpose of protecting His name and reputation. God’s ultimate concern for His own glory does not preclude His ability to act on His people’s behalf, and, as we see throughout Scripture, He often accomplishes the latter by upholding the former. Notice, however, that this passage does not simply end with God blessing Israel. It ends with the nations’ response to what God does for and through Israel.
God acts for the sake of His holy name to save and sanctify His people in order that the nations might worship Him (vv. 33–36)
The end result of God saving Israel is not Israel’s salvation—God did not act to save Israel just so Israel could enjoy the benefits of being saved. God’s ultimate desire is that the nations would know that He is the Lord because they witnessed Israel’s deliverance by God and devotion to God. God always has an eye for the nations. Some have criticized Israel’s election as unfair, and to the extent that Israel did not deserve it, their election was “unfair.” But some contest that God was merely “playing favorites” by choosing one people over another. What we must keep in mind, however, is that Israel’s salvation—and our salvation, for that matter—is not an end in itself; rather, salvation is a means by which the worship of God spreads throughout the earth, and as we know, the end toward which all of God’s actions in history are directed is worship. So by saving sinners, God increases His worship. As John Piper has stated, “Worship . . . is the fuel and goal of missions.”1 Worship is both the driving force behind God’s mission on the earth and the end result of His mission. We see this reality in Scripture. In Genesis 1.28, God commands Adam and Eve: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (with worshipers).” In Genesis 12, Abram was made into a great nation for the purpose of blessings others. God chose him and blessed him, but He did so in order that in him “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (12.3). God’s desire is not just that those from some nations would worship Him but that people from every nation would worship Him as the one, true God (see also Hab 2.14; Matt 24.14; 28.18–20; Acts 1.8).
So how do we apply what this passage shows us about God and His people? Certainly this passage gives us a glimpse into God’s mercy, His grace, and His power to save the uttermost. But I think it shows us a lot about who we are as the children of God as well. In many ways, the picture of Israel in this passage is representative of all believers, and I think there are three characteristics we as believers have in common with Israel. Like Israel, we are:
This is not really news to us, or at least it shouldn’t be. We each know how desperately sinful we are, and it is evident in Scripture as well. As Paul states in Romans 3.9–12: “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” And then near the end of that chapter, Paul makes the famous declaration that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3.23). We should be rocked by the reality that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5.8)
As was the case with Israel, our salvation is a gift, not of our own merit, but of grace. “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Gal 2.16). Jesus saved us, “not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3.5). And just as Israel’s salvation was not an end itself but was a means by which the nations might know God, so our salvation is not meant to stop with us but is meant to result in a Gospel witness to those who do not know Christ.
Whereas God’s design for Israel was primarily as a “shop window” through which the nations might “look in” and see how God desired for His people to live and worship, New Testament believers have been commissioned by Christ to go to the nations and share the Good News of salvation made possible through His finished work on the cross. To the people of Israel, God said “Go to the land I am giving you and be a light to the surrounding nations by living how I have called you to live.” Christ has now extended that call by saying to believers, “Go to all lands where I am not worshiped and tell them how a life of obedience to and worship of Me is possible.” In His Great Commission, Jesus commanded His followers to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28.19–20). Just prior to His ascension to the Father, Christ said to His disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1.8). Jesus gave a promise that all nations would hear the Gospel (Matt 24.14), and we see this promise fulfilled in Revelation as John witnesses believers from every nation worshiping the Lamb (Rev 7.9–10). We desire to see people come to a saving knowledge of Christ because we want to be obedient to God’s commands to share the Gospel with those who have never heard. We want to see lives and families and cities and countries transformed because of the new life made possible through faith in Christ. And ultimately, we want to see God receive the glory He is due.
The glory of God is the driving force behind our desire to move our family overseas to plant churches, and as sinners who have been saved and sent, we are praying many unbelievers will soon give Him glory by placing their faith in His Son.
1 John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 17.