We live at a time when few young people in the church are interested in entering Christian service. One reason is that the hearts of many are self-absorbed and self-serving rather than devoted to the interests of God. We will not see greater numbers being recruited for Christian work until revival descends upon our churches.
Yet even now, there are young people answering the call to do God's work. These are the ones with hearts liberated from bondage to self. The process of making the heart pliable to the will of God and responsive to the call of God is known as consecration.
It is difficult to talk about concepts if we lack the words to express them. Without the right vocabulary, it is difficult even to conceive of ideas, and thinking becomes simplistic, perhaps to the point of being simple-minded. Some languages are so deficient in vocabulary that they permit only a very rough translation of the Bible. They may lack words for faith, grace, heaven, even God. In our language, we are losing vocabulary of many kinds, but especially words important to the Christian world view. For example, the words related to the idea of consecration are seldom heard anymore outside the church, and even within the church they are becoming rare. It will be worthwhile to examine these terms individually to show that they all share the same core meaning.
- dedicate: The term means to set aside for some specific purpose, originally a serious or sacred purpose. Nowadays we speak of a machine dedicated to a task. But we retain the older meaning when we speak of someone dedicating his life to God.
- devote: The original meaning was to dedicate by means of a vow. A "devout person" is one devoted to God—that is, wholly given to God.
- consecrate: The term has not strayed from its root meaning, which is to make something sacred.
- hallow: A close synonym of the previous term, "to hallow" is to make something holy, or to recognize something as holy.
- sanctify: From a Latin word equivalent to the Anglo-Saxon "hallow," this also means to make something holy.
The foregoing definitions hinge on the terms "sacred" and "holy." These are synonyms with the basic meaning "set apart." The main difference between them is that "holy" is often used to describe God Himself, whereas "sacred" is reserved for things set apart for God, or things made holy by their association with God. The point of convergence for all the terms in the list given above is therefore the idea of being set apart. In every instance it is clear that the term speaks of a separation from the realm of things sinful and profane to the realm of God. We find the same basic meaning in the Hebrew and Greek words for "holy," qadosh and hagios.
Peter uses a series of titles to describe the separated state of God's people. They are a "chosen generation [literally, race], a royal priesthood, an holy nation [ethnos], a peculiar people [literally, a people for a possession]" (1 Pet. 2:9). The people of this world also belong to a race, a priesthood, a nation, and a people. Their race is all people with the same ancestry, their priesthood is all who share the same religion, their nation is all fellow countrymen, and their people is the entire mass of mankind. As believers we have comparable affiliations. But in each case we are different from worldly people. We are set apart from them, or consecrated. Our race is chosen, because we have been chosen out of the world and born of the Holy Spirit. In this case our separateness is one of parentage. God, not Satan, is our Father. Our priesthood is royal, because we are united in the one religion that worships the true King, and we will reign with Him. In this case our separateness is one of status. Our nation is holy, because we are destined to live within the boundaries of God's Kingdom. In this case our separateness is one of place. Our people is God's possession, because we belong to the church that Christ purchased with His own blood. In this case our separateness is one of belonging. We belong to God, not Satan.
To repeat, we are separate in parentage because God is our Father. We are separate in status, because we will reign with God. We are separate in place, because we will live in His kingdom. And we are separate in belonging, because we belong to Him. We are separate—that is, set apart.
To be set apart implies both a removal and a joining—a removal from one thing and a joining with another.
For a servant of God, consecration involves a separation from everything that would detract from his service. The chief impediment is sin, which may be either an open violation of divine law, or simply an omission to do right because of distractions that are not inherently sinful. To take a nap or chat with a friend over the phone are good things in themselves, unless they steal time from something more important.
The Bible uses various metaphors to show a servant's separation from sin. Paul calls him a vessel, suggesting that he must carry something in God's service (2 Tim. 2:20-21). What a servant of God carries can be conceived in various ways. We carry the gospel message (Acts 9:15; 2 Cor. 4:7). In our good works we carry grace to those who receive the benefit. It is even possible to see us as carriers of the Holy Spirit, for others receive the Holy Spirit when they accept our message. But to be useful vessels we must be clean. In 2 Timothy 2:21, the antecedent of "these" is "profane and vain babblings" in verse 16. Preoccupation with empty words renders a vessel unfit for service. Another source of uncleanness is "youthful lusts" (v. 22). A vessel polluted by sins of either kind is not a proper conveyance for sacred things, or for the sacred person of the Holy Spirit.
The writer of Hebrews compares serving God to running a race (Heb. 12:1). To best his opponents, the athlete must run with his hands free and with his body clad in as little as possible. He must eliminate any extra weight that would slow him down. Likewise, to be fruitful in the Christian life, we must lay aside the weight of sin.
All the hindrances to a useful Christian life may be grouped under three headings: the world, the flesh, and the devil. All three tempt a believer to commit sin. Before entering the work of God, a man may go through pitched battles with all three, although generally God allows him to be mainly tested in his area of greatest weakness.
Take D. L. Moody, for instance. He was an energetic, outgoing man with a natural love for people. The biggest struggle he had to face before God could use him was therefore with the world. He had to be willing to set himself apart from the world's pleasure and approval. He reported later in life that he did not become really effective in his work until he gave up attending theatrical shows. These wasted his time and encouraged frivolous companionship with people who were not interested in serving God.
One who had to endure a heart-wrenching battle with the flesh before he could move forward in fulfilling God's will for his life was Hudson Taylor. As a teenager he accepted God's call to become a missionary to China, but soon afterward he met and fell in love with a pretty music teacher, a friend of his sister. For almost two years he cherished the hope of marrying this girl, but at last she wrote to him that she did not want to spend her life in China. Nor would her father allow it. Her letter was an ultimatum that if Taylor wished to marry her, he had to give up his dream of mission work. He naturally went through extreme anguish before he at last found peace in his decision to renounce the girl and serve Christ. He felt pain because he could not see the future. He did not know that the woman he would marry, his Maria, was a far more substantial person and suitable companion than the pretty face he left behind. In Christian biographies we find many stories similar to Taylor's—of a future servant of God who had to choose between a girl and God's will.
The devil has directly confronted many future servants of God and tried to overthrow them. In the dark period of Peter's life, when he saw Christ arrested and taken to judgment, Satan sifted him like wheat (Luke 22:31). He cornered Peter in a place of peril, where he feared for his life, and through various bystanders provoked him to deny that he was Jesus' disciple. But the remorse that Peter then suffered strengthened his love for Jesus and prepared him to be an effective leader of the church.
You must ask yourself whether you have renounced the world, the flesh, and the devil. Has any of these wrapped its tentacles around your soul? You can be sure that you will not accomplish much in Christian service if you are trying to be as worldly and as carnal as you can be without actually destroying your reputation. The farther you distance yourself from the world, the flesh, and the devil, the more effective you will be in Christian service.
Twenty-five years ago, I got rid of my TV. Am I suggesting that you should get rid of yours? No, who am I to judge another man's servant? The point I wish to make is this. When I stand before God in judgment, He will doubtless show me that the absence of TV from my home has saved me an immeasurable quantity of temptation and has allowed me to spend far more time on things of eternal value.
I challenge anyone to show me how I have done any harm to myself or my family by depriving us of a television. Without it, my children became much better readers, speakers, and musicians. I do not think anyone in my family feels deprived. So, I submit that my decision to exclude from my home that medium of wicked influence known as television has yielded many benefits and nothing but benefits.
Paul pictures consecration as presenting our bodies a living sacrifice to God, the result being that we ourselves become "holy" (Rom. 12:1). Consecration is not complete if we stop at separating ourselves from the unholy. As we must separate from one thing, we must embrace another. Specifically, as we separate from the world, we must embrace the will of God. In our former state of dependence on worldly thinking, God's will was a mystery to us. Once we ceased to be conformed to this world, we discovered that God's will is to serve Him, and to serve Him unreservedly with all of our faculties and energy.
But our picture of doing God's will should not be a robot plodding mindlessly down a dreary road. No, the right picture shows us walking along in the company of Christ. Although He is our shepherd, He does not walk ahead of us, so that we cannot see His face. Rather, He walks beside us. Doing God's will is an experience of personal fellowship with Christ. He is always there to hear us, counsel us, console us, and heal us, as well as to share in our joy and laughter.
We live in the Last Days, which the Bible compares to the days of Noah (Matt. 24:37-39). The one man who received the grace of God in the days before the Flood was Noah. We who live before another time of judgment should therefore view Noah as our example. What does the Bible say about him? "But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD" (Gen. 6:8). Why did he? "Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God" (Gen. 6:9). To walk with God is the essence of being a consecrated Christian.
Four principles further clarify the meaning of consecration.
Principles of Consecration
Principle 1/ A consecrated Christian is heaven-directed.
A man filled with the Holy Spirit needs no one else to teach him (1 John 2:27). The Holy Spirit teaches him through the Word of God (Psa. 119:99-100). As he studies the Word of God, the Holy Spirit brings into his mind the light of new understanding and wisdom. The divine presence that teaches him also gives him direction in his daily affairs (Rom. 8:14; Gal. 5:16-18).
The sufficiency of the Holy Spirit does not mean that human teachers and counselors offer nothing of value. But primarily they are helpful only to the extent of showing us truth in the Word of God that we would probably never discover ourselves. We might fail to discover it for either of two reasons: 1) we are neglecting the study of Scripture, whether because we are too lazy or too lacking in thirst for knowledge, or 2) sin is blinding us to what Scripture says.
Yet I can honestly tell you that I have learned far more from direct study of the Word of God than I ever gained from preaching or books. And in making the important decisions in my life, I have found my own judgment as to the Spirit's leading more reliable than anyone else's. I am certainly capable of blunders, but I make them only when I fail to follow His leading.
We must never allow the opinions of others to steer us away from God's clear direction. Remember the prophet that God sent to condemn the altar that King Jeroboam erected in Bethel (1 Kings 13:1-32)? The Lord instructed him that when he had carried out his mission, he should return to Judah immediately, without stopping even for food and water. But when an old prophet near Bethel heard about what the other prophet had said and done, he wanted to meet him. He pursued and overtook him on the road and invited him for a meal. He set aside the man's objections by claiming that an angel had instructed him to entertain the traveler. It was a lie. But the prophet from Judah, in disregard of the Lord's direct orders, went and ate with the other man. During the meal, the word of the Lord came to the old prophet, who pronounced judgment on his guest for disobedience. Afterward, when the traveler went on his way, a lion caught and slew him.
The point of the story is that God never contradicts Himself. If He gives us direction, contrary direction from other people cannot be from God. The final authority on God's will for my life must be me. Anything others say must be tested against the still small voice of the Spirit in my own heart. Of course, I must be sure that I am hearing His voice and not the voice of my own will. But by honest self-examination, I can make the distinction.
Principle 2/ A consecrated Christian is heaven-dependent.
For many years a plaque has hung in my study displaying the promise, "But my God shall supply all your need," taken from Philippians 4:19. In our years of serving the Lord as Christian school teachers, we have seen the promise fulfilled over and over again.
My wife has kept a record of how God has assisted us in each of our moves. Moving is an ordeal, as you all know. Selling one house and buying another can be a great trial. Yet the Lord has always eased the burden, and by His kind help has strengthened our faith and given us reason to praise Him. Let me cite a few examples.
While we taught school in Bay City, Michigan, the local economy was severely depressed. There were houses near us that remained for sale during the whole seven years we were in Bay City. So, when we put our house on the market, we did not know what might happen. But the Lord brought two buyers on one day who bid against each other, and we were able to close on the day following the last day of school.
When we moved from South Carolina to Georgia, our house sold the first day it appeared on the market. But after buying a new house in Georgia, we discovered something very wrong about the neighborhood that made us regret our purchase. But the contract was contingent on completion of our sale in South Carolina. Just then, after much prayer, the deal in South Carolina fell through, releasing us from our contract in Georgia. Although we were now delivered from a big problem, we were back at square one, with little time remaining before I was due to start my new job. But the Lord worked it out. After returning to the market, the house in South Carolina again sold the first day. We quickly found a house in Georgia. And we were able to close on both houses before school started.
When we moved to our present location, we again had to sell our house despite a slumping housing market. Yet both the sale and the closing occurred just in time for us to move before the beginning of school.
During our seven years in Memphis, we worked on a part-time basis to save the school the expense of paying fringe benefits. The school was struggling to be solvent. We had to pay our own medical insurance, which for people our age is quite expensive. Yet when we left Memphis, our net worth (to avoid creating a misimpression here, perhaps I should say, "our paltry net worth") was no less than when we came.
Principle 3/ A consecrated Christian is heaven-bound.
One of my father's favorite songs was, "This world is not my home. I'm just a-passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me from heaven's open door, and I can't feel at home in this world anymore." (That's the closest to a solo you'll ever hear from me.)
In our years of serving the Lord, we have moved eight times. Our life has truly been a pilgrimage. We feel a strong kinship with the saints described in Hebrews.
13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
14 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.
15 And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.
16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.
But though the Lord has wrenched us away from many homes, we cling to the Lord's promise to His disciples.
29 And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's,
30 But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.
Mark 10: 29-30
Yes, we have suffered persecution, mainly at the hands of false brethren. But we have also been compensated a hundredfold.
Where is this abundance of family Jesus promised? It is all those to whom we have ministered over the years. They are our real family. We have a relationship with them that will continue and grow deeper throughout eternity. Where is this abundance of houses and lands that Jesus promised? It is the houses and lands that people have shared with us when they have made us their guests for a meal or evening of fellowship.
It is clear then that the gains in pilgrimage outweigh the sacrifices. When I think of pilgrims, I think of my great grandfather, William Tassell, born in England in 1845. Many years ago, my wife and I visited the family graveyard in Herne, Kent, next to a picturesque village church dating from the 1400s. The Tassell tombstones lining the paths go back about two centuries. William's father, Joshua Tassell, was a typical country squire in those days. He lived for the pleasure of hunting and carousing, but the son was a Christian. In later life he was a Baptist, so we may assume that he was a Baptist in his youth. Since he lived not far from London, it is probable that he heard Spurgeon preach (even Queen Victoria went in disguise to hear him), and perhaps he became a Christian under his influence.
In any case, the story goes that when William was still quite young, about twenty, he rebuked his father for some wickedness—the exact issue has been forgotten—and his father disinherited him. So, to support his family, he went off to sea. He was married in 1866, and in the same year he sailed aboard the ship The Great Eastern, which laid the Atlantic Cable. Afterward, according to his youngest daughter Lillian, who corresponded with me when I was a young man, he sailed all over the world. In one of her letters that I still possess, she expresses how much she enjoyed hearing him tell about his travels. It is interesting that his wife apparently accompanied him on some of his voyages. Birth records in the family Bible show that she crossed the Atlantic at least three times and gave birth to children in eight cities and three countries. So, she and her husband were both pilgrims.
The Lord never allowed them to settle down and become satisfied with this world. One way he kept them looking upward was by bringing rare tragedy into their lives. Over a span of twenty-six years they had thirteen children, but only five lived to be adults. Six died between the ages of six months and a year. One died at age five, another at age six. The parents suffered the death of a child in 1868, 1870, 1873, 1876, 1879, two in 1886, and one in 1887. Do you think they were hardened to grief and indifferent to death? I doubt it. My grandfather Joseph, William's son, loved little children. When he was about eighty, he lived with us awhile. I remember him going out to the backyard to play softball with me. I imagine his father loved children too. Even the short entries in the family Bible hint at his grief. A little girl died in 1876. Two years later, another little girl was born, and he gave her the same name, as if the first had been restored to him, but the second little girl died also.
Why do I tell this story? Because it has a happy ending. All of William's children who survived were Christians. My grandfather settled in Toledo, Ohio, and became a pillar of the local Baptist church, the same church that both my mother and I were raised in. Recently, my granddaughter Katie was baptized. She is the sixth generation of believers who have come from William Tassell.
He never was at home in this world. But he has a home now in heaven, and in eternity a multitude of his own descendants will welcome him into their homes. He lost his inheritance, but he gained the far better inheritance of a godly seed, which now numbers well over a hundred.
Principle 4/ A consecrated Christian is heavenly minded.
After 1950, a new form of Christianity arose that is known as new evangelicalism, a radical departure from historic fundamentalism. Most churches today with fundamentalist roots are at some stage of drift to new evangelicalism. Eventually, as they go in that direction, they abandon good standards and good doctrine. At first, however, the only noticeable shift may be in attitude, from heavenly mindedness to earthly mindedness.
Someone with this attitude sees the Christian life not as a life of service, sacrifice, and suffering in preparation for eternity, but as the pursuit of happiness in this world. He wants the good life, as it is defined in contemporary America—a life free from trouble and overflowing with good times and good things. Although his good times may not be riotous and shameful like the carousing of the ungodly, they may still add up to a self-centered lifestyle. Although his hands may not be clenched in selfish defiance against giving to others, they may still be busy gathering possessions.
In his appetite for possessions, this contemporary Christian may not be at all different from the crowd. He covets the same cars, the same vacations, the same house in the same suburbs, the same boat and SUV, the same HDTV and surround sound, the same rich food, the same wardrobe, the same interior décor, the same landscaping, the same gifts under the same Christmas tree, and, of course, the same gadgets for every conceivable purpose. To put it bluntly, when we compare him with an average worldling, we find exactly the same materialism.
A consecrated saint has a very different view of life. He sees it as a short span of hard work in anticipation of the day when he will stand in judgment. He has little patience with self-pampering choices, with habitual ease and luxury, and with bondage to money and career. His priorities are in line with eternal importance. He accepts Paul's charge to Timothy.
3 Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
4 No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.
2 Timothy 2:3-4
© 2007, 2012 Stanley Edgar Rickard (Ed Rickard, the author). All rights reserved.