Perhaps you have witnessed a baton being passed in a relay race. One runner has finished his course and another will continue in the race from that point. The two athletes are clearly instructed on how to securely transfer the baton. Many eyes are watching to see if the connection will be successful! Not the least of those watching should be the giver and the receiver. However, those watching will either cheer and be encouraged, or they will utter a cry of dismay in response to what they see.
As Christians, we need to think about the spiritual “baton” we are carrying. We need to consider how well we are carrying our spiritual legacy. But especially important is how securely we, both individually and as a community of faith, are handing the baton of our spiritual heritage over to those who are coming behind us.
As we read the book of Joshua, we are excited to see many successes in the lives of God’s people. We are also shown the seriousness of some of their mistakes. God wants us to know Him. Joshua wanted the next generation to continue the legacy of faithfulness. There are some lessons from Joshua which we can learn and apply to our lives today, especially relating to passing along a spiritual legacy.
1. Dropping the Baton
In chapters one through six, we rejoice in the courage of Joshua and the priests to move forward and occupy the Promised Land, as the Lord directed. Their leadership was instrumental in the successful outcome. After a miraculous stay of the flood waters at the Jordan River, the people were able to cross. In obedience to God’s instructions they achieved a wonderful victory at Jericho.
A serious turn of events occurred as the people approached the next enemy city. Though they initially perceived it to be an easy victory, Joshua and the elders were dismayed to hear that the Israelites ran in terror as the men of Ai chased them. Joshua cried in distress, “O Lord, what shall I say, when Israel turneth their backs before their enemies…and what wilt thou do unto thy great name?” (Joshua 7:8-9) God had a surprising revelation for Joshua. “Israel hath sinned.” Outwardly, things had looked good. What had happened? The integrity of the whole effort to occupy the Promised Land was threatened.
Achan was found to be the offender. He confessed that he coveted, took silver and gold that was to be put in the treasury of the Lord, and salvaged a Babylonian garment; then he hid these things in his tent. Though this whole incident came about due to the sin of one man, notice God said, “Israel hath sinned” (Joshua 7:11). Lack of confession had caused defeat for the whole group. The people were only able to move forward and claim the promises after Achan’s sins of covetousness and self-seeking were dealt with.
In order to securely carry the baton of our spiritual heritage, we need to live and judge ourselves by the standard of God’s Word. Self examination and loving discipline within the family and church are necessary for believers today. By confessing and returning to the Lord, we may experience the joy of forgiveness and continue passing a godly legacy.
2. Carrying the Baton Faithfully
Christians have a legacy—an inheritance from God—that we are asked to pass from one generation to the next. We are not promised the title deed to land as the Children of Israel were. But we are given spiritual promises. God calls all mankind to believe in Him in order to share in His divine power, escape corruption, and inherit an eternal kingdom. Believers have the title to the legacy. But there is an enemy—Satan. Battles need to be fought with spiritual armor in order to stand against this enemy of our soul.
Second Peter 1:3-4 [ESV] tells us, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” Our hope comes by being born again through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. The reality of a changed life comes through regeneration by the Holy Spirit of God.
During their conquest, the Children of Israel saw the rewards of obedience and unity. After long years of war they were able to occupy more parts of their possession, live in their own dwellings, and rest from their enemies. “The Lord delivered all their enemies into their hand. There failed nothing of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass.” (Joshua 21:44b, 45)
Tribes and individuals were apportioned sections of land. Those who are older may note (in chapters 14 and 15) that Caleb, at age 85, instead of seeking retirement, served sacrificially. He was able to fulfill his desire to conquer the mountain he had been promised. Faith is contagious! Some younger ones caught his vision and helped him. He was given the area where Abraham and Sarah had been buried, the area of Hebron, “because he wholly followed the Lord.” Those who helped him also received an inheritance.
3. Passing on the Baton Securely
By this time Joshua was now well past 100 years of age, and he knew he would soon “go the way of all the earth.” He had concerns he needed to share with the leaders. Elders, judges, and officers of all the tribes came to hear his words. In chapter 23, Joshua asked them to be courageous, pointing out that not one thing had failed of all that God had promised. There were still ungodly people living in territories nearby whom God promised to expel, if “you will love the Lord, your God.”
Joshua, in chapter 24, encompassed more than 700 years of history in just twelve verses! What did he want them to learn from this very important history lesson? I think it would have been wonderful if we as fathers and mothers, grandparents, and church leaders could have attended this meeting! Spiritual leaders will not neglect to teach significant history to their people. It is very important to our faith to learn from the successes and avoid the mistakes of the past.
To paraphrase Joshua 23:14-15, Joshua declared that God always keeps His covenant. Joshua reminded them that God gave them land, cities, vineyards, and olive yards that they had not labored for. Then he challenged them with a question (in my own words): “Now are you willing to serve and follow God, and put away the gods you served on the other side of the river? If you go back and serve them, God’s judgment will be upon you. You must choose,” he told them. He followed that with the famous assertion hung as a motto in many of our homes: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” In today’s vernacular, the people responded by saying, “We’re in! We will fear and serve the Lord!”
Some followed in obedience, but not all. Joshua warned against the sins that would be their downfall:
- Do not think you have accomplished this alone.
- Put away idols (strange gods) from your lives.
- Do not follow the lifestyle of the pagan people that are still among you.
- Do not mention the names of their gods.
- Do not make marriages with the people of the land.
There is a great similarity between the points of Joshua’s farewell address and the prayer that Jesus offered for believers in John 17:14-18: “I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them [set them apart] through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.” To God, we have been sought out and treasured above all else! And we are asked to seek and treasure God in the same way. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2)
Can we get a grasp of the depth of Jesus’ plea? As Christian believers, we have a knowledge of God, we have God’s Word, and we are filled with God’s Holy Spirit. We have been given a very valuable spiritual legacy. Do we cherish it enough to pass it on carefully to our families and to others? God humbled the Children of Israel to prove what was in their hearts. We, too, experience tests and trials which can reveal ambitions that get in the way of useful service, or lead to rejection of His commands which causes us to fall. Jesus wants us to have the baton securely in hand. We have the opportunity to live in a position of victory that has already been won for us by Jesus! May we learn to know His character and His power better so that we may pass on the faith.
John Newton, the writer of many hymns, was once a slave trader who came to the Lord after years of extreme reckless and vile living. As the Holy Spirit continued to convict him of error, he was able to renounce the financial pursuits he once followed. He made this comparison, possibly remembering the starry nights aboard ship, while he wished for dawn to appear:
Let worldly minds the world pursue; it has no charms for me:
Once I admired its trifles too, but grace hath set me free.
As by the light of opening day the stars are all concealed,
So earthly pleasures fade away when Jesus is revealed.
4. Steps for Passing on the Faith
There is an important difference between the way God dealt with Israel in the Old Testament and the gospel of Jesus Christ. The followers of Jesus today cannot justify taking up the sword and occupying a physical territory like those who were living under the Old Covenant given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. When Jesus ministered here on earth, He announced a New Covenant. Jesus revealed a higher level of living, showed His redeeming love, and identified Himself as the Messiah. Jesus introduced a heavenly kingdom.
a. Nonconformity to the world is taught consistently in both the Old Testament and in the New Testament. However, in the New Testament retribution is not given to believers to carry out (see Matthew 5:38-42; Romans 12:17-19). Christ taught love and nonresistance, and told us not to judge the world. “See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.” (1 Thessalonians 5:15) Christian believers are asked to make judgments within the church body to preserve a consistent scriptural witness, but this discipline is not intended for general society.
Jesus has been given power over Satan. Through the resurrection we are living in a position of victory that has already been won for us by Jesus! We are to resist Satan with the spiritual weapons through the Holy Spirit. Satan may cause our enemies to use physical harm against us, and even try to defeat the divine nature working within us, but we should not surrender that ground. We are to resist the principles of force, greed and sinful pleasures that are not of the Father. These are of the world, the sphere that Satan has organized.
The rising prevalence of nationalism, with its quest for political power, is an idol that is causing some to turn away from the power of the gospel. In some areas where people are living in peace and prosperity, they may be either tempted to apathy (inaction) or, when insecure, become lured by promises of men. In other places where believers have few rights and little power, rebellion and bitterness may stir in their souls. The gospel of Jesus Christ requires those in both situations to hold the faith securely, and in all cases, to be good citizens and godly neighbors to all people.
The gospel of Jesus Christ transcends all cultures and all governments of the world. A life with possessions should certainly not be a life of ease. In affluent cultures, believers can be tempted to forget Jesus’ words that we “are not of this world” and strive with political efforts, in hope of changing men and protecting their way of life. This is unscriptural. Only changed hearts can produce lasting changes of behavior. We must remember that it is God who controls all the kings of the earth, setting up and tearing down whomsoever He will (see Daniel 4:17).
Believers in every nation are to live in such a way that we show the existence of another world. The Anabaptist believers knew there would always be conflict between the church and the world. They did not attempt to reconstruct society, but they did believe the principles given in the Sermon on the Mount were not given as a heavenly vision, but were meant to be kept and practiced. And they resolved to do that wherever they were, as a light upon a hill.
Will we show our families and neighbors (as our forefathers did) that we hold physical things loosely enough to have them be uprooted, as many believers even today are having to do in some parts of the world? Or are we showing we have more faith in (or fear of) national leaders than toward God? Jesus said of his followers, “The world hath hated them (believers), because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:14).
b. A life of holiness is another important evidence of the legacy we possess. Joshua continued his parting instructions by a call to a life of holiness, so that the Israelites would be successful in passing on their inheritance.
A strong devotional life is needed to grow in holiness. It is essential to grow in our understanding and love for God. As we see His character we will understand what pleases Him most, as well as what grieves our Savior. “For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (2 Corinthians 6:16) The pleasures and pursuits of sin defile His temple within us.
Joshua told the people to turn away from all heathen practices and false gods. Giants and walled cities needed to be conquered, but the heathen remaining had the potential of becoming snares to the Israelites. The same is true for believers today. We face secular giants that lift themselves up against the gospel of Jesus Christ, but we also face lesser choices that can hinder the passing of our faith. Every generation needs to identify and withdraw from practices that will lead us away from the truths of the Bible. If this is not done, step by step these practices will draw us away from God. Let us be continually attentive to leaving a heritage of faithfulness for those who are coming behind us.
What does this holiness include? It is a great privilege to be called God’s people, but it places great responsibility on us to show what this means! For the Jews, the consequence was that they needed to be different from all other nations. The Sabbath was holy, because it was different from other days. The Bible is holy, because it is different from all other books. The temple was holy, because it was different from other buildings. God is holy, supremely holy, because He is supremely different.
The followers of Jesus comprise a spiritual “holy nation.” We who are Christian believers are called to be holy! (See 1 John 2:15-17.) Holiness will include every area of the believer’s life: speech, thought life, leisure time activities, choice of occupation, worship practices, recreation, and music. Do we avail ourselves of the ability to sing hymns on Sundays as a way to pass on our legacy? A good hymn will lead our minds to God if it teaches Scriptural principles.
We need to be aware of spiritual issues in any given area. Most of us wouldn’t consider moving into “Canaanite territory.” But are we bringing Canaan right into our homes through the fashion, music, use of media, clothing, or other choices we make? Do we have the courage to ask ourselves whether we can truthfully say, “Hallowed be thy name,” in all of our decisions?
c. Avoiding the danger of an unequal yoke with unbelievers was another warning Joshua gave (see Joshua 23:12-13). It would be a cause of spiritual defeat: “they will turn away your heart after their gods” (1 Kings 11:2). The context for this passage was when King Solomon loved many strange women. The Lord had warned the Children of Israel centuries earlier that they should not intermarry with the people of the land. As we work with or become acquainted with our neighbors, we must be aware that we may absorb their beliefs. Too much interaction with unbelievers may lead us to question, “Did God say?” We cannot flirt with the world and the values they hold. If we find ourselves attracted to their ways of slander, disrespect for authority, social drinking, or types of recreation that are unprofitable, we need to pray for the renewing of our mind and guidance in that relationship. James asks, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world [unscriptural values and practices] is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” (James 4:4)
This was the case with Samson, as he was deceived by Delilah and came to a sad demise. Likewise, Solomon followed the flesh rather than the Spirit of God, and was judged by God. His sin contributed to his son, Rehoboam, losing the kingdom (see 1 Kings 11:1-12). What a legacy lost!
God has instituted several ways of passing on our spiritual legacy. Among them are the Christian home, a church that is in spiritual unity, and ministering to the spiritual and physical needs of people. The beliefs of one who is in communion with God cannot be hidden from others who are seeking salvation. If you have not already done so, seek forgiveness, and pray to receive the divine nature of Jesus in exchange for your ruined soul. Hold it securely in your heart. Seek to worship, and learn from those committed to God’s Word. Pass it on! May the assertion of Joshua be ours: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!”