Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:8)
Jesus’ treasures are real and substantial. But to be honest, it often seems like I partake of them less than I could. Why do I have junk instead of gold? One reason is the tension between the vastness of what God has promised and the time and effort and perseverance I need to appropriate and build treasure into my life.
A look back at Israel’s conquest of the promised land sheds light on what’s needed.
At first, we see the great triumphs described in the book of Joshua:
So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors, and they took possession of it and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their ancestors. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hands. Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled. (Joshua 21:43-45)
The Israelites’ entrance into this promised land parallels what happens when we enter Christ’s kingdom:
he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.(Titus 3:5-7)
But this triumphant passage is only the start. Looking at the Israelites again, we see that they got a warning that despite how much territory they gained, God left some enemies in the land as a test:
“…I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did.” The Lord had allowed those nations to remain; he did not drive them out at once by giving them into the hands of Joshua. (Judges 2:22-23)
Would the Israelites persevere and drive out those enemies? Unfortunately not. They got complacent; and that lackadaisical attitude really came back to bite them, eventually leading to their downfall. Their best efforts weren’t enough.
And that’s what we’re being warned against !
We are euphoric about a new life in Christ with all the tremendous changes that are included. He has rescued us from sin, death and the devil. But we must still overcome the pockets of resistance and sin in our lives, pressing on towards maturity.
We have the power to achieve something the Israelites were unable to complete. Is that because we are so super spiritually great ? Have we mounted a holy pedestal of perfection? Not at all. No, we are free to admit that our best efforts aren’t enough.
We desperately need what the Israelites did not yet have : the power of Christ’s Holy Spirit working inside of us. That power does not guarantee an obstacle-free ride to perfection, but when we decide to persevere, we will indeed make great progress towards maturity.
As we mature, we grow more skillful at distinguishing slop from gold. We learn to be increasingly quick at exchanging the slop in our lives for the gold of the boundless riches of Christ !