Isaiah 56:6 “And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve him, to love the name of the Lord, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant…”
People who are bound to the Lord serve him. Serving the Lord is more than cleaning up your bad habits. It includes purity and self-control, but it isn’t all about me. It’s a life that loves and serves.
It is the difference between two people I used to serve, Jerry and James. Jerry grew up in a Lutheran church, but he always seemed a little bored and restless. His whole life was a quest to find fulfillment. He was always looking for things and activities that served himself. For a while he collected movies, then video games, then computers and cars. Sadly he ended up seeking women other than his wife.
Even if he had settled on something wholesome, his whole life still revolved around the things that tickled his fancy. Some have suggested that American Christians are particularly susceptible to his disease. We may turn even wholesome family activities into an attempt to have our little slice of heavenly bliss on earth. Obtaining our piece of the American dream and living for self is never the same as binding ourselves to the Lord to serve him.
James didn’t grow up in a Lutheran home. He didn’t even grow up in a Christian home. But the Lord gathered him in with the gospel. He went on to live a simple life of faithful service. When I met him he was fighting cancer and taking chemotherapy. Many men would have excused themselves from regular service to the church at that point. Not James. He continued to lead as a church officer. He rolled up his sleeves and got his hands dirty with church cleaning and maintenance. Some of his family members made messes of their lives with bad choices, but James didn’t write them off. He didn’t compromise his beliefs for them, either. He patiently but firmly confronted their foolishness. Great things happened when God gathered him to himself by faith. His life was dramatically changed from what it would have looked like without his Lord.
Isaiah mentions another service that may be the most distinguishing difference in the people who belong to the Lord: “…all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant…” Keeping the Sabbath is a little different for us today than it was for the Jews. We have New Testament freedom about time and place.
But that doesn’t mean God is pleased if we neglect word and worship altogether. Even some Christians complain that worship is a “drag.” “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian,” they will say. That may be true so far as it goes. You don’t have to go to eat to be a human, either. But you won’t remain one very long without eating. Regular attendance at worship is a key change in the lives of the people God has gathered for himself.
Is there anything that so distinguishes a Christian as attending church to hear the gospel and receive the sacraments? Muslims feed and raise their children. Atheists have marriages that last as long as Christians’, on average. Mormons are honest and make good neighbors. People from all kinds of religions live sober lives and volunteer in their communities.
But only Christians go to church to worship Jesus and listen to his word on Sunday. Only Christians want to, because Jesus has changed their lives with his grace. Maybe we don’t always think about church this way. But it is one of the distinguishing features of those bound to God by faith.