Vicarious Faith

Vicarious Faith

Saturday’s Column: Learning From Lehman

David Chang

Joshua, at the end of his life in Joshua chapter 24, summons all the tribes of Israel and their leaders to Shechem. He reminds them of their journey as a nation so far, what all God has done for them since the days of their forefathers, and everything God has done for them from Egypt until that present moment. Starting in verse 14, Joshua calls the people to fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and in faithfulness and to put away the gods beyond the River and of Egypt. 

Joshua issues a challenge to the people, that if it’s evil in their eyes to serve the Lord, to choose that day whom they will serve—whether the gods beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites whose land they conquered. As for Joshua and his house, they will serve the Lord. Israel answers, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods” (v. 17a). They review what they have seen and what they know that God did for them since bringing them out of Egypt. Joshua continues to challenge their response. They respond the same way: “No, but we will serve the Lord” (v. 21). Joshua once again warns them, that by renewing this covenant, they are becoming witnesses against themselves. The words they say are weighty; it is nothing to play around with. The moment they choose God, that decision comes with accountability and responsibilities. Israel answers, “We are witnesses” (v. 22). 

This scene of unity as the entire nation of Israel come together to answer their calling to serve God is incredible. Just imagining all of those people coming together to renew their covenant relationship with God is a chilling image, in a good way. However, the other side of this story, the part that makes this scene a tragic one, is the reality of their eventual disobedience and apostasy. Just a single page after this part of the Bible, we know what begins to take place in Judges. Israel’s continual downfall as they constantly forget their God and stray towards other pagan gods of the peoples they failed to drive out as God commanded them.

Reading this interaction between Joshua and the people of God and knowing what takes place shortly after makes us wonder: how many people in that crowd that day were truly zealous for God?

We do not do faith alone; Christianity was designed by God to be something that we share with each other and with those around us. However, it is also a double-edged sword in that we as participants of this faith journey can mistaken other’s zeal for our own. When things are going well and you see work being done, it is easy for our emotions to get heightened. And there is a sense in which we need to promote that kind of synergy among the members of the Body in all that we do. However, boil it down to the core. At the end of the day, we are accountable for what we do individually. As difficult as it is, we have to constantly challenge ourselves and ask: “Is my faith truly mine? Is this zeal for God that I feel truly my zeal for Him—or is it a momentary passion that I feel vicariously through others?”

It is a dangerous thing, living vicariously through others. Passion in the hands of others does not do much good to us in the long run. The same goes for faith. I wonder just how many people among the number that was present there when the covenant was renewed were truly zealous for God. And I wonder how many in that number was just saying the right things, looking the right way, and just went along with the flow. Feeling the passion and the emotions around them in that moment, mistaking it for their own zeal for God. Living vicariously through others is dangerous for obvious reasons, but it is harmful in that it is deceiving. The deception is that the congregation’s overarching atmosphere, culture, and zeal can replace one’s own true desire for God. Personal zeal for God requires real work, effort, and endurance.

Let us never become a people who lives vicariously through others’ faith. Rather, let us individually be producers and workers for the kingdom, that when we do come together corporately like tonight, the fruits we bear are hundred-fold. 

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