John the Baptist was an interesting character. I think many would see his choice of lifestyle as verging on romantic…after all, today, many people are going green, or vegan, or minimalist, or one of myriad other lifestyles that are a rejection of the mainstream American way. Our culture has long been an indulgent one…isn’t that in fact what “the American Dream” is all about. You can be anything YOU WANT!…you can do anything…you can have anything YOU WANT! It only takes a little hard work and elbow grease and YOU can make it happen. Choosing to reject this way of living can’t be altogether bad. However, if we briefly examine the thoughts underlying these common contemporary choices and those of John the Baptist, I think we’ll find some stark disparities.
So, why in the world would people today give up personal comforts for the sake of saving trees or animals, the ozone, or other people. This has to be good…after all, stewarding God’s creation well and, by all means, loving other people are principles taught by scripture and are, therefore, always good…right? This is a complicated question, and I think the answer is both yes and no. Any time people perform actions that oppose the manifestation and advancing of sin in this life, it’s a good thing, and God chooses to work through believers and non-believers to do “good”. All suffering is a result of the curse, and the church, as partakers of His Kingdom, are victorious over the effects of sin and are to be about the undoing of sin. So, yes, ministering to physical needs is good, but not ultimately good. And we are left to question whether any “good” thing that keeps us from that which is “best” is in fact good to begin with.
The reasons people give up meat or animal products, electricity from major companies, shoes made in factories, or even a meal or two…these things are in fact good and people do so with good reason. These sacrifices are made for the sake of being better stewards, or loving people well, or for taking care of their bodies. But this is fundamentally different than John the Baptist’s giving up a comfortable and mainstream lifestyle. He didn’t choose to spend his entire life in the desert, to eat only locusts and honey, or to wear garments of camel hair and a leather belt for “good” reasons, but for the ultimately good reason. He sacrificed all (I’m hesitant to say all, but honestly, I think this is categorically accurate) those things which would have satisfied the flesh for the sake of serving as a living illustration. He rejected all the comforts of society to send the message that “I’m living in a physical wilderness, but possess all the spiritual riches God has to offer…but you, though you possess material riches, dwell in a spiritual desert…REPENT!”
John didn’t make sacrifices to save the whales or reduce hunger but to be a minister of reconciliation. Christian, you are called to be a prophet not unlike John the Baptist. You are called to help people understand that apart from Jesus, they’re spiritually bankrupt. I think it’s worth asking ourselves a few questions: 1) Do I stand out against mainstream culture? 2) Do I sacrifice everything that indulges the flesh for the sake of loving people? 3) Do my sacrifices do good only or do they serve the ultimate good?
Personally, I know I have much room for growth…let’s pray God, by His Word and His Spirit, works mightily in the lives of His Church for the sake of His name.
Grace & Peace!