Today’s read was the little book of Malachi, just 3 short chapters. Malachi speaks to the spiritual condition of the people several decades after their return. While the temple has been rebuilt, returning the land to its former condition of prosperity and productivity is much slower. And so, apparently, is the spiritual renewal of the people. They are doubting God’s love and goodness; they are not following the law; they are once again compromising with sin. Their priests (what we would call pastors) were causing people to stumble by their teaching and example. Divorce was rampant, and adultery common. They called what was evil, good. They were not tithing or giving offerings to God, and when they did bring an offering, it was blemished, blind or lame, while they had perfect animals in their pens at home. No wonder they were discouraged!
We had dinner last night with friends and one of them said something that connects so well with Malachi’s message. They work with young men and women in their early 20’s. Our friend said that one of the things he’s learned is that 30 years ago, those who were following Christ at that age were taught to pursue holiness. Today, however, we don’t hear people talking about holiness; instead, everyone is focused on freedom. Instead of how far away from sin can I stay, the mentality is how close to sin can I get and still be saved, still be a Christian?
Here’s the truth. Real freedom is ONLY found in holiness. Our human ideas of freedom will only lead us back into the slavery of sin that Christ rescued us from. I see it all around me. I can be a Christian and still cuss. I can be a Christian and still drink. I can be a Christian and still live with my boyfriend. I can be a Christian and not go to church. I can be a Christian and still smoke marijuana.
Malachi reminds us that “I, the LORD, do not change.” (3:6) Just because Jesus came and we now do not live under the law, but under grace, does not mean we have the freedom to do whatever we please in the name of Christian liberty. Sin still offends God, and sin still enslaves. Sin will leave us discouraged and far away from God.
What’s the takeaway? Malachi gives us the core issue right up front: half-hearted worship. The people were not worshipping with a whole heart; they were divided in their desires. God tells them that He would rather they shut the doors of the temple entirely rather than come to Him with a casual, half-hearted attitude. God is an all-or-nothing God. When Jesus went to the cross, He gave everything. He held nothing back so that we could have redemption and forgiveness. Should we not give Him all of us in return?