“And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.” (Judges 2:10, ESV)
The famous Baptist preacher of the 19th century, and longtime friend of C.H. Spurgeon, Octavius Winslow, once remarked, “If there is one consideration more humbling than another to a spiritually-minded believer, it is, that after all God has done for him, after all the rich displays of his grace, the patience and tenderness of his instructions, the repeated discipline of his covenant, the tokens of love received, and the lessons of experience learned, there should still exist in the heart a principle, the tendency of which, is to secret, perpetual, and alarming departure from God.”
How does a soul, a family, a nation drift away from God? The process, I imagine, happens in different ways and for different reasons in each human heart. But I think there is usually a pattern, the one we see in Judges 3, and it goes something like this:
First, we lose intimacy with God. We are told, "There arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord." To know the Lord is to have intimate communion with Him. "Adam knew his wife, Eve and she conceived...." When a soul loses this intimacy, our times of communion with Him become less frequent and more formal, and slowly but surely our hearts grow cold towards Him. Our religion loses its power, and our lives become the photographic negative of Paul’s ardent prayer, “That I might know Him and the power of His resurrection.” These two things go hand in hand: Knowing Christ (intimacy) and power (vitality). How are you doing here?
Second, we become insensitive to grace. Past grace: “And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.” (Judges 2:10, ESV). The great historic acts of redemptive mercy— calling Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees, giving him such vast and expansive promises, bearing with the stubborn, deceitful patriarch, Jacob, sending Joseph down ahead of His brothers to Egypt, sustaining Israel alive through those hard years of bondage under Pharaoh, raising up Moses the deliverer, rescuing Israel through the plagues and across the Red Sea, walking with them through the wilderness years, and, then finally bringing them home into the Promised Land, were all forgotten by Israel. To be sure, I imagine they knew about these events, but they no longer had the power to grip their souls and set the trajectory of their lives in a Godward direction.
Present Grace: “Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. Yet they did not listen to their judges,_ for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord, and they did not do so.” (Judges 2:16–17, ESV). What appalling hardness: even when God reached out with His voice across the great divide separating them from Him, they refused to listen!
Third, we make and follow other gods. “Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. ” (Judges 2:16–17, ESV). Nature abhors a vacuum and so does the human soul. We are designed to pursue God, to seek out Someone so big and so good that he will satisfy all the desires of our hearts forever. Bob Dylan was right: “You gotta serve someone!” Whatever our functional god is, we will serve it with our time, our talents, and our treasure. It will become our master and we will become its slaves. For Israel in the days of the Judges, this functional god was Baal. Baal was the god of Sex and Shekels. And when Israel lost sight of Jehovah, they were only too happy to serve Him. What about you? Have you lost sight of Jehovah?
Fourth, we begin to compromise our Integrity. The more a soul drifts away from God, the more sin increasingly becomes a viable option. “They whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord, and they did not do so.” (Judges 2:16–17, ESV). “And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals.” (Judges 2:11, ESV). Sin might not always be evil in our eyes, but our eyes are never what counts! Are there areas in your live, where you are willingly and deliberately giving yourselves over to sin? What does this say about your walk with God (or away from Him)?
Fifth, The final step is fait accomplis: Complete Apostasy. When the other four steps are in place, it is normally only a matter of time until the shoe falls, and our fall way from God becomes complete. Then any appearance of outward orthodoxy, like of a house of cards, will collapse completely.
The answer to all this, of course, lies in watching against the first step of this decline. We must cultivate and guard a close, daily communion with our crucified and risen Savior. We must strive to keep a conscience void of offense before Him and before men. We must confess our particular sins particularly. We must keep the path of our soul in a Godward bent. There can be no standing still in the life of faith: forwards or the reverse are the only too directions we can go.
“One ship sails east and another west, by the selfsame wine that blows. But it’s the set of the sails and not the gales that determine which way they go!”