By John Kimbell
As Joshua recognized that he was nearing the end of his life, he summoned all of Israel, together with their leaders, in order to address them regarding their faithfulness to the Lord going forward. He reminded them that Israel was to be a distinct people. They were to be set apart from the godless nations around them in faithfulness to the Lord. And while there are some differences today in how God’s people are to be distinct from the rest of the world, we are still called to be distinct.
We are to pursue being God’s distinct people in the world today through generations of godliness. Joshua’s fundamental burden in his speech in Joshua 23 is to see the faithfulness of Israel preserved beyond his own life—carried on into the next generation. That’s the setting of his whole speech that is emphasized several times:
Verse 1: “. . . Joshua was old and well advanced in years . . .”
Verse 2: “Joshua summoned all Israel . . . and said to them, “I am now old and well advanced in years.”
Verse 14: “And now I am about to go the way of all the earth . . .” In other words, I am about to die just as all people eventually die.
Joshua’s burden is that the faithfulness of Israel wouldn’t die with him but be passed on and carried out in future generations, so that they would remain distinct as the covenant people of God.
He appeals to the leaders of the nation, saying, “You have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake...” You’ve seen it. Now you must lead the way in continuing to cling to the Lord your God just as you have done up to this day, and lead the next generation to do the same.
We are told at the very end of the book, that “Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the LORD did for Israel” (Joshua 24:31) How encouraging. They did what Joshua had called them to do and led the next generation to serve the Lord.
But then, just two pages later, speaking of the generation after the death of Joshua the Bible says:
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. And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. (Judges 2:10-12)
Just two generations after Joshua, the people didn’t know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. What did that generation do? They abandoned the Lord.
Of course, we can’t control or guarantee the response of every generation. But what we can control is whether they know who the Lord is and what He has done. This is one of our primary responsibilities within our families and together within the church—to proclaim to the next generation the truth of who God is and what He has now done in Jesus Christ for our salvation.
That’s why the entire kids and youth ministry at my local church (Clifton Baptist Church) is focused primarily on teaching the Word of God, with a particular emphasis on the truth of the gospel. What a significant ministry that is.
Losing the Gospel
Mack Stiles, in his book The Marks of the Messenger, outlines how the gospel tends to get lost from one generation to the next. The way that so often happens is simply by assuming the gospel. The first generation accepts the gospel. And then the next generation assumes the gospel. They might still believe it, but they tend to leave it unspoken and implicit. They don’t see the regular proclamation of the gospel as a priority, and they begin to focus on other things as more urgent or more “relevant.” And when the gospel is assumed by one generation, the next generation confuses the gospel. And then the gospel is lost.
This has happened in countless churches and even whole denominations of churches. We must be committed to making the gospel explicit both for our own sake and the sake of the next generation. Apart from Christ, we are all dead in our sins and deserving of God’s righteous, eternal wrath. But Jesus Christ has come into the world, God Himself in human flesh, the one mediator between God and sinners, to bear the penalty of our sins through His death on a cross, rising from the dead to offer forgiveness and the free gift of eternal life to all who will repent and trust in Him as Lord and Savior.
This is at the very essence of our life together at my local church, the foundation of all that we believe, the driving force of all that we do. And it is what God’s own Word commends as of first importance. It is the gospel that is the power of God for salvation. If you are a young person, there is nothing more valuable that the church can pass on to you. There is no greater inheritance. This is how you will remain distinct in the world as part of God’s people for generations to come—through the knowledge of God and the work that He has done for us in Jesus Christ so that we might live by faith as His covenant people today.
We pursue being God’s distinct people by pursuing generations of godliness—proclaiming Christ from one generation to another.
About the author: John Kimbell is the preaching pastor for Clifton Baptist Church. This article is adapted from his sermon "A Distinct People" (available at https://youtu.be/BUGzseQLYMg beginning at 38:50).