But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery. For we are slaves. Yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to grant us some reviving to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us protection in Judea and Jerusalem. – Ezra 9:8-9 ESV
Ezra was in mourning over the sorry state of the people of Judah. They had been returned the land by God after 70 years in captivity due to their own sinfulness, and here they were, still living in rebellion against Him. Ezra, having just returned to Judah from the land of Babylon, was appalled and devastated by what he saw. So he took it upon himself to confess the corporate sins of the people to God. Ezra was personally ashamed for their conduct. As a scribe, an expert in the Mosaic law, he was well aware that what they were doing was in direct violation of God’s commands. And he knew that God would not take their disobedience lightly. The most amazing thing to Ezra was that the people were doing all of this in spite of God’s amazing grace and mercy. He had shown them favor. He had taken a remnant of them and arranged for them to return to the land to rebuild the temple and to restore the city of Jerusalem. God had not forsaken them, but had fulfilled His promise to restore them to the land after their 70 years of captivity were complete. They hadn’t deserved it or in any way earned it. Even their time as slaves in Babylon had been marked by continuing rebellion against God. They had regularly worshiped false gods. They had continued to reject and rebel against the one true God. And yet, He had kept His word. He had fulfilled His promise.
Ezra did not take God’s grace lightly. He was shocked that the people who had experienced that grace could so easily snub their noses at God and blatantly live in open rebellion to His commands. Their lives were marked by compromise. Rather than separate themselves from the other nations that had taken up residence in the land during their absence, they gladly coexisted with them, marrying off their sons and daughters to them. Not only that, they compromised their allegiance to God by taking on the false gods of their neighbors, diluting their faith and offending the very One who had rescued them from captivity.
In a very real way, this parallels the experience of so many of us as believers. God has redeemed us from slavery to sin. He has made it possible for us to be restored to a right relationship with Him, and yet we find ourselves comingling with the world around us. Rather than remaining separate and set apart, we determine to blend in and, in the process, end up compromising our convictions. Many of us, having been set free by God, find ourselves enslaved to the world. We seek our self-worth and satisfaction from what the world can offer. We long to be accepted by the world. Rather than stand out for our faith, we prefer to blend in. And slowly, steadily, we begin to make compromises and concessions. We find ourselves rationalizing our behavior and excusing our actions. We refuse to accept Jesus’ warning that we would be hated by the world. Instead of living as strangers and sojourners in this land, recognizing that we are citizens of another kingdom, we choose to get to cozy and comfortable with this world. We gladly adopt their ways and accept their standards as our own. The convictions of the culture around us slowly begin to influence and infect us, and we begin to lose our distinctiveness. Chosen and set apart by God, we find ourselves looking more and more like the world around us. Our distinction as Christians becomes more a label than a lifestyle. That was the problem Ezra encountered when he arrived in Judah. The saints had lost their saltiness. The intensity of their light had diminished and they were close to being overwhelmed by the surrounding darkness.
And yet, God was still showing them favor. He was still extending to them mercy. He had sent back Ezra with the sole task of reestablishing His law in the land. He had allowed them to rebuild the temple. He would eventually send back Nehemiah with another wave of exiles to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem and reoccupy the city. God was not done. And He is not done today. In spite of all we see happening around us and the distinct feeling that the darkness is overwhelming us, God is on His throne. He is still in charge. But He is looking for a remnant of His people who will boldly stand apart from the crowd and speak up for the truth. He is calling His people to come back to Him, to reject the ways of this world and renew their commitment to live lives of holiness. For the believer, compromise is deadly. And the temptation to do so is greater than it has ever been. The world wants to silence our voices, stifle our faith, compromise our convictions, and distract us from our devotion to God. But we must never forget that God has redeemed us from the world. We can live in it and yet not become part of it. We have been called to make a difference, not blend in. We have been saved so that we might tell others of the truth regarding man’s sin and God’s plan of salvation. Some of us have compromised our faith. Others of us have allowed ourselves to succumb to defeat and despair. We live as if all hope is lost and the enemy is winning. But our God reigns. He wins in the end. His victory is assured. We must live like we believe it. All is not lost. But it is time for the called out to stand up and to live out their faith.