God's Purpose for John the Baptist
God's purpose for John was not so that God could intervene in the affairs of the world, but to call the backslidden chosen people of God, Israel, to repent and prepare themselves for the coming of the Messiah. Today, God's purpose for the church is not so that He can intervene in the affairs of the world, He does not need the church if it is His desire to intervene in the affairs of the world. God's purpose for the church is to prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah.
In a casual reading of the birth of John an important point is overlooked, the spiritual growth of John and the preparation of John for the mission God has given him requires a separation, from his family, from his culture, and from the Jewish religious system, of which he would have been a priest, like his father.
When he was given the name "John," rather than "Zacharias," God was indicating to all who were involved that John would not be carrying on his father's name, nor his work. Think of the ways in which John became very different from his father, which was symbolized by his non-family name. Zacharias was a priest; John was a prophet. John was a Nazarite; his father was not. Zacharias lived among the people; John lived in the desert. Zacharias was a part of the old religious system; John was not, he stood apart from it. Zacharias, as evidenced by his praise, spoke as an Israelite, but John, being somewhat removed from typical Israelite life and the religious system of the day, was able to see the errors which had developed in the religious system.
Lesson for those called by God
There is a lesson for those who God calls today. Zacharias, as a part of the religious system, identified with it, while John was able to stand apart from it and to see its many errors and perversions. The boldness and clarity with which John spoke out against the evils of his day was, largely, the result of John's separation from the system and its sins, which he condemned. In contrast to Zacharias, who seemed reluctant to speak, John spoke out boldly.
To represent Christ, we must stand apart from sin and the world, which hates Him.
Those who represent Christ separation from the world enable them to see its sins, to stand firmly against them, and to speak out boldly in condemning them. This same separation required in the Old Testament, required of the New Testament saints, is required of the present day professing Christians. Just as Peter wrote in his first letter to the first century Christians, "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy'"(1 Peter 1:14-16).
Holiness in the life of the Christian, that is, separation from sin, is necessary for several reasons; Holiness is required if we are to represent and reflect a holy God to men. We cannot be God-like if we live in sin, but only if we live apart from sin. We must be holy, we must stand apart from sin in order to be sensitive to sin, to recognize it and to sense how evil and offensive, it is to God. In addition, we must stand apart from sin if we are to condemn it and to plead with others to forsake sin. John's separation from sin was essential to his personal walk with God and to his ministry. Therefore, our separation from sin is also essential.
There are still those today who would strive to be separate from the world by attempting to live in some remote place, away from people, Our Lord has commanded Christians to be physically separated from others as the norm. In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord taught that we should be "salt" and "light" both of which speak of our penetration into the world, rather than of our fleeing from the world. It is also said that such penetration with the gospel and holy living will likely result in persecution.
Separation from sinful thinking
Therefore, our separation, while it should be as thorough in spirit as that of John, will manifest itself differently than John's did. What is the nature of our separation; first, we separate ourselves from sinful thinking. There is a sinful "mind," a wrong way of looking at things and thinking about them. The natural "mind" is "set on the things of the flesh" and leads to death because it is hostile toward God. Thus, we must be "renewed in the spirit of our mind" which to a large degree done through intense and prolonged exposure to the Word of God.
Separate from sin
Second, we must be separate from the sinful inclinations of our own fleshly desires. The seventh chapter of Romans deals with these, as does Galatians 5:19-21. The only way to overcome these inclinations and to live righteously is to "walk in the Spirit," to walk according to the promptings and the power of the Holy Spirit of God.
Separate from the world
Third, we must be separate from the world. Here, it is not by a physical removal, which is impossible by any means other than death. We must be separate from the world by thinking differently, by recognizing its evil inclinations and solicitations, and by refusing to participate in any of its sins.
Finally, we must be separate from the world by recognizing and removing ourselves from the sins of our family and even of our religion, which are not in keeping with the Word of God. In addition, we should be mindful that even in the godliest of homes there is still sin and sinful behavior we should recognize as sin and get rid of it, so that our lives will conform to the Word of God.
Let us be a separate people, so that we may represent a holy God to an unholy world.