Do not associate with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them. But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now. (Joshua 23:7-8)
There are several paradoxes within the Christian faith, and one of those is inclusive exclusivism. Early on in the days of Israel, the nation was uprooting all of the other nations living in the land that had been promised to them. The nation was to be exclusive in its domination of the territory for one very important reason: its past history.
Israel came from a syncretistic culture in Egypt where many gods were worshipped. The Lord, however, called them to a different place where they would worship only Him – the one, true God. Nonetheless, God knew that their hearts could easily be coerced away from Him if the people began intermarrying with other nations that did not hold to the same set of values and revere the same God. A house divided against itself could not stand then just as it can’t stand now.
At the same time, God’s initial promise to Abraham was that his descendants would be a blessing to all people. Christians believe that blessing came through Christ – the hope of the world. Jesus’ death on the cross didn’t serve as the forgiveness of sins strictly for the Jews; hope finally arrived for the Gentiles, too. Something that was very exclusive became inclusive.
If you are a follower of Christ, you must learn the dance of inclusive exclusivity. Christians are called to share their faith with others, but this should never come at the expense of their faith – hence there is a point where things become exclusive as it was with the nation of Israel. If the influence of someone outside of faith is becoming so strong that it’s pulling you away from faith, then it’s time to step back from the relationship.
Your relationship with God is the most important relationship you can have, which is why you have to guard it at all costs.
God’s rule for Israel to kick out the other nations was for its own good. Today, we have the power of the Holy Spirit living in us and enabling us to say “no” to sin. But when the influence of those who are far from God becomes too great, we must look out for our own good and the health of our relationship with Him.
God, help me to take seriously the call to share my faith with others and to introduce them to Christ, the hope of the world. Give me wisdom to know when my relationships with others are pulling me away from my relationship with You, and give me courage to guard that at all costs.