Discipleship, Spiritual Formation and the Mark of the Beast
TDevotional/Discussion Thought of the Week
17 so that no one could buy or sell except one who had the stamped image of the beast’s name or the number that stood for its name. 18 Wisdom is needed here; one who understands can calculate the number of the beast, for it is a number that stands for a person. His number is six hundred and sixty-six. (14) 1 Then I looked and there was the Lamb standing on Mount Zion,* and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. NAB-RE REV. 13:17-14:1
75 I know, O LORD, that your regulations are fair; you disciplined me because I needed it. 76 Now let your unfailing love comfort me, just as you promised me, your servant. 77 Surround me with your tender mercies so I may live, for your instructions are my delight. NLT Psalm 119:75-78
431 Don’t fear God’s justice. It is no less admirable and no less lovable than his mercy. Both are proofs of his love. (1)
Looking at the three quotes above, it will at first seem like the first is not like the other two.
It is that passage that has people afraid of everything from Social Security Numbers, to Bar Codes, to Smart Chips and credit card smart chips. Some preachers use that passage to cause a form a paranoia about the government, as if it can do what Romans 8 says cannot be done. There in Romans it says that nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Not even the mark of the beast! For as we see when we dispense with man-made chapter headings, we see two marks, not one. The mark of the beast – and the mark of the Lamb and our Heavenly Father.
But this fear of the mark gets to the heart of Christian discipleship, to what they call spiritual formation. That is how the passage from Revelation and the quote from Psalms and a blip from Escriva tie together.
For when we understand that God’s discipline, that spiritual formation at the hands of God is about His love, that the differing marks make sense.
David’s words are simple and precise, “we need it.”
First, so that we correct our ways, that we get rid of the idols in our life, that we are freed from those things that would enslave us, as we trust in them, as we turn to them, rather than depending on God. Forming us means that God is putting in place the barriers that protect us from falling. It is not punitive as much as protective.
We don’t always see God’s discipline as protective, but that is indeed what it is, because it originates in the same place as His mercy – the incredible longsuffering, sacrificial love He has for us; it comes from the desire He has to see us transformed rather than perish. Formation isn’t always comfortable, for we can’t simply go where we want – and trying to may mean running into a wall. And that can hurt!
David experienced, and therefore knew that God’s discipline, (some translations use affliction ) is followed by comfort, by an outpouring of mercy, by healing and restoration. It is this pattern, this characteristic; that reveals His love, his devoted benevolent care for us.
We are His people; We bear His name, given to us, marking us in our baptism.
The more we explore that love, its height, its depth, its breadth and width (and we can’t, in this life know it completely) the more convinced we are that God loves us. The more we entrust ourselves to it, even to reveling in it. Recipients of this love, this Godly intimate affection we can, with complete abandon praise and glorify Him, with our voices, and with our lives.
Even as He lovingly corrects us, even as we struggle with our brokenness, even as we question how God will make this work out for good.
Such is a disciplined life; such is one who’s been marked, not with some counterfeit mark, but with the name of Christ, and of the Father.
666? Not afraid of that, for I know the love of God, a love that is willing to suffer, and Will even form me though I may perceive it as suffering.
Lord, have mercy! (even when it means disciplining us!)
(1) Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1059-1060). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.