Hear and Fear

14 “You shall not move your neighbor’s landmark, which the men of old have set, in the inheritance that you will hold in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess.

15 “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. 16 If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, 17 then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. 18 The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, 19 then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. 20 And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you. 21 Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” – Deuteronomy 19:14-21 ESV

Hear and fear. I love that phrase. It’s simple and succinct, yet speaks volumes. And its simplicity contains the entire essence of all that Moses is trying to tell the people of Israel. When reading books of the Bible that contain iterations of the Mosaic law, we tend to view them as nothing more than a compendium of rules and requirements placed upon the people of Israel by God.  Too often, we find these lists of laws to be tedious, woefully out-of-date, and of no value in our 21st-Century Christian context.

And that somewhat dismissive attitude causes us to miss the divine principle that undergirds each and every one of these imperatives given by God. These commands were never intended to be seen as rules just for the sake of having rules. As the apostle Paul wrote, “the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good” (Romans 7:12 NLT).

We have no cities of refuge, and we are not in violation of God’s law because of that fact. But we are expected to practice the divine principles that God infused into His command concerning cities of refuge. The designation of six special cities as places where those guilty of involuntary manslaughter could seek refuge was intended to ensure that justice took precedence over vengeance. In a nation where there was no police force, no established governmental structure, a limited judicial system, and a tendency toward the practice of vigilante-style justice, God provided the cities of refuge as a protective measure. And in doing so, He was promoting justice and the practice of mercy over unbridled and unwarranted retribution.

Every human being should care about those things because they are what God cares about. As the prophet Micah so aptly stated it, “He has told you, O man, what is good,
and what the Lord really wants from you: He wants you to promote justice, to be faithful, and to live obediently before your God” (Micah 6:8 NLT).

When reading the following phrase: “You shall not move your neighbor’s landmark,” it can be easy to dismiss it as non-applicable to our current context. So, we dismiss it. But what was the principle contained within this divine prohibition? Was it just an arbitrary law restricting the moving of boundary markers, or was there something of greater import hidden within the law?

In the ancient world, land was at a premium and considered of great value. In a predominantly agrarian culture, land was one of the most valuable assets a man could own. It became a part of his identity. So, of someone clandestinely moved a marker that determined the boundary of a man’s land, it was an act of stealing. But not just his land – his value, worth, and identity. And when you consider that all of the land of Canaan had been divided up by God and apportioned to the various tribes, you begin to understand that there is an even more significant crime taking place here than that of land grabbing. It was a violation of God’s divine will.

In verses 15-21, Moses outlines the regulations concerning the use of witnesses in a civil dispute. This could apply to a case of someone accused of moving a boundary marker, or a Moses states, “any crime or for any wrong.”

The rule was simple. “Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established” (Deuteronomy 19:15 ESV). One witness would not suffice, because that would result in a stalemate, with one man’s word pitted against another. Again, don’t miss what is behind all of this. It has less to do with the crime committed than the means by which an accusation is to be leveled. God is putting safeguards in place to prevent false accusations that could result in inequitable or unjust outcomes.

In verse 16, Moses refers to “a malicious witness.” The Hebrew word is chamac, and it most often gets translated as “violent.” This is an individual who has evil intent. He is a false witness or a liar whose underlying motivation is to do harm to another. And Moses provides very specific instructions concerning this type of situation.

“If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days.” – Deuteronomy 19:16-17 ESV

It’s noteworthy that Moses refers to the accuser as a malicious witness even before the case has been heard by the authorities. For this person to level an accusation without the requisite second witness would have been an indication that his intent was evil. He had no corroborating witness to support his claim. You see this law played out in the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin. The religious leaders were desperate to find at least two witnesses who could level the same charge against Jesus that might warrant a call for His execution.

The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were trying to find false testimony against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find anything, though many false witnesses came forward. – Matthew 26:59-60 NLT

And Matthew goes on to record that the Sanhedrin was finally able to get two of these false witnesses who collaborated their story and gave the chief priests and religious leaders what they had been looking for.

Finally two came forward and declared, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’” – Matthew 26:60 NLT

The witness of a single man was insufficient. And a man who could find no one else to collaborate his accusation was most likely a false witness. So, the accuser and the accused were to be brought before the authorities who were tasked to hear the facts of the case and make a judgment.

“The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.” – Deuteronomy 19:18-19 ESV

Again, we have to consider the underlying principle behind all of these rules. Moses had provided the Israelites with God’s prescribed means for settling disputes among them, and He had told them undergirding principle behind it: Justice.

“You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” – Deuteronomy 16:18-20 ESV

God wasn’t interested in judgment for judgment’s sake. He wanted righteous judgment. He demanded that justice be served. There was no place for false witnesses and maliciously motivated legal cases among His people. Moses had made it perfectly clear: “Justice, and only justice, you shall follow.”

Which brings us back to those three simple words: Hear and fear. All of these rules and regulations were intended to orchestrate and regulate the lives of the Israelites but, more than that, they were meant to instruct the people of Israel about the nature of their God. He was just, holy, and righteous in all His ways. He was set apart and distinct in nature. And He had called His chosen people to reflect the nature of His character by keeping His carefully crafted commands.

“Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you.” – Leviticus 20:7-8 ESV

God had set the Israelites apart as His own possession. And, in a sense, God had placed boundary markers around them, designed to restrict and regulate their behavior. Those commands or markers were God-ordained and not up for negotiation. But the people of Israel would find themselves constantly tempted to move God’s boundary markers, in a vain attempt to increase their own inheritance. When a man chooses to violate the commands of God, it is because He has determined that God is not just. He has concluded that God is holding out on him, denying him what is rightfully his. And his kind of behavior is unacceptable among God’s people. It reveals a heart that does not truly know and understand the unwavering, never-changing justness and righteousness of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

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Purge the Evil

“If any case arises requiring decision between one kind of homicide and another, one kind of legal right and another, or one kind of assault and another, any case within your towns that is too difficult for you, then you shall arise and go up to the place that the Lord your God will choose. And you shall come to the Levitical priests and to the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall consult them, and they shall declare to you the decision. 10 Then you shall do according to what they declare to you from that place that the Lord will choose. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they direct you. 11 According to the instructions that they give you, and according to the decision which they pronounce to you, you shall do. You shall not turn aside from the verdict that they declare to you, either to the right hand or to the left. 12 The man who acts presumptuously by not obeying the priest who stands to minister there before the Lord your God, or the judge, that man shall die. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. 13 And all the people shall hear and fear and not act presumptuously again. – Deuteronomy 17:8-13 ESV

It would appear from these verses that the Israelites were to establish a system of judicial oversight where cases that fell outside the scope of the local judges. These more difficult cases were to be taken to the city in which the tabernacle would be set up, and presented to a judicial panel comprised of Levites and appointed judges. These men were assigned to task of adjudicating these these cases and their decisions were to be considered binding and final. They were to function as a kind of Supreme Court for the nation of Israel.

The size of the panel is not clarified, but it consisted of at least one Levite and a judge. The Levite was there in his function as a priest of God. He was responsible for applying the law of God to the matter in dispute. The judge provided an additional set of ears to hear the facts of the case and to assist in determining a just and righteous settlement.

The verdict passed by this God-ordained court was to be accepted and carried out by all those involved. There was no appeal process available.

“You must carry out the verdict they announce and the sentence they prescribe at the place the Lord chooses.” – Deuteronomy 17:10 NLT

The Levites and the judge who sat on the panel were not responsible for enforcing the verdict, the people were. It was their responsibility to carry out whatever judgment was assessed – to the letter.

“After they have interpreted the law and declared their verdict, the sentence they impose must be fully executed; do not modify it in any way.” – Deuteronomy 17:11 NLT

The verdict was to be based on the Mosaic law, so this ensured that any decision arrived at had the full backing of God Almighty. Anyone who dared to reject the decision of the court stood opposed to God and faced the full wrath of His judgment.

“Anyone arrogant enough to reject the verdict of the judge or of the priest who represents the Lord your God must die. In this way you will purge the evil from Israel.” – Deuteronomy 17:12 NLT

This sounds harsh to our modern sensibilities, but God was determined that Israel have a clear set of moral, legislative, and judicial guidelines by which to live. But those guidelines would mean absolutely nothing if the people were not held accountable to adhere to them. Laws that can be easily broken, with no threat of reprisal or punishment, are not laws at all. They are little more than suggestions, easily avoided or simply ignored altogether. Laws that lack enforcement are no more dangerous than a lion lacking teeth and claws. A judicial verdict that fails to be carried out has no weight. And the court that deliberates and delivers such a verdict ends up having no power to determine the well-being of a nation.

But if failure to carry out the verdict of the court was followed by capital punishment, “Then everyone else will hear about it and be afraid to act so arrogantly” (Deuteronomy 17:13 NLT). Adjudication requires prosecution. For a verdict to carry any weight, it must be enforced. And refusal to follow the will of God’s appointed judges was going to bring His wrath. He would not tolerate disobedience, because disobedience was nothing less than rebellion against His will. And like any other sin, rebellion was an infectious disease that could spread among the people, if left unchecked. That’s why God demanded that they “purge the evil from Israel.”

They were to take rebellion seriously and deal with it immediately. To not do so would create an environment where everyone did what was right in his own eyes. All God-ordained authority would eventually become impotent and useless. And the people would end up ruling their lives according to their own personal standards. Rules would become purely subjective, determined by the individual. And the day was going to come when this very thing happened in Israel.

After the period of time in Israelite history when God had appointed men and women to act as His judges, the people of Israel would reach a point when they would no longer accept these leaders. And the book of Judges matter-of-factly states: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6 ESV).

It was a time when autonomy ruled the land. There were no more judges and the people were doing what they deemed best. It proved to be an immoral time marked by spiritual anarchy. The people were not content to live by God’s law or to abide by the decisions of His judges. Self-rule was the law of the land and it had created an atmosphere marked by rebellion and rampant godlessness.

And it all begins when we fail to heed God’s call to purge the evil from our midst. Sin left unchecked and unpunished doesn’t go away, it grows. It spreads and eventually infects the entire camp. So, God demands that we take it seriously and deal with it decisively. Tolerance of sin sounds like the loving thing to do, but it actually results in death and destruction. So, God made it clear that the death of the one was to be preferred to that of the many. So, “purge the evil from Israel. Then everyone else will hear about it and be afraid to act so arrogantly” (Deuteronomy 17:12-13 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

Righteous Judgment. Perverted Justice.

18 “You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. 19 You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. 20 Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

21 “You shall not plant any tree as an Asherah beside the altar of the Lord your God that you shall make. 22 And you shall not set up a pillar, which the Lord your God hates. – Deuteronomy 16:18-22 ESV

Reliable leadership is essential for a family, a religious community, a company or a nation. Without proper leadership, you end up with chaos and confusion, which ultimately leads to anarchy. So, as Moses continues to outline God’s holy expectations for the people of Israel, he begins to focus his attention on the vital role and responsibility of leadership within their community. Yes, God was their final authority, but He had established a hierarchy of leadership, delegating certain responsibilities to others, like Moses, whom He would hold accountable for the welfare of His people.

As God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel was expected to reflect His character, both on an individual and corporate basis. Each family within the community was to operate according to God’s commands, with children honoring their parents and father’s and mother’s leading their children in the ways of the Lord. Every member of the community was expected to keep the sabbath holy. They were each obligated to obey the commands of God and live in unity as the people of God. But every organization, no matter how large or small, needs effective leadership to survive and thrive.

So, Moses provided them with God’s plan for overseeing what would quickly become a rapidly expanding populace scattered throughout the land of Canaan.

“Appoint judges and officials for yourselves from each of your tribes in all the towns the Lord your God is giving you…” – Deuteronomy 16:18 NLT

Once the tribes began to conquer and settle the land, the once-unified nation would find itself dispersed into 12 different communities separated by distance and requiring localized leadership. One man would not be able to oversee such an extensive and far-spread domain. Even during the days of the kings of Israel, there would be a need for delegated power dispersed throughout the kingdom in order to assure proper application and enforcement of the king’s wishes.

But in these early days of Israel’s existence, they were to be a theocracy living under the authority of God, their sovereign Lord and King. He was to be their final authority in all things. And He would appoint men to serve as His representatives, leading and judging the people on His behalf and according to His divine will. But the day was going to come when the people of Israel expressed their weariness with God’s way of doing things. They would reject His divinely appointed leaders and demand to have a king just like all the other nations. In other words, they would jettison the governing model of a theocracy for a human monarchy, which would eventually devolve into an oligarchy.

The book of 1 Samuel records the fateful day when the people of Israel issued their demand for a king, and God made clear that they were really rejecting Him as their King.

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” – 1 Samuel 8:4-7 ESV

But at this point in the book of Deuteronomy, the people were still preparing to enter the land. They found themselves in need of God’s help, so they were still willing to allow Him to lead. But God knew that it would only be a matter of time before they required more hands-on leadership. So, He commanded Moses to have the people appoint or elect judges and officials who would provide localized leadership within their various land allotments.

These men would provide a vital role, exercising their divinely-appointed authority to provide wise judgment and ensure righteous justice within the various tribes. But this was not be the first time this form of delegated authority had been seen in Israel. All the way back in the days when they were traveling from Egypt to the land of Canaan, Moses had instituted a similar program, under the wise counsel of his father-in-law, Jethro.

Jethro had witnessed Moses attempting to single-handedly trying to mete out judgment and justice for the people. His son-in-law was spending all day, everyday, listening to the cares and concerns of the people and trying to provide wise counsel and direction. But Jethro saw that this was unsustainable, so he gave Moses a bit of sage advice.

“This is not good!” Moses’ father-in-law exclaimed. “You’re going to wear yourself out—and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself. Now listen to me, and let me give you a word of advice, and may God be with you. You should continue to be the people’s representative before God, bringing their disputes to him. Teach them God’s decrees, and give them his instructions. Show them how to conduct their lives. But select from all the people some capable, honest men who fear God and hate bribes. Appoint them as leaders over groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten. They should always be available to solve the people’s common disputes, but have them bring the major cases to you. Let the leaders decide the smaller matters themselves. They will help you carry the load, making the task easier for you. If you follow this advice, and if God commands you to do so, then you will be able to endure the pressures, and all these people will go home in peace.” – Exodus 18:17-23 NLT

And this is exactly what Moses is directing the people to do. But he provides an important caveat, telling the people that the men they choose as leaders were to “judge the people with righteous judgment” (Deuteronomy 16:18 ESV). Not only that, they were to “never twist justice or show partiality” (Deuteronomy 16:19 NLT).

God was looking for righteous and just men. He wanted individuals who would reflect His character and uphold His divine expectations for justice and mercy. God was not going to put up with any form of corruption, such as the acceptance of bribes. There would be no room for partiality or favoritism. These men were to be impartial and fair, representing each of the people under their care equitably and justly. And Moses made it clear that their adherence to God’s requirements would bring His blessings.

“Let true justice prevail, so you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” – Deuteronomy 16:20 NLT

God has a strong dislike for lousy leadership. He holds those in positions of authority to a high standard and expects them to take their responsibilities seriously, approaching their roles with a soberness that is influence by a healthy fear of His holiness.

And these men were not just responsible for settling civil disputes. They were to guard against any kind of idolatry among the people of Israel. Unfaithfulness to God was the greatest temptation the people were going to face. Their personal disputes and disagreements would prove miniscule and pointless when compared with their failure to remain faithful to God. So, Moses warns these leaders to watch out for any kind of idolatrous activity among the people. If they saw it, they were to deal with it immediately. God expected these men to deliver righteous judgment among His people and He demanded that they dispense equitable justice. But more importantly, God required His leaders to require holiness and faithfulness from the people. These men would be acting as representatives of God. And, as such, they were expected to love what He loves and hate what He hates. They were to judge according to God’s standards, not their own. They were to mete out God’s brand of justice, not their own. And if they did, God would bless the nation.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

The Great, Mighty, and Awesome God

12 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? 14 Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. 20 You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. 21 He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen. 22 Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven. – Deuteronomy 10:12-22 ESV

Moses has more than established Israel’s unrighteousness and God’s holiness. They were undeserving of their status as His chosen people. And he has proven it by citing well-documented examples of their stubbornness toward and rebellion against God. Yet, in spite of their serial unfaithfulness, God had displayed amazing patience and unwavering faithfulness.

Now, as the people of Israel prepared to enter the land of Canaan, Moses attempts to provide them with some context. They were fortunate to be where they were. Their very existence as a nation had been up to God, not them. Like the creation itself, God had formed them out of nothing. He had chosen a man named Abram and had promised to make of him a great nation, a people to whom God would give the entire land of Canaan as their inheritance. From that one man, who wasn’t even a Jew, God created the Hebrew nation and, as Moses reminds them, “Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven” (Deuteronomy 10:22 ESV).

This detail is confirmed in the book of Exodus, where Moses recorded the arrival in Egypt of Jacob (Israel) and his family.

These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons. – Exodus 1:1-4 ESV

More than 400 years earlier, the small and insignificant family of Jacob (Israel), had made their way to Egypt in order to escape a devastating famine in the land of Canaan. But by the time they left Egypt four centuries later, they would be a massive nation that numbered in the millions. And this was the fulfillment of the promise God had made to Abraham.

And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. – Genesis 15:5-6 ESV

Now, the nation of Israel was about to enter the land of Canaan, and, this time, there was no famine. It was a country flowing in milk and honey, rich in produce, and filled with well-fortified cities and furnished home that would soon belong to the people of Israel. God was about to bless the people of Israel, not because of them, but in spite of them. And, with this amazing fact in mind, Moses asked them a sobering question:

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you…?” – Deuteronomy 10:12 ESV

In light of the fact that they were about to re-enter the land their forefathers had left four centuries earlier and reap a harvest of blessings they didn’t even deserve, what should their reaction be? What was it that God expected in return for His undeserved blessings? Moses provided a clear and non-debatable answer:

“…to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good.” – Deuteronomy 10:12-13 ESV

God expected full-blown and unwavering allegiance from His people. First of all, they were to have a healthy and well-deserved fear of Him. He was holy and all-powerful, and they were well-documented sinners who fully deserved His righteous wrath, but had been shown mercy and grace.

They were to “walk” or conduct their lives according to His ways and not their own. They were to live by His rules in every area of their lives, refusing to compromise their convictions by following the ways of the Canaanites.

And their love for God was to be evidenced by tangible and visible displays of service and obedience. God wasn’t going to be satisfied with robotic-like rule-keeping. He wanted obedience that flowed from the heart and soul and was a byproduct of their love and affection for Him. He desired that they keep His commands because they loved and trusted the giver of the commands.

And, just in case they had missed the point in all that he had said to them, Moses reminded them one more time of the unique privilege they enjoyed as God’s chosen people.

“Look, the highest heavens and the earth and everything in it all belong to the Lord your God. Yet the Lord chose your ancestors as the objects of his love. And he chose you, their descendants, above all other nations, as is evident today. Therefore, change your hearts and stop being stubborn.” – Deuteronomy 10:14-16 NLT

Again, notice the emphasis on the heart. Their problem was not an ignorance of God’s laws. They knew them well. They were suffering from a heart problem. And it would prove to be a long-term, hereditary ailment that plagued the nation of Israel for generations. Hundreds of years later, God would indict them for their heart-less worship of Him.

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

And centuries after that, Jesus would use this very same passage to call out the Jewish people of His own day.

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:7-9 NLT

God demanded heartfelt obedience, not ritualistic, and legalistic adherence to a set of rules. And Moses reminded the Israelites that their God wasn’t going to allow them to simply go through the motions.

“For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed.” – Deuteronomy 10:17 NLT

They weren’t going to be able to fool God with their outer displays of conformity to His laws. He could see into their hearts, and He would know whether they were acting out of love or legalism. Their actions, if from the heart, would display the character of God, including His love of justice and mercy.

He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. – Deuteronomy 10:18 NLT

One of the ways they could prove their love for God was through acts of love and mercy to the needy and neglected in their midst. When they had been without food and water in the wilderness, God had provided for them. God had prevented their clothes and sandals from wearing out. He had protected and provided for them for more than four decades. And now, they were to extend that same level of love, justice, and mercy to others.

Hundreds of years later, the prophet Micah would document this divine expectation on the people of God.

He has shown you, O mankind, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8 BSB

God expects His people to love as they have been loved. He demands that they extend to others the same level of grace, mercy, justice, and love that they have received from Him. And, as Moses made clear, God also expected that His people remain committed to Him and Him alone.

“You must fear the Lord your God and worship him and cling to him…He alone is your God, the only one who is worthy of your praise.” – Deuteronomy 10:20, 21 NLT

He is great, mighty, and awesome. He is loving, gracious, and kind. He is just, holy, and righteous. And He longs for His chosen people to reflect His character in all that they do.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

Laws For Living

16 “‘Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

17 “‘You shall not murder.

18 “‘And you shall not commit adultery.

19 “‘And you shall not steal.

20 “‘And you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

21 “‘And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.’”  – Deuteronomy 5:16-21 ESV

The first four of the Ten Commandments are focused on man’s relationship with God. Yet, while they are vertical in their orientation, they have a horizontal aspect to them. In other words, they are intended to impact man’s earthly life.

The Israelites were prohibited from worshiping other gods. The fact that these false gods were non-existent should have made this command a no-brainer, but mankind has been in the habit of replacing God substitutes and stand-ins ever since the fall. And the Israelites had even been so bold as to have made a golden calf while Moses had been up on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments from God.

The prohibition on worshiping false gods was accompanied by a command against creating idols of those gods. This was a particular temptation for the people of Israel, because their God was invisible. But while their God was unseen, His character was not. God had revealed Himself in a variety of ways and had proven His power, holiness, love, and trustworthiness. That is why the third commandment prohibits using His name in vain. This is not a ban on using profanity, but a demand that the people of God protect the integrity of God’s reputation. We can profane God’s name by speaking falsely about Him by questioning His love, reliability, power, or presence. To say, “God does not care” is to treat His character with contempt. To imply that God is unfair or unjust is to drag His holy name through the mud.

The fourth command centers around the keeping of the Sabbath. While the emphasis appears to be on rest from labor, the Sabbath is tied directly to the creation account found in the book of Genesis and the creation of Israel as a nation, as described in the book of Exodus. By setting aside this one day out of seven as a day of rest and contemplation, God was requiring that the Israelites reflect on His role as the Creator-God, the maker of all things. In all the activity and busyness of life, they were not to forget that their very existence was totally dependent upon God.

The second set of commands are more horizontal in nature, focusing on mankind’s interpersonal relationships. The first of these commands covers the family unit, a God-ordained institution that was to be treated with reverence and respect. He commands children to honor their parents, treating them with dignity and seeing them as the God-appointed overseers of the household. Headship and authority are essential for life to function properly. Without it, there is anarchy. And because God is  invisible and unseen, He has provided tangible expressions of His divine authority through human agents, such as mothers and fathers, pastors and elders, and governmental leaders. Our ability to show honor to those we can see is ultimately a form of showing honor to the One we cannot see.

The next command takes a dramatically negative turn, with God explicitly banning the taking of another person’s life. But the context is murder and it harkens all the way back to the days following the fall, when Cain killed his brother, Abel. In a fit of anger, fueled by jealousy, Cain took his brother’s life. In doing so, he set himself up as God, becoming the arbiter of his brother’s fate. If we turn back and look at the details surrounding that fateful event, we see that Cain and Abel had brought offerings to God, but that God did not accept the offering made by Cain.

In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. – Genesis 4:3-4 ESV

And it was God’s rejection that that angered Cain and caused him to lash out against his brother. He offered an unacceptable offering to God, which is most likely a statement about the condition of his heart, not the quality of his offering. And the true nature of his heart was revealed in how he reacted to God’s rejection. He played God and removed the one whom God had approved. Murder is man playing God. It is an attempt to diminish the value of that which God has made – human life – by determining another person’s right to exist. It is the most egregious expression of idolatry that a human being can commit.

The next command covers another God-ordained institution: Marriage. The Israelites were to respect marriage by refraining from adultery. Tied into this is the idea of covenant faithfulness and commitment. Just as a child’s honoring of their parents is ultimately an expression of honor to God, so the husband and wife who honor their marriage covenant are expressing their reverence for God. In a world where unfaithfulness was ubiquitous, God was demanding faithfulness and fidelity.

In a sense, adultery is a form of theft. It is taking what does not rightfully belong to you. And God takes this ban on stealing to another level by banning it outright. The prohibition on stealing was intended to teach the Israelites to honor the rights of their neighbor, but it was also meant to teach reliance upon God. The motivation behind stealing is usually discontment. James put it this way: “You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them” (James 4:2 NLT). Stealing is nothing more than rewarding yourself with that which you think you deserve, but which God has chosen to deny you. It is the taking of what rightfully belongs to someone else, and along with material things, we can steal someone’s reputation.

And this sets up the next command. Lying is a form of hatred toward others that supplies disinformation in order to place self-preservation over anything and everything.  It is meant to deceive and distort the truth for personal gain. We lie to protect ourselves or to inflate our perceived worth. We fabricate facts that make us look good. We make up false narratives intended to make others look bad. Lying can murder another person’s reputation. It is a purposeful attempt to misrepresent the facts in order to alter outcomes or improve outlooks. But God is a God of truth. And as Numbers 23:19 reminds us, “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?”

The final command involves an insidious and invisible cancer that infects each and every human being: Covetousness. This is less an action than an attitude. It is an expression of the heart. It can remain hidden from those around us, but all the while it is spreading in our hearts like a deadly infection. Covetousness is ultimately selfish and self-centered, placing our own desires ahead of God’s will and the needs of others. It drives so many of the other behaviors banned by the other commands. Adultery takes place when we covet that which is not ours. Murder occurs when one person places more value on their desire for revenge than another person’s life. Stealing is the ultimate expression of covetousness. It is coveting consummated. But at its core, covetousness is a dissatisfaction with God. It is an expression of disfavor with God and His ability to provide for our needs. His gifts are not enough. His goodness is not good enough. We have to have more.

The law is good and holy. But as we saw yesterday, the law could only prescribe and prohibit. It could command and demand, but it could not force compliance. God made it perfectly clear what He expected of His people. But they were going to have to choose to obey. They could not claim ignorance, but in time, they would display their obstinance. Their knowledge of God’s law would be of little value if they failed to live in compliance with it.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

Bearing God’s Image

15 “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, 16 beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, 17 the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, 18 the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. 19 And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. 20 But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day. 21 Furthermore, the Lord was angry with me because of you, and he swore that I should not cross the Jordan, and that I should not enter the good land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance. 22 For I must die in this land; I must not go over the Jordan. But you shall go over and take possession of that good land. 23 Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the Lord your God has forbidden you. 24 For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

25 “When you father children and children’s children, and have grown old in the land, if you act corruptly by making a carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, so as to provoke him to anger, 26 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. You will not live long in it, but will be utterly destroyed. 27 And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord will drive you. 28 And there you will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of human hands, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. 29 But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. 30 When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the Lord your God and obey his voice. 31 For the Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.” – Deuteronomy 4:15-31 ESV

As the day drew near when the people would make their long-delayed entry into the land of promise, it meant that Moses was fast-approaching the day of his own death. This section of his address contains his reminder to the people of his permanent ban from entering the land, placed on him by God for his striking of the rock at Meribah.

“But the Lord was angry with me because of you. He vowed that I would not cross the Jordan River into the good land the Lord your God is giving you as your special possession. You will cross the Jordan to occupy the land, but I will not. Instead, I will die here on the east side of the river. – Deuteronomy 4:21-22 NLT

With his death imminent and his time as the leader of Israel coming to a close, Moses increases the intensity of his instructions to them, in a final effort to prepare them for this next phase in their journey as God’s people. He knew his people well and was fully aware that they were going to face a myriad of temptations as they crossed over the Jordan. And one of the greatest temptations would be that of idolatry.

In recounting that momentous occasion when God gave the Law at Mount Sinai, Moses pointed out that the people had “heard the sound of his [God’s] words but didn’t see his form; there was only a voice” (Deuteronomy 4:12 NLT). Yes, there had been smoke, thunder, and lightning, and the people had clearly felt the presence of God, but He had remained invisible to them.

And Moses warned the next generation of Israelites who were preparing to enter the land to “be very careful! You did not see the Lord’s form on the day he spoke to you from the heart of the fire at Mount Sinai. So do not corrupt yourselves by making an idol in any form” (Deuteronomy 4:5 NLT). This was a repetition of the first of the Ten Commandments that God had given to Moses on Mount Sinai.

“I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.

“You must not have any other god but me.

“You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods.” – Exodus 19:2-5 NLT

But why was Moses placing so much emphasis on this particular commandment? What was his point in stressing God’s ban on idolatry? It would appear that Moses knew that the people were going to struggle with the invisible nature of God. Their inability to see God with their eyes was going to cause them to doubt God in their hearts. He would become out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Their natural tendency would be to replace the invisible God with something more tangible and palpable. And Moses had seen first-hand just how quickly the people of Israel could turn their backs on the one true God.

All the way back at Sinai, when the people had seen the display of God’s glory and power on the mountain, they had trembled in fear. But while Moses was on top of the mountain receiving the Law from God, the people had decided that they needed a god they could see. Their leader was gone and their God, while powerful, was intangible and indiscernible. And the book of Exodus records what they did next.

When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.”

So Aaron said, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.”

All the people took the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf. When the people saw it, they exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!” – Exodus 32:1-4 NLT

While Moses was on top of the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments from God, the first of which was a prohibition against idol worship, the people were busy making and worshiping an idol. And 40 years later, Moses was well aware that the people of Israel had not outgrown their infatuation with false gods.

This tendency to worship that which we can see is hardwired into mankind. Paul addresses it in his letter to the Romans.

For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. – Romans 1:21-23 NLT

And Moses warned the Israelites about making replacement gods out “of a man or a woman, an animal on the ground, a bird in the sky, a small animal that scurries along the ground, or a fish in the deepest sea,” and he added, “when you look up into the sky and see the sun, moon, and stars—all the forces of heaven—don’t be seduced into worshiping them” (Deuteronomy 4:16-19 NLT). Because God is unseen, man’s natural tendency is to focus his attention on that which he can see. Man’s finiteness makes it difficult for him to grasp the infinite nature of God.

But God’s ban on idol worship seems to have a much more important aspect to it than first meets the eye. Moses warns the Israelites, “The Lord your God is a devouring fire; he is a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24 NLT). But there is more to this statement than God being jealous of other gods. God knows there are no such thing as “other gods.” They don’t exist. But the Israelites do. And they belong to Him. They were to be His chosen possession, and He had given them His Law as a written code of conduct. Their behavior as His chosen people was not up to their discretion, but carefully articulated in His Law. 

Which is why Moses warned them, “So do not corrupt yourselves by making an idol in any form” (Deuteronomy 4:16 NLT). The Hebrew word for “corrupt” is shachath, and it means to mar or spoil. By making and worshiping false gods, the people of Israel would be damaging their ability to mirror the image of God. Not only would the be violating His Law, they would be acting just like all the other nations. Their distinctiveness as His people would be destroyed. Their uniqueness as His possession would be lost.

God had warned the Israelites, “if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6 NLT).

But idol worship would mar the image of God in the lives of His people. They would no longer reflect His distinctiveness and display His glory among the nations. Rather than displaying their one-of-a-kind status as God’s chosen people, they would profane His reputation as the great and glorious God by behaving just like all the other nations around them. And hundreds of years later, when God’s people were languishing in captivity in Babylon, the prophet Ezekiel would declare the words of God:

“I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations.” – Ezekiel 36:22-23 NLT

God had chosen the nation of Israel and had set them apart for His glory. They were to have been His image-bearers on earth, living according to His Law and displaying His glory as they faithfully trusted in Him – the invisible, yet invincible God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

Robbing God of Glory

23 “And I pleaded with the Lord at that time, saying, 24 ‘O Lord God, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours? 25 Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.’ 26 But the Lord was angry with me because of you and would not listen to me. And the Lord said to me, ‘Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again. 27 Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward, and look at it with your eyes, for you shall not go over this Jordan. 28 But charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he shall go over at the head of this people, and he shall put them in possession of the land that you shall see.’ 29 So we remained in the valley opposite Beth-peor.” – Deuteronomy 3:23-29 ESV

For more than 40 years, Moses had been the God-appointed leader of the people of Israel. He had been the one God had chosen to rescue His people from their captivity in Egypt and to lead them across the wilderness to the land of Canaan. Now, the long-awaited ay to enter the land had arrived and Moses would not be going with them. But why?

Verse 23 opens up with Moses recounting a conversation he had with God, where he pleaded that he be allowed the privilege and pleasure of entering the land of promise. Moses knew what God had already decided and had lived with the knowledge of his ban from the land for some time. It all began at a place called the Wilderness of Zin on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. Moses had just recently buried his sister, Miriam and was still dealing with the grief over his loss. But this didn’t stop the people of Israel from coming to Moses with their most recent complaint.

There was no water for the people to drink at that place, so they rebelled against Moses and Aaron. The people blamed Moses and said, “If only we had died in the Lord’s presence with our brothers! Why have you brought the congregation of the Lord’s people into this wilderness to die, along with all our livestock? Why did you make us leave Egypt and bring us here to this terrible place? This land has no grain, no figs, no grapes, no pomegranates, and no water to drink!” – Numbers 20:2-5 NLT

They were literally “unhappy campers” and they voiced their complaint to Moses. In doing so, they accused Moses of trying to kill them. They questioned his leadership by stating that he had somehow managed to guide them one of the most uninhabitable places on the face of the earth.

Frustrated by yet another wave of grumbling and complaining from his wards, Moses went straight to the tabernacle in order to seek guidance from God. He was at a loss as to how to respond to his ungrateful followers. And the Lord told Moses exactly what to do.

“You and Aaron must take the staff and assemble the entire community. As the people watch, speak to the rock over there, and it will pour out its water. You will provide enough water from the rock to satisfy the whole community and their livestock.” – Numbers 20:8 NLT

God gave Moses very specific instructions. And the text tells us that “Moses did as he was told.” But did he? The book of Numbers records exactly what Moses did and provides the explanation for his eventual ban from entering the land. 

He took the staff from the place where it was kept before the Lord. Then he and Aaron summoned the people to come and gather at the rock. “Listen, you rebels!” he shouted. “Must we bring you water from this rock?” Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with the staff, and water gushed out. So the entire community and their livestock drank their fill. – Numbers 20:9-11 NLT

Moses was angry. He was put out with the people and fed up with their constant complaining and their unpleasant habit of blaming all their problems on him. So, he took this opportunity to do a bit of grandstanding before these ungrateful and unworthy whiners. You can tell what Moses thought about them by how he addressed them. He called them rebels. The Hebrew word, marah, carries the idea of bitterness or unpleasantness. These people were difficult to live with because they were always complaining about everything. They were ungrateful and disrespectful and Moses had had his fill of them. But he allowed his anger with the people to get the best of him, and rather than do what God had told him to do, Moses improvised. He raised the rod over his head and brought it down in rage, striking the rock two times. Rather than speaking to the rock as God had instructed him to do, Moses took out his anger on the rock.

Amazingly, in spite of Moses’ disobedience, water flowed from the rock just as God had promised. But as Moses watched the miracle of the water flowing from a rock, he heard these fateful words from God.

“Because you did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land I am giving them!” – Numbers 20:12 NLT

Like the burning bush where Moses first met with God, this rock was going to be a symbol of God’s presence and power. In fact, the apostle Paul would later explain that the rock was Jesus Himself.

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they were all drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 NLT

God had manifested His presence in a variety of ways, including the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. The manna was another proof of God’s presence and provision. And now, the rock was to have been yet another sign of God’s miraculous power and gracious, life-giving presence.

In striking the rock, Moses took out his anger on God. He lashed out at Savior of his people. And yet, the life-giving water still flowed and the peoples’ thirst was slacked. But why was God so angry with Moses? Couldn’t He understand the frustration Moses must have felt? Yes, God most certainly understood what Moses was going through. After all, the complaints of the people were ultimately aimed at Him. But there is something telling in how Moses spoke to the people that day. He gathered them together and said, “Must we bring you water from this rock?”

Moses was attempting to take credit for something God was going to do. In a sense, he was telling the people, “So, you want to question my leadership? Well, watch this!”

He was hoping to use the power of God to bolster his own reputation among the people. Rather than pointing the people to the majesty and holiness of God, he attempted to steal some of God’s thunder. He wanted the people to respect him. But God does not share His glory with anyone.

“I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to anyone else, nor share my praise with carved idols.” – Isaiah 42:8 NLT

Moses was guilty of setting himself up as a god. He wanted the people to worship and fear him. He was attempting to portray himself as their source of sustenance. He was the one who was meeting their needs. This was a dangerous game to play. Moses was supposed to be pointing the people to God, but in striking the rock, Moses showed disrespect for God.

There is another interesting insight found in the account in Numbers. The whole episode is summarized by the following statement:

This place was known as the waters of Meribah (which means “arguing”) because there the people of Israel argued with the Lord, and there he demonstrated his holiness among them. – Numbers 20:13 NLT

Notice those last seven words: “There he demonsrated his holiness among them.” In spite of Moses’ disobedience, God revealed His holiness. He displayed His “otherness” or transcendence. The Hebrew word translated as “holiness” is qadash. It means “to show oneself sacred or majestic” (“H6942 – qadash – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible.). Through His miraculous provision of water from an ordinary rock, God was demonstrating His set-apartness. In the same way He caused manna to appear each morning and quail to fall from the sky, God was revealing to the people just how powerful He was. He was fully capable of meeting all their needs and He wanted them to trust Him.

But Moses had tried to steal God’s glory and make it his own. And God made perfectly clear what Moses’ sin was. He told Moses that he was guilty of “failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes” (Numbers 27:13 ESV). Moses was guilty of trying to use God as a prop or tool to reinforce his own significance.

We can see the gravity of this particular sin by looking at the severe consequences it incurred. Moses was banned from the land of promise.

“…because you broke faith with me in the midst of the people of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, and because you did not treat me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel. 52 For you shall see the land before you, but you shall not go there, into the land that I am giving to the people of Israel.” – Deuteronomy 32:51-52 ESV

But there’s one more interesting insight into Moses’ outlook on his punishment from God. When informing the people of Israel about his fate, he blamed them.

“But the Lord was angry with me because of you, and he would not listen to me.” – Deuteronomy 3:26 NLT

Not exactly the truth. God had been angry with Moses because Moses had allowed his anger with the people to cause him to steal glory from God. But Moses was not the savior of the people of Israel. He was not their deliverer. God had never intended Moses to be their provider. Moses was nothing more than a servant of the Almighty, and his job was to point the people to the one who had promised to rescue, lead, and provide for them. It was God who would go before the people into the land of promise, not Moses.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

Mind Over Muscle

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. – Colossians 3:1-3 ESV

13 But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.…

19 …they think only about this life here on earth. 20 But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. 21 He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.– Philippians 3:13-14, 19-21 NLT

There is a very real sense in which the doctrine of sanctification has come to be understood as a byproduct of human effort. When we read verses that tell us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12 ESV), we can’t help but assume that Paul expects us to put some sweat equity into this thing called the Christian life. We’ve been indoctrinated with the sage wisdom contained in such homespun phrases as “there’s no free ride” and “you don’t get something for nothing.”

We have no problem believing that our salvation was a gift from God, but for some reason, we have taken full responsibility for our sanctification. After all, didn’t God command us to be holy, just like He is holy? That sounds like a call that’s going to requires some serious effort to be achieved.

Paul asks us, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?” Then he follows it up with the admonition, “So run that you may obtain it” (1 Corinthians 9:24 ESV). The New Living Translation puts it this way: “So run to win!”

There are literally dozens of passages that call us to live out our faith, and all of them require effort on our part. The Christian life is not intended to be a spectator sport. It requires our full participation and our whole-hearted commitment. Which is why Paul told the Philippians, “you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ” (Philippians 1:27 NLT). He shared the very same message with the Ephesian believers, pleading with them “to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God” (Ephesians 4:1 NLT).

But the problem lies in how we perceive and apply these kinds of verses. Is Paul suggesting that our quest for living a worthy life is all up to us? Is he teaching that Christlikeness is achieved through self-effort and discipline? 

Do you see the subtle danger underlying this mindset? If we’re not careful, we can turn sanctification into a works-based doctrine, where we become responsible for achieving a higher state of righteousness and earning favor with God. But here’s the problem: If we’re the ones who put in all the work, we end up believing that we deserve all the credit. We wrongly assume that we became more holy through hard work. It was all the time we put into reading the Scriptures, going to Bible studies, attending worship, praying, giving, serving…doing.

But Paul won’t allow us to go there.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:8-10 NLT

Notice that Paul stresses the God-ordained nature of our salvation, but also of our sanctification. He says we were created anew so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago. God not only came up with the plan, but He provided the power to pull it off. We are His masterpiece. Not our own.

This does not mean we are puppets on a string, helplessly dependent upon the whims of God, the divine puppet master. We are not mindless robots, programmed by God to do His bidding, with no effort required on our part. We are new creations, individuals who have been created anew in Christ Jesus so that we can do what we were incapable of doing before: Serve God faithfully and obediently. Because of the Holy Spirit’s presence within us, we have a capacity we didn’t have before. We have access to a power that was formerly unavailable to us. Which is why Paul was able to say, “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 NLT).

So, what is our role in all of this? If we’re not puppets on a string, but we’re also not the masters of our own fate and the determiners of our own holiness, what part do we play? How hard are we to work at this thing called our sanctification?

The answer to these questions lies in the balance we maintain between muscle and mind or, to put it another way, effort and thought. You might say that the motivation behind the use of our motor skills is the key to understanding our role in our sanctification. We have to constantly ask the why behind what we do. If the goal behind all our effort and expenditure of energy increased righteousness in this life? Is all our running done in order to reach the prize of holiness here on earth? Or, as one author has put it, to achieve “your best life now”?

Paul presents us with a vital piece of advice, of which many of us are either ignorant or simply choose to ignore.

seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth – Colossians 3:1 ESV

There is a real sense in which we run the race to win the prize in this life. We live with the mistaken impression that all of God’s blessings are supposed to come in the here-and-now, not the hereafter. For some reason we have been trained to expect pain-free, joy-filled lives this side of heaven. We want happy marriages, successful careers, obedient children, and glorified bodies now, not later. We want to live forever and do everything we can to prolong our lives here, while forgetting that our citizenship is in heaven. Which is why our mindset has so much influence over how we expend our energy.

Paul said he strained forward to reach what lies ahead. He pressed on “to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:14 NLT). He was focused on the return of Christ and the resurrection of his own earthly body. Paul knew that the key to his future glorification or his ultimate arrival at sinless perfection was based on the resurrection of his body. That was the goal he ran towards. His mind was set on the finish line. And because he constantly had the end of the race in mind, it determined how he ran every step. He ran to win, but he didn’t expect to receive the prize in this life.

All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step… – 1 Corinthians 9:25-26 NLT

Paul was purposeful. He was diligent. He said, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should” (1 Corinthians 9:27 NLT). But what was the motivation behind all his discipline and training? The finish line. And what was that finish line? The future resurrection of his body.

…we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. – Philippians 3:20-21 NLT

That’s the goal. It is God planned from before the foundations of the world. What we experience here is temporary and fleeting. It is not meant to last. Which is why we are to focus all our efforts and energies on what is to come. God has not promised us our best life now, but He has assured us of eternal life to come. Which is why the apostle John lovingly warns us:

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

Eternal life. That’s the goal. That’s the objective. And that never-ending life will include sinless perfection made possible by glorified bodies. That is why Paul encourages us to seek the things that are above and to set our minds on the things above. In other words, we have to get our heads right, so that our hearts are right. And when we do, we’ll end up putting all the muscle we can into running the race in this life, because our minds are set on the prize of eternal life.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

Resurrection and Glorification

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. – Romans 6:1-11 ESV

The Bible makes it clear that those who are in Christ have been sanctified by God. It is a positional reality. Through their union with Christ, Christ-followers enjoy a new status as God’s chosen people. They become His adopted children and joint-heirs with Christ, with all the rights and privileges that come with sonship, including our eventual glorification.

And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. – Romans 8:17 NLT

To be heirs of God’s glory means that we will one day inherit the same glory that Jesus did, experiencing the same resurrection and glorification of our bodies. That is Paul’s point in Romans 6.

Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. – Romans 6:5 NLT

It is this promise of future resurrection that allows us to suffer through the difficulties of this life. In fact, Paul indicates that suffering should be expected in this life, because Jesus Himself suffered during His earthly ministry. And Paul would have us remember that “if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later” (Romans 8:17-18 NLT).

As Christians, we have been sanctified or set apart by God for His use. We belong to Him and He views us as His children, and one day we will receive our full inheritance, including an eternity of unbroken fellowship with Him. God has set us apart for more. He has our future glorification in store for us. And while we must suffer in this life, it is only a temporary experience, and it will be followed by our promised glorification.

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! – 2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT

Paul reminded Titus, “we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed” (Titus 2:13 NLT). But why do we look forward with hope for that day? Because “when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory” (Colossians 3:4 NLT). And what does it mean to share in the glory of Christ? Paul puts it this way:

He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. – Philippians 3:21 NLT

That is the goal. That is to be our objective and the prize on which we set our sights as we live in this world. Jesus did not offer us our best life now, but a better life to come. Because of the fall, this world is under a curse. Our physical bodies are moaning and groaning from the reality of death’s influence over them. We age. We get sick. We suffer pain and the constant threat of disease. Because these bodies are temporary and, despite our best efforts, were not intended to last forever.  The apostle Paul, who was no stranger to suffering and pain, described our physical bodies as tents, temporary dwelling places that are destined to wear out. But he lived with the confident hope of his future glorification, when he would receive a brand new “house” prepared for him by God.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 NLT

Yet, while we have the promise of our future glorification awaiting us, we still have to live in these impermanent and imperfect tents in the meantime. And not only are they prone to pain, decay, and suffering; they’re highly susceptible to sin. Even the apostle Paul lamented the reality of sin’s constant influence in his life.

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. – Romans 7:18-20 NLT

And this constant battle with sin’s unceasing attacks on his body caused him to cry out “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” (Romans 7:24 NLT). But Paul knew the answer to his own question. It was Jesus. And the freedom for which Paul longed had already been made available to him.

Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. – Romans 7:25 NLT

Our earthly bodies make it virtually impossible for us to live as we desire to live. But Paul is not throwing up his hands in frustration and giving up hope in ever being able to live righteously this side of heaven. He is attempting to get his readers to understand the reality of our hope in Christ. This life is not all there is. Our sanctification by God was not intended for our present comfort and immediate glorification. We don’t receive all the blessings of God in this life. There is more to come. And Paul would have us focus our attention on two aspects of Jesus’ life that we share with him.

The first is His death.

We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. – Romans 6:6-7 NLT

We share in Christ’s death. Our old sinful self was crucificed with Him. And Paul reminds us of the second half of that remarkable reality. “And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him” (Romans 6:8 NLT). We are united with Him in His death and in His resurrection. The first part sets us free from sin’s dominion and domination over us. Sin no longer enslaves and controls us. The threat of death no longer looms over us. But if there is no resurrection, this promise fades like the morning mist in the presence of the sun.

That’s why Paul so strongly defended the reality of the resurrection, telling the believers in Corinth that, to doubt the resurrection was to deny any hope we have future glorification.

…if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. – 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 NLT

Any hope we have of living for Christ in this life is based on the promise of the resurrection. That is why Paul told the Romans:

We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. – Romans 6:9-10 NLT

Jesus suffered and died. But He rose again and lives in His glorified state. His death broke sin’s stranglehold over us. But His resurrection provides proof that His sacrificial death was acceptable to God and that our future glorification is certain. Because He rose, so will we. And Paul would have us focus on the unwavering nature of this promise – even now. Confidence in our future glorification should influence the way we live our lives on this earth.

So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. – Romans 6:11 NLT

We have been sanctified. We belong to God because we have been united to Christ in His death and resurrection. We died with Him, so we will one day be glorified like Him. And sin can do nothing to change that glorious reality.

So, Paul provides us with some encouraging words, based on the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection. We can say no to sin. We can refuse to let our earthly bodies determine our identity. We belong to God because we have been sanctified by God. And even this earthly, fallen bodies can be used for His glory because we have His Spirit within us.

Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. – Romans 6:12-13 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Sinner or Saint?

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 1:1 ESV

1 Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints1 Corinthians 1:1-2 ESV

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi… – Philippians 1:1 ESV

If you’re like me, you probably have a difficult time considering yourself a saint. In our day and age, that word has taken on a certain connotation that virtually eliminates any hope of it applying to us. After all, just look at the dictionary.com definition:

any of certain persons of exceptional holiness of life, formally recognized as such by the Christian Church, especially by canonization

Exceptional holiness of life. That phrase makes it sound like a saint is a member of some kind of elitist segment of Christianity. By definition, it’s a relatively small group, made up of over-achieving, super-spiritual individuals who have earned the title by virtue of their exceptionally holy lifestyles.

But the only problem with that definition is that it is not biblical. Nowhere in the Bible do we see the word “saint” used as a label for the spiritually elite. In fact, the vast majority of times it appears in the New Testament, the word “saint” is used to refer to any and all members of the body of Christ. In almost all of the letters Paul wrote to the various churches he helped to start, he addressed his readers as “saints.”

Even when writing to the church in Corinth, Paul reminded them that they were “called to be saints…” – in spite of the fact that they were displaying anything but saint-like characteristics. This was a church in turmoil. It was marked by disunity and dissension. They were willingly tolerating immorality in their midst.

To make matters worse, they were using the gifts given to them by the Spirit to claim spiritual superiority over one another.  And yet, Paul reminded them that they were all called to be saints.

But what does Paul mean when he refers to them as saints? To understand Paul’s meaning, we have to look at the Greek word Paul used when writing his letters. It is hagios, and it is most often translated as “holy” or “saint.” It literally means “most holy thing” (Outline of Biblical Usage).

The words saint, sanctify, and sanctification all share the same Greek root word.

saint = hagios

sanctify = hagiasmos

sanctification = hagiazo

In the opening salutation of his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul used two of these words in addressing the congregation there.

…to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints – 1 Corinthians 1:2 ESV

The word sanctified has to do with consecration. In the Greek, it was used to refer to something that had been set apart as holy. In the early church, it took on a very specific meaning: “to separate from profane things and dedicate to God.” That was clearly Paul’s meaning when addressing the believers in Corinth, Ephesus, and Philippi. These people had been set apart or sanctified by God for His use. They belonged to Him. And Paul expected them to live their lives in keeping with their new standing as God’s possession.

Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 NLT

It’s obvious from the content of Paul’s letter that the believers in Philippi were guilty of committing sins. They were a divided church, arguing over such things as whose baptism was more significant based on who performed the baptism. They were fighting over bragging rights as to who had the more flamboyant and spectacular spiritual gift. And while Paul clearly recognized their many sins, he addressed them as saints.

He wanted to remind them that their status as God’s children had nothing to do with the nature of their spiritual gift, the pedigree of the one who baptized them, or the impressiveness of their religious resume. No, he told them:

…because of him [God} you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:30-31 ESV

There were saints because they had been set apart by God. Their status was not based on their accomplishments. They had not earned their way into God’s good graces. Which is why Paul told them there was no reason for them to boast. Their standing before Him had all been His doing, and it had all been made possible by the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Paul wanted them to see themselves as saints. Yet, they suffered from the same spiritual schizophrenia we do. There wasn’t a day that went by without a reminder of their own sinfulness. And Paul knew there were two ways they could address this problem. One was to ignore their sin altogether by discounting or dismissing it as unimportant or even non-existent. The apostle John addresses this fallacy.

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. – 1 John 1:8 NLT

If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. – 1 John 1:10 NLT

Paul was well aware of their sins and was not afraid to address them about it. He wanted them to acknowledge their sins, but he didn’t want them to view themselves as sinners. They were saints. They had been set apart by God for His use. As the apostle Peter put it: “you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession” (1 Peter 2:9 NLT). And Peter went on to say, “As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:10 NLT).

Now, there are those who would argue that we still need to view ourselves as sinners. You may have even heard someone refer to themselves as “a sinner saved by grace.” While there is truth to that statement, it often carries an unhealthy emphasis that does more damage than good. We already have a natural tendency to dwell on our faults and failures. We live with an achievement-based mindset that makes every sin we commit seem like a step backward in our spiritual journey.

Paul would have us focus on the positive side of the ledger. We are saints. We have been set apart by God. He sees us as holy and righteous because of the finished work of Jesus Christ. That’s why Paul was always “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13 NLT).  He refused to dwell on the past. And he wanted the Corinthian believers to understand that their sins were a byproduct of their past nature, not their new life in Christ. So, he reminded them:

Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:9-10 NLT

People who live like this aren’t heirs of the Kingdom of God. They aren’t saints. And while this news probably left a few of the Corinthians wondering about their future status, Paul immediately reminded them:

Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 1:11 NLT

Something had happened to them. They had been sanctified by God. They had been set apart as His own possessions and were now considered as saints, not sinners. They had been cleansed, made holy, and restored to a right relationship with God. Now, they were to live like who they were: saints.

But some might say that Paul referred to himself as a sinner. In fact, he called himself the chief of all sinners. And they would use his letter to Timothy as proof.

This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” — and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. – 1 Timothy 1:15-16 NLT

Paul wasn’t wallowing in his sinfulness. He was simply suggesting that his past sin was an example of God’s incredible mercy and grace. Nobody had a worse pedigree when it came to sin. After all, Paul persecuted the church of Jesus Christ, actually putting Christians to death in his zeal to eradicate this radical sect called The Way. But God had mercy on him. God set Paul apart as His possession and dedicated him to His service. Paul never forgot his past, but he refused to let it identify him. He was no longer a sinner. He was a saint.

Paul told the Corinthians, “such were some of you.” At one time they had been sinners outside the fold of God. They had been enemies of God. But that was in their past. Now, they were saints, and they were to live like it. Paul was not calling them to live lives of perfection, but to recognize that they had already been perfected by God. They had been cleansed, made holy, and declared righteous by God.

In 1701, Isaac Watts penned the following words and put them to music.

Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sov’reign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?

Was Isaac Watts wallowing in his “wormness”? Was he suggesting that he was still a sinner? The answer lies in the rest of the lyrics to this great old hymn.

 

Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!

Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut his glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker died,
For man the creature’s sin.

Thus might I hide my blushing face
While His dear cross appears,
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt my eyes to tears.

But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe:
Here, Lord, I give myself away,
’Tis all that I can do.

Like Paul, Isaac Watts was describing his past condition. He had been a helpless, hopeless sinner, guilty of crimes against a holy God and sentenced to death. But then, God showed him grace and showered him with His love in the form of Jesus Christ. And, as a result, Isaac Watts was able to say, “the burden of my heart rolled away.”

He had become a saint. The burden of sin was lifted. The debt had been paid. The guilt was removed and replaced with the joy of having a right standing with God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson