August 19, 2018

Pentecost 13 - Deuteronomy 30:11-20

Theme: The Christian’s Struggle With Obedience

Deuteronomy 30:11-20 "For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off. 12 "It is not in heaven, that you should say,`Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' 13 "Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say,`Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' 14 "But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it. 15 "See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, 16 "in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the LORD your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess. 17 "But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, 18 "I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go in and possess. 19 "I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; 20 "that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”

These words before us come from Moses’ final address to the people of Israel. Shortly after this he would install Joshua as the new leader of the people and the one to lead them into the Promised Land. Then, after a few more statements and a song by Moses, he would ascend Mt. Nebo and die.

These words also supply the bookend to one of the central themes of Deuteronomy, and more broadly of the entire Bible. Obedience. Next to Jeremiah, Deuteronomy contains the most references to obedience in the entire Bible. Though Jeremiah has slightly more references, most of them are simple statements that the people Jeremiah ministered to did not obey his words. In contrast, almost all of the references to obedience in Deuteronomy are commands from the LORD. Therefore, Deuteronomy contains the most direct commands related to obedience, by a long shot. It’s really what the entire book focuses on – and the very last command of this nature is contained here in our text – “That you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”

This last reference also gives us another insight into obedience. In many of the other commands in Deuteronomy, the LORD connects obeying His Word to obeying His voice. This shows us how God thinks of His Word – it is parallel to His own voice. People resist keeping God’s commands. People fail at it. People struggle with it. But, you’d have to think that if God spoke directly to us we would do better. There’s just something about hearing it directly that makes more of an impact than something written down in a book. Yet, God’s point is that when we read His Word it should register in our hearts and His own voice. When the pastor preaches the Word, you should receive it as if God Himself is speaking it.

Even though we recognize God’s commands as His own voice, we undoubtedly view the commands of God a bit differently than the Old Testament believers. For them, the work of Jesus was a longing expectation. For us, it is an accomplished reality. The time and age in which a person is born in relation to the atonement of Christ has an impact on how they view and understand the laws of God. Most people recognize this difference in the way that God dealt with His people in the Old Testament. Leniency was not a common thing back then. God was strict. God gave narrow laws with harsh consequences. Today, God has allowed for a more expanded way in which in the New Testament believer can live under His law.

Yet, this doesn’t mean keeping the law is any easier. When it comes to obedience for the NT believer, there’s an inherent danger present for those who know the unconditional gospel. When you are able to see the absolute completion of Christ’s grace in action through His death and resurrection; it’s only natural to look at the law as secondary. Yet, by His gospel work Christ perfected the law – that’s how important it was for Him. Why should we then treat the commands of God any lesser, all the while using the very way that Christ accomplished the law as our excuse?   

Think of our first Scripture reading, where Paul quotes from this section of Deuteronomy. Paul’s in the middle of one of his most famous explanations of law and gospel in the Christian’s life. At the beginning of chapter 10 Paul makes the clear statement that Christ has brought an end, or completion to the law of God as a way of salvation. Yet, this by no means abolishes the law for Paul continues by showing the lifelong importance of learning, confessing, and yes, obeying God’s Word. The gospel should motivate us to want to obey the commands of God, not push us further from them.

But for us, Christians who live in the victory of Christ, there is a danger in viewing the commands of God as lesser and thereby diminishing the need to obey those laws. It’s dangerous because how you treat the Law has a direct impact on the Gospel. If you believe in a gospel that puts obedience on the back burner, instead of naturally leading you into obedience, you have believed a sad gospel indeed. 
This is precisely what we face in an age and culture of personal freedom at all costs.

The thing is, we view obedience differently than the people of Israel did, but its importance has never changed. Moses tells us: "See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, 16 "in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments.” The importance of life and death, of good and evil, never changes. Obedience always centers on these things. The difference comes from the nature of that obedience.

When the LORD commanded obedience to His Word in the Old Testament, it usually centered around preservation. Certainly, preservation of the believer’s faith in God but also preservation of the Messianic promise. God was strict with Israel because if they disregarded the truth it would affect all people for all time. In order for God to fulfill His gospel promise Israel needed to retain God’s truth – even if only in a small remnant of people, which is what actually happened.

Today, we are still focused on the preservation of our faith, but for us obedience is more a form of worship to God. We seek to obey His Word, not out of compulsion or threat, or to earn anything, but in simple thanks and praise to honor God and what He has done for us. This week at VBS we learned the simple Bible passage of 1 John 4:19 – We love Him because He first loved us. That sums up obedience in the mind of the NT believer. We seek to love God, and to obey His Word is to love Him, because He first loved us by dying for us and forgiving our sins.

In other words, the OT believer’s obedience pointed toward the gospel, whereas the NT believer’s obedience flows from the gospel. That’s not to say that OT believer’s never obeyed as worship and NT believers never obey to preserve. Both are essential in all times. But, the way that obedience is manifested is different.

More importantly though, is that whenever obedience is on the table, so also is life and morality. Moses says as much in our text. He also had to deal with situations close to our own. Most of the commands to obey in Deuteronomy are straightforward. Moses was speaking to people who knew that this was important. Today, that’s not so much the case, even for Christians. As we said before, mis-guided loyalty to the gospel can cause a Christian to diminish God’s law. 

Consider what Moses wrote in chapter 29. He warns, "and so it may not happen, when he hears the words of this curse, that he blesses himself in his heart, saying,`I shall have peace, even though I follow the dictates of my heart'-- as though the drunkard could be included with the sober. (Deu 29:19). Moses is speaking of the type of person who hears what the law says but doesn’t think it applies to them. They hear the curse, perhaps they even understand it, but they think of it nothing more than a blessing in their own heart. They think they will have peace so long as they do what they want. Moses says that kind of person is like a drunk who thinks they are sober.

Here, Moses has described the typical NT pitfall to obeying God. Even in the OT, though it may not have been as common, it was still a problem. This pitfall substitutes a blessing of peace in place of the law’s righteous curse. The individual is so numb morally that God’s warnings no longer register in their heart. In fact, their heart isn’t even led by God’s Word, it’s led by their own opinions. And so they chant, “Peace, Peace” as the law rightly curses them.  

What a stunning indictment, especially when Christians fall into this trap. When Christians take the finer points of obedience to God’s law and disregard them because of the gospel’s blessing, they are doing this very thing. The law and gospel are different, and lead to different effects, but they were never intended by God to oppose one another. When a Christian follows Christ, the law and gospel work in harmony together. To put it another way, you don’t obey God’s Word because of what you will get for it; rather because of what you’ll lose for not doing it.

Moses was not teaching righteousness by the law, even given how much he talked about God’s commands. We don’t teach that either when we still declare that obedience to God matters. It’s never been about getting something from God. It’s about not losing what God has given freely to you. When Christians have a skewed vision of the purpose of obedience, namely to earn favor with God, they will gladly blot it out with the freedom of the gospel. But, that’s an equally, if not more dangerous, trap from Satan. Because if he can get you to forsake obedience and the importance of the law, he can get you to lose your anchor of truth in God’s Word – and then not even the gospel will mean anything anymore.

As Moses says, this is not a difficult or mysterious thing. It is written all across God’s Word. Don’t obey to earn, because if you do eventually your salvation won’t mean anything. You don’t need to ascend to heaven to attain salvation – Jesus already did that for you. You don’t need to cross beyond the sea or further to achieve atonement with God – Jesus already did that for you. His Word is near you – on your lips and in your heart.

But, as a good Christian, don’t forsake obedience either just because you are free in Christ. A faithful heart does not do that. That’s not the kind of gospel that Jesus paid for with His own blood. Before you is life and death, blessing and cursing, just as it was for Moses and Israel. Heed God’s own voice to you – in justice and in love, in curse and blessing, in judgment and in peace, in obedience and forgiveness, and in law and gospel. With that, you will always have what He has given you, and you will never lose what He has gained. Amen.  

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