We Will Do It!
All that the Lord has said, we will do. (Exodus 19:8; 24:3,7)
We smile when we think about how naïve the Israelites must have been when they spoke these words around Mount Sinai after God delivered to them the perfect standard of righteousness in His law. We knowingly remember how in just a few days they were found dancing around a golden calf in a sex-crazed drunken orgy.
But then I am quickly sobered when I suddenly realize that I may not be that much different in my own response to God's words to me. Surprise? Am I headed for a drunken orgy of abandonment to wild flings into sin from the place of a pious position of a spiritual leader in the church? How could that be?
But there is a very serious warning here that I cannot afford to ignore except at the peril of my own soul. I was reminded of this just a few minutes ago when I sat down and began to peruse over the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus in Matthew 5.
I read things about being blessed if I am poor in spirit, gentle, persecuted etc. That may seem a little puzzling but I began mentally assembling my list of requirements that I need to do in order to get into the line of these blessings from God. But it keeps getting more difficult very quickly. Jesus talks about the guilt involved if I even look at a woman with lust. Now the list is getting really stiff. But then He moves into the nearly impossible when He says that I am not to resist an evil person when I am mistreated. Now the lengthening list is starting to really intimidate me.
But in the back of my head I remember that I want to be a good Christian. Jesus seems to be raising the standard even higher than that perceived by the Israelites at Mount Sinai. But I don't like the alternative to being saved so I resolve to begin working on this even bigger list of requirements so I can satisfy the demands of God to be righteous so I can enter heaven.
But wait! What is this? I hear a familiar refrain in my own response to these words of Jesus echoing back from 3,000 years ago. Everything you have said we will do. Really? Is that me that I heard repeating that naïve reaction to the words of God describing what righteousness looks like? And is it any more possible for me to live up to these new even stiffer requirements by Jesus than what the Children of Israel tried to live up to for thousands of years unsuccessfully?
On the other hand, many Christians try to sidestep all of these descriptions of what constitutes righteousness by claiming that none of this is any longer binding on Christians because Jesus fulfilled the Law for us and therefore there is no longer any obligation for us to live 'under the Law'. They claim we are now free to do whatever we want as long as we have said the right words at some point and accepted Jesus as our Saviour. But is the a side rail that leads to eternal life or is it a fatal decoy to fool us into believing we are saved until it is too late and our characters are hopelessly out of shape to thrive in the presence of a holy God?
I see that both of these options are flawed and that there seems to be no viable way to satisfy the very high demands of righteousness. If I attempt to obey the words of Jesus explicitly then I find myself frustrated and out of touch with reality. If I try to sidestep the Law and the expansion of the Law as taught by Jesus by claiming that none of that any longer applies to me, then I equally put myself in mortal danger by simply masking over sin in my heart instead of experiencing freedom from sin.
Is God planning to simply excuse and forgive sin and allow it to stay in the hearts and lives of His children because they claimed to be 'saved' and said some magic words about trusting in Jesus as their Savior? Or is He at some point in the future going to miraculously transform their characters and desires in an instant when they arrive in heaven so that their desires and identity is totally different from that which they developed here on earth?
When I read the words of Jesus and take seriously the implications of His teachings in the New Testament, I cannot see how either of these options is realistically viable. If God forces us to be a totally different person than what we became on earth through our choices, then He could have done the same thing with Lucifer long ago in heaven and the whole sin problem would never have come about in the first place.
Interestingly, I am beginning to see that the popular versions of the gospel as promoted by most Christians today are really a denial of the basic principles of love itself. We like to talk about the love of God and love between each other and maybe even love for our enemies. But because we have perverted and distorted the very definition of love from how God describes it, we end up with a counterfeit idea of love that actually can lead us to be lost while firmly believing that we are on our way to heaven.
True love allows total freedom for choices either for or against it. Freedom is the very essence of love. But with freedom also comes the freedom to experience the consequences of our choices. And if we are to live in a universe governed by consistent laws or principles that can be depended on to always be there and remain reliable, then soon or later God has to allow us freedom from grace in order to experience the natural consequences of our own choices about how we will relate to Him and to each other.
It is true that God has intervened in the history of this world to prevent all of us from suffering the natural consequences of separating ourselves from the only Source of life in the universe. But this is really a temporary arrangement in His mercy because He wants us to have another chance to reconsider what we want to experience for eternity. If we were to immediately experience the normal results of disconnecting from life right away we would have no opportunity to learn from our mistakes and turn back in repentance to reconnect with life.
But God has no interest whatsoever in embracing an eternity filled with pain and suffering and sin simply because we think we can live independent from Him and still enjoy all the benefits of those living in connection with Him. Independence from God is the very core of sin itself. Just like a computer cannot last long if not connected to a power source, neither can we continue to live for eternity if disconnected from the only Source of real life.
But to live with that vital connection to the only Source of power and life, it is necessary to become aligned and synchronized so that His life can produce the kind of life in us that we were designed to enjoy. Sin created a counterfeit model of what life should look like, but that kind of existence is not just foreign to the kind of life God designed for us to live but is corrosive to the life we are supposed to experience as the image of God. Sin is not just breaking some rules and getting in trouble with authorities, sin is living independently and out of harmony with the very nature and design that describes the kind of life that God lives and that all the rest of the universe enjoys.
So to come back to my original observation – when I think that I have to live up to the descriptions of this mature and perfect life as presented by Jesus, I really am no different than the Israelites who caught a glimpse of the perfection of God in His Law given on Mount Sinai and agreed that this was the way they wanted to live. If that had actually been possible, then the long history of the Jews might have turned out quite differently. But their history proves conclusively that though the Law is an accurate description of what God looks like, it is impossible for fallen humans to keep that Law, even with a lot of 'help' from God as many assume.
I realized years ago that the appropriate response that would have much better fit the situation at Mount Sinai would have been for those people to admit that the Law was a really good idea but that deep inside they were unable to live up to that perfect standard. If they had only admitted that they were too weak to keep that law and had been honest about their own sinful cravings and weaknesses and thrown themselves on God's mercy and asked for a further revelation from Him, they could have been immediately introduced to the New Covenant, and the history of the world could have progressed radically different than what it did.
But they did not do that and history is what it is up to this point. But what about now? I am alive and in the flow of history right now and it is now my time to make choices that will determine how history progresses from here. Someone recently said that the life and circumstances I find myself in now is a direct result of the attitudes and choices that I have made in the past. But the life I experience in the future will be a direct result of the attitudes and choices that I make today.
Am I going to make the same mistake with the high standards of Jesus that the ancient Israelites made at Mount Sinai? Or I could go to the other extreme and fool myself into thinking that in believing Jesus to be my substitute I am no longer under the law of cause and results, that somehow God will exempt me from the natural results of my choices to live independently from Life.
Both of these are false answers, decoys to derail me from the straight path that leads me back into harmony with the reality I was designed to live in, to thrive in community with others. The only real answer to all of my problems is neither of these but is coming into a proper understanding of and a living experience in what it means to live 'in Christ'. This true solution is the only one taught by the Scriptures but has been largely lost sight of under the mass of religious interpretations and confusion we see today.
Jesus did fulfill the Law and did live a perfect life in total dependence on an outside power which was His Father. He invites me to do the very same by living in total dependence on His power outside myself at all times by allowing His Spirit to dwell in me and change the way I view everything and everyone around me. This is not a life of trying to be good with lots of help from God; this is a life of intimacy and growing awareness and implicit trust in the heart of the only One who has the power to produce real righteousness from the inside out.