Have you ever wondered what the connection between God’s grace, the law, and your obedience was? I have. And, today I was able to understand the connection fully. It’s amazing how you can write or read something and it comes to mean a lot in another season. Some things are much the same as they were three thousand years ago. The law, God’s grace, hasn’t changed at all. As a matter of fact, I came to understand the law actually helps us understand the connection between God’s grace and our obedience.
” Commands become outdated, but they are never irrelevant… A command is always addressed to a specific person or group of persons in a specific situation.” A quarterback orders a play. He gives the instructions to a wide receiver. This command applies to that specific player in a specific play. What if the wide receiver assumes he should do exactly the same thing in every play in every game? He’s misunderstood the point of the command. What if the whole team does what the wide receiver was told to do? Again, the quarterback is not being understood and properly obeyed. His instruction was addressed to a specific person in a specific situation.
A new player joins the team. Is it worth his while to study the plays the quarterback called in previous games? Are those commands relevant to him? Not in the sense that he’s supposed to do exactly what the quarterback told the wide receiver weeks ago. But studying those plays can tell him a lot about how the quarterback’s mind works, his personality, the approach to the game he values, and what he doesn’t like. Those old plays can help him see the game through the quarterback’s eyes, and that will also help him contribute more effectively to the team.
In the same way, the Law was God’s instruction book to the ethnic nation of Israel for a specific time and situation. Some things about ” the game” (life, God’s ongoing work of redeeming the world) And ” the team” (God’s people) Have changed.
You see, the Jews refer to the first five books of the Bible as the Torah. This Hebrew word is usually translated as ” the Law.” However, all of Genesis and large portions of the other four books of Torah are history. The Jewish Law is embedded in the history of how God chose the family of Abraham and built it into a nation.
This fact tells you that God’s commands have always been rooted in His loving call. Obedience to His commands has always been a response to His grace, never a condition of earning his grace. Even the famous Ten Commandments begin,
” I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of slavery. [Therefore] You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 10:2-3)
Now, first, God saved a group of people from miserable slavery. Then he declared his intention to give them land, forge them into a nation, and reign as God and king over the nation. Then he made a covenant with them, spelling out how they would relate to each other: King to people, people to King, and people to people.
[A covenant is an agreement, treaty, or contract. It spells out the rights and obligations of all the parties]
The covenant between God and Israel was pure gift. Israel did nothing to earn liberation, a land, a just system of laws, and a just king. God gave this gift to demonstrate his love and to further his plan to bless the world through his people. Many people today struggle with obedience. Authorities are suspect. Laws are seen as arbitrary limits on people’s freedom. The fewer laws, the better. In this world view, God can look like the cosmic Police demanding that you earn his approval and escape punishment by towing the line.
But, God is not the cosmic Police. He’s not your parents, your seventh-grade teacher, your high school principal, your boss, or the politicians on the evening news making the headlines. He can be all of the aforementioned, but that’s not the point here. If you read the Law through the lens of grace, of generous and unearned gift, you’ll see an authority figure who is tough but honest, committed to his people’s good, committed to justice, and not an egotist.
Although most of the Old Testament laws aren’t laws you need to obey, there are New Testament commands you do need to obey. The old sheds light on the new. God is still in this for your good and the good of all people. And, your obedience is still not a way of your earning his favor, but a response to his earning your trust.
God earned Israel’s trust by liberating them from Egypt. If you’re being honest, I believe he’s earned your trust by liberating you from meaningless, a self-focused and self-defeating life, destructive behaviors, and death. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15)
” Obedience has always been a response to God’s love and a demonstration of our love.”
Photo by Mark Duffel, Igor Rodriguez, Geoff Scott