Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Let’s start with what Jesus says on the night before He was crucified, while He and His disciples share the Passover meal:

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28, NKJV)

When the disciples heard this, they would connect the words and actions with what they already knew and revered about covenant, and about Passover.  Jesus split the bread, saying it was His body, and then declared the wine His blood.

Even more, remember why the disciples are gathered with Jesus for this last supper—it is the Passover meal. God promised to free the Israelites from Egypt and leave them unharmed when He moved through Egypt, striking down all of the first-born—except those houses whose doors were marked with the blood of a lamb—a lamb “without blemish,”  the same Hebrew word used with Abraham when he was told to walk “blameless.”

These homes God promised to “pass over.” At this first Passover, they were saved by the blood of the lamb.  God commanded the Israelites to memorialize this event every year by celebrating a Passover meal together and retelling the story of their Exodus to freedom.

When, at that Passover meal, Jesus says of the cup of wine, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins,” His words are echoes of cutting and blood in covenant, of the lamb without blemish whose blood spared the Israelites, and of deliverance from the oppression under Egypt. In fact, the word Jesus used, translated “remission,” means “deliverance” - from the oppression and domination of sin, just as the Israelites were delivered from the oppression and domination of the Egyptians.

So the blood of an animal, offered by Aaron (and the generations of priests that followed him), can produce deliverance from the domination of sin for the people of Israel. The cost of such sin is death—the sacrifice of a valuable living being by a high priest of God—and then the people are free from the judgment that sin has caused.

It was not their righteousness that brought them atonement; it was the blood of another, spilled on their behalf, and they trusted that it was so, because God told them it would be so. Remembering this, now listen to Hebrews:

Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant. Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood.

Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.

For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever. (Hebrews7:22-28, NKJV)

Later Hebrews speaks of the covenant Jesus declared:

For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD.

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.

For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more. (Hebrews 8:7-12, NKJV)

This new covenant declared by Jesus had been promised long before; it was to be one where sin is wiped away, forgotten, by the profound sacrifice of an obedient and sinless man—a sacrifice greater than that of lambs or oxen—and therefore permanent, not temporary.

Further, the covenant Jesus declares is one where those who are redeemed will “know the LORD,” and His laws (teachings and instructions) will be internalized and lived out, rather than performed because of external behavior control, whether by peer pressure or because of scrutiny from religious leaders.

That is, people would not harm each other, and would care for each other, not because there were rules, enforced by others, to make them behave, but because God’s counsel was incorporated directly in their own hearts and minds! It is the fulfillment of God’s promises to the house of Israel that He will be their God and they will be His people, and they will be so close to Him as to know His heart, and will act in ways that make others fall in love with Him.

He told them how to demonstrate that they were His followers, not by proper defense and assertion of theology, not by agreeing to certain propositions or concepts, not by affirming carefully reasoned doctrines, but by how they treated each other: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35, NKJV)


The order of salvation in covenant is as it always has been: God initiates a saving relationship, like a marriage, and promises to be with us eternally. We believe in Him; that is, we trust that He can and will do what He promises.

We rely on the promise.

In Jesus, as He fulfills the covenant, we witness the depth of God’s love for us: sacrifice even unto death, and the power of love so great that it brings resurrection to new life. He lives with us, in us and through us, to teach us His ways, so that we too might love those around us—neighbors and even enemies.

That is our sanctification, our being conformed to Him, learning to be like Him, learning to love like Him.

In these, salvation and sanctification (and ultimately glorification) is Life in Christ. It is the covenant Jesus taught, and fulfills within us, and through us.

We are called to covenant. We obey and we hear.

In Christ,

Pastor George

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Ten Commandments

There are 613 laws in the Torah, but ranking at the top are the Ten Commandments, written on tablets of stone when Moses went up on Mt. Sinai to meet God. Thirteen sentences in Hebrew make up the Ten Commandments. Various Jewish and Christian groups arrange these in various ways to get the ten, and the commandments differ slightly in their versions in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. We won’t go into why, how or who. We’ll just look at content.

From Exodus 20 (in the most common delineation among Jewish sources):

          I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

          You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

          You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

          Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

          Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.

          You shall not murder.

          You shall not commit adultery.

          You shall not steal.

          You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

          You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.

First Commandment

Note that commandment number one isn’t a commandment, but an assertion of authority and power, which is why those that follow it are commandments to be obeyed and acted upon, rather than suggestions to be entertained. Some sources, both Jewish and Christian, combine the second with the first into a single first commandment, which is then actually a commandment with a preface, but let’s consider just the first commandment as enumerated above: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”

Jews believe that this declaration implicitly requires every Jew to believe that God exists, and that this has practical consequences in how we conduct ourselves in everyday life, as well as in the world to come. Jews believe that lack of belief in the existence of God excludes a Jew from the world to come, and makes understanding and fulfilling the Law impossible.

Second Commandment

God not only declares that He is LORD and God, He also makes it clear that nothing else is:

You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity  of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

This second commandment is of enormous importance in understanding the centerpiece of both the Old and New Testament teachings, righteousness and Law. Fundamentally, it calls for our full attention and devotion to the one and only God, and explicitly tells us not to give honor or attention to anything else.

The purpose of the commandments is not just in the doing (i.e., actions—recall what James said), but in the attitude of the heart—the faith, devotion and spirit with which the commandment is fulfilled. Which, of course, sounds just like Paul.

The Talmud says the fulfillment of the Second Commandment is so foundational that it is the equivalent of fulfilling the whole Torah. (Jesus makes a similar kind of foundational statement when He says all the Law and the Prophets rest on two commands: to love God, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself.) This form of expression (“all things depend on one thing”) is an ancient way of highlighting something’s importance—the typographical equivalent of boldface or yellow highlighting.  

Love God

Following the giving of the Ten Commandments, there is this exhortation:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41)

This passage is the first part of what in Judaism is called the Shema (“sheh-mah”), from the Hebrew imperative “Hear!” Jesus quotes the first two sentences of this and says it is the most important commandment.  Isaacs observes that “the love for God is one of the first instances in human history that such a commandment was demanded in any religion.”  He makes three other key observations:

                      “The best expression of love for God occurs when people conduct themselves in such a manner as to make God beloved by others.”

                      “Hosea, Jeremiah, and Isaiah saw God and the Israelites in a love relationship, where God metaphorically was portrayed as the groom and the people of Israel as God’s bride.”

                      “Love of God … can be done everywhere and anywhere, whenever the opportunity for performing commandments exists.”

Remember this quote from Ramchal, which reinforces this point: “Whoever sets God always before him and is exclusively concerned with doing God’s pleasure and observing God’s commandments will be called God’s lover. The love of God is, therefore, not a separate commandment but an underlying principle of all of God’s commandments”.


The New Testament is not a replacement for the Old. If anything it is more rightly seen as Midrash, commentary, using the passages of the Old Testament to show how the Law is fulfilled in the Messiah, Jesus, and how God reaches out to the Gentiles through Him. As Shulam and Le Cornu put it:

The New Testament is indissolubly bound to what Christianity has traditionally erred in calling the “Old Testament.” The New Testament as a written text is both a continuation of and a commentary on or explication of the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible. It cannot be understood without reference to the Tanakh, which provides it with its primary interpretive context. … The New Testament is a Jewish text.

Since the early centuries after the life of Jesus, much of Christian theology has been focused on showing how different it is from Judaism. But the methods used to construct this argument are largely within the confines of Greek philosophical structure, not Jewish thought. Thus, distinctions claimed of “Christianity” from Jewish thought are illusory, manufactured, the product of Greek-style thinking by Gentiles, rather than true distinctions discovered in the text of the New Testament.

Paul’s (and other) claims about Law and Grace, about Covenant and Messiah, were not innovations and did not depart from existing streams of Jewish thought, debate and belief. The distinction wasn’t what was believed about the coming Messiah—many already believed such things—the distinction was the proclamation that the Messiah had arrived, and

His name was Jesus.

In Christ,

Pastor George

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Covenant-The Law of Moses

This is an important subject for Christians: Law. Specifically, the Old Testament Law followed by religious Jews from the time of Moses right up to today.

But why should we care? Didn’t Christ take us beyond the Law? Didn’t Paul say it was just a “tutor” until Christ came? Isn’t the Law something from “back then” to which Christians are no longer subject?

Most Christian denominations and theologians have a specific and rigorous concept about the relative importance of the Law to Christians, and what effect the coming of Jesus Christ had on the Law and our relationship to it. Most would affirm that faith in Christ frees us from the Law, although just what that means and how it happens is the source of voluminous debate. There are also a few Christian groups that still follow the Law, including keeping kosher and worshiping on the Jewish Sabbath. So it is a topic worthy of some serious attention. In this blog I will touch some of the highlights, but Chapter 14 of What We Believe and Why goes into much more depth.

Rightly understood, the Law of Moses was given by God as a means to guide His people and help them live with each other, and grow into deeper and more intimate and life-giving relationship with Him.

Now, with this in mind, let’s begin to look at the nature and content of the covenant between God and Israel, expressed in this Law of Moses.

Recall that Genesis contains the covenant with Abraham. We move forward to the covenant with Israel in the Law of Moses through these steps:

             Abraham and Sarah beget Isaac.

             Isaac and Rebekah beget Jacob.

             Jacob wrestles with God and is renamed Israel.

             Jacob (Israel) and Rachel beget Joseph.

             Joseph’s half-brothers sell him into slavery in Egypt.

             Joseph rises to become ruler under the Pharaoh.

             Joseph’s brothers, father and families move to Egypt.

             They prosper and multiply.

             Later generations of Pharaohs forget Joseph and fear the growing population of Israelites, and so put them into slavery.

             400 years pass in this process.

             Moses is born to an Israelite family but becomes an Egyptian prince by adoption.

             God calls Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

             Pharaoh refuses to let them go, and is beset by plagues.

             The Israelites place the blood of lambs on their doorframes, and the Spirit of God “passes over” them but takes the lives of the firstborn of the Egyptians.

             Pharaoh relents, briefly.

             Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt through the Red Sea.

             God makes a covenant with the Israelites, the Law of Moses, the foundation of which is the Ten Commandments, plus many other instructions on how to live and worship. These are contained in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

All of the provisions of the Law are from these four books, though parts of it are anticipated in Genesis and unpacked by the Writings and Prophets (the biblical books of Joshua through Malachi) and also in the Talmud.

Since this is the Law that Jesus, Paul and the author of Hebrews comment on, and that Christians often speak of disparagingly or in caricature, let’s carefully consider its nature and key provisions. Rabbi Ronald Isaacs says this about it:

Judaism has always been more a religion of action and deed than belief and creed. Learning was intended to lead to doing. To that end, Jewish conduct has been governed by a series of commandments, known in Hebrew as mitzvot (singular mitzvah). The scope of meaning of the word mitzvah is a wide one. It denotes commandment, law, obligation and deed, while connoting goodness, value, piety, and even holiness.

James, brother of Jesus, says this very pointedly:

   What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Can this kind of faith save him?

    If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm and eat well,” but you do not give them what the body needs, what good is it?

   So also faith, if it does not have works, is dead being by itself. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith without works and I will show you faith by my works.

You believe that God is one; well and good. Even the demons believe that—and tremble with fear. But would you like evidence, you empty fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? You see that his faith was working together with his works and his faith was perfected  by works. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Now Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.

You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

And similarly, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

James is drilling home a key point about faith, works, covenant and relationship with God. Yet some Christians still insist that, since Abraham was justified by his faith, it is our faith in Jesus, alone, that makes us right with God and is therefore sufficient.

It’s as if getting “saved” is enough, and sanctification (which includes “works”) is an option. But if we believe this half-truth, we have missed this key purpose of the Law, which is the living out of faith in our daily actions. As James said above, “You see that his faith was working together with his works and his faith was perfected by works.”

Faith is birth; works are the living out of a sanctified life after birth.

Social action is often seen suspiciously as the province of the “liberals” and is somehow at odds with the “true gospel,” which is wrongly believed to be almost entirely about faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Paul is sometimes used to defend this view, as against James, who is used to defend the “social gospel” view. Yet the testimony of all Scripture says that these two, faith and action, are inseparable. James says faith is perfected (the Greek word here means “completed, made whole”) by works. This is profoundly the view of the Hebrew Scriptures (the “Old” Testament), as we will continue to discover.

The New and Old Testaments do not disagree on this point, nor on the purpose of the Law, nor on the requirement to do good works, nor do they disagree on the sequence of faith and works, salvation and sanctification. Only by yanking these out of context can we make the two Testaments seem at odds.

I will explain this in next week’s blog by looking more deeply at the actual substance of the Law rather than assert that it is no longer necessary.

In Christ,

Pastor George

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Now I want to look at what obedience is, and how we do it right, and that takes us to covenant.  Covenant is never about pretense nor perfection, but always about willingness. Simply put, covenant is the foundation, the “if and only if,” the essential of life with God. You may have heard other declarations about what the foundation of life with God is: perhaps faith, or salvation, or holiness, or humility. Each of these is important, but covenant undergirds them all.

There are several places in Scripture where covenant is declared and defined, but three key instances are:

             The covenant between God and Abraham.

             The Law: the covenant between God and Israel, beginning with Moses.

             The covenant Jesus declared.

The relation of these three, and their interplay, is the topic of Paul’s writings, of Jesus’ declarations, and of the covenant that all of mankind is invited to partake in.

The first covenant to be established was with Abraham and his descendants, in Genesis 15 and 17. Paul refers to it in chapter three of his letter to the Galatians, although he cites only parts of it. Unfortunately, many subsequent Christian writers build theologies solely upon Paul’s partial references, and miss a key element of God’s covenant with Abraham—one that actually is continued in the Law of Moses and the teachings of Jesus.

God comes to Abram, reminds him that He is his protector and supply, and then God initiates a covenant with a promise to give Abram innumerable descendants, an exceedingly great reward. Abram believes (trusts) God when He makes the promise. This means simply that he has faith that what God promises, God can and will do. The text says God credited him for his belief as if it were righteousness.

To understand this odd equivalence of belief and righteousness, we first have to pause and ask, “What is righteousness?” In normal usage it means following moral principles. In Scripture it means acting in harmony with God’s will. To trust God is to be and act in harmony with His will. Thus this equivalence is not an odd one, but a perfectly natural one.

If righteousness is simply a social, moral value, then trusting God is an odd thing to equate with it. But if righteousness is being in harmony with His will, then to trust Him is righteousness.

So, Abram trusts God can and will do what He promises, and God credits this to him as righteousness: Abram is in God’s will, and God acknowledges it.

Genesis 17 further shows us about the covenant with Abram (here renamed Abraham), and that Abraham is:

             To be complete, flawless, whole-hearted, authentic (because pretense hides flaws)

             In God’s presence

This should ring a big bell! Remember the previous blogs on salvation and sanctification?
In salvation,

             We trust the faithfulness and promises of Jesus,

             His righteousness is counted as ours, and

             We enter an everlasting covenant.

And then in sanctification,

             We grow toward wholeness, authenticity and whole-hearted love…

             …by the presence of the Spirit of God with us.

The covenant pattern with Abraham is the same as God’s covenant pattern with Christians: God initiates the relationship with eternal promises, we trust Him and enter the everlasting covenant He establishes, and He works with us to grow us up, to make us whole-hearted and complete. It shouldn’t be a surprise that these covenants are alike. Consider this:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”—in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:13-14, NASB italics mine)

Paul is writing to the Galatians, who are Gentiles. They are not a part of the house of Israel. They weren’t a part of the promise made to the Israelites, to the Jews. Paul is saying that a promise was made to Abraham: that his seed would spread beyond Israel to all the earth. It now has spread to the Gentiles. They are included as part of the promise made to Abraham in the covenant. Paul continues:

Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ. (Galatians 3:15-16m NASB, italic in original)

Here’s the argument Paul is making: The promise given to Abraham—400 years before the Law was given to Moses—was that Abraham would be blessed through his seed (singular), a single future descendant, and that is Christ.

The covenant made with Abraham pre-existed the Law. It came before the Law was ever established. Paul is saying, “That promise was never broken or replaced.” That is, through Jesus Christ, who is the seed of Abraham, the promise to Abraham is extended to everyone, not just the children of Israel.

“And if you belong to Christ”—here’s where the argument draws to his point—“then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

There it is, the promise God made to Abraham was that the whole world would be blessed through his seed!

Paul says the seed of Abraham is Christ and all who trust in him inherit the promise made to Abraham, thus fulfilling it.


In Christ,

Pastor George

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Magical Thinking

God’s concern is always about LOVE, always about loving relationship, always about building up and not harming. It is not about the mere fulfillment of obligations, of following religious rules, behaviors, rituals, practices or morality. In fact, these often are substituted for love, out of a desire to please or control God, to impose one’s will on others, or because the challenge of love is too great. “Following the rules” replaces love. But true love transcends the rules and gives us freedom from them.

So Christ has really set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ cannot help you. I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey all of the regulations in the whole Law of Moses. For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God's grace. But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive everything promised to us who are right with God through faith. For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, it makes no difference to God whether we are circumcised or not circumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love. (Galatians 5:1-6, NLT First Edition.)

Circumcision was one of many ritual practices and traditions used to show that people were obedient to the Law. Paul uses it here to illustrate how we mistakenly try to make ourselves right with God by following the Law.

Yet obedience to religious tradition—whether the Law of Moses or any other regulations a church has about worship, tradition or conformity to doctrine and belief—is something we hear taught in church, usually in ways that seem to contradict what Paul says. That is, we believe that doing things a certain way, perhaps even “in good order,” is necessary to please God, to gain His approval, His response, even His love.

It’s confusing, isn’t it? So we need to spend some time trying to understand this more deeply.

I am not suggesting we simply toss out all the rules, and neither is Paul. Many of them serve us well as a community, help enforce boundaries and safety, and tell us what to reasonably expect and how to treat each other. These are helpful, even a blessing.

God does NOT tell us that if we do things in just a certain way, He will approve of us, and if we do other things—like pray, or cook, or weave, or baptize, or take Communion—in just a certain way, He will act as we want Him to. This is a false view of God and couldn’t be less helpful.

We have a sovereign God who is present, and who acts. When we pray, when we lay hands, when we bless, we are not managing spiritual forces. We are inviting God’s presence. He acts, not our “magic” or ritual or method. God is present and He moves, touches and changes things, as He wills—not as we direct.

There are churches where this is the rule, the law: If you walk across the front of the sanctuary, past the altar, you must bow to the cross every single time. I’m not suggesting that bowing is wrong, but that we can turn something that is a sign of praise and thanksgiving into a regulation—and when we do that, it can be gutted of its meaning. More, it can become a distraction: We get so focused on “doing it right” that we lose our true sense of purpose, which is a deepening of our relationship with God.

I want to be clear here that in the way we worship—whether it includes page-turning by acolytes, or hands in the air, or a circle of neighbors simply holding hands each week and praying—there is nothing intrinsically wrong with many of those things. It’s an order of worship, and when it happens consistently, it gives us stability. It’s not a bad thing, and can be helpful.

What I want to caution all of us about is “magical thinking”—the idea that if we are stiffly obedient to rules and to ritual, this will gain us God’s favor, it will assure His love for us, and perhaps even ensure our salvation. Or, that when we fail to follow the same rules, He gets mad and withdraws. This is not what the Bible teaches. It’s not what Jesus teaches, it’s not what Paul teaches, and it is not God’s message to us.

It is clear, then, that God’s promise to give the whole earth to Abraham and  his descendants was not based on obedience to God’s law, but on the new  relationship with God that comes by faith. (Romans 4:13, JLT First Edition)

The word “faith” here means literally to trust. The new relationship with God comes about not because we are obedient to the law and earn our way into His favor, but because we trust Him and His love for us.

And that’s the point; that’s what it’s about. God is always about relationship; He is always about trust and love. When Jesus sums up the whole law and the prophets, He does it by saying,

The first of all the commandments is: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.  (Mark 12:29-31, NKJV)

God is always about acting in love.

The command to love is greater than any other law, rule, regulation, concept, doctrine, ritual, behavior, order, process, tradition, canon or guideline.

God does not trade our obedience for His help for our wishes. That is, we can’t use “obedience” to manipulate God to do our will. This seems obvious when said plainly like this, but the hard truth is that we act, in countless different superstitious (but “holy”-looking) ways, as if our actions will allow us to control God.

In Christ,

Pastor George