Over the years, it seems to me that many devoted Christians tend to view their relationship with God in terms of behavior modification and obligation.
It’s all about what we don’t do anymore…“Don’t drink, smoke, or chew, or go with girls who do”…and serving God in ministry and being missional, which are probably all good things…but is this what God really wants from us?
Was it ever our job to be the morality police to the world…
….or was it to be like Jesus?
Certainly, the Old Testament was about obeying laws and sacrificial service…or was it?
A careful reading reveals that God’s desire has always been about having a people who love Him completely like He already loves them…not automatons who must perform or be reprimanded.
5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. 6 And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ (Exod.19:5-6 NKJV *)
We already recognize a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” as familiar New Covenant language (2 Pet.2:9), but what about”Obey My voice…”? This language does seem a bit authoritarian, but only because of the primitive nature of the relationship. God was basically dealing with “Egyptian” slaves who, for 400 years, only understood commands and threats. “Obey or be punished” is all a slave mindset understands about relationship.
Unfortunately, many Christians still only see themselves as slaves who must obey, instead of sons and daughters walking in His unconditional love.
God was a father to Israel. But His relationship was more like a father telling his eight-year old son to listen up or he’ll be grounded. The child has no mental grid for the protective nature of his love in the command.
Like the father with his eight-year old child, it was never about obey or else. What God really wanted was intimacy and trust.
But Israel didn’t see Him this way. They saw an overpowering and terrifying slave master, so they hid in fear:
18 Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. 19 Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” (Exod.20:18-19 NKJV *)
God wanted intimacy, but they wanted to keep their distance and have “pastor Moses” directly relate to Him instead. Like all religions, past or present, Christian or otherwise, their relationship was second-hand. So God had no choice but to hang an albatross around their neck—a litany of mind-numbing rules and punishments for infractions that no one could actually follow (Acts 15:10).
When we refuse intimacy in relationship we’re left with rules and fear of punishment.
In spite of Israel’s dutiful slaughter of bulls and goats and observing feast days and new moons in the narrative text, we find God’s true heart in the prophetic voices:
11 “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?”
Says the Lord.
“I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
And the fat of fed cattle.
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
Or of lambs or goats.
13 Bring no more futile sacrifices;
Incense is an abomination to Me.
The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—
I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.
14 Your New Moons and your appointed feasts
My soul hates;
They are a trouble to Me,
I am weary of bearing them.
16 “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.
Cease to do evil,
17 Learn to do good;
Rebuke the oppressor;
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the widow. (Isa.1:11, 16-17 NKJV *)
8 He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8 NKJV *)
14 Seek good and not evil,
That you may live;
So the Lord God of hosts will be with you,
As you have spoken.
15 Hate evil, love good;
Establish justice in the gate.
It may be that the Lord God of hosts
Will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. (Amos 5:14-16 *)
22 For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices. 23 But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you.’ (Jer.7:22-23 NKJV *)
To “obey” and “walk in all the [God’s] ways” means caring for others as we would care for ourselves:
8 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Lev.19:18 NKJV *)
Of course, Jesus expanded the “neighbor” to include everyone, even our enemies. The New Testament revelation defines this as “fulfilling the Law” (Matt.7:12; 22:37-40; Gal.6:2; James 2:8).
Taking care of the less fortunate, setting the oppressed free, and healing the brokenhearted is what God really wants from us. You will find this footprint throughout the Old Testament text.
6 “Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?
…If you take away the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 If you extend your soul to the hungry
And satisfy the afflicted soul… (Isa.58:6,9, 10 NKJV *)
Do you see the common theme here? True obedience and righteousness is not about following orders like a slave, or performing religious rituals, nor is it about what we don’t do anymore; it’s all about other-centered love. God’s intent was always been that we show the same grace, mercy, and compassion for others that He has shown us.
We will conclude this survey next time.
* All emphasis mine.