Thursday, May 29, 2008

Choose death or choose life-- no middle ground.

Speaking of the Israelites in the Desert of Sinai, God says this through Ezekiel:

Ezekiel 20:15-20:

"15 Also with uplifted hand I swore to them in the desert that I would not bring them into the land I had given them—a land flowing with milk and honey, most beautiful of all lands- 16 because they rejected my laws and did not follow my decrees and desecrated my Sabbaths. For their hearts were devoted to their idols. 17 Yet I looked on them with pity and did not destroy them or put an end to them in the desert. 18 I said to their children in the desert, "Do not follow the statutes of your fathers or keep their laws or defile yourselves with their idols. 19 I am the LORD your God; follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 20 Keep my Sabbaths holy, that they may be a sign between us. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.""

This is a really interesting passage for a couple reasons, but I'm only going to hit one in depth. It's very interesting that God says "Do not follow the statutes of your fathers or keep their laws." This is interesting because so many people, whether consciously or not, cringe when they hear about the law of God. "Oh no," they say, "a law is what restricts people! It will be composed of rules that restrict my freedom and compel me to avoid things I enjoy and to do things I dislike!" And so there is, whether consciously or not, a shrinking back from God. There's hesitation. (It's also really bad; see Hebrews 10:35-39)

This passage speaks about the law of God in verse 19: "...follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws." But it doesn't say this in a vacuum; this is the continuation of verse 18, which speaks about the laws and decrees of their fathers. So what we see here isn't a juxtaposition of laws vs. freedom, but rather laws vs. another set of laws. It's just that one set of laws (the laws of their fathers) masquerade as freedom. Really this is just an attempt to redefine rebellion as freedom.

We know that the man who obeys God's laws will live by them (verse 11, 13 of this chapter). They will obey those laws and obtain life. The natural, though unstated counterpart, is that those who live by the laws of their fathers, the laws of sin, will die by them. They will obey them and obtain death. It's never a question of laws vs. freedom. It's simply a question of who you will obey and who you will disobey. Multitudes choose to obey the laws of their fathers, the laws of sin, and disobey the laws of God, the laws of life.

Now this equation is powerfully redefined in the New Testament. In particular, Romans 6:15-23 expounds on this topic with force:

"15What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. 18You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

19I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. 20When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[a] Christ Jesus our Lord."

This passage makes clear the two choices before all people: to be a slave to sin or to be a slave to God. Once again, freedom isn't part of the equation at all, it's simply a matter of choosing your obedience to one and disobedience to the other. It also shows that being a "slave to righteousness" is not a matter simply of following a set of rules and receiving a reward from God, but is a "gift of God". I won't go into detail (of which there's quite a bit), but the essence is that being a slave to righteousness is not a matter of following some set of rules, but of making a heart decision to follow God. Then God Himself gives you the power to follow His laws and decrees and you are enabled by God, the Holy Spirit, to live a life pleasing and acceptable to God. That's the essence of the grace of God. That's good stuff!!

Going back to the original Ezekiel passage, I think the references to the holy Sabbath is also very interesting. I think it's interesting how God calls it a "sign". That is, those who keep the Sabbath are essentially publicly announcing, "I am the Lord's, and the Lord is my God". By the Sabbath, it was made known that they were the people of God. It was their sign of consecration. Pretty interesting. :)

Another interesting, but painful, note is how it says that the hearts of the Israelites were "devoted to their idols." They rejected devotion to the Lord and devoted themselves to idols. Once again, it becomes clear that people only really have two choices: idols or the living God. What you behold is what you become, so devoting yourself to dead things will only transform you into the image of death. Beholding the living God by force transforms you into the image of life, and therefore you become a source of life. That's another big topic though, so I'm going to back off here.


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