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Thursday: Not for Your Righteousness — 17 Comments

  1. Today's lesson states:

    "In short, despite your faults, your flaws, your stiff necks, the Lord is going to do this wonderful work for you and in you. Thus, as a result, the Lord commands you to obey Him and His laws."

    I propose that this is not what Moses was conveying to the Israelites and it is not present truth for today either. This view again essentially portrays the idea that God is saying I've done this for you, now you are obligated to obey me in return.

    So what was going on back in Deuteronomy? God had set Israel free from Egyptian slavery (Deuteronomy 5:6) - but, as Shirley DeBeer mentioned yesterday, that was not all He was aiming to set them free from. More importantly, God also was wanting to set them free from living a life of bondage to sin - to living in ways that would lead to 'perishing'(Deuteronomy 4:25,26). And God's reason for doing so was His over-flowing, other-benefiting love for His people (Deuteronomy 7:8). So, rather than Moses outlining their obligation to God, Moses is merely outlining the way of 'living and being' that is vitally necessary if the Israelites want to truely live. And rather than commanding the Israelites, Moses is merely helping them to make an informed choice by outlining their two options and the inherent implications/consequences of each of those options - life or death/perishing (Deuteronomy 5:33; 30:15-20).

    What about present truth? It is absolutely true that we cannot save ourselves apart from God. But neither can God save us apart from our co-operation with Him in the salvation-redemption-restoration process. This does not mean that we contribute anything that 'merits' us (ie, obligates God). So if what we contribute does not merit us, what is the reason for our contribution? It is simply necessity because life and even salvation - within a context of freedom-based love - needs both our active consent and active participation.

    So why is it necessary to 'obey' (ie, choose to live in harmony with) God's 'commandments' (the cause-and-effect principles that are essential to enabling true life to actually operate)? Because that is the only way life is possible (Deuteronomy 5:33; 30:15-20). Does this mean I am discounting the role of gratitude for what God/Christ has done for us? Not at all. God/Christ demonstrated their boundless love for us in order to awaken love within us - gratitude, not a sense of obligation. It is both a sense of love awakened in response to God's/Christ's love for us and an appreciation/realisation that there is only one way of living that will lead to life that truely, effectively motivates us to live in harmony with ('obey') that way as we walk with our God whom we love. And this is also what motivates us to share this way with others and to treat them with the same loving grace that we have been given - and continue to receive - from God.

    • I dont see your point.

      Because this is a covenant, in which the Lord outlines his actions and his requirements, how are these not obligations? Yes, of course, they can be packaged as "benefits" but they remain obligations, don't they? I see the rhetoric used as a means of securing buy-in.

      • Today, like many other Fridays, I made some yummy food and delivered it to six people. They didn't ask for it but are always delighted when I show up with good food.

        I didn't ask for or expect anything in return. My joy and reward was in the giving and in knowing they will enjoy the food.

        So it is with God... His joy is in the giving. His gift of salvation doesn't have strings attached and doesn't come with obligations. His joy is in the giving. It becomes ours when we believe, accept this undeserved gift and share the good news of this gift with others. This is Love.

        • I wish--and may believe--that this is true for Christians, as you say. But that is not what Deuteronomy says.

          The old covenant / treaty model, whether we look at the Hittite, Israelite or other version, does in fact place the vassal under obligation to the suzerain party. The language of the Torah is very clear on this point.
          You may argue that voluntary compliance is preferred, but that does not remove obligation.

      • Hi Jordan

        Thanks for your interest and comment.

        It depends upon how you conceptualise the concept of "obligations". This can be viewed through an authoritarian or authoritative perspective. The lesson tends to lean towards an authoritarian portrayal of things which I believe is reflective of our fallen-humanity way of doing things, rather than God's way/s (Isaiah 55:8,9) . By contrast, I find that God's higher ways of being and doing are reflective of an authoritative approach (Mark 1:22) that, like Sieg aptly mentioned above, is typified by a God who is motivated solely by pure beneficence that manifests in the joy of giving 'zoe' (abundant life: John 10:10) to creation.

        Because God is essentially limited to using our language to communicate with us, He uses words we are familiar with but then tries to help us go beyond how we understand these terms to move progressively closer to how those terms operate within His higher ways. I would propose (though I acknowledge not everyone would agree with me) that if we have a concept that is precisely how we do things in our human ways, then such is an indication we may well be at the human end of the spectrum in our perceiving and understanding of that term/concept rather than God's end - and that such would be an indication that we may need to re-explore our understanding.

        Your thoughts?

  2. I don't know how many of us have taken the time to read Deuteronomy and not just the lesson notes. It is not pretty reading. It sounds as though the Children of Israel were dragged, kicking and screaming from Egypt to Caanan. If they had been a class of my students, I think I would have given up. Moses stresses the point over and over again. "You do not deserve this!" Ungracious, stiff-necked, and a mob of whingers, are descriptors that come to mind. Yet, Moses persisted with them and in the dialogue between God and Moses, we learn the big picture of selfless love. I am not tackling the problem of how God is pictured in these passages; I think part of that is the Hebrew's immature perception of God, but the picture of salvation that we get from the interaction is that the notion of putting others first lies at the very heart of salvation's story. And ultimately it's that story that we need to get across to our unbelieving friends.

    Jumping forward to our modern world ...

  3. Thank-you Phil, this brings to light a genuine relationship with God is all about, a relationship that is everlasting, if we chose to let God live in us, and work through us. It also answers throughly the question. Why God said, I am not doing all this for your righteousness, rather to kick evil out of the land. Deuteronomy 9:4-5.
    Well done. Humbling for us as well as in the time Deuteronomy.

  4. I believe the Good News is the LORD has promised to change our character - our hearts & minds - to be like Him.
    I believe that "to be saved" really means we will be transformed - metamorphosis - like from a worm to a butterfly.

    Earthly pleasures vainly call me,
    I would be like Jesus;
    Nothing worldly shall enthrall me,
    I would be like Jesus.
    Be like Jesus, this my song,
    In the home and in the throng;
    Be like Jesus, all day long!
    I would be like Jesus.

    Rom 12:1-2 MKJV  I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing to God, which is your reasonable service.  (2)  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, in order to prove by you what is that good and pleasing and perfect will of God.

    Rom 8:28-29 MKJV  And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  (29)  For whom He foreknew, He also predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son, for Him to be the First-born among many brothers.

    Exo 31:13  Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you.
    Lev 20:8  And ye shall keep my statutes, and do them: I am the LORD which sanctify you.
    1Th 5:23  And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  5. EGW put it so plainly and so clearly, "We can only be willing to be made willing..." So the idea that God did it all for us and so now we are to go on and "Keep His Law." seems to me to be out of line with the EGW quote. We are to learn to trust God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves houly, daily, until the day God calls us home. And again the Apostle Paul also is clear in Romans Romans 10:4, "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." We are to go on to obey "By our Faith" in what Jesus has already done and what His father and He did before this world began and not "By our own works at all."

  6. Isaiah 64:6KJV records: "But we are all as an 'unclean thing', and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags;  and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away."
    1Cor.1:27-31 Amplified Bible records: v.30, 31 "But it is from Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God [revealing His plan of salvation], and righteousness [making us acceptable to God], and sanctification [making us holy and setting us apart for God], and redemption [providing our ransom from the penalty for sin]. So then, as it is written [in Scripture] "he who boasts and glories, let him boast and glory in the LORD."

    It appears to me that our Creator saw the need to make us new/re-birth us, focusing His re-making work on the essence of that which man lost; the capacity to be a by His spirit guided, living soul which pleases/delights his Creator - Rev.4:11KJV.

    Faith - the means with which to override/suspend self-will - is the essence of communication chosen by God for man when he interacts with His Creator. 
    The Father gave His consent to the plan of Salvation and vested in His Son, Christ Jesus, His power to re-make us through/by applying His Righteousness and Faith when He walked among us. Their work, which was completed successfully, set us on the course to our Salvation by Faith through the Grace of God.
    God revealed to us the need for Faith, we have been taught and shown the course, now we employ the gift of faith as we walk the Way assigned for man that he should walk in to save him from eternal death. 
    Salvation of the living soul is Heaven's declared goal!

  7. I have read with fascinations the thoughtful contributions presented this week. May I add the following?
    Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes about Deuteronomy as a book that calls us to obey the commandments of God. He says the following:

    There is no verb in biblical Hebrew that means to obey. This is an astonishing fact. So glaring is the lacuna that when Hebrew was revived in modern times a verb had to be found that meant “to obey.” It was obviously necessary, for example, in the case of Israel’s defence forces. An army depends on obedience to the command of a superior officer. The word chosen was . . . an Aramaic word that does not appear in this sense in the Hebrew Bible. The Torah itself uses a quite different word, namely shema, meaning, “to hear, to listen.”
    In Deuteronomy, the verb “to listen” appears ninety-two times. It’s meaning is wide-ranging from "to pay focused attention" to "respond in action".
    To listen in Hebrew is not to obey blindly, without thinking or questioning. The commands in Deuteronomy are not the arbitrary will of God. To the contrary, they were given for the benefit of the people.
    His commandments are given for our benefit. That's how much He loves us.

    • Petit - Thank you for this eye-opening revelation regarding the ‘missing’ verb in the original Hebrew language for what we call ‘obey’. How did the translators of these sacred Scriptures missed this or could make such a grave error to translate that which means ’to listen’ using the word ‘obey’; I am astonished!
      You have contributed the ‘missing link’ to settle what has been a long-standing issue when interpreting the meaning of the word ‘obey’ - again, thank you!

    • That is indeed true. "Shema"/"Shama" appears over 1000 times in the Old testament. Two-thirds of the time it has something to do with listening. But it also carries connotations of proclamation and action. The issue is that the words "obey/obedience" in the English language come with a sense of subservience and that is not really present in "shema".

      Just a reminder that the Shema prayer reads, "Shema Yisrael Adonai Elohenu Adonai echad."Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!" This is not a command but an invitation.

    • Interesting, Petit. You wrote

      The Torah itself uses a quite different word, namely shema, meaning, “to hear, to listen.”
      In Deuteronomy, the verb “to listen” appears ninety-two times. It’s meaning is wide-ranging from "to pay focused attention" to "respond in action"

      "Respond in action" sounds an awful lot like "obey. But perhaps our English word has taken on connotations that were not in the Hebrew "shema." As you explain

      To listen in Hebrew is not to obey blindly, without thinking or questioning. The commands in Deuteronomy are not the arbitrary will of God. To the contrary, they were given for the benefit of the people.

      Thank you for your contribution.

  8. Jesus said: If you love me, keep/obey my commandments - what did He mean? I believe I must seek to discover the will of the LORD and then put it into practice through His power in my life. He has promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth that we may be partakers of the divine nature. 2Peter 1:3-4

    New International Version Matt 7:24
    “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
    New Living Translation Matt 7:24
    “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.
    New Living Translation Luke 11:28
    Jesus replied, “But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.”
    Mat 12:50 MKJV  For whoever shall do the will of My Father in Heaven, the same is My brother and sister and mother.
    1 John 2:29
    If you know that He is righteous, you also know that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of Him.
    New King James Version 1John 3:7
    Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.

  9. Today's topic is justification by faith, not sanctification by faith. Justification is the action of God in declaring us righteous, even though we have no personal righteousness. Sanctification includes the action of God in transforming our character. Justification is prior in time and in importance because it forms the basis of our transformation. It is by faith because there is no other way we co-operate with God in it except to open our hands and hearts and receive the gift. Any character development or improvement in our personal morality is not the grounds for our justification.
    Only those whose hands have been freed from self-serving attempts at salvation can use those hands to serve God and love others.


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