A Matter of Life or Death

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, June 3, 2015 0 comments
by Logan Ames

“See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees, and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess” (Deuteronomy 30:15-18).

These words of Moses make it seem like a very simple choice for the people. Do “A” and you get life, do “B” and you get death. Raise your hand if you’re not sure which one of those you want. The problem is that there is no margin for error. To keep the commands, decrees, and laws of the Lord is to do so ALL THE TIME. Since nobody was able to accomplish that feat even though they clearly preferred life over death, they were all guilty of being lawbreakers. Based on the words above, that meant they would “certainly be destroyed." What was it that led to their death? Is it the law that would kill them? Of course not! The law itself was given by God, making it holy. But human beings are sinners and no matter how hard we try, we cannot be holy by our own power. So, what would kill the people was their inability to follow the holy law of God.

This is what the Apostle Paul is setting up in Romans 7:7-13. Take a minute and read it. You see that he is saying that it took learning the law to even know what was and was not considered “sin." He shares that it was the sinful desires within him that caused him to want to do what was not permitted by the law. Because of this, he realizes the result. “I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death” (v. 10). Paul knows that the law itself was basically an instruction manual on how to live a prosperous life, just as Moses said it was. But as soon as you add sin to the mix, we receive the penalty of not following the law rather than the benefit of following it. And that penalty is death and destruction.

Paul mentions that sin actually “deceives” us. I’m sure that just about anyone reading this can relate to that statement. Sin presents itself to us as something beautiful and innocent. Even though we have the commands that tell us what is beneficial versus what is destructive for us, we still have a dangerous curiosity that makes us want to find out if we will REALLY be destroyed if we walk in sin. This comes down to an issue of trust in our Creator that he is not slighting us, that the commands he has given us are designed to bring us abundant life more than we ever could have achieved on our own. If we trust God at our core, then we have no reason to doubt him about whatever is behind the curtain. Plus, we then have no desire to rebel against him.

A week and a half ago on May 24, the church celebrated the day of Pentecost, which is traditionally 50 days after Passover. It commemorates the day that the Holy Spirit came to the believers, as promised by Jesus, according to Acts 2. As I was preparing for that day, I learned something from a friend that I want to share with you. You can read the story yourself and see what happens when the Holy Spirit comes to the believers, but I will tell you that after it all went down and after Peter stood up to urge those around him to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins, Scripture says that “about three thousand were added to their number that day” (v. 41). This was at a time when following Jesus was illegal and, quite frankly, dangerous! The message that these people could receive forgiveness of sins, which was a pardon from the penalty of death that they received because they could not fully keep God’s commands, decrees, and laws, caused them to abandon their personal safety and follow Jesus.

Keep that instant and massive church growth in mind as you compare it to Exodus 32. For a little bit of context, think about the fact that Moses had gone up on Mount Sinai and had been up there “hanging out” with God for about two months while the rest of the Israelites were still down in the camp under the leadership of his brother Aaron. During that time on the mountain, God literally wrote the Ten Commandments on stone tablets so Moses could carry them back to the people. Eventually, the people got tired of waiting for Moses to return and asked Aaron to make them a god to go before them (v. 1). Like any poor leader who would rather be popular than do what is right, Aaron used their jewelry to create a golden calf. The people went so far as to give this thing they created credit for bringing them out of Egypt (v. 4). Aaron built an altar before the calf and when the people went to worship it, they got drunk and “indulged in revelry” (v. 6), which really means “sex play” according to the original language.

The people’s collective rebellion against God made him angry and he was ready to destroy them completely, which we already know is the result of not keeping his commands. Moses then went back down the mountain to see what was happening and got so angry that he broke the stone tablets that had the Ten Commandments written on them, which was symbolic of Israel having broken their covenant with God by not following his commands. Sadly, something had to be done to try to get rid of the evil in the Israelite camp. As you can see in verses 27-29, God told Moses to have those who would take a stand for the Lord to kill some of those who were against him, including their family, friends, and neighbors. This resulted in the death of “about three thousand people” that day.

I trust that you see the numerical connection between Exodus 32 and Acts 2. But the connection is more than that. The day that three thousand died was the first day that Moses brought the written law to the people from the mountain. The day that three thousand came to know the Lord at Pentecost was the first day that the Holy Spirit was poured out on all the believers. God’s law was just as holy as his Spirit, but as Paul says in our passage for this week in Romans, the law results in our death when we break it.

You just need to decide if you want to try to earn God’s favor and earn salvation by obeying the law and even trying to force others to obey it (or whatever interpretation of it YOU desire), or if you want to trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and live according to the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. Paul explains our utter hopelessness in sin and our need for Christ even more in the passage we will delve into next week. For the rest of this week, I encourage you to think about which way you are living, according to the law or according to the Spirit. One results in death because of your sin, the other brings life and forgives your sin. It really is a matter of life or death.

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