God gives an invitation to the nation of Israel to be in relationship with him. They are to be exclusively connected to him as their God and he makes a covenant with them to be present with them, to provide for their well being as they journey through life with him. Into this relationship he introduces some guidelines for living, what we can sometimes refer to as the law. This term has often been seen as being harsh and restrictive especially by opponents of God but at its core the rules for living articulate the nature and character of God. It gives guidelines for an ongoing and rich relationship. The nation of Israel was meant to live in such a way that their lifestyle will convince the surrounding nations of the value of this relationship with God (Deut 4:5-8).
The law of God was never intended as a way of bringing salvation because the people of Israel where saved from Egypt because of God’s choice and power. After salvation occurs God demonstrates his ongoing commitment by the forming of these covenant guidelines. In the sense that we cannot ever do anything that will gain us salvation we are like the nation of Israel – reliant on the grace and mercy of God for salvation to come to us. We receive various benefits because of God’s making a covenant with us to do certain things. His promises and forecasts are ultimately found in relationship with Jesus. As Jesus says, “I and the Father are one. …Anyone who has have seen me has seen the Father (Jn 10:30; 14:9).” Jesus embodies the character and nature of God, so he fulfils the law to its uttermost requirement. When Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me (Jn 14:6),” we are clearly being instructed that the only way to have salvation and know God is to believe in Jesus. He fulfils all the requirements of relationship with the Father so we need to abide in him. Again to use Jesus’ words: “I am the vine…if you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit: apart from me you can do nothing (Jn 15:5).”
What then is our response? Is it one of following a ‘set of rules and regulations’? No, no, no, no, no. It is one of living out of the relationship in a way that reflects the character of the one with whom we are in relationship. We ultimately will reflect the character of God if we pursue relationship with Jesus. Think about this … Jesus said “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matt 6:33).” The practical aspects of living – food, water, shelter, clothes – are all secondary to the intent of seeking relationship with God, the purpose of God’s family and the nature of that relationship and mission. God takes it upon himself to meet the earthly needs if we will live according to his stated goal.
Most of the time we struggle to remain in Jesus. Our life disappointments, our doubts, our inclination towards sin all contribute to lead us away. The nation of Israel struggled in their journey to remain in that covenant relationship. God again and again reinforced the need to remain in obedience but the clear choice of many in the nation was to be disobedient. In the end the richness of the relationship and the purpose for its existence didn’t have the impact it was designed for. In the same manner if we are obedient God bears fruit in our lives – fruit that Paul says has no restriction or law against it. But we run the risk of following in the footsteps of the nation of Israel when we choose to be disobedient, that God’s plans don’t work out as designed. Sometimes the pathway we choose to follow has established the outcome not because God wanted us to fail but because we failed to remain dedicated to God.
My simple encouragement to all of us is to seek relationship with God. If we delight in our God we will find ourselves focussing on the nature and purpose of God. And though all of us will fail at certain points God’s mercy and grace, through Jesus, means we are never abandoned or cut off. If we lose our focus and allow ourselves by our choices or lack of faith to stop abiding in Jesus we run the risk of falling into that criteria of branches that need to be cut off and thrown into the fire (Jn 15:6). Maybe John puts it well when he says, “We love Jesus because he first loved us (1 Jn 4:19).” Really what other choice do we have but obedience because Jesus has the words of life, gives us living water and quenches our spiritual thirst, forgives our sins, breaks sin’s hold on our lives and gives us eternal life. Ponder afresh the amazing God we serve who wants us to reflect his image, his nature and purpose in the way that we live. Bless you as you live in his grace and mercy and practice this upon others (including yourself).