Scripture: Exodus 20:1-21
Guest Speaker: Geoff Murray
Many of us remember the shocking pictures of smoke billowing out of the world trade centre in New York, on September 11th 2001. There’s a story that came out of it of a man desperately trying to close a deal in the midst of all this. Despite the building in flames around him, despite his life being massively at risk, he was desperately seeking to close this financial deal. It’s a story like this which highlights the power of love; we do all that we do guided by the things or the people we love. It was love of money which led that man to stay in the building despite the danger, just to close a deal. It’s the love of a parent which leads them to put themselves in harms way to rescue their child, it’s the love of one spouse for another which allows them to reorder priorities in order to fight for their marriage. Love is a powerful motivator.
It’s no different when it comes to living as a Christian. In his book ‘Enjoying God’, Tim Chester asks the question, ‘Do you enjoy God?’ What Tim is getting at is that it’s so common to fall into the danger of living for God out of a sense of begrudged duty – we’re just trying to keep God off of our backs. Or we can equate living for God as throwing ourselves into a busy schedule of church activities – ‘the more I serve God, the more pleasing I’m to him” – but do we really enjoy God? Do we love him? Is he what we take joy in?
I plan to look with you at the preface to the 10 commandments, the couple of verses before the 10 commandments because I think they’re vital if we are to love and enjoy God. If we lose sight of the couple of verses before the 10 commandments, we’ll obey God to get him to accept us, or we’ll obey God to get him to do what we want, or we’ll obey out of a sense of fear that we will not be good enough. All motivations will ultimately fall short, and the only one that will do is love for God.
Where does that love come from? Well, I think it comes from living in light of the good news of Jesus.
1. The place of the law
We all crave acceptance, to be seen, known, loved, cared for, that’s what makes the thrill of receiving a compliment so gripping. Somebody sees us and loves what we do, and so acknowledges both. On the flip side, it’s what makes rejection so difficult to deal with, somebody sees us but ultimately doesn’t approve. We all have that longing to be seen, accepted, and loved.
What about acceptance from God? What is the place of God’s law in our life? Some might say, “Well, it means if we do what it says we can be good and God will let us into heaven.” It’s sometimes viewed as we do X and God will respond with Y. We obey, God accepts; we disobey, God rejects.
Bryan Chapell, in his excellent book ‘Unlimited Grace’, says, “You automatically spark an internal dialogue in the minds of many people if you ask them if they’re okay with God? Do they know that God loves them? Their mental dialogue typically goes something like this: “Hmm. Am I okay with God? Well, let’s see. How am I doing? Was I a good enough person yesterday or today? Did I fulfil my responsibilities to others? Did I intentionally or unintentionally do anything wrong? Have I measured up?”
That can often be our line of questioning; “Have we done enough? Are we actually good enough?” But that’s asking all the wrong questions.
And God spoke all these words: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Exodus 20:1-2)
What is the significance of this statement coming before the 10 commandments? Well it is this: before God has given his commands to his people, he has rescued his people. God doesn’t say, “I will be the Lord Your God who will bring you up out of Egypt if you obey these commands.” The rescue has already taken place! Now, he is saying “I have rescued you, and this is how to live as a free people.”
In other words, God is not saying to his people “Once you’re good enough for me, then I’ll accept you.” but is saying “You are not good enough, so I have saved you and accepted you by grace, not by your works.”
Jesus summarised the whole reason for his coming to earth as this; “I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” He didn’t say “I have come to call people to do better, to try harder.” He said “I have come to call sinners.”
Now we might be a bit allergic to the term ‘sinner’, ‘sinful’ or ‘sin’ thinking it’s a bit old fashioned, and far too negative, but it’s how the bible views the human condition. In today’s day and age, most if not all, of us generally think we’re good people but this is how we know – whether we like it or not – that we’re not good enough. To be good in God’s eyes – the one who will ultimately accept or reject us – to be good enough for God which means we need to obey his law perfectly. This puts us in a bit of a predicament because we’ve all lied, we’ve all hated and hurt others, we’ve ignored and rejected God. Good enough for God? We do not even come close.
“You have heard it said, “Do not murder” but I say to you, if you have been angry with a brother you have murdered him in your heart”
“You have heard it said, “Do not commit adultery” but I say to you, if anyone looks at a woman with lust, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
How do we get from anger to murder, from lust to adultery? Not only do we not come close outwardly, but inwardly we fall short too. So we’re not good enough, what next? Well, that is why God provided another way to be accepted by him. He sent his son, Jesus, who would obey the law perfectly in his life and pay the penalty for our sins in his death and in so doing be our perfect representative for us before God, taking away our record of wrongs from us and replacing it with his perfect obedience.
So, where is the place of the law? It certainly isn’t in following it to be considered good enough. The place of the law is actually secondary to the Gospel, it is the Gospel through and through. It is the Gospel and the Gospel alone which makes us acceptable to God.
God says here in verse 2; “I am the LORD Your God who brought you up out of the land of slavery.” If we are to be right with God at all, it is not through our own moral excellence or initiative, it is only through God’s initiative in Christ. Once, we are accepted we are called to live in obedience to God’s word.
The Apostle Paul in the NT captures this well – “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)
By God’s grace you have been saved, a gift of God – created anew for good works. Not just accepted by God’s grace so it does not matter how your life is lived, but accepted by God’s grace to live for him. As was often said by Christians in the past “We are accepted through faith alone, but that faith is never alone”
Another Bryan Chapell quote – “Obedience is always a response to God’s grace, and not a way of gaining it.”
You may love Jesus at this moment, you may not, whoever you are, obeying God’s law is never a way of earning your acceptance with God, nor is it ever a way of keeping yourself in God’s good books. So as you come to church this morning, God has not changed his mind to be more favourable towards you, as you read your bible and pray, God is not putting down the lightning bolt he was about to get you with. As you sin – as you lose your patience and blow up at others, as you find yourself gripped by addiction, If you are one who loves Jesus, God is for you. No matter how great you are or how broken you are. So, when it comes to living for Jesus, it is always a response to God’s acceptance of us, not a means of gaining his acceptance.
How can we be sure that God is committed to these people he rescued? How can we be certain? Look with me at how God describes himself? He is ‘the LORD’. Whenever we read in the Bible of ‘the LORD’ capital l, capital o, capital r, capital d, it is a translation of the name Yahweh. And Yahweh is the covenant name of God used between God and his people. It is a name which signifies that God is committed to his people.
For example, my Dad is called Stephen, but as his son, I don’t call him by the name that everyone else calls him. As my Dad there is a unique name that I and my siblings use for him to describe our unique relationship to him, we call him Dad. Just as ‘Dad’ speaks so much of my wonderful and unique relationship with my Dad, so ‘Yahweh’ ‘The LORD’ is a name which speaks of the wonderful and unique relationship between God and his people.
This name speaks not necessarily of Israel’s commitment to God, but of God’s lasting and perfect commitment to them. It speaks of the fact that God isn’t just going to drop his people as soon as they mess up, he isn’t going to walk away when they get it wrong. But the same God who rescued his people from Egypt is the same God who will lead them to the promised land, the same God who rescued us through Jesus will lead us through to the final day where Jesus will return and make all things new.
How can he be ‘your God’? The story of the exodus is really pointing forward to a greater rescue. In the Exodus, God rescued his people from slavery in Egypt and set them free as a free people. That story points forward to Jesus who would rescue his people from their slavery to sin and death through means of his own blood. That by trusting in Jesus’ sacrifice in your place you too could be set free from slavery to addiction, slavery to sin. Note, we are not set free by our obedience to God’s law, not released from slavery by our bible reading or prayer life, nor are we rescued by simply coming to church. We are set free by Jesus and through faith in his name, we can know freedom.
2. Delighting in the law
It’s a bit of an odd phrase ‘Delighting in the law’ or ‘Delighting in God’s law’, I remember reading Psalm 1 for the first where it says “Blessed is the one whose… delight is in the law of the LORD.” and thinking “Okay, that’s just flat out weird. Imagine taking joy in some rules.” But this delight is the result of living as one accepted by God.
Many Christians can easily approach God’s law with a Nike attitude “Just do it” and living like that as a Christian is a surefire way to live life defeated, disappointed and depressed. When there is no real motivation beyond “Just do it” we soon burn out, when there is no security, where the Gospel becomes a small footnote, we crumble wondering how God could possibly put up with us, when our hope is placed in killing it in the Christian life we will be disappointed because we often find ourselves at odds with God’s law.
The law is a harsh taskmaster, the law demands perfection which we do not have, the law is beyond us as it’s a reflection of the perfection of God. So if we are to survive as Christians, seeking to live lives marked by holiness, the “Just do it” attitude needs to go.
My wife and I are watching a TV-series called ‘Parenthood’ and it follows the life of a family, grandparents-parents-kids. In this series, one of the parents has a child called Max who is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and when the parents receive the diagnosis, the Dad says to the doctor, “Okay, what do we need to do to get Max back on track? Do we need him to see you to go through certain sessions? We’ll do whatever it takes to get him back on track.” And the Dad is told that there is no cure for Asperger’s. Later on in the same episode, the Dad is speaking to his own Dad and as they’re both watching Max play, displaying certain traits and characteristics of Aspergers, he says with tears in his eyes, “Dad, I can’t fix him. I fix everything. If something is broken, I fix it. If something needs replaced, I replace it. But, there’s no fixing him.”
Like the Dad in Parenthood, we’re used to just fixing stuff when it breaks. We all have the tendency to do the same with living for God, we really love self-justification. In other words we see our problem – sin – and we think, well we’ll just obey, we see something needing done and we say with Nike “Just do it”.
Instead we need to adopt another attitude and that is an attitude marked by the gospel. An attitude held by John, the apostle where he says: Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome. This is an attitude which is marked by love for God which is a result of knowing God’s love for us. You see, if we are obeying God for any other reason, other than love, his commands are burdensome. If you obey to be accepted, God will be this cruel boss who demands unachievable standards. If you obey in order to get something from God, God will be unfair because you’ll never get your pay out for what you think you deserve. If you obey out of a sense of duty, you’ll soon grow resentful towards God.
But living in light of the gospel means that God’s commands are not burdensome. They’re not burdensome because they’re driven by love for God. As John the Apostle would also say, “We love because God first loved us.” God’s commands are not burdensome because we’re loved by him, because we’re loved by him we love him, because we love him his commands are not burdensome.
As I said before, love is a powerful motivator, if we leave living as a Christian up to “Just do it” we’ll not be likely to get very far. If we obey out of a sense of duty, we will hate God. If we obey out of fear, we will constantly be crushed, wondering if our efforts are enough. If we obey simply to get goods out of God, when God doesn’t give us what we think he owes us we resent him. But love for God is what will help us to live for him.
“God’s grace motivates our behaviour; our behaviour does not manufacture his grace.” – Bryan Chapell, Unlimited Grace.
A common misconception is thinking that “obedience to the law is the means of our growth as Christians” and whilst I understand what they were trying to say, we don’t grow as Christians by doing, we grow as Christians by delighting which is found in the good news of the gospel. Then living out of the good news leads to delight in God which leads to doing.
The Gospel – the good news that we are accepted by faith in what Jesus has done for us – is what propels us forward in the Christian life, what makes it possible to love God and his law. So, when you’re stuck in addiction and can’t seem to break free, don’t try to break free by your own strength, thinking, “We’ll just do this”, because you love whatever you are addicted to so much that your self-determination can only bow to the superior love of what you’re addicted to. Instead, meet your addiction with a greater love which is found in the love that Jesus has for you.
In your quest to be seen, known, and loved, constantly enslaved by people’s opinions of you, rest in knowing that the God of all the universe sees you, knows you – the good and the bad – and looks to you in Jesus with nothing but love.
In your desire for joy which can so easily come and go with the circumstances, place your joy in the love of God for you. Unlike your circumstances which ebb and flow, which come and go, God’s love for you is constant, steadfast, sure, and certain. Find joy in that which is unchanging.
Obeying God’s law then is a matter of delight. A matter of delighting in God for who he is and all he has done for us in Jesus. Then from a place of being accepted by God, we are able to delight in God’s law, obeying not out of fear or self-justification, but because we are loved and accepted by God in Jesus Christ.
So, if you don’t remember anything else about this sermon, remember this – before the 10 commandments were given, God assured his people of his rescue of them. Before we think about obedience to God, our failing or otherwise, remember that God has rescued you. Everything that you need for your acceptance from God has been done in Jesus, you don’t obey to be accepted, you obey because you are accepted. The gospel frees us from dread to delight.