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God's Law And Man's Obedience (1):  Respecting God And His Truth - Scott Richardson

The Leper Cleansed - Gary Patton


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November 6, 2011


God’s Law and Man’s Obedience (1):
Respecting God and His Truth

Maybe we live in perilous times. Since 1960, violent crime in America has increased by more than 500 percent. The Justice Department predicts that eight out of ten Americans will be victims of violent crime in their lifetime. Six million violent crimes were recorded by the Justice Department in 1990. An estimated one-fourth of the population have installed security systems. We worry about parking at shopping malls. We carry “mace” or pepper spray. We carry guns.

Children and adolescents are in it, too. More than three million crimes are committed in or near the eighty-five thousand public schools in our country each year. Many schools now have fenced-in campuses, metal detectors, locker searches, and drive-by shooting drills.

What happened?

What happens when you put a frog in a pan of water on a stove and gradually turn up the heat? The frog becomes insensitive to the gradual change in heat and is finally cooked without ever trying to escape. Over the past few decades the gradual increase in violence and obscenity around us has increased our tolerance for and our involvement with these things. We have lost our sensitivity.

We have lost our voice, also. People no longer are willing to stand up for the truth and speak out against evil. We have been tolerant when we should have been outraged and indulgent when we should have been indignant. God’s righteousness is no longer spoken. Most schools and universities have many courses on ethics (the study of right and wrong), but where are the courses in Scripture—the very thing on which ethics should be based?

Where does it start?

There are two extremes in determining what is right or wrong. The Pharisees were guilty of one extreme—legalism. They sought to reduce the will of God to a series of lists and commands to apply to every possible contingency. As a result, they rejected the righteousness of God, and as Paul said in his epistle to the Romans, they “seek to establish their own.” We can be guilty of the very same thing today. It is important to follow the commands of God, but also not to forsake the principles of the commands arbitrarily.

Antinomianism is the other extreme. Don’t let the big word scare you. This is a concept we all are familiar with. It simply put means “no rules.” This attitude results in the setting aside of all commands and everyone deciding for themselves what is right in any given context or situation. Joseph Fletcher, in his famous book of a few years ago, Situation Ethics, expounded and encouraged this ethical theory.

If these are two extremes, where is the straight path? How do we determine what is right and what is wrong? What should determine our ethical behavior?

God is right. Everything about God is right. It is His nature. This is where we must look to determine what is right and what is wrong. God’s will has has been progressively revealed. That is, God began with Adam to express His will; as time passed He indicated His will to other patriarchs; in the time of Moses He made His will known through a system of laws incorporated into a covenant with His people; today, His will is made known to us in relation to His new covenant with spiritual Israel.

We understand that some commands are specific to a time and place other than our own. For example, we are not required to harvest our fields in such a way as to leave the edges for the poor (Leviticus 19:9-10), but we are expected and obligated to find ways to help the poor among us. With this in mind we can see that all the words of the Bible are perpetually relevant—all these words are inspired of God! God’s plan has progressed steadily since before the foundation of the world, but the basic concepts of what is right and what is wrong have never changed. They can’t change—God is right, and God doesn’t change.

Here is an interesting quote from a surprising source, Ted Koppel, as he addressed graduates at Duke University in 1987. (The source is surprising, not because of the man himself, but because he is of the same media sources that ridiculed our once Vice President Dan Quayle for embracing “family values.”)

“Our society finds truth too strong a medicine to digest undiluted. In its purest form, truth is not a polite tap on the shoulder. It is a howling reproach. What Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai were not the Ten Suggestions. They are commandments. Are, not were. The sheer brilliance of the Ten Commandments is that they codify in a handful of words acceptable human behavior, not just for then or now, but for all time … There is harmony and inner peace to be found in following a moral compass that points in the same direction regardless of fashion or trend.”

He makes a good point. Whether the man is Christian or not, I do not know. I do know one thing—he has realized that God doesn’t change. Notice that Israel’s obedience to the commandments was required after God had not only revealed Himself to them, but had also delivered them from the bondage of Egypt. Contrary to the concept that the Judaizing teachers of the first century had of obedience to Law (the Law must be kept perfectly to obtain deliverance), God’s grace came first. He then issued commands for their benefit.

The same holds true in the New Covenant. God’s grace comes first. Take a look at the first eleven chapters of Romans to get an overview of the relationship of grace and law. We keep God’s commands because He has shown us His grace and revealed His righteousness to us.

Since God’s “old law” was a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, and God’s principles don’t change, let’s begin to look at the Ten Commandments and see how these same principles, although not included as a codified list in the New Covenant, apply to us now. How can they help us determine right from wrong?

“You shall have no other gods before me” and
“You shall not make for yourself an idol.”

These commandments came to the Israelites after coming out of the land of Egypt. In Egypt they were exposed to various forms of pantheism (many gods). Thus, this first commandment was important to set their minds right to receive the rest of the Law. God must be the God of all or not at all. Of course, we tend to think of “other gods” as images, like the golden calf which Aaron set up or the Canaanite gods like Baal or Dagon. Truly, these were a problem for Israel. Other things were put before God, too, like “desire for power” that was worshipped by Korah and his followers or the “material goods” that Aachen put before obedience to God.

Today the same principle applies to us. God must be the God of all or not at all. Jesus Himself made note that we “cannot serve God and mammon.” Mammon is that which is earthly—we cannot put it before God. He also told us, “seek first the kingdom of God.” Again, nothing else comes before God. If you think that there is no problem today with “images” or pagan gods and ideas—you’re wrong. People will put anything and everything before God. God is real. There is no one or no thing above Him. He is to be the center and circumference of our life. There are not multiple truths and many means of righteousness—just one truth—God. We should not try to reduce God to that which is material for He is “over all.”

God is real and has given us His truth. He reminds us that all have sinned and fallen short of His grace, but He also reminds us that through His grace there is a free gift of eternal life when we come to Him in sincere obedience. Are you obedient to His truth or have you put other things before Him?

—S. Scott Richardson Sr.

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