a sermon for Desert Mission Anglican Church on February 12, 2017
Passage: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Amber and I have this strategy of giving our kids the illusion of choice to get them to do what we want.
Say it’s time to go to bed. We might say, “you can either brush your teeth, or put on your pajamas…which would you like to do first?” They think they have a choice, but really we’re just guiding them along the path we want them to take so we can get some peace and quiet at the end of the day. Some people think this is basically how life works, too. There are things in front of us that seem to be choices, but really it’s all been pre-determined, pre-decided for us. There’s this almost fatalistic idea that God has a very specific agenda for each of us—down to the minute details—and it’s going to get done no matter what.
I certainly think that God does have an overarching agenda for each one of us, and the world, and while I think he does make certain choices for us that are outside our control. As human beings we do not have absolute freedom choice. However, I think the Scriptures nevertheless witness to a promise from God for a certain amount and a certain kind of freedom in this life.
We have been given a promise of freedom to choose life or death.
Why would God give us this freedom?
I remember speaking with one of my friends in college, who said she thought that if God was really a loving God, he would sovereignly cause all people to choose him at every level, because ultimately that would be best for them.
I think that’s a reasonable thought, but we only have to look around us, and indeed into our own hearts to see this simply isn’t how God works. Many people—most of us, in fact—do not choose God. They choose self-destruction, either because they have deceived themselves about what is true and beautiful in this world, or they have been tempted with temporary pleasure, or they have so hardened their heart that they can’t feel what it means to be truly alive on the inside anymore.
My friend saw this and ultimately decided that if God would allow this, she did not want to believe in him. And I get it. This is an important question that we must deal with.
Why does God give us this freedom?
Because he loves us, and wants a true relationship with us. This is what love is.
A real relationship has to be mutual, and it must be non-coercive. God truly does want what is best for us, but he will not force us into a relationship.
A coerced relationship can never be the full giving of the self that defines a relationship in its purest form.
Because God loves us, human beings always had the capacity to reject God, and they have consistently exercised that option, and we consistently cause ourselves and the rest of the world to suffer as a result.
But we don’t have to. I don’t have to. You don’t have to.
Deuteronomy 30:15–20 (ESV)
15 “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.
Here are the choices before you and me and us today: life and good, or death and evil.
Last Sunday we talked about how God has given us, in his commandments, a reference point or a map for our lives. He has set down out for us in his word what we should do, and what we should not do in ways that are comprehensible. God is not hiding these things from us.
It’s important that we see here, though, that these commands are not arbitrary.
None of God’s commands are there to oppress us or force us until to submission.
All of God’s commandments—including all the ways that Jesus clarifies, expands, and expounds them in the Sermon on the Mount—are oriented toward our flourishing, our life. They point to both the communal and individual life that God desires for the whole Earth. They are quite literally the way of life. Other ways lead to death. One way to think about sin is as an infectious disease that keeps human beings from being what they were created to be.
16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.
What does it look like to choose the way of life? There are three marks in this verse:
- “…loving the Lord your God…” It all starts there. The love described here isn’t just warm fuzzies. Certainly sincere affection and gratitude are part of it, along with a deep, continued commitment to be in relationship. In other words, a persistent, ongoing giving up of yourself to God.
- “…walking in his ways…” How does God do things? What motivates him? Is it his own well-being? Personal satisfaction? Is he quick to become angry? Does he refuse mercy? No, we know that to walk in ways of God is walk by the Spirit; and we know the fruit of the Spirit:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Galatians 5:22–23, ESV)
- “…keep his commandments and rules…” It’s then, out of a deep love for God, and walking in the way of God by the Spirit, that we guard, preserve, treasure, meditate on, observe, and do what he has created us to do.
17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish…
You see, the issue here is people that simply will not hear the truth. Again, God isn’t out to get you, but he will not coerce you to choose the way of life. The natural consequence of choosing to worship other Gods is that you try to draw your life from them…if not literal false Gods, then from money, pleasure or power m.
The truth revealed to us in Scripture and then breaking of bread is that none of those things are the source of all life. Only Jesus is that.
19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live,
The exhortation here is to choose life. Again and again we see that God wants what is best for us.
20 loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”
The idea of dwelling in the land applied, of course, to ancient Israel as they entered the land that had been promised to them in generations past. As Christians, we understand our inheritance to be one day not just a sliver of Earth, but the whole globe! All creation will be redeemed and we won’t have life just in terms of existence, but we will enjoy abundant life: a blooming, growing, thriving, global city, teaming with Gods people giving him glory, honor, and praise, worshipping in Spirit and in Truth. It will be an entire world of love and light!
We have seen the first fruits of that inheritance in Jesus Christ.
When he offered his own perfect life to the Father on our behalf on the cross, and that offering was accepted and vindicated in his Resurrection, Jesus opened the gates of heaven to all believers! There is no choice apart from this; this made the way for you and I to be able to have any choice at all. The gates are open, and while God will not force us to walk through them, he will empower us to walk through them by the Holy Spirit, so at every stage our salvation is an unmerited and underserved gift.
So we have this promise of freedom.
But having the freedom to choose, or the power to do good, is not the same as being free from sin your life. Our ultimate freedom is being who we were created to be in Jesus. True freedom is living into our created purpose as image-bearers of the Triune God, do the good works that have been prepared for us to do (Eph. 2:8-10). As one commentator states, the real freedom is “…not in freedom from the law or even freedom to keep it, but it is the freedom that comes from keeping it.”
In other words, God’s promise of freedom to us to not only includes the choice between life or death, but if we choose life, complete and total transformation into the very image of God. Although this work won’t be complete in this life, the Holy Spirit is making progress on us little, by little every day in the work of sanctification.
The implication of this is NOT that we are saved by good works, but that we do good works because we are saved.
It is not too hard for us. Just a bit earlier in Deuteronomy 30 Moses says,
“And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:6, ESV)
And because of that, he can continue just a bit later:
““For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off…the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” (Deuteronomy 30:11–14, ESV)
It is not too hard for you because it is not too hard for Christ, the living Word, who lives in you.
And being a doer of the word is vitally important.
On scholar said,
“What is at stake in obedience or disobedience to the Word of God, including whatever of the individual biblical laws the synagogue or a Christian theological tradition may think apply, is much more than is at stake in usual religion. At stake is whether we and our communities and our world are gifts of God to one another or a horror. The world described by the commandments, the world of true worship and loyalty and chastity and truth, of love to God and the neighbor, may be the real world, or of course it may not. On which do we bet our lives?”
Imagine if we bet on the world described the commandments and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. If we make that bet, going all in on his way of life, we become living messages of hope to the world. We are living witnesses that this life isn’t just about heading toward inevitable death, but that forgiveness is real, inner transformation is real, the new creation is real, and it’s breaking into our world right here, and right now in me and you and our church.
~ ~ ~
I hope you have been spending some time in the Sermon on the Mount this past week.
As you move into the coming days, think about which way you will choose.
Where are you grounding your view of life-giving reality? Is it the. world described by Word of God written (the Bible) and the Word of God Incarnate (Jesus?)
Ask yourself how God is speaking to you, what he desires you from you response to the teachings of Jesus about life and death.
Maybe there’s anger and resentment that you need to let go of.
Maybe there are people in your life that you might think of as enemies that you need to begin to love in practical ways (the early church fasted for their enemies)
Maybe you need to discipline habits of your mind and thoughts, and finally take concrete steps to change your mind.
Maybe you need to confess a lie, or follow through on a promise.
Maybe you need stop relying on yourself by doing stuff, and begin doing stuff because you’re relying on Christ.
Whatever it is, I ask you for your own sake, for the sake of your family, for the sake of our neighborhood, for the sake of our city, for the sake of the world, and for the sake of Christ: decide today and everyday to choose life instead of death. Amen.
 (New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology, 1995)