The Big Idea:
As we are reading through the book of Deuteronomy, we are becoming reacquainted with the Law of God, and it is my desire for you to look at God’s Law properly. Therefore, here is the big idea I would like for you to take from today’s blog:
While God’s Law is good and promises good results, it is never to be confused with the Good News of the Gospel.
God’s Law is good, and it promises good results.
Deuteronomy 4:5-8 See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?
Deuteronomy 4:1 And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.
Deuteronomy 5:24-29 And you said, “Behold, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice … speak to all that the Lord our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.” And the Lord heard your words … And the Lord said, “I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them ….”
Deuteronomy 5:32-33 You shall be careful therefore to do as the Lord your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.
Deuteronomy 6:1-3 Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.
Deuteronomy 6:17-19 You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his testimonies and his statutes, which he has commanded you. And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you, and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers by thrusting out all your enemies from before you, as the Lord has promised.
Deuteronomy 6:25 And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.
Deuteronomy 28:1-5 And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.
Yes, God’s Law is good and it promises good results to those who are lawful. Blessings are promised in abundance for all who faithfully obey, fearfully follow, and are careful to do all the commandments of the Lord.
However, God’s Law points out that which is bad, and it promises bad results.
Deuteronomy 11:26–28 See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today …..
Deuteronomy 27:26 Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.
Deuteronomy 28:15–20 But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field. Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out. “The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me.
Deuteronomy 30:19–20 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, 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.
A true Law-keeping sermon can be preached from this book.
Yes, a non-Christian, non-Messianic, and legalistic cleric can preach a Law-based sermon from Deuteronomy. However, for it to be anything other than a “hell, fire, and brimestone” sermon, he would have to undervalue the holiness of God, undercut the seriousness of God’s Law, and oversell the obedience and faithfulness of man. However, if he did so, if he held forth all three of these horrible doctrinal errors, he could preach a Law-based sermon and say:
God’s Law is good. It promises good results and blessings to those who obey. Therefore, give it your best shot and work extra hard to see if you can do good enough to earn the blessings of the Lord. Be better and work harder to obey and and forgo God’s judgment and condemnation. And, if you can perform well enough, God’s blessings will be your just wages or your earned compensation. If you do better than others, if you are holy enough, you can reap blessings.
This would be a fair exposition of Deuteronomy. It would also be a fair expression of God’s Covenant of Works. However, this would be a most foolish sermon and it would set forth the hearers on a fool’s errand.
His hearer’s fate would be no better than Israel’s. As a nation, they were not able to keep God’s Laws, and therefore they were damaged, divorced, expelled, excommunicated, and annihilated. Israel violated the terms of the Covenant, and they received the just reward promised them by the Judge.
The same would be true for any man or woman seeking to keep covenant and earn God’s favor based on obedience and self-righteousness. There is not a man who can accrue God’s blessing and avoid God’s cursing based upon his own law-keeping performance. There is no one righteous; no not one.
From the totality of scripture, what can we learn?
God’s Law is written in many more places than Moses’ writings. It is tattooed on man’s conscience and found throughout the pages of the Old and New Testaments. His Law is subdivided into hundreds of precepts or commandments. Some of these were temporary and cultural (civil and ceremonial). Others were trans-cultural and permanent (moral). But all that are currently applicable, they are essential, and cannot be divided into major or minor. (Romans 2:14-15; James 2:10)
God’s Law is always good, holy, excellent, and wise. It does express the perfect character of God, his desires, and the best possible way of living life on this earth. He is gracious in giving us his commandments. (Psalm 119; Romans 7:12)
God’s Law perfectly declares, describes, and demands how men are to properly love God and all their neighbors from the inside-out. With all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, men are to love, worship, and serve. Lawful obedience includes man’s inclinations, thoughts, affections, desires, lusts, words, and actions. While man only looks at the outside, the Lord also looks at the inside. (Matthew 7:12; 22:36-40; Mark 12:30-31; Luke 10:27-28; 1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
God’s Law, throughout the Old and New Testament scriptures, promises blessing and cursing based upon obedience and disobedience. The Covenant of Works is restated over and over again. (Genesis 2:17; Matthew 5:19; Luke 10:27-28)
God’s Law is perfectly and acceptably kept by no one naturally born of woman. All men and women have been conceived with by sinful parents and have come forth from the womb with corrupt hearts. This has led them to have corrupt heads, and this has led them to keep corrupt habits. All are born reprobate. All are born sinners. (Romans 3:23; 6:23; Ephesians 2)
God’s Law has no power to renew one to a right-standing with God. Because every attempt at keeping the Law comes forth from an imperfect heart with imperfect motives (prosperity theology, reputation before men, pride in self; fear of harm … vs … unadulterated worship), every attempt at keeping the Law further merits the wrath of God who hates any and all sin with all his being. A pursuit of holiness, the attempt at law-keeping, the trying to do good works, the giving of charity, the sacrificing of pleasure, or the religious rituals of men can do nothing to make one right with God.
Therefore, though God’s Law is very good and promises blessings to all who perfectly obey, it also points out the very bad in man and promises the bad and just consequences he has earned. Tragically, under the gaze of the Law, all children of Adam are guilty, judged, condemned, and sentenced. And the natural result of this is that men learn to hate, despise, and re-write God’s Law. (Romans 5:12; 8;7-8; Ephesians 2:1-3; James 2:10)
Friends, consider the teaching of the Apostle Paul — one who formerly considered himself amongst the best at “keeping” God’s Law. After further education, he wrote:
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse, for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law and do them.” (Galatians 3:10)
Let us be thankful the Covenant of Grace and the Gospel:
Paul also wrote:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’.” (Galatians 3:13)
For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:14)
Paul learned to pursue a reconciled relationship with God based upon the performance of God alone. This is called the Covenant of Grace and it is Good News:
God owed men nothing but justice, fairness, equity, judgment, condemnation, and the sentence of eternal death.
God chose to be just to some and gracious to others. This was his sovereign and unilateral decision.
God came to earth, took on human flesh, added a human soul, and fully kept the Law for the sake of his elect. He loved God and all his neighbors with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. He did so from the inside-out. He kept all the commandments, all day, every day, and without fail. This he did as a substitute for his church.
God, in human flesh, took the promised curse his flock deserved and damned himself. He, being the Judge, judged himself. Though being innocent, he was declared guilty, condemned, sentenced, and treated as a lawless hellion. This too he did as the substitute for his bride.
Then, on the third day, God rose from the grace; ascended to his throne, and he continued watching and praying for his elect saints. Without fail, he interceded for his own. He was determined not to lose a one of them.
God the Son then sent God the Spirit to bring the wandering children home. The Holy Spirit performed heart surgery on the elect whose names were already written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. He gave them a new heart, a new mind, a new name, a new identity, a new family, and a new purpose. He also gave them his Holy Spirit fueled affections, desires, and habits. These were in line with his desires. These were contrary to the flesh.
God did all this. God labored. God did well. God earned. God performed. God kept the Covenant of Works. He did it all and finished the job. There were no more sins for which to pay. There was no more righteousness or law-keeping to be earned. It is in this manner that God proved to be both “just and the justifier” of those who are his children. (Romans 3:26) He kept the Covenant of Works for sinners and then he gifted them his righteousness and the corresponding earned blessings to his believing family.
Therefore, we are now ready to richly enjoy God and his Law:
The Law, as presented in Deuteronomy, is not that by which we get right with God. It is not that by which we keep ourselves right with God. God’s commandments are not that which describe the divine wrath, retribution, or curse we might possibly receive. His Law is not that by which we must do to receive his blessing.
No, the Law, as presented in Deuteronomy, is that which Jesus Christ has fully kept for us. And now, the Law as presented in Deuteronomy, it is that which we find ourselves longing to keep out of love and gratitude, from our new hearts, in the power of the Holy Spirit, from the inside-out, with no concept of earned wages. The Puritan Walter Marshall wrote,
Slavish fear may exhort some slavish hypocritical performances from us, such as Pharaoh in letting the Israelites go, sore against his will; but the duty of love cannot be extorted and forced by fear, but it must be won and sweetly allured by an apprehension of God’s love and goodness to us … we cannot be beforehand with God in loving him, before we apprehend his love to us. (Walter Marshall, 34)
Friends, I once “knew” the Gospel. I learned it, memorized it, studied it, and preached it. Truthfully, I can hardly remember a day when I did not intellectually “know” the Gospel.
However, today, I can say with great candor and confidence, I am really beginning to KNOW the Gospel, and this has come to pass because I have become better acquainted with God’s good but damning Law. And now that I am learning more about my God and his Good News, I cannot get enough of it. Yes, I am addicted. I think about it all the time. It monopolizes my life. The more I indulge in God’s grace, the more I desire of it. I am never satisfied. The Gospel consumes me. It owns me, and If I don’t partake of it regularly, I find myself going through a shaky withdrawal. I am a Gospel-addict, and I’ve never had such delight. And now, I am trying to hook you, Can I share my product with you? Can I interest you in that which I have learned and am learning? Would you like to taste of my product? Would you like to become a Gospel-addict with me? I’ll tell you right now … you do … whether you know it or not.
Therefore my friends, tremble deeply at the Law, but then repent and enjoy the Gospel. And then, like me, you can go back to Deuteronomy and enjoy the conditional consequences promised by God upon obedience — conditional consequences earned for you, by grace, by Jesus Christ. And then, with our new hearts, we can strive with all our mights to worship God in accordance with his good precepts.
So fellow readers, as you journey through Deuteronomy this week, don’t you for a moment forget the Gospel you have learned. You are blessed, regardless of how well you keep God’s Law. This is the Gospel!