This week I read Leviticus 21 – 27, Psalms 111 – 117, and 1 Kings 7 – 13 in my journey through the Old Testament. A passage in Leviticus 22 moved me and as I reflected on my reading, it served as a bit of a common refrain that I wanted to camp out on for this week’s message. Verses 31 – 33 of Leviticus 22 state it rather plainly …
“You must faithfully keep all my commands by putting them into practice, for I am the Lord. Do not bring shame on my holy name, for I will display my holiness among the people of Israel. I am the Lord who makes you holy. It was I who rescued you from the land of Egypt, that I might be your God. I am the Lord.”
The repetitive element of this passage and the passages I read through this week hinged upon the notion of faithfully keeping the Lord’s commands. There were a variety of ways God conveyed this truth in many of the passages. In this passage, however, I find a couple important aspects … that of the “how” to do it and the “why” to do it.
Let’s first establish that God is NOT a God about rules and regulations. In some sense, sure He was during the time of the first covenant with the Israelites. Throughout the Old Testament there were clearly several hundred “do’s and don’ts” which later evidenced the utter impossibility of humanity’s adherence to them. Because of that, Jesus took on human form, died, and resurrected Himself in order to do away with the necessity of compliance for the sake of salvation.
That doesn’t, however, obviate the need to “keep all my commands.” But didn’t I just say that it’s impossible to do so? Well, yes … on our own, without His help. He says, “I am the Lord who makes you holy.” He equips us. Without Him we have no hope of being able to keep His commands.
With His equipping, what’s our part in striving to keep all His commands? We’re told to do it “by putting them into practice.” Wait, you say … didn’t you just say there were literally hundreds of these commandments? Yes, in fact there were. And I think it’s God’s heart that we do work in concert with the Holy Spirit (if we’ve already accepted God’s offer of salvation) to ensure our intentions are driven to holiness. But I think we can skip ahead in the “book” a little and look to adhere to a summarized form of the desires of God. That is, when Jesus was questioned in Matthew 22 about what is the “greatest” commandment, He responded “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Okay, so we’ve figured out how to narrow down the number of commands we’re told to faithfully keep, since Jesus said that the entire law is encapsulated in these two.
God instructs us, once again, to “put them into practice.” There’s the key. Love God. Love people. But what does that mean in “practice”? Two really cool definitions arise when one Googles the word.
- the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method as opposed to theories about such application or use
- repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it
Basically, these two say … do the command, and do the command in such a way as to do it well.
What does it look like for us to actively love God and love others, and to strive to get good at it? I think God would speak to each of us individually given where we are in this sense and where we’re not in our relationship with Him. There are, though, some generalities that we can apply. Loving entails some sort of sacrifice … a sacrifice of a primary focus on ourselves. Seeking to meet the needs of others rather than our own needs. Seeking to obey God rather than obey our flesh. For love, we must give something away … typically ourselves.
But that’s not enough … the other definition says “repeated exercise in.” Repeated. Do over and over and over. So that you get good at it … maintaining a proficiency in it. In short, practice makes perfect. Practice loving God and loving people so you can get good at loving God and good at loving people.
Why? The passage says why. It says, “It was I who rescued you from the land of Egypt, that I might be your God.” Rescued. Freed. We keep all God’s commands not just because God freed us, but because keeping all His commands frees us further. Does that seem a little counterintuitive?
People all over think that being able to do things their own way demonstrates freedom. I beg to differ. Sure, we have the freedom to elect not to follow God’s commands. God allows us that freedom. Choosing that way is not choosing freedom, however. It’s choosing bondage. Ensnarement. God and God alone can free us in a truly free way. If we’re really honest, we’ll look back over our lives and note that the times we chose against God were not free times. They weren’t joyful times.
I’ll speak for myself. Before surrendering my life to Jesus, I can wholeheartedly attest that I made my own choices. I followed my own way. I obeyed my own inner voice. I looked out for number one. I was free to do that. But in reflecting back, I never felt free. I never felt unburdened. I was shackled by an unnerving inescapable doom that was immediately lifted the day I decided to follow God. Yes, I realize my experience isn’t that of everyone else, but it doesn’t negate the fact that, whether significant or insignificant, if we are not following the commands of God we are anything but free.
My wonder is this … what’s the down side of striving to faithfully keep God’s commands? Why are some people so diametrically-opposed to following the standards of a loving, merciful, all-powerful, all-knowing God? To my mind, I can only see benefit … upside. I’ve never once regretted choosing to follow Christ back in 1999. I regret quite a number of days before then (other than how God used them to reach me).
Let’s seek God’s heart in prayer this week, and ask Him to show us anywhere we are not surrendering to Him fully and in so doing, choosing prison over freedom … real freedom. Anywhere we are not faithfully keeping His commands!
In the freedom-granting name of Christ,