Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Controlling sin in people without the Spirit ... "

Day #331:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - November 24th

Scripture Reading:  Deuteronomy 20 - 22 ...

There are parts of the Bible that are "easier" to read than others.  Some parts of the Books of Moses, the Book of the Law, describe certain commands that are difficult for us to imagine, or even to comprehend.  Why would God give these instructions to His people?  As you read these chapters you need to keep something in mind:  Mankind is utterly and totally sinful and without restraint we would act no differently than animals.  Throughout history there are countless examples of "man's inhumanity to man," and in every case people act shocked and surprised that people could do such horrible things.  God reveals in His Word the truth that we are all infected with a disease that, if left untreated, is fatal and that leads to eternal death 100% of the time.

In the days of Moses the people of Israel were just becoming a nation.  They did not yet understand fully their identity as the people of God.  The nations around them worshiped other gods and did things like offering their children as sacrifices to their gods - burning them alive.  Israel was supposed to be different.  They were supposed to be holy.  God's commandments told them to love God and to love their neighbor as themselves.  We used to say that "some things go without saying," but human nature, left to itself, knows no boundaries.  All you need to do to prove that point is to look around you.  Here in Deuteronomy God gives guidelines to His people to keep their sin and rebellion in check.

We begin in Chapter 20, however, with God instructing the people about war.  Even these instructions reveal that this nation is different because THIS nation belongs to the LORD, their God!  God tells them that when they go to war, "do not be afraid of them, because the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you" (20:1).  Imagine this:  "the PRIEST shall come forward and address the army," saying, "Do not be fainthearted or afraid:  do not be terrified or give way to panic before them.  For the LORD your God is the One who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory" (20:2-4).  War was such a part of life that it would have been easy for the people to forget that it was part of God's plan to protect them from the evil around them.  Having the priest encourage them reminded them that this was God's way of removing a temptation that would lead them away from HIM!

God gave them specific instructions, telling them, "Do not leave alive anything that breathes.  Completely destroy them ... Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God" (20:16, 18).  We read a short time later in the first chapter of the book of Judges that they did not drive out the Canaanites, and they lived to regret it.  They continually gave into the temptation of the gods of the nations around them and worshiped them and did all sorts of foolish and dishonorable things.  So when we get to the rest of the instructions in these chapters we need to understand the recurring phrase, "You must purge the evil from among you."

In Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, God gives specific rules of law to guide His people in living together in community.  As strange as some of these may seem to us, they were intended to protect the innocent and to prevent the nation of Israel from deteriorating into the same type of heathen nation that the nations all around them had become.  Moses had declared to the people earlier in Deuteronomy (4:7-8):  "What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them, the way the LORD our God is near us, whenever we pray to Him?  And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before your today?" Without the laws God gave, Israel would have been no different than the nations around them.

God speaks about "innocent blood" (21:1-9) in order to protect someone from being blamed for a murder they didn't commit.  Then He speaks about how to treat a woman taken captive during war and of the right of firstborn sons for someone who has two wives.  Again, these things sound strange to our ears, but human nature needs restraint and the sinful nature must be controlled.  These laws were made necessary because the people were imitating the actions of the nations around them and God was actually protecting them.  But what about the rebellious son who was to be taken out of the camp and stoned?  God says, "You must purge the evil from among you.  All Israel will hear of it and be afraid" (21:21).  How could God condone such a thing?

Few people today recognize the infectious nature of sin.  Imagine the worst virus the world has ever known ... a virus that causes death 100% of the time.  One person in your family has the disease ... what do you do to protect the rest of the family?  It sounds extreme and we are obviously not called to do that today ... or are we?  God calls the Church to exercise discipline in the body by excluding those who turn away from the truth and indulge in sinful rebellion against God.  In much the same way God calls the Church to purge evil from among us.  That doesn't mean that any of us are without sin, but that where there is no repentance and no desire to please God, that person is to be warned and if they do not confess their sin and turn back to God, they are to be removed from being part of the body.  Sin is serious and the decline of the church today and its influence on society can be traced to an almost total lack of biblical discipline.

The instructions of Chapter 22 continue to reveal God's instructions for a holy people.  It is hard to understand all of the instructions concerning planting seeds and wearing clothes of different materials, etc., but God's perhaps purpose was to show His people what Paul would write later in II Corinthians 6:14-17:  "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.  For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?  Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?  What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?  What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?  What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?  For we are the temple of the living God.  As God has said, 'I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.'  'Therefore come out from them and be separate,' says the Lord."

And in the midst of these laws we find one of the most significant truths revealed in the Old Testament ... 21:23:  "anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse."  As Paul writes about putting our faith in Jesus, he explains, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree'" (Galatians 3:13).  Sin brings God's curse.  From the Garden of Eden forward mankind lies under the curse of God's just judgment.  The Law reveals mankind's depravity, mankind's sin, and the need for controlling it.

Praise God, following the pouring out of His Spirit, God overcomes the curse and sets free those who are born again.  The Spirit controls what we cannot!  Paul explains it all in his letter to the Romans:  "The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God.  It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so.  Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God" (Romans 8:6-8).  Then he says to believers, "YOU, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. ... And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you" (Romans 8:9-11).

Through His law God kept His people from destroying themselves and kept a "godly seed," a "remnant," throughout the centuries leading up to Christ's birth.  Today His Spirit works in the remnant that is saved by grace through faith in Jesus.  Praise God for His amazing grace!

"Almighty God, You are the Lawgiver and Judge of all mankind and all that You do is good and right. Only through the knowledge of Your truth can we find freedom from the curse of the Law through faith in Your Son, Jesus Christ.  As we see the horrible depravity of mankind, continue to move us to confess our own sin, our own need for a Savior, and give us grace to repent, to turn away from sin and to pursue righteousness for Your Name's sake, that we may be a people holy to the Lord, our God.  In Jesus' name, Amen"  

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