Now Choose Life: What does Deuteronomy Have to do with Me?
The scripture lesson today is located towards the end of the book of Deuteronomy, shortly before the death of Moses, and before the Hebrew people cross the Jordan River into the “Promised Land.” Their 40 years of wandering is over; the 40 years of wandering in the desert that was all this generation had known. Moses has just finished recounting the law to the people, and tells them this: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.”
What does he mean by this? What does it mean to “choose life?” Simply put, in light of the context of the passage, Moses is instructing the people to accept and follow the law of God.
I recently read an article that asked the question, “Why do people follow laws?” The article pointed out two factors that influenced modern day people in their decision to follow the laws: the threat of sanctions and the opinion of peers. These two reasons are completely self-centered. I could say that I do not want to steal something because (a) I could go to jail, and (b) people would look down on me if I was a thief, and therefore my reputation would be tarnished. Therefore I could choose not to steal in order to benefit myself, and not society or the governing body of lawmakers. I would be doing something right; I would be abstaining from stealing. I, however, would be doing it for the wrong reasons.
As Christians, we have laws to follow as well: Jesus plainly teaches that certain actions are right and certain actions are wrong. His Sermon on the Mount is a prime example of his commandments for Kingdom living. The question I am asking you, however, is not whether or not we have commandments and laws to follow, but instead, why do we follow them?
Every day for the rest of our lives, each person in this room will make a conscious decision to either live that day by the precepts that Jesus Christ puts forth, or not to. How will you base your decision? Historically, there has been a tendency in American Christianity to use the “turn or burn” method of convincing people to live a Christian life; either you follow the Ten Commandments and pray the sinner’s prayer, or else you will spend eternity in hell. Others approach the topic in what they consider a more “loving” approach: join in a relationship with Christ and follow these rules, and you’ll get to go to heaven!
But is that the reason why we are Christians, to escape hell and gain heaven? I heard a story once. A woman was running through town with a torch in one hand and a bucket of water in the other. When she was stopped and asked what she was doing, she told the people that she was going to burn up the treasures of heaven and put out the fires of hell, and see if anyone would still follow Jesus Christ. If it wasn’t for divine reward and divine punishment, would YOU still follow Christ?
Going back to our text for today, when Moses gave the law to the Hebrew people, they had to decide whether or not to follow the law. Based on Moses’ comment about blessings and curses, the idea of punishment and being a social outcast existed for them, as well as the idea of being rewarded for following the law. The Hebrew people, however, did not follow the law in order to avoid punishment from society or from God.
One of the basic ideas behind the book of Deuteronomy is that God was forming a covenant with his people. Our text for today is the climax of the book, where the people are given the choice to accept or decline this offer to enter into covenant with Yahweh. The fundamental reason why they should choose to accept it is not the blessings and curses mentioned here, but instead they accepted the law because they were thankful for what God has already done for them. The first three chapters of Deuteronomy explain how God has saved the Hebrew people from Egypt, provided for them in the wilderness, and brought them into the promised land, and this is summarized in Deuteronomy 5:6 – “I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
The focus here is that the Hebrew people chose to follow the law because of what God had already done for them, not what he might do for them or to them in the future, but because he had already brought them out of Egypt and saved them from slavery. Because of their new situation, freedom from slavery, they chose to accept the law and therefore entered into a covenant with God willingly and joyfully. What happens in the future is not of importance; what happened in the past is what matters.
Now comes the big question: what does Deuteronomy have to do with me? With you? With any of us?
What God did for the Hebrew people was to deliver them from slavery in Egypt. What has God done for us? He has delivered us from slavery in sin, through Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection. If delivery from Egypt was cause for the Hebrew people to joyfully and gladly accept the yoke of the law, how much more so should Christ’s death on the cross for us all cause us to accept his commandments? How much more should we be striving every day of our lives to live as Kingdom people, to follow the Sermon on the Mount, to make disciples of all nations?
Moses also tells his audience that the commandments he is giving them are not too hard, not to difficult for the people to follow. Similarly, neither are the teachings of Jesus. Living in the Kingdom now is certainly possible. Moses gives us a hint in verse 30:14, when he says that these commands are “very near you, it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” The teachings of Jesus should also be “in your mouth and in your heart.” Pray and study the teachings of Jesus, and you will be able to live the teachings of Jesus. Choose to follow him, pray and study his teachings, and then go and do.
I want to touch on the choice of words that Moses uses: “Now 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…”
Now Choose Life.
This does not mean that you are going to instantly die if you choose not to follow God. I believe that Moses is referring to a richer, fuller life. “Loving the Lord your God,” “Obeying his voice,” and “Holding fast to him” are the three descriptions used for living. Once you choose to follow Christ, life does not get simpler. Life does not get easier. Oftentimes, life gets harder. The difference is that you have someone to cling to, to hold on to, to give you hope, and to give you meaning. A life that practices Kingdom Living is better than a life on your own.
This is a choice; that we may freely choose to follow or turn away from God. He has done an incredible thing through Christ for each and every one of us, but we are not bound to him until we make the choice to accept the grace that flows freely for every one of us, and therefore we enter into a new life in Christ, a life of Kingdom living.
I want to close with a challenge to you, just like Moses challenged the Hebrew people: “Now 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.” Each of you have the opportunity to choose whether or not to follow Christ in every single thing you do today, this week, and for the rest of your life. Are you willing to dedicate your every action to Kingdom living? That is what it means to be a Christian, that your number one motivation is to further the Kingdom of God. Now, go and choose life.