Monday, June 20, 2011

It's About Life and Death: Some Thoughts on God's Love for You

Today's Our Daily Bread devotion based on Psalm 117, a two-verse hymn of praise composed of just 30 words in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation I usually use when I read the Bible. David Roper, the writer of the devotion, cites a translation of the passage taken from The New International Version (TNIV) (I've italicized words I want to briefly talk about below.):

1 Praise the LORD, all you nations; 

   extol him, all you peoples. 
2 For great is his love toward us, 
   and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.

   Praise the LORD.
Here's Psalm 117 as rendered by the NRSV (I've italicized the words corresponding to the ones italicized above):
1Praise the LORD, all you nations! 
  Extol him, all you peoples!
2For great is his steadfast love toward us,
  and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
Praise the LORD!
The word from the Psalm's original Hebrew translated by the italicized phrases above, is a form of the Hebrew word, hesed. It specifically refers to God's covenantal faithfulness. The word means that God will not break the promises He makes in His covenants.

A covenant is a compact or agreement.

In Old Testament times, covenants were made (or cut) by conquering kings with their subject peoples. "I will be your king," a covenant might begin. "I will protect you from violence and thievery. In response to this, you will pay taxes, obey the laws, and be subject to service to the king."

Israel's God--YAHWEH, I AM--made a covenant with Israel. You see it embodied in the Ten Commandments, which begin, not with commands, but with a promise. "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out the house of slavery..." (Exodus 20:3). Before issuing a single command of His moral law (valid today and for all time, by the way), God promised to be the God, Lord, and Protector of His people. It's only after issuing this promise that He says, in effect, "In response to this gift of grace, I expect you to fulfill the following commandments."

In Jesus, a new covenant has been instituted by God for the whole world. Jesus expresses it in, among other places, Mark 16:16:
The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.
As was true in Old Testament times, when the patriarch Abraham believed in God's promises and God counted him righteous--right with God, free from the debt of sin which would have otherwise have cost him his life for eternity, under God's new covenant, those who believe (or trust) in Jesus, God-in-human-flesh, are forgiven their sins and freed from death in order to live with God eternally.

Jesus puts the same point in a different way in John 3:16-18:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God."
This is the kind of love--hesed love, covenantal love--that Psalm 117 talks about. "I have done this for you (in ancient Israel's case, the this was deliverance from slavery in Egypt, in Jesus' case, the this is deliverance from slavery to sin and death), now entrust your life to me. 

This is what God's love is like. It's love that calls people away from the sins that will kill them, back to the only one who can give them life. 

It's not sentimental love. It's not mushy love. It's not about feelings. It's about life and death. 

Accepting this love and Christ's authority over your life brings life. Rejecting Christ's love and authority spells death.

Covenant love--hesed--does not smile indulgently on our sins. It demands that we turn from our violations of the ten commandments--every day--and entrust our lives to Christ. (For a good rundown of the ten commandments and their meanings, go here.)

God loves sinners and hates our sins. He wants to love us back into relationship with Him.

But if we choose our sins over God, if we refuse to turn to Him, God is one king who will not force us to obey. 

He tries valiantly to free us from sin (and its rightful consequence, death). Not only did He take on flesh to die and rise for us in the person of Jesus Christ, today He will orchestrate events, encounters, experiences, and send messages to our hearts and minds in order to win us over. (This post may, in fact, be something God is orchestrating in your life this very moment.)

But He will not force us to come to Him.

The message of the Bible is simple: Come to the God made plain to all the world in Jesus Christ. Turn from sin and trust in Him each day. Let God's covenant love change your life and your eternity.

No comments: