I take another “timeout’ in my series on “Eternal Hope in the Old Testament” to review again a malady that afflicts the Body of Christ. You will no doubt think that I have become a preoccupied and fixated on this issue tat I am morbidly out of balance – and you may be correct. Nevertheless, I am terrified over what we are doing.
When God delivered Israel from their bondage from Egypt, after Israel received the Law at Mount Sinai, He went sent twelve spies (one from each tribe) to reconnoiter the Promised Land. While the spies did their work, the nation camped at Kadesd Barnea. Note the report the spies gave upon their return and the response of the people:
And they returned from spying out the land at the end of forty days.
And they went (the spies) and came to Moses, and to Aaron, and to all the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the wilderness of Paran, to Kadesh; and brought back word unto them, and unto all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, and said: ‘We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it. Howbeit the people that dwell in the land are fierce, and the cities are fortified, and very great; and moreover we saw the children of Anak there. Amalek dwelleth in the land of the South; and the Hittite, and the Jebusite, and the Amorite, dwell in the mountains; and the Canaanite dwelleth by the sea, and along by the side of the Jordan.’ And Caleb stilled the people toward Moses, and said: ‘We should go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.’ But the men that went up with him said: ‘We are not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.’ And they spread an evil report of the land which they had spied out unto the children of Israel, saying: ‘The land, through which we have passed to spy it out, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of great stature. And there we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak, who come of the Nephilim; and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.’ 1
The people angered God with their complains: “Surely all the men who have seen My glory and My signs which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to the test these ten times and have not listened to My voice,” 2
Note that while on the Exodus God frequently tested Israel, as He said He would. For example, prior arriving at Mount Sinai God Said, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction.” 3 But the people in turn tested God. En route to Sinai the Israelites were thirsty and “the people quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water that we may drink.’ And Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?'” 4 The only place I can find in the Torah where God expressly forbids Israel putting God to the test occurs forty year later, in the instructions of Moses prior to the nation finally entering the Promised Land: “You should not put the LORD your God to test , as you tested Him at Massah.” 5
Back at Kadesh Barnea, when Moses sensed that Israel had angered God, he interceded on their behalf: “Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.” 6 We read, however, that God did not “forgive” the people when they complained because a lack of meat: “While the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague.” 7
Again, God responded to Moses’ intercession with the promise: “And the LORD said: ‘I have pardoned according to thy word.'” 8 But we note that God followed this promise with the words:
But your little ones, that ye said would be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have rejected. But as for you, your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be wanderers in the wilderness forty years, and shall bear your strayings, until your carcasses be consumed in the wilderness. After the number of the days in which ye spied out the land, even forty days, for every day a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know My displeasure. I the Lord have spoken, surely this will I do unto all this evil congregation, that are gathered together against Me; in this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die. 9
When the people realized what they have done, they repented saying, “Lo, we are here, and will go up unto the place which the LORD hath promised; for we have sinned.”10 Moses warned them that they were too late in their repentance, and thus, when the Hebrews attempted to enter the land, they were defeated in battle.
Note two salient truths: First, Israel broke no Law given by God at Sinai, neither when they complained about no meat nor when they complained about having to fight the giants. You don’t have to break God’s commandments to anger Him. Second, God said He pardoned Israel, and yet the consequences of their sin seem to suggest the opposite. It may be that God will pardon your sin, but that does not mean that you can escape the consequences of your sin.
After this horrific episode at Kadesh Barnea, God said, “When ye are come into the land of your habitations, which I give unto you…” 11 God did pardon and forgive His chosen people, and assured them that even though they has to face the consequences of their sin, He would bring them into the Promised Land.
GOD EXPECTS OBEDIENCE
In all of Scripture, I know of no place where God says we cannot keep the Law. Nor do I know of any place where God says He does not expect us to keep the Law. Paul says, “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith” 12 Because the law cannot justify does not mean that it cannot be kept.
Among my fellow-believers, I sense an attitude that says:
- I cannot keep the standards of God.
- God knows that I cannot keep His standards and does not expect me to keep them.
- Because I relate to God on the basis of grace rather than Law, I don’t have to concern myself with trying to keep the Law.
You may disagree with me on this, but I believe that this attitude permeated the Body of Christ. In either case, none of the above three assumptions are true, and such thinking leads a person to ruin.
Paul said that he kept the law: “…touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”13 Note, however, that this does not mean that he perceived himself to be sinless, for he says, “…Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.”14 Why does Paul say that regarding the Law he was “blameless,” and yet considers himself the “chief” of sinners?
God records the following commentary on the human condition: “And the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”15 These words address the essence of who I am. I cannot conceive of God, when taking me to heaven, removing my depravity without losing my identity – sin has, like leaven in bread, so thoroughly intertwined itself in my life.
It seems to me that sanctification occurs in our lives as e increasingly keep to commandments of God while simultaneously becoming increasingly aware of our depravity. Thus, Paul could say that he kept the Law while being the chief of sinners. We never have an excuse for breaking God’s commandments, and yet we realize that by itself obedience does not make us holy.
AN ANALOGY AND AN APPLICATION
Horror movies do not adequately portray wickedness; they are an aberration. So about once a year I watch the “Godfather” trilogy to remind myself what godlessness looks like. I know that it is fiction, but it nevertheless communicates a powerful truth. Michael Corleone, and his father Vito before him, considered themselves just, moral men. They easily justified their lawlessness. This made them thoroughly evil.
Note that the church affirmed them in their worldview, honoring Michael for his extreme generosity to church, They took his one hundred million dollar gift and bestowed on him the Order of St. Stephen the Martyr. The church teaches that God’s people suffer the consequences of their sin in purgatory, and because the “keys” of His kingdom rest with the church, the church can influence the time one spends in purgatory.
You can see what this mindset produces by looking at the systemic corruption found in Mexico. The moment you perceive that God’s grace absolves you of the consequences of sin, you will consider His commandments negotiable. If nothing else, Kadesh Barnea teaches the foolishness of such reasoning.
Lest you consider me judgmental and bigoted in my view of other denominations and countries, I suggest that we in evangelical Protestantism have created the same ethos; we may be a few years behind others, but our thoroughly evil lawlessness will have its way in out lives and in our culture.
We are”evil” because we insist on establishing our own standard of right and wrong – just as the Corlene family did – and “lawless” because we feel justified in breaking and ignoring the biblical imperatives. We refused to be instructed by Israels’ history and insist that God’s forgiveness means that we don’t have to face the consequences of our behavior in eternity. Because we perceive no “downside” to breaking His commandments, we take them under advisement and go about establishing our own morality. Christians taking other Christians to courts in litigation, disregarding the qualifications for an elder when picking our leaders, the role of women in the church, a refusal to discipline according to I Corinthians 5 and Matthew 18, sexual promiscuity – the list goes on and on.
Like I said in my first paragraph, “I am terrified over what we are doing.” I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but we are in the process of destroying ourselves, and it breaks my heart.
Your brother in Christ,
“The harvest is past, the summer is ended and we are not saved” (Jeremiah 8:20)
1 Numbers 13:26-33 JPS
2 Numbers 14:22 NAS
3 Exodus 16:4 NAS
4 Exodus 17:2 NAS
5 Deuteronomy 6:16 NAS
6 Numbers 14:19 KJV
7 Numbers 11:33 JPS
8 Numbers 14:20 JPS
9 Numbers 14:31-33 JPS
10 Numbers 14:40 JPS
11 Numbers 15:2 JPS
12 Galatians 2:11 KJV
13 Philippians 3:6 KJV
14 1 Timothy 1:15 KJV
15 Genesis 6:5 JPS