July 15th, 2011 by Kristi Stephens
Yesterday we started discussing some of the reasons for the Mosaic law – it did not demand perfection, but rather assumed imperfection. It was astonishingly gracious as a holy God desired to dwell among sinful mankind and have a relationship with them.
Now, we’re going to focus in on a phrase that occurs over and over throughout the Old Testament narratives and law, and is noticeably frequent in Leviticus 18-20:
I am the Lord.
Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.
When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.
Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another.
Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.
Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him. Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight.
Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD.
Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.
Do not go about spreading slander among your people.
Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the LORD.
Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.
Leviticus 19:2b, 19:9-14
Why the repetition?
God was commanding His people to act in a way consistent with His character. They were to be like a mirror, reflecting His nature and ways to the watching world as His kingdom of priests.
In his book “Right from Wrong,” Josh McDowell teaches the idea of “3 P’s,” which I refer to often. The 3 P’s are the three layers of teaching morality.
- Precept – these are “do/ don’t do” rules and guidelines. Ie: Lying is wrong. The Bible says not to lie. (“You shall not give false testimony…”)
- Principle – these are the basic, underlying principles which are behind every precept. Ie: Honesty – be truthful, transparent, trustworthy. (“Put off falsehood and speak truthfully…” Eph. 4:25)
- Person of God – the ultimate standard of morality. Ie: God is Truth. Anything contrary to His nature is sin. (“…a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He.” Deut. 32:4)
Many times when we think of Old Testament law, we think only of the precept level – the “thou shalt nots.” But the law was also instructive about who God is. Some of the laws were Israel specific (you can read more about that here), but many of the laws are moral absolutes based on the nature of God Himself. Sin is sin because we are falling short of God’s nature.
In Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” found in Matthew 5-7, He points to specific laws in the Old Testament and elaborates on them. The people had “heard it said” that they should not murder or commit adultery, but then He broadened the statement. Murdering is wrong, yes, but it begins in a heart full of hate – hating your brother is the root sin. Committing the physical act of adultery is wrong, but it begins in a lustful look – lust is the root sin. Even if these things are never acted out on, even if no laws were technically violated… they are sin.
Sin is anything contrary to the nature of our holy God. Our completely righteous, completely loving God. The core of His nature is holiness – He always acts completely righteously because that is who He is. He loves completely because that is who He is. The laws He has given us in His Word flow out of His nature – to do what is right is to act in a way consistent with His character, to sin is to do (or be!) anything that contradicts anything in His nature.
The Pharisees were experts at the precepts. They knew them all, and prided themselves on keeping every detail perfect. But they missed the heart of God. They were blinded by self-righteousness and sin, far from being the holy people they presumed themselves to be. They were so blinded by their rule-following that they rejected the Savior Himself.
If we know Jesus Christ, God has set us apart as a holy people, His hands and feet on the earth. He doesn’t call us to “be good,” or “try harder than everyone else.” He calls us to “be holy, for I am holy.”
And friends – we can’t do it. No matter how carefully we follow those precepts, we will fall short. Only by coming in our emptiness and trusting in Christ as our Lamb of God to cleanse us from the inside out can we become the people He wants us to be. And the next time someone remarks to you, “you’re such a good person,” be ready to tell them: “I am not a good person. Only Jesus is good. But when I trusted in Him to save me, He changed me from the inside out and made me want to obey Him.”
Because of Him… I want to know Him. And as I know Him, I want to obey Him. I want to act like Him and love like Him and respond like Him – I want to be holy, for He is holy.
Will you help me feed hungry babies in Haiti along with World Help? Currently we are at $260 of the $300 goal – every little bit will help! Got milk?