Care Before Commands

God’s love for us is not dependent upon how well we follow His commands for us.

I’ll say it again.

God’s love for us is not dependent upon how well we follow His commands for us.

This seems like the most basic principle of living in light of the good news of the gospel, and yet we as followers of Jesus can forget this time and time again.

The best way to combat forgetting or neglecting this truth is by diving into the story of Scripture. I don’t mean simply reading your Bible to check off a box (like I do way too often), but rather I mean immersing yourself into the whole cohesive story of Scripture. I believe that God’s Word is inerrant, that God’s Word is put together in a specific way by the Spirit’s leading over mankind. So when we look at the entire story of Scripture, we see gospel themes all over the place.

The unfortunate truth is that many of us (yours truly included at times) fail to really understand what the Bible story really is. We like to read devotionally, follow a Sunday School reading plan, and never really get the point of most passages because we don’t read in context. All of this leads to mishandled beliefs about the Bible, God, and the good news of the gospel. Lastly, a disjointed approach to the Bible leads to a litany of verses taken way, way, way out of context (Philippians 4:13, Jeremiah 29:11, etc.).

But let’s get back to the topic at hand. God’s care and God’s commands.

If you asked the average Joe or Jane meandering the sidewalks of our cities to describe what the Old Testament was about, there’s likely one theme that comes to the forefront of their response: God’s commands. They may talk about his anger and wrath, but they will likely have some component of the law of God as part of their answer.

Now let’s say you asked the average pew-sitting Paul or Phyllis, regular members of our churches, the same thing. They would likely answer the same way! Again, this includes rapidly rambling me.

It’s easy to think that the Old Testament is all about God’s commands for us to follow, with the New Testament being all about God’s care for us through Jesus.

This is well-meaning, but off.

If you look closely at Scripture, you’ll see that God is extending grace and showing His loving kindness long before He imposes commands on His people (which are also His loving kindness, btdubs).

For instance, if you look at the book of Genesis, you see that it is fundamentally about God’s love for His chosen people, namely the family of Abraham. While commands for right living are interlaced throughout this narrative, the main theme is clearly (in my opinion) God’s covenant relationship with Abraham’s family, in the midst of Abraham’s stupidity (as well as the stupidity of his descendants).

The book of Genesis is NOT primarily about the origin of God or the origin of the cosmos (Whether you bleed Answers in Genesis or believe God used evolution to create the world we currently live in, there’s not going to be a clear and concise answer found in Genesis). It’s not a conglomeration of classic Bible stories and their quirky VeggieTales adaptations (I’m not knocking VeggieTales, I grew up on that stuff. I certainly do like to waltz with tomatoes).

The book of Genesis is about God’s care for His people. A care for His people that not only comes before the commands of Exodus-Deuteronomy, but also a care for His people that is not dependent upon His people’s ability or willingness to follow such commands.

Still don’t believe me?

Open your Bible.

Yes, as far as timelines go, the command to not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (I am tempted to start naming the trees in my yard, such as the Tree Full of Leaves I Will Pay our Students To Rake and The Tree That Hopefully Won’t Cause Foundation Damage) comes at the same time more or less as the introduction of Adam into the perfect garden.

Yet after Adam and Eve’s disobedience, God immediately clothes them via a sacrifice, and promises to send the Messiah. I would say that’s a solid example of God’s care for them even after their disobedience.

Immediately after their displacement from the garden, the wheels fall off. Murder, deception, rage and malice, wickedness, pride. God gives the people 120 years to repent and turn to Him, but they refuse, and the flood happens. Let’s not forget that the fact God left a remnant via Noah and his family is also unbelievable grace.

After God’s grace given to Noah, there is a covenant made. But right after it comes more horrible stuff. More pride and arrogance (Tower of Babel). Clear incest (Judah and Tamar).

As generation after generation progresses in Abraham’s family, God’s care for them continues to be extended.

I would encourage you to dive in to the book of Genesis. Without the PG-tint glasses that our Sunday School backgrounds give us. It is dirty, grimy, dark, and nasty. But in the midst of humanity’s horribleness, God’s grace explodes off of every page.

If you need help reading the Bible in such a way, I can recommend two resources. Number one. The LifeChange Bible Study Series. These are great resources and they’re affordable. Number two. Anything by Jen Wilkin. She’s a phenomenal teacher of the Bible.

As we wrap up, fast forward to today. March 29, 2019.

How well are you doing at believing the truth we started with?

Do you evaluate your spiritual actions each day and hope you’ve done enough for God to be pleased with you?

Do you face incessant and unceasing guilt for your inability to follow His commands (been there, done that)?

Remember this truth. Before God imposes commands in our lives, He shows us His care for us. And when we fail to follow those commands in our lives, He continues to show His care for us.

I’ll close with the following quote.

God loves you as much as he loves Jesus! Think of that! God knows all about our weaknesses, doubts, fears, and sins. Yet, he loves us no less than he does his own child. – Bryan Chappell

He loves you.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

Judah, Not Joseph

I enjoy the Christmas season. I enjoy the lights, the music, the presents, my family and friends. I enjoy the hope and joy that saturate the season.

What gets me most excited and stoked for Christmas however is when I dig into Scripture and think about how the arrival of Jesus is the answer to so many promises that God made to His people throughout the Bible. I know I have written about that at length in several other blogs throughout December, so let me today focus us in on an aspect of the Christmas story you may have missed. I know that I missed it until this year.

God uses the line of Judah, not Joseph.

Alright, maybe you don’t see that as mind-blowing. Well let me show you how that above statement is one of the greatest acts of God’s grace I see in the Scriptures.

We have to start in the genealogy of Jesus, and then we will go back in time to the book of Genesis.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, – Matthew 1:2-3

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read the first chapter of Matthew and just glossed over this powder keg of God’s mercy. Abraham has Isaac, Isaac has Jacob, and Jacob has twelve sons. The most prominent of these sons is Joseph. Ever heard of him? In Genesis 37, 39-50 we read all about him. He was an incredible man of faith who trusted in the sovereign plan of God in his life, despite being sold into slavery, accused of sexual sins, and forgotten in a jail. He rose to great fame in Egypt, being used by God to save the people of Egypt and the people of God from starvation during a famine. Although he was not a perfect man (just a reminder that the figures in the OT are not primarily moral examples to follow), he was a great one.

You would think that God would choose to use his line to one day bring the Savior. I mean, if it was up to me, that’s who I choose. I choose the man who followed me faithfully, not one of the brothers who sold their own brother into slavery. That’s not what God does however.

What God does is far more merciful, gracious, and beautiful than what I would do.

God uses Judah.

If you noticed before, I said Joseph’s story is in Genesis 37, 39-50. That’s because Genesis 38 is all about Judah. This seems confusing at first glance, as it detracts from the story that is happening with Joseph in Egypt. In Genesis 38, we are going to see the egregious sin of Judah. This is not PG-rated, and there’s no wonder we never talk about it in church (although we should).

Instead of typing out the entire chapter, let me give you the highlights of this man’s sins, and feel free to take a glance at this chapter yourself. It is dim and depressing, but there is light coming.

First off, we see real quick that Judah has left the fellowship of his brothers (v. 1). This isn’t explicitly sinful, but it sure sets him off in a dangerous direction, as he ends up living with Canaanites instead of the people of God (v. 2). Fast-forward a bit, and he has a daughter-in-law named Tamar. When Tamar’s husband passes away, we get an awkward fly on the wall account of Judah’s sons’ sins against her. After God kills Onan because of his wicked actions, Judah sends away Tamar (v. 11), essentially abandoning her in her time of financial and relational need.

Tamar concocts a plan to get back into the family, to have her right to a husband out of Judah’s family given to her. She plans to make herself appear as a prostitute and impregnate her own father-in-law. Wowza.

Not the typical Christmas story, no way.

Pause and think. Tamar had some understanding that this plan would work. That tells you a little bit about Judah. A prostitute would be a desire of his. This likely wasn’t the first time he had a sexual escapade with an unknown prostitute.

The plan works. Judah blatantly gives in to sexual sin, although he does not know that it’s with his own daughter-in-law.

Tamar would eventually give birth to two sons, twins, named Perez and Zerah. The same Perez that we saw back in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1.

Let that sink in.

God would choose to send His Son through the line of Judah the sexually broken and vile (we can cut him a little slack however, since Judah was one of the more upstanding of the lot in their dealings with Joseph at the close of the book), rather than through the line of Joseph who faithfully followed God even in the midst of intense suffering.

Let that sink in y’all!

Matthew 1 and Genesis 38 are screaming at us the exact same thing!

It’s not about us!

It’s not about how good we are (or how good we think we are)!

God gives His amazing grace and mercy to the most unlikely of people!

This Christmas, do you feel unworthy of the gift of God’s grace that covers every single one of your sins? Do you feel unworthy of the fact that God has chosen to richly bless you this Christmas not just with physical and familial things but also spiritual things that we cannot even fathom?

If so, look to Judah.

See his sins, see his unworthiness.

And then look to the Lion of Judah.

Look to the one who took away ALL of your sins and who now resides with God the Father on high.

This Christmas, I’m most excited about celebrating the fact that God has poured out his unbelievable grace on a sinner like me.

That’s what Christmas is ultimately all about.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

Given Up

When you really dig deep into Scripture, you can’t avoid the hard stuff.

There has been a phrase in the Bible, in one singular verse, that has caused me a whole lot of problems. It’s the phrase that I circled when I read it last month, and put question marks all above it.

It’s in the following verse.

Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. – Romans 1:24

God gave them over.

This phrase had been giving me fits. How does a good and loving God give mankind over to the most vile desires and passions that they have? It’s easy for me to do what I did, circle and question it, but never come back to it. Thankfully, I came back to this verse.

I want to share a blog that honestly might make some of you stop following my writing (although I hope this isn’t the case, cause I love y’all). I want to share with you this afternoon an unpopular but no less integral and important aspect of doctrine.

God’s mercy isn’t infinite.

I recently read this in a commentary on Romans and wrote in the margins that I’ve never heard this taught and my gut reaction is to write it off as hearsay and maybe even heresy.

Then I thought about it for a little while. And I must admit, it’s true.

God is infinite, and thus his character can be described as such. But to say His mercy is infinite is to say that there is ultimately no punishment for sin. Infinite mercy is thus an extremely popular belief in our present day in age, even in many churches. The doctrine of hell, of separation from God, is glossed over and removed, replaced instead with the doctrine of his grace and mercy which never cease.

This is why Biblical literacy, or the preaching of the whole of Scripture, is such a passion of mine. It is only when we take certain passages and make them the centrality of our entire beliefs about God that we fall into gross misunderstandings of His character and the reality of the world we live in.

In this passage in Romans 1, we are clearly told and taught by God through Paul that God’s wrath is poured out on all mankind apart from Christ, since all mankind has at some point suppressed the truth of God and have chosen instead to follow their own wisdom (aka foolishness, Romans 1:22) instead (You Deserve Wrath, Not Love) . Romans 1:23 goes on to say that all of mankind has chosen to exchange the glory of God for their own images.

With all of this in the background of our reading of this verse and this difficult phrase, we begin to see what God is doing.

What God does here in that phrase “God gave them over” is the term ‘judicial abandonment’. God is choosing to give mankind up and over to its own desires, its own sin, its own ‘wisdom’.

This judicial abandonment by God ultimately leads to horrific darkness. It is to be totally and completely devoid of God. It becomes intriguing to me the more I think about it to realize that what our culture is begging for, what sinful mankind is begging for, is exactly what God grants in this passage and ultimately what they will receive when they face Him after they die.

Mankind apart from Christ wants life apart from God. Mankind wants to call the shots. God’s wisdom is too overbearing and too narrow, so mankind fights back and exchanges Scriptural truth for personal conviction and opinion. God’s call to suffer and die to one’s self is too insane a calling, so mankind says that to follow one’s heart and live for one’s own desires is the way to go. Jesus saying He is the way, the truth, and the life is too narrow-minded and bigoted, so mankind opens it up to all systems of belief.

What breaks my heart each day is to see so many who have grown up in the knowledge of Scripture doing what verse twenty-two proclaims. They cling to new wisdom, because God is old-fashioned, and thus become foolish in His eyes.

Judicial abandonment by God is horrifically dark. Judicial abandonment by God is Him giving us what we desire in our hearts apart from Christ.

I’m a sinner apart from Christ. I’m prone even as a follower of Jesus to want sinful things. Just look at this list later in this chapter: homosexuality, unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, slander, hate, arrogance, boasting, disobedience, being unloving, being unmerciful, and celebrating all of the above sins. We are all prone apart from Christ to desire and strive towards these sins. So for God to ‘give me over’ is to give me what I want.

The Bible actually closes this way.

Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy. – Revelation 22:11

So no, God is not infinite in mercy.

One day, God will give us what we want. Whether it be our sin, or the righteousness of His Son. One day, after we die, God will either give us eternity with Him because of faith in His Son, or we will go through eternity separated from Him in a real place called hell.

This is an immensely difficult truth. But it must be read in conjunction with the other truths of Scripture. Here’s an encouraging one:

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. – 2 Peter 3:9

God desires for all to come to repentance. He desires for all to receive the righteousness of Jesus. But His mercy is not infinite. If we reject Him here, He will reject us for eternity.

Thank God that He sent His Son to live the perfect life I could not and to die the death I deserve. Thank God that Jesus rose from the grave and set me free from sin.

Thank God for those who told me the gospel.

Notice how this passage says that all of mankind has been judicially abandoned by God apart from the gospel. Apart from Christ, that is our lot, our end game. This is the message we must share.

Let’s get on the ball and share with those who need to hear.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach