Testing Your Boundaries
Caution against Disobedience
When the Lord your God has brought you into the land that he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant—and when you have eaten your fill, take care that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear. Do not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who are all around you, because the Lord your God, who is present with you, is a jealous God. The anger of the Lord your God would be kindled against you and he would destroy you from the face of the earth.
Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. You must diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his decrees, and his statutes that he has commanded you. Do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may go in and occupy the good land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give you, thrusting out all your enemies from before you, as the Lord has promised.
When your children ask you in time to come, “What is the meaning of the decrees and the statutes and the ordinances that the Lord our God has commanded you?” then you shall say to your children, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. The Lord displayed before our eyes great and awesome signs and wonders against Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his household. He brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land that he promised on oath to our ancestors. Then the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our lasting good, so as to keep us alive, as is now the case. If we diligently observe this entire commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, we will be in the right.”
The Plot to Kill Jesus1
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to put him to death.
Jesus therefore no longer walked about openly among the Jews, but went from there to a town called Ephraim in the region near the wilderness; and he remained there with the disciples.
Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and were asking one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? Surely he will not come to the festival, will he?” Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let them know, so that they might arrest him.
How long does good behavior last?
Several years ago I taught ethics at a community college. The textbook we used was called “Why It’s Hard to Be Good”. With a healthy sense of humor, Palmer addressed the core issue that undergirds all of ethics: Why can’t we just be good?
Why I can’t promise you my tomorrow
Dear God… I’m a mess. I need your forgiveness for all the things I’ve done wrong. I need your help to get me through the day without doing something else wrong. I’d love to promise you I’ll do better tomorrow, but you know how I am. I’ll probably mess things up again then. I’m so glad you sent Jesus to take my punishment, because I’m always going to be a mess. Thank you for understanding and forgiving me.
Have you ever been here?
Have you ever felt stuck with your own bad behavior? Have you struggled with weaknesses for so long you can’t believe you will ever change? There’s a group for that and it is called Everyone. We all find ourselves there from time to time, particularly when we cannot distract ourselves with busyness or entertainment outside of ourselves. Many of our attempts to save the world around us are misguided attempts to save everyone else from the very traps we have stepped into… and often have not stepped out of yet. Much of our expertise is in sin and temptation… the very things we ask God to lead us away from.
A World stuck in bad behavior
It is not just a small group of us either. The entire world is stuck in this muck, with no escape in sight. Our experience in this colors our reading of scripture so that we fail to read the tenses of sin in scripture as past tense, and attribute them to future promises… that not only have we sinned today, but we will certainly sin again tomorrow. Our personal experience justifies this kind of reading.
What does it mean that none of us can get it right?
In response to this experience and expertise with sin, we developed beliefs that tell us we are so corrupted that not even God Himself can make us holy. We hold up the Covenant between God and Israel as if it were wishful thinking, and we ignore its echoes in the New Testament Letters. Like a steamroller, we use the doctrine of total depravity to flatten everything around us, instead of using it, in its proper context, as a warning against works righteousness)
In contrast to this, the doctrine of entire sanctification, is often held in contempt, again because of our experience and expertise with sin. We know sin. We know it well. It is holiness that baffles us. We have not seen holiness in this world, and therefore we expect it does not exist. Save that for heaven. This world is simply about surviving.
I have to say that Jesus throws a real wrench into those works. He tells us to be perfect and He shows us how to do it. He finds us in our brokenness and asks us “Do you want to be well?” and when He catches us actively sinning He forgives us, saying “Go, and sin no more”. Nowhere, does He say we will always sin. Nowhere does Jesus say it’s ok to give up on holiness until we get to heaven. That is part of what drove everyone so crazy about Jesus. He takes away all our excuses. Forgiveness for our past, help for our present, and promise for our future. With Jesus, there’s no need for sin management anymore. He put the temple leaders out of business. But lets be honest here… Jesus puts us all out of business in our self-managed sin-ridden world.
What sins do you feel keep you away from God?
What excuses do you use to allow yourself to continue with those sins?
If you could take one step into holiness today, what would it be?
- (Mt 26:1–5; Mk 14:1–2; Lk 22:1–2) ↩