“The Old Testament is filled with do’s and don’ts, but the New Testament is all about grace” [Bevere*, 146]
Many of you have read the Old Testament, some maybe more than once. It seems true that God told the Israelites what to do and they tried to do it and then they got weak and quit trying. Then they just out and out rebelled, God punished them for their failures, and sometimes the punishment was harsh. They got the message and tried again, only to fail and suffer more.
The New Testament does seem to be a different story. Jesus came to free us from our sin. His life was an acknowledgement that we don’t have what it takes to live a sinless life; we must turn to God for His forgiveness for our sins. However, many New Testament Christians think that the grace that comes from Jesus frees us from the Old Testament focus on commandments. Pastor Bevere says that “It is taught now in conferences and churches that the grace of God frees us from commandments.”
Ironically, Bevere thinks that this type of teaching steers people away from the presence of God and he supports his assertion with the words of Jesus which say only those who keep My commandments will experience My manifest presence [from John 14: 23]. In essence, teachers and preachers who think they are freeing their audiences are actually steering people away from God.
In this post and the next series of posts, I will comment on Bevere’s thought about the commandments of Jesus.
Does “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you” sound like a suggestion or does it sound like a commandment? I don’t know about you but when someone starts a sentence with a verb like “go” it means that I have to do something, it sounds like I have been commanded. The apostles gave Jesus’ commandments to us in 1 John 5:3 “Loving God means keeping His commandments.” Paul writes “For you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus” [1 Thessalonians 4:2]. Paul writes further in Ephesians about not telling lies, controlling anger, not stealing, refraining from using foul or abusive language. These words from Paul sound like “don’ts” to me.
All this raises the question about what a commandment is anyway. We assume that since the Israelites struggled to comply with God’s commandments, they must be impossible to fulfill. Many people think of commandments as rules that hamper life. They put us in a box.
Maybe they don’t…
When I became a driver, my Dad told me I should wear my seat belt. He insisted that I keep it buckled when I was in a car [passenger or driver]. One day I was in a hurry and went through an intersection, turning left on a yellow light. A car opposite me started up quickly and I did not get out of the way. My truck was totaled and I survived. The seat belt saved my life. I thought about Dad’s words and was glad that I did what he told me to do. Instead of dying, I had a chance for more life.
It may be a stretch to compare Dad’s words to God’s words, but maybe Jesus’s commandments are for us to live a better life. When Paul says in 1st Thessalonians “For you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus”, he follows up those words with “We are expected to keep Jesus’s commandments in order to live holy” [4:2-3]. Peter comments on people who fall away from faith in God in the latter days and credits that fall with the idea that those who fall have “rejected the command they were given to live a holy life” [2 Peter 2:21]. It seems that Jesus has said through His disciples “do what I have told you and you will receive the reward of a holy life.”
In upcoming posts, we are going to be specific about the don’ts mentioned in this post but we should not be disappointed by these “commandments.” If we indeed have a loving Father, maybe He is just telling us how to live full, productive, long lives.
We should not feel disheartened; we have what it takes to do this. We have a divine nature that comes from God and the power of grace to fuel our efforts.
Is the New Testament free of commandments? Of course not, but as my father loved me by telling me how to drive safely, our God [through Jesus and his Disciples] is just telling us how to live a holy life.
Maybe commandments are not really a bad thing at all…
*author of Good or God?