Nehemiah 10:28–11:36, 1 John 5:17–21, Psalm 113:1–114:8
The biggest difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament is that in the Old, the people are commanded by the Law-giver on the throne, whereas the people of the New are transformed by the Law-keeper who lives in their hearts. Even though all of God’s people fail at times, what a difference to know that Jesus is right with me and has forgiven all sin, past present and future. He lives within my heart.
Today’s OT reading reminded me also of another difference between life in the OT and in the NT. This OT passage speaks of an oath made to obey God.
“The rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand— all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the Lord our Lord.” (Nehemiah 10:28–29)
As a believer in Jesus Christ, I’ve often made oaths and renewed commitments to “try harder.” That might work for a little while and in a limited way, but the sinful flesh is not able to keep those commitments. I cannot walk in the Spirit without the Spirit of God, and without turning away from self-effort. No matter how hard I try, my salvation is from Jesus, not from me. Success in the Christian life is about abiding in Him and relying on Him, as much as it is about trust and obey. This is a teeter-totter place, but experience shows the balance between the extremes of self-effort and thinking God will do it all so I don’t need to do anything. Walking with Jesus involves keeping from those extremes.
This is difficult to describe to someone who does not know Christ. However, the truth is in His Word. He says that as long as I am born of God, He will keep me in His care and continue His work of transformation. Instead of making oaths and “trying harder” He changes my heart so that obedience seems a natural thing, even easy.
“We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:18–21)
Yet this process of transformation and being protected from the evil one does not eliminate the need to keep myself from idols. It has been said that the human heart is an idol-making factory. Idols can be things outside of me, like money, other people, possessions, or qualities like education, popularity, and even spiritual gifts. While Moses was up on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments, Aaron made a golden calf and the people worshiped this image as the god who delivered them out of Egypt. Even worshiping what God has done for me instead of God Himself can be idolatry.
The OT saints fell into idolatry many times. Their captivity in Babylon had a negating effect, yet even NT believers are warned against it. Our hearts are so prone to wander and to rely on ourselves and anything else but the Lord.
As I walk with Jesus, keeping my eyes on Him is vital. I don’t want to view anything with greater respect, or worship anyone or anything else. A good goal is to reach a place where the only time I even consider myself or notice me is when I’ve sinned and need to take that to Him in confession and repentance. Otherwise, like the psalmist I just want to consider God and praise Him . . .
“The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.” (Psalm 113:4–8)
Our God is an awesome God – the only One worthy of all praise!