Overcoming the need to earn it!
On Oct 18th, we started a series entitled, “Letters to the Next Generation”. The series is based on the book of Deuteronomy, where Moses is reminding the next generation of the laws of God and challenging them to write a better story than the first generation. While God did many great things through that first generation (namely the big exodus from Egypt), they were predominantly remembered for wandering in the wilderness (in the Plains of Moab) for four decades. Imagine that, for forty years, they wandered and probably many wondered about all that went wrong. God called them to possess the Promised Land but instead they ended up falling short and in the wilderness, the Plains of Moab, for forty years. I want to encourage you to use this Touching Base in your small groups, and in your mentoring relationships to discuss what we talked about on Sunday. The following is a guide to help you go deeper based on Sunday’s (Nov15) message.
Big Idea: Not until we are convinced of the love of God will we walk with joy in the grace of God!
Text: various - see below
On week five of our series, we talked about how Deuteronomy is a great love story involving the Pursuer (God) and the pursued (Israel). Maybe to our surprise, we discover as we read these letters, that Deuteronomy is not just about law, land, long passages, lists, and the last words of Moses, but it is also about love - it’s a love story! The Pursuer God declares His infinite love for Israel and consequently for all the nations of the world (check out Gen. 12:1-3).
As you take this issue deeper, discuss (or ponder on your own) great love stories that you have read, watched or been part of. What are the ingredients that make for a great love story?
God Demonstrates His Love
On Sunday we talked about how God demonstrated His love for Israel in a manner that the Gentile eye may not pick up reading this text thousands of years later. However, the original Jewish audience would have recognized it immediately. God packaged His words in the format of an Ancient Near East “vassal treaty”. A vassal treaty involved a great king making a treaty with a lesser king (whereas “parity treaties” took place between parties of equal strength). The outline of a vassal treaty is exactly the outline of Deuteronomy. You may want to read through some of these texts)
Introduction of the parties (Deut 1:1-5 - children of Israel and God represented by Moses)
Historical Prologue (Deut 1-4 - outlining a history of the two parties)
Law (defining how the vassals were to behave (Deut. 4:1-26:19- note especially the 10 commandments))
Blessings and Curses (28:1-14 and curses – 27:11-26, 28:15-68)
Witnesses (Deut 30:19, 20)
Review and Succession (Deut 31:9-13)
The one twist on this outline was that the great King Yahweh was not intimidating and imposing Himself upon the vassals. In many vassal treaties the great king had already conquered or cowed the other king into vassalage by the time the treaty was written. This is NOT the case with this treaty (covenant). Read Deut 4:32-38. What had God demonstrated to the people of Israel (first generation) before the covenant was ratified on Sinai? In the renewal of this covenant in Deuteronomy, what is it that God wants His people to know? (That He loves them!!!! I cheated and gave you the answer.)
Discuss the following quote by N.T. Wright:
“First, people sometimes supposed that the point of a sacrifice in the OT was for the worshippers to do something to earn God’s favour. Not so. That rests on a misunderstanding of the Jewish law itself, in which the sacrifices were required by God, and were but as a way of responding to his love. We can’t of course know what was in the hearts of all ancient Jews as they worshipped. But the system certainly wasn’t designed as a way of twisting God’s arm, but as a way of responding to his love.”
What New Testament texts illustrate this awesome truth that God loved us first before we signed on the dotted line ? (i.e. Romans 5:8)
Discuss in your group how big of an issue you think it is for people to live in response to God`s love as opposed to seeing life as a means of earning God’s love (we can live life as a means of making God indebted to us. Alternatively, we can live our lives as a response – eternally indebted to Him for His great love. Huge difference).
Tim Kellar says, “Instead of obeying to make God indebted to them, Christians obey because they are indebted to him. The difference between these two ways of morality could not be greater. I want to preach that Christian morality is a response to grace, not a means to grace.”
Discuss the difference. I have included my notes from Sunday for fodder for the discussion:
“Means” - I am wondering, “What does He think of me today?”- Dominant emotion: insecurity
“Response” - I know what he thinks, “He loves me!” Brings peace and calm.
“Means” – My motives are questionable - not love but obligation, fear, anger, ritual without heart - Right things, wrong reason – i.e. ministry involvement out of guilt, indebtedness, or for reputation
“Response” - My motive is gratitude, worship - Right things for the right reason - “Ministry is what you leave in your wake as you follow Jesus.”
“Means” - I may try to one-up myself “What can I do today that will really impress Him?”
“Response” - My goal is just to keep in step with the voice of the Spirit.
“Means” - I become overly conscientious of how I look, what others may think, yet by-pass examining my heart (because the heart is full of turmoil and/or darkness that I can’t admit because if I do then God will really be mad at me).
“Response” - I am free of what others may think, but more importantly am allowing God to do a deeper work in my heart.
“Means” - My language and tone in speaking to God and others can be guarded, self-righteous, stilted.
“Response” - My language and tone in speaking to God and others is vulnerable, relaxed, etc.
“Means” - I take myself way too seriously in the salvation equation.
“Response” - I take very seriously God’s love for me!
How would you help someone who is a follower of Christ move from a “means” to a “response” kind of living?
To sum up the dialogue from your meeting/or personal reflection, how would you sum up the nugget that you would want to pass on to the next generation?