Last week we talked about the Sabbath and why you should keep it. God gave us this day of rest as a gift. It is up to us develop our faith and trust in Him to the point that we listen and obey His commandments over what we think we want or in an effort to try and make us happy.
The idea of the covenant
The whole idea of the covenant is to submit ourselves to God. Only if we have enough faith and trust in God, we can be transformed to become more like Him and therefore be His people.
Once we submit ourselves to His will and keep the Sabbath, we can look to the rest of His word to discover how we can obey Him governed by keeping in spirit with His character.
Romans 12:2: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
The more we read and study the Bible, the more we will be drawn into His word and His will. If we are humble and honest in our seeking, our understanding and our faith in Him will be continually strengthened.
The more we can use our minds, our honesty, and our strength to serve Him (and others), the more powerful servant we become.
Even though we are not perfect and we fail or go astray, God, in His divine mercy, gave us the ability to come back to His ways and find forgiveness through repentance.
What does repentance mean?
His truths can only be discovered when His word is approached with an honest heart. ‘To repent’ is a difficult concept to understand for most Christians. Most of us ignore it, then we don’t have to worry about it.
Let’s see if we can learn more about repentance so that we can accept it for what it is, a means to return to His covenant.
The word for repentance in Hebrew is ‘teshuva.’ It translates literally as ‘return.’
It is not as much a prayer or an apology as it is instead a ‘return’ to God’s covenant behavior.
A Hebrew word for sin is ‘chet.’ It means to go ‘astray.’ It means to stray from God’s covenant behavior.
In other words, there is a set of actions that cause us to go astray from God and a set of activities that cause us to return to God.
The set of actions that cause us to go astray is called “our ways.” The collection of activities that cause us to return to God is called “His ways” or His covenant. It is in this obedience that He becomes our God and we become His people.
We see this perfectly laid out in Jeremiah 7:23-24: “But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you.’ Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and in the stubbornness of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward.”
This is, of course, recalls Exodus 19:5. It is precisely because of the second half of this verse “Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and in the stubbornness of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward” that God declared judgment on Judah, and this is why God will one day judge the world.
It is an explicit formula for His people. Obey God and become His. Obey only ourselves, and we are not His people, but people of the world.
To go from people of the world to His people, we must “return” to His ways.
1 Peter 2:8-10 confirms this: “…and, ‘A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense’; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
His people are obedient to His word and receive mercy and people who are not His are disobedient to the word and do not receive mercy.
Repentance in the Old Testament
Of course, we understand that in the Tanak (Old Testament), we are told to repent or die. It is plain for us to see in many verses such as Ezekiel 18:21-23: “‘But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die. Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,’ declares the Lord God, ‘rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?
But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity and does according to all the abominations that a wicked man does, will he live? All his righteous deeds which he has done will not be remembered for his treachery which he has committed and his sin which he has committed; for them he will die.’”
But is repentance or returning to God’s ways a requirement of the New Testament (Brit Hadasha)?
Repentance in the New Testament
We can see that the requirement to return to His ways is just as prevalent in the New Testament as in the Old Testament, nothing has changed.
Why should it? God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Let’s look at a few verses:
Acts 3:19: “Therefore repent: and return, so that your sins may be wiped away….”
This sounds similar to Ezekiel 18:21.
Revelation 3:19: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.”
We should be especially aware of Revelation because those who are not are the subject of His wrath. It will only make sense if we trust God and His word.
Acts 17:30: “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent….”
God makes it very clear we must return to His covenant to be His people.
Luke 24:46-47: “…and He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
Here we can see the exact fulfillment of Ezekiel 18:21, we have mercy when we return because of the sacrifice of Jesus. This is true in both the Old and New Testaments.
Remember, when the word was written down, Jesus had already been sacrificed on the cross.
He was sacrificed before the foundations of the world; therefore, His word was written with the full knowledge of everything that has transpired since the beginning of time. There are no wasted words in the word of God.
God is the same today, as He was yesterday. His word and His message have never changed. We must still repent or return to His covenant to find mercy and to become His people.
How We Return
If repentance is part of our salvation requirements, then there must be instructions on how to repent.
Walk in His ways
Listen to these instructions and the prophesy from God in Jeremiah 6:16: “Thus says the Lord, ‘Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls. [and what do the people who are not His say?] But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”
This should be an eye-opener for all of us. God tells us to walk in His ancient ways, and then we are told that some will refuse to listen to Him. Is that not what is happening right now? Can we not see this?
In Jeremiah 11:3: we are told by God that whoever does not obey the words of the covenant will be cursed. I would not challenge God on this one. What He says He will do He will surely do: “and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, cursed is the man who does not heed the words of this covenant…'”
He requires us to return to His covenant so that we will not be cursed. Those who refuse to listen to His words will be cursed according to God Himself.
Can we see where our actions will lead either to life or to death?
Let’s look at Matthew 7:13-14: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
Or what about Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”
Saying we have faith in God means nothing, for salvation, if that faith is not strong or real enough to cause us to do the will of His Father.
Faith that causes us to enter His salvation covenant is the faith of Abraham.
There is no difference between a person who has no faith in God and does whatever he wants to, and one who does believe a little, but still do what he wants to. Their fates are the same.
Only His people have the blood covering of Jesus.
His people return to Him.
It is not that His people never go ‘astray.’ The difference is – they return.
Paul talked about this.
Paul explains this battle of going astray and returning as a battle between his inner man who wants to serve God and his flesh, which wants to help himself to his own desires and pleasures.
We can see this war between this “inner man” and his flesh in Romans 7:21-25: “I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”
Paul declares it a battle of life or death in Romans 8:12-14: “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”
The blood of Jesus covers our past sins. It is not the things that we do or our actual ‘works’ that saves us, but it is our faith and our trust in Him that is demonstrated in our covenant walk that allows us to access His mercy and makes us His.
When we live outside of the salvation covenant, we live according to our flesh. The result is death.
What are His ways?
The salvation covenant outlines it, but He shows us His ways throughout His word. It is a simple circle effect: the more we grow in faith, the more we will desire to learn more about Him and His ways. The more we learn about Him, the more our faith grows.
We can see this concept on display when Moses is talking to God in Exodus 33:13: “Now, therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight. Consider too, that this nation is Your people.”
Moses uses his favor with God so he can know His ways so he can know Him better so He can find more favor with God. Moses knew that we could not know God without walking with Him.
Those not interested in learning more about God, therefore, cannot really know Him.
No wonder there is such a lapse in the Christian consciousness when it comes to knowing God and why we have become such patsies for the twisting of the word and the fleecing by the Christian pastors and the rampant sexual attacks and lies of the Catholic priests.
There is an old saying: ‘Do not judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.’
This is not a perfect analogy, but in the same way, we cannot know God until we have walked in His ways.
Only then can we fully appreciate His intent for our lives and the sheer volume of love that He has for us. The power of His word still lies in the fact that it can transform us.
For some, this is a considerable burden to serve God according to His ways.
In Jeremiah 23:33 when Jeremiah is asked about the burden of the Lord: “When one of this people, or a prophet or a priest asks you, ‘What is the burden of the Lord?’ you shall say to them, ‘You are the burden, and I will cast you off, declares the Lord’” (ESV).
In Jeremiah 23:36 He adds: “But ‘the burden of the Lord’ you shall mention no more, for the burden is every man’s own word, and you pervert the words of the living God, the Lord of hosts, our God” (ESV).
In other words, people who walk in their own ways while claiming to be His, are creating their own burden.
Jeremiah 50:5 states: “They will ask for the way to Zion, turning their faces in its direction; they will come that they may join themselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant that will not be forgotten.”
In Jeremiah 11:1-6, the return to His covenant is proclaimed:
“‘The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, ‘Hear the words of this covenant, and speak to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, Cursed is the man who does not heed the words of this covenant which I commanded your forefathers in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Listen to My voice, and do according to all which I command you; so you shall be My people, and I will be your God, in order to confirm the oath which I swore to your forefathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as it is this day.’ Then I said, ‘Amen, O Lord.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Hear the words of this covenant and do them.’”
The land is the confirmation of His covenant. It is the place of our salvation.
Revelation 21:2-3: “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them.’”
We don’t go to heaven. Heaven comes to us. God will live among us. The land is the confirmation of the covenant. The covenant is the confirmation of our salvation.
The fourth commandment is all about living according to His ways. The ways of the world, our ways, are for the people of the world.
Next week will begin to look at His covenant as it applies to those around us.