Say you were reading through the Old Testament and began to notice the number of commandments listed. Maybe some of the weird laws stuck out to you and they really got you to think about the variety of commandments. Did you see that in Leviticus 11:21-22 people of faith are permitted to eat insects with jointed legs (like grasshoppers) but in the previous verse they are restricted against eating any other insects. Another example is that of following the Sabbath – absolutely no work was permitted on the Sabbath day (Exod. 31:14). These are a couple of the bizarre laws and they barely scratch the surface of the 613 laws that are listed!
As far as the Old Testament is concerned, a life of faith for those who believe in the LORD God appears to consist of rigidly obeying this lengthy list of commands. It is no wonder that so many people wrongly think that living a Christian life means obeying strict rules and always doing “the right thing” all so that you can get into heaven. Is there more to a life of faith in God than following the lengthy list of laws found in the Old Testament? Another way to ask this may be, does the New Testament change any or even all of this?
It sure does! Lets look to what Christ says about it:
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
In a way that is too incredible to summarize in this short post, Christ completely transformed what “obedience” means for a person who believes in God. The list that the people of God were supposed to model their lives after, those 613 laws that we mentioned above, were all really about two things:
(1) love the LORD with all your heart, soul and mind and
(2) love your neighbor as yourself.
These two instructions that Christ says are the great commandment of the Law are known as the Shema (she-ma) and they come from a great and beautiful sermon that Moses gave to Israel found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5.
Deuteronomy 6:4–9 (ESV):
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
From what Jesus shared with the people and then the passage that Jesus quoted when he answered those who questioned him, we see that obedience consists primarily of surrendering your life or surrendering yourself to two things; first to God and secondly to your neighbor. Now that we know what a life of faith looks like in theory, what does it look like practically? In other words, what does a life of faithful obedience to our King include as we live day to day?
Lets break this down by focusing on the two commands that Christ gave us in Matthew 22:36-40: First, to love the LORD and, second, to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Day to day, what does it mean to love the LORD with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your might (Dt. 6:5)? There is absolutely nothing more that you can do to love the LORD than to pour yourself into Christ, especially since it is through Christ that we arrive at the Father (John 14:6; Romans 5:1-10). We love the LORD God and grow closer to Him only by spending time with Christ. We are to spend time getting to know Christ. We are to pray to Christ and praise Christ for all that He did before, during and after the cross. It is on nothing more than the words and works of Jesus Christ that we are to dedicate our lives. Believers should be a people memorizing what Christ said and did while sharing our joys and struggles with Christ.
Speaking of the joys and struggles of life, there is a lot of wonderful and difficult stuff that we journey through day to day. It is important to mention that obedience in faith does not just mean that we are only putting our stock in the things to come – there is much benefit to faithful obedience right here and now. In short, there is more to obedience than one’s personal salvation or the future heavenly afterlife. God is the God of salvation, of peace, of healing, of life, of love, of justice and of so much more. All of those characteristics are fully realized in heaven but are also available right now on earth. No matter what storm you are weathering or what incredible life-changing transition you are enduring, God is right alongside of you if your hope is in Christ.
Matthew 7:24–27 (ESV)
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
The second part of what Jesus shared in Matthew 22 deals not with how believers obey God but with how believers interact with the people around them. Are you a “good neighbor”? Do you treat your neighbor as you treat yourself? We first need to take a second and think about how we treat ourselves.
It is no secret that most people are naturally prone to think of themselves first in any given situation. That may be why 2 Timothy 3 mentions those who “love themselves” at the beginning of the long, despairing list of wrongdoers. The situations that we are talking about here is not merely setting time aside for yourself, because it is incredibly important to set aside personal time from our busy schedules. Instead, think about how some people treat their friends or even their spouse. On a somewhat corny but extremely practical note, have you ever been at the dinner table and there was one slice of pizza left but many mouths that it could feed? Rather than thinking to how it could benefit yourself, do you consider how others might want that piece?
Do you treat others as you treat your own self?
This is extremely practical as you consider all the people you live alongside throughout the day.
- Many start and end the day with their spouse. Do you treat your spouse better than you treat yourself? Do you attempt to out serve your spouse? If so, you are ministering to him/her! Your marriage is a daily opportunity to treat your neighbor as yourself.
- Once you and your spouse go your ways for the day, you may arrive at work – what better place is there to think of others before yourself than at work? Could you imagine the eyebrows that would rise if you tried to out-serve a coworker? The workplace is typically a cutthroat environment in which people are competing for positions. Contrary to the way the world around us operates, believers ought to know that we are all on the same level when Christ is in the picture. Put practically, you are in your place of work to complete your job with excellence and to treat your coworker, who is your neighbor, as you treat yourself.
- Then imagine that you finally make it home from a long day of out-serving others at work to greet your neighbor at the foot of your driveway. Do you give him a nod and head inside because you are tired from your long day or do you pause for a moment and catch up, asking if there is any way that you can serve him? When given the opportunity, do you treat your neighbor as you wish others would treat you?
The list of tangible examples goes on with the inclusion of family and dear friends. All of these are our “neighbors,” whether you share a driveway or you work in a clustered cubicle.
We have seen that a life of faith is much more than completing a honeydew list that is given us by God the Father. Having been given the 613 Old Testament laws, we must realize that Christ has both fulfilled them and summarized those in two short commands: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Christ was the ultimate example of love if there ever was one. To love God means that you surrender your entire life and worldview to the words and ways of God the Father. Anything He asks of you, you are to joyfully carry out. To love your neighbor means the same as what Christ exemplified. Christ loved his neighbors by listening, by sharing the Gospel, by serving, and by sacrificing himself entirely. We are to be a people who pour ourselves out for the sake of others.
This all sounds tiring, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t it be taxing to live as a sacrifice and to always place others and God as priority over yourself? Christ says that in his leaving of earth there then comes one better who will be with us, who will strengthen us, and who will counsel us. The Holy Spirit lives within each one of us and as we grow closer to Christ we find that there is not much good that can be done aside from the Holy Spirit. In our weakness, we are strong; in our foolishness, we are wise; in our trials, we persevere; only thanks to the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.
How does a person express their love for Jesus?
What does a life of faith in Christ really look like?
As simply put as possible, by loving God and loving one’s neighbor.