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What Must I Do?

 

In the world at large, a new calendar year is both a time of reflection as well as a time of planning and goal setting. People in various countries make both small and great New Yearís resolutions in an effort to overcome bad habits and seek to become better individuals. For them, the time of reflection and self-examination comes at the beginning of January, in the dead of winter. Godís calendar, however, begins the new year at the end of winter, in the approach of Spring.

 

Self-examination

For those who diligently study their Bibles, we know that Passover is a special time of the year and is not like any other casual day. We know we are to prepare in advance for Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread but just how are we to prepare? We are to examine ourselves, as the apostle Paul instructs us in 2 Corinthians 13:5.

(2 Cor 13:5 NASB) Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you-- unless indeed you fail the test?

So, we are told to examine and test ourselves to see if we are in the faith and if Christ is living in us. If Christ is living in us then we should look to that same Anointed One to find directions about how we should be living now. In short, we should look for examples of how Jesus lived and we should follow that same pattern. Are there examples in scripture of situations where Yeshua was asked "point-blank" what is the proper way to be living? Yes, there are. We can find three accounts of how that question was put to him in Matthew, Mark and Luke, but weíll look at the account in Matthew, this time in the World English Bible.

(Mat 19:16-26 WEB) Behold, one came to him and said, "Good teacher, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" (17) He said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but one, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." (18) He said to him, "Which ones?" Jesus said, "'You shall not murder.' 'You shall not commit adultery.' 'You shall not steal.' 'You shall not offer false testimony.' (19) 'Honor your father and mother.' And, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" (20) The young man said to him, "All these things I have observed from my youth. What do I still lack?" (21) Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." (22) But when the young man heard the saying, he went away sad, for he was one who had great possessions. (23) Jesus said to his disciples, "Most assuredly I say to you, a rich man will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven with difficulty. (24) Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God." (25) When the disciples heard it, they were exceedingly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?" (26) Looking at them, Jesus said, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

Letís look at that again. The question was, "what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" Our Masterís answer was, "if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." Many teach today that the ten commandments were kept for us by Christ, so we no longer need to keep them. Now think, wouldnít this have been a perfect opportunity for Jesus to have said, "donít worry about those nasty old commandments, you donít have to keep them anymore; Iíll keep them for you?" Instead, he went even further. Jesus was even more specific when asked "which ones." He listed five of the ten commandments and the second of the two "great commandments."

"'You shall not murder.' 'You shall not commit adultery.' 'You shall not steal.' 'You shall not offer false testimony.' (19) 'Honor your father and mother.' And, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"

In fact, in Matthew 24, we can get the direct response from Christ when he was asked a similar question about which of the commandments is the greatest of all.

(Mat 22:34-40 WEB) But the Pharisees, when they heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, gathered themselves together. (35) One of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, testing him. (36) "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?" (37) 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.' (38) This is the first and great commandment. (39) A second likewise is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' (40) The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."

 

Christís Purpose was to Uphold the Law

Did you get that? He said, "The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments." Why should the Law and the Prophets matter at all if Christ did away with them? The answer is that the Law and the Prophets do matter because Jesus plainly stated, in Matthew 5:17, that it was not his purpose to do away with them.

(Mat 5:17-19 WEB) "Don't think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn't come to destroy, but to fulfill. (18) For most assuredly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter or one tiny pen stroke shall in any way pass away from the law, until all things are accomplished. (19) Whoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments, and teach others to do so, shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but whoever shall do and teach them shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Not only did Jesus hold up the ideal that greatness is measured by those who keep and teach the commandments, he went on to equate the keeping of the commandments with achieving "righteousness." Christ wasnít the only one to say that the keeping of Godís commandments is equated with righteousness, so did David in Ps 119:172.

(Psa 119:172 NASB) Let my tongue sing of Thy word, For all Thy commandments are righteousness.

Look at the prophecy that was given about Mary prior to Jesusí birth in Matthew 1:21.

(Mat 1:21 NASB) "And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins."

Now, how is it that he was to save his people from their sins? It was through forgiveness, as we can read in Luke 24: 46.

(Luk 24:45-47 WEB) Then he opened their minds, that they might understand the Scriptures. (46) He said to them, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, (47) and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

Testifying before King Agrippa in Acts 26:20, Paul nailed it on the head when he stated what he had done.

(Acts 26:20 WEB) but declared first to them of Damascus, at Jerusalem, and throughout all the country of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance.

The third chapter of Luke gives us more background about John the Baptist and what it was that he preached.

(Luke 3:1-14 NASB) Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, {2} in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness. {3} And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Continue in verse eight.

(Luke 3:8-14 NASB) Therefore bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance [now doesnít that sound just like the way we heard Paul describe his ministry before King Agrippa?], and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father,' for I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. {9} "And also the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." {10} And the multitudes were questioning him, saying, "Then what shall we do?" {11} And he would answer and say to them, "Let the man who has two tunics share with him who has none; and let him who has food do likewise." {12} And some tax-gatherers also came to be baptized, and they said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?" {13} And he said to them, "Collect no more than what you have been ordered to." {14} And some soldiers were questioning him, saying, "And what about us, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages [doesnít that sound and awful lot like the eighth commandment, Ďyou shall not stealí and the tenth commandment, you shall not covet "anything" of your neighborís?].

So, John the Baptist, as well as the Apostle Paul, preached about repenting from sin. Beyond that, they preached that after repentance from sin, we should lead lives continuing to show deeds or works worthy of an attitude of repentance. In essence, we are to be committed to lives of repentance from past as well as present sins. In that regard, we are to continually put sin out of our lives as weíre instructed by Paul in Romans 6:12.

(Rom 6:12-23 NASB) Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, {13} and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. {14} For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace. {15} What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! {16} Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? {17} But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, {18} and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. {19} I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. {20} For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. {21} Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. {22} But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. {23} For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Wages are what you get paid for doing work. Death is what we will earn for the works of sin in this life. Thatís eternal death from which there is no resurrection because the rest of verse 23 says the reward of eternal life is not a wage but a gift. It is not something owed to us. We do not have an immortal soul. Eternal life may freely be given as a gift from God the Father but only in and through Christ Jesus. If then, we are to avoid a life of sin, just what is sin?

 

The Commandments of God Define Sin

In the Old Testament, the English word translated "sin" comes from one of about ten Hebrew words but there are two used most frequently. They are chata' and chatta'ah which both come from the same root word, meaning "to miss or go wrong." We can find an example used in Genesis 4:7 when God warns Cain about being in a bad attitude.

(Gen 4:7 NASB) "If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin [thatís chattaíah] is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it."

In the New Testament, there are four Greek words translated "sin" but two are used most often.

They are hamartano and hamartia and they both mean "to miss the mark, to err, or to sin." We see hamartano used in John 8:11.

(John 8:10-11 NASB) And straightening up, Jesus said to her, "Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?" {11} And she said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more [thatís hamartano, to miss the mark]."

So, weíve seen that the root meanings of the words most often translated "sin" in both the Old and New Testaments is the same: to miss the mark or to go wrong or err from the standard of righteousness established by God.

Earlier, we heard examples from Christís own mouth that if we want to have eternal life, we are to live by the commandments of God, especially the two great commandments. Is that all thatís required of us? Is there anything else? It sounds a little like the old question asking if the glass of water is half full or half empty. Paraphrasing what our Creator stated for us in Exodus 20, we know what we are NOT to do because it is outlined in the ten commandments: You shall have no other gods before Me; You shall not make for yourself an idol or worship them or serve them; You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain; remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy, in it you shall not do any work; Honor your father and your mother; You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor; and You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Many modern theologians and people who think they are "Christians" preach today that Christ did away with or kept for us the ten commandments. For their proof, many cite the writings of Paul. Did Paul say that Christ did away with his Fatherís commandments? In the second book of Peter and verse 16, hear what Peter had to say about how it is that many people would twist the writings of Paul.

(2Pe 3:15-16 WEB) Regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given to him, wrote to you; (16) as also in all of his letters, speaking in them of these things. In those are some things hard to be understood, which the ignorant and unsettled twist, as they also do to the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

In 1 Corinthians 7:19 it is very clear that Paul upheld the keeping of Godís commandments.

(1 Cor 7:19 NASB) Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.

Later, in 1 John 5, we are told again to live by the commandments of God and we are given a rather frank comment on their weightiness. We can gain some additional insight by reading this time from THE MESSAGE: the Bible in Contemporary Language by Eugene Peterson.

(1John 5:1-3 MSG) Every person who believes that Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah, is God-begotten. If we love the One who conceives the child, we'll surely love the child who was conceived. (2) The reality test on whether or not we love God's children is this: Do we love God? Do we keep his commands? (3) The proof that we love God comes when we keep his commandments and they are not at all troublesome.

We also heard Christ acknowledge the two great commandments as being the ones on which all else depends. The first is, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." The second is, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." These two commandments are the more positive "to do" commandments. Theyíre not seen as a collection of "do notís" but more as an overall lifeís philosophy of positive action. Their implementation incorporates the "do notís" but they expand far beyond mere prohibitions.

 

Actions Speak Louder than Words

Are there any other scriptures that shed light on how to put the two great commandments into practice in our daily lives? Yes, there are. James 2:10 cites the ten commandments as the base upon which to build but James makes it clear we are to go beyond just the foundation. This time weíll read from The Literal Version of the Holy Bible by Jay P. Green, Sr.

(James 2:10-26 LITV) For whoever shall keep all the Law, but stumbles in one, he has become guilty of all. (11) For He who said, "You shall not commit adultery," also said, "You shall not murder." But if you do not commit adultery, but commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the Law. (12) So speak and so do as being about to be judged through a Law of freedom. (13) For judgment will be without mercy to the one not doing mercy. And mercy rejoices over judgment. (14) My brothers, what is the gain if anyone says he has faith, but he does not have works? Is the faith able to save him? (15) But if a brother or a sister is naked and may be lacking in daily food, (16) and any one of you say to them, Go in peace, be warmed and filled, but does not give them the things the body needs, what gain is it? (17) So also faith, if it does not have works, is dead being by itself. (18) But someone will say, You have faith, and I have works. Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith out of my works. (19) You believe that God is One. You do well; even the demons believe and shudder. (20) But are you willing to know, O vain man, that faith apart from works is dead? (21) Was not our father Abraham justified by works offering up his son Isaac on the altar? (22) You see that faith worked with his works; and out of the works the faith was made perfected. (23) And the Scripture was fulfilled, saying, "And Abraham believed God, and it was counted for righteousness to him;" and he was called, Friend of God. (24) You see, then, that a man is justified out of works, and not out of faith only. (25) But in the same way Rahab the harlot was also justified out of works, having received the messengers, and sending them out by another way. (26) For as the body is dead apart from the spirit, so also faith is dead apart from works.

What are "works?" Letís appeal to the apostle James again for the answer at the beginning of the book of James, again from the Literal Version.

(James 1:22-27 LITV) But become doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (23) Because if anyone is a hearer of the Word, and not a doer, this one is like a man studying his natural face in a mirror; (24) for he studied himself, and has gone away, and immediately he forgot of what kind he was. (25) But the one looking into the perfect Law of liberty, and continuing in it, this one not having become a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in his doing. (26) If anyone thinks to be religious among you, yet not bridling his tongue, but deceiving his heart, this one's religion is vain. (27) Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their afflictions, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

Continue in chapter two.

James 2:1-9 LITV My brothers, do not with partiality, have the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. (2) For if a gold-fingered man in splendid clothing comes into your synagogue, and a poor one in shabby clothing also comes in; (3) and you look on the one wearing the splendid clothing, and say to him, You sit here comfortably; and to the poor one you say, You stand there, or, Sit here under my footstool; (4) did you not also make a difference among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (5) Hear, my beloved brothers, did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to the ones loving Him? (6) But you dishonored the poor one. Do not the rich ones oppress you, and they drag you to judgment seats? (7) Do they not blaspheme the good Name called on you? (8) If you truly fulfill the royal Law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well. (9) But if you have partiality you work sin, being reproved by the Law as transgressors.

Weíve seen in numerous scriptures that it continues to be our duty to live by Godís commandments but, as we can see further in Luke 17:7, we must go beyond our mere duty.

(Luke 17:7-10 LITV) But which of you having a slave plowing or feeding will say at once to him coming out of the field, Come, recline? (8) But will he not say to him, Prepare something what I may eat, and having girded yourself, serve me until I eat and drink, and after these things you shall eat and drink? (9) Does not he have thanks to that slave because he did the things commanded of him? I think not. (10) So also when you have done all things commanded you, you say, We are unprofitable slaves, for we have done what we ought to do.

Did you catch that? Our Master commands us to say of ourselves, "We are unprofitable slaves, for we have done what we ought to do." Thatís just the minimum. How can we become profitable or worthy slaves? Profitable slaves do more than just the minimum. We can become profitable slaves to God by going above and beyond what is our mere duty.

What a tall order! As we go about our daily lives, we constantly fall short. It would seem that we are continually mired in a state of failure as "unworthy slaves." Is the goal of becoming a "profitable slave" just "the impossible dream?" Well, Godís word is full of hope for us. Earlier we read in Matthew the question from the disciples, "Who then can be saved?" as well as Jesusí answer, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." Letís look at just one example in Luke 1:5, showing two people who put into action those words in their very way of life.

(Luke 1:5-6 WEB) There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the priestly division of Abijah. He had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. (6) They were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord.

Think about that for a moment. How would you like God to say that about you? Here we have, proudly displayed for generations to see for the past two thousand years, the stated words of God showing there were (and are) people who can be deemed as "righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord." That should give us abounding hope in the power, the mercy, and the forgiveness of God.

In Matthew 5, Christ expounded on how we should daily put the commandments of God into practice.

(Matthew 5:21-48 WEB) "You have heard that it was said to the ancient ones, 'You shall not murder;' and 'Whoever shall murder shall be in danger of the judgment.' (22) But I tell you, that everyone who is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment; and whoever shall say to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council; and whoever shall say, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of the fire of Gehenna. (23) "If therefore you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you, (24) leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (25) Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are with him in the way; lest perhaps the prosecutor deliver you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer, and you be cast into prison. (26) Most assuredly I tell you, you shall by no means get out of there, until you have paid the last penny. (27) "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery;' (28) but I tell you that everyone who gazes at a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart. (29) If your right eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it away from you. For it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, than for your whole body to be cast into Gehenna. (30) If your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off, and throw it away from you: for it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not your whole body be thrown into Gehenna. (31) "It was also said, 'Whoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorce,' (32) but I tell you that whoever puts away his wife, except for the cause of sexual immorality, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries her when she is put away commits adultery. (33) "Again you have heard that it was said to them of old time, 'You shall not make false vows, but shall perform to the Lord your vows,' (34) but I tell you, don't swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is the throne of God; (35) nor by the earth, for it is the footstool of his feet; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. (36) Neither shall you swear by your head, for you can't make one hair white or black. (37) But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes' and your 'No' be 'no.' Whatever is more than these is of the evil one. (38) "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' (39) But I tell you, don't resist him who is evil; but whoever strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. (40) If anyone sues you to take away your coat, let him have your cloak also. (41) Whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. (42) Give to him who asks you, and don't turn away him who desires to borrow from you. (43) "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.' (44) But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, (45) that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. (46) For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Don't even the tax collectors do the same? (47) If you only greet your friends, what more do you do than others? Don't even the tax collectors do the same? (48) Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

 

Now, that should be our true New Yearís resolution: to "be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect." We should continually strive to achieve that goal. Toward that end, today weíve learned that we are to continually keep Godís ten commandments and to have our daily life framed by putting into practice the two great commandments of God: love toward God and love toward neighbor. Beyond the mere "letter of the law" of Godís commandments, we are to strive to live by the "spirit" or intent of what James calls "the perfect law, the law of liberty."

 

 

Sermon given by Philip Edwards

January 3, 2004

 

© Copyright 2004 Philip Edwards

 

 

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