Living Set Apart

As I’ve been reading through parts of the Old Testament (I’m currently in Deuteronomy), I’ve come back across some of those “uncomfortable” verses. You know the ones. The ones that the hypocritical self-righteous like to use to make their holier-than-thou platforms and the ones that those without faith use to supposedly “prove” that this so-called loving God is nothing but spiteful and jealous—things they would never serve. But why was it so severe? Why were the laws so stringent and the mercy so marginal?

image from Wikipedia Commons, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torah

The reality is that God began by giving ten principles for the people of Israel to live by—we know them as the ten commandments. If you truly look not just at the words stated, but the heart behind each one, they, in and of themselves, are actually pretty comprehensive. My pastor spent ten weeks throughout the spring to break down the individual principles behind each of these commandments. Things like prioritizing God above all else, purity (of not just your body, but your heart, and mind), humility, rest, honor, love, intimacy, trust, and contentment. (The hyperlink will take you to each of these messages on gatewaypeople.com) But before Moses even made it down the mountain with these commandments, the people of Israel had already broken them. They had already fallen into bad habits simply because the future of their life outside of Egypt was unknown and outside of their control. They could literally see the presence of God resting on the top of the mountain and still they wanted to try to handle everything within their own power—their own knowledge. So, God gave them more specific guidelines. And then they fell back into old habits. So, God gave them more specific guidelines. And then they fell back into old habits…are you noticing a pattern? God wasn’t trying to be unmerciful—if anything He was overly merciful to them! They continued to need more clarification and they ended up with over six hundred rules. Still, compared to other ancient laws, God’s laws were more merciful, held a greater level of justice, and offered more opportunity for the marginalized people groups.

What I find hard to read is in Deuteronomy 7. The book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ final speech to the people of Israel before he dies and they cross the Jordan into the promised land. It’s a reminder of what God has done, the mistakes of their fathers to serve as a reminder for them to strive to do better, and basic instructions for entering the promised land. Chapter 7 is about driving out the nations that are currently occupying the land. Verse two says that once God delivers the nations to them, they must “destroy them totally.” No mercy. The initial reading seems so counter to the merciful and loving God that I know, but there is a reason and it’s even stated only a couple of verses down. In verse 4 it says, “for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods.” Verse 6 says, “For you are a people holy to the LORD, your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of the earth to be His people, His treasured possession.”

When we become comfortable in the world, we are not following God fully. When we are “okay” with things going against God, we are not following God fully. It is not a statement for us to judge against others, but it is a very clear reminder that we are called to live in a manner that is distinguishingly different from that of the world. Loving others does not mean condoning them. It means loving them—being there for them, praying for them, helping to provide for needs where we are able, being open to having conversations with them that will hopefully show them the love of God.

My prayer is that God will continue to reveal to us ways to live a sanctified life while wholly showing the love of God to others. I pray that we will learn what it actually means to love by God’s standards, not by the world’s. And I pray that the people of God will be filled with a greater level of discernment and wisdom in how to truly be in the world but not of it.

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