I’m sure we have all heard the phrase, “God said it; that settles it.” This phrase is found on bumper stickers and t-shirts alike. It seems to imply that we will take God at His word and that we expect Him to do exactly what he says he will do. Yet many of us don’t live our lives that way. We live as if we think God is slack concerning His promises, as if there is an exception for us.
I decided to try and tackle the mammoth chapter of Psalms 119 as my personal Bible study, and the emphasis on what God has said in the first four sections is impossible to ignore. Everything said is about the law of the Lord, keeping His statutes and commandments, meditating on His word and his decrees. Everything that is asked for is according to His word. The major emphasis is on believing what God said and being obedient to the same.
When I was a younger Christian, and even now, the God of the Old Testament scared me. That God didn’t play. When you were disobedient, you died. The priests that ate what was supposed to be sacrificed to God? Died. The man who touched the Ark of the Covenant? Died. All of those kings who did evil in the sight of the Lord that were prophesied against? Died horrendous deaths. If you weren’t killed, you were dragged into captivity or left to wander in the woods until you died. God’s punishment was swift and merciless.
Today, we take for granted the mercy and grace of God. We think that God isn’t going to give a just recompense for what we do. Just because we haven’t seen someone lie to a minister and drop dead on sight, we think God didn’t really mean that the soul that sins shall die. But God is not slack concerning His promises.
I was listening to a minister of the Church of Christ out of Falls Church, Virginia last week speaking about Achan in Joshua chapter 7, and he was giving reasons why we should remember this story. In case you are unfamiliar with the story, the children of Israel are taking the promised land, killing and driving out the inhabitants of the land. They have just conquered Jericho. God told them that the city was to be devoted to Him. All the gold and silver and valuables were to be put in God’s treasury and every living thing destroyed. Well, Achan sinned. He took what belonged to God. No one else knew. God could have simply killed Achan; instead, when Israel went to face their next opponent in war, they were routed, some of them killed. When Joshua inquired of God why this happened, he was told that Israel had sinned, that they had violated His covenant. He didn’t say Achan has sinned. They had to consecrate themselves, discover it was Achan, and rid themselves of this sin (in other words, Achan, his family, and his animals were killed and Achan’s remains were burned and covered with stones).
The point that the minister drove home was that someone else’s sin can affect our lives, not just our own. God means what He says, and if we don’t take it seriously, there are grave consequences that will sometimes befall others as well as ourselves.
There are things that I am still working on, as we all are, that haven’t had my attention, that I haven’t shown any urgency to change. I think we can become so used to this loving side of God that we can forget that the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. Another phrase we like to use is that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. God still requires obedience. He said the wages of sin is death, and He still means it.
We all know or have known people whose word is meaningless. They say they will do something and we take it with a grain of salt. We believe it when we see it. I know why people love optimistic preaching, why people cling to the God who is loving and patient and forgiving, who is full of mercy and grace. It would be comforting if God accepted whatever we gave Him, if we could get an A for effort from Him. God wanted everything in Jericho devoted to Him, and He got most of it. As a result, Israel was defeated and Achan and his family were destroyed. People have dropped dead for lying. If God still gave immediate punishments like that, I would have dropped dead a long time ago for some really silly, small things.
I think we should all be grateful for God’s grace and mercy, but take seriously His word concerning what He expects of us in return, and what will become of them that do not obey him.
When Saul did not utterly destroy all everything as God had commanded him, but saved the best animals to sacrifice to God, Samuel informed him that obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22). When some people tell Jesus of all the things they did in His name he tells them depart from me, ye workers of iniquity; I never knew you. He says that those who do the will of His father will enter into Heaven.
We don’t have to guess at what God expects from us; he has made it plain through scripture. We don’t have to worry about God not keeping His promises; if we keep up our side of the deal, so will He. God’s word is bond.