And to this people you shall say: ‘Thus says the LORD: Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death.’ – God, Jeremiah 21
And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Jesus, Luke 19
Every Sunday afternoon, we run a Discovery Group. It consists of a ragamuffin bunch, those who are lost in every sense of the word. Some sleep rough, most are addicted, on the run or with an illness that is difficult to work around. Together we study the Bible (today it was in a café) and ask them who in their lives they can share what we have discovered about God that day. The next time, we ask them if they had obeyed. Believe it or not, the group is growing. We have Spiritual glue in our little corner of Sydney.
In our own journey, as we read both the New and Old Testament simultaneously, we see the high cost of disobedience. We know it too well.
A few decades ago, two reprobate, proud young people came together. Our pre-marriage behaviour finally caught up with us, and we spent the first few years in real pain; I think one of us cried every day in that first year as we came to terms with a life of sin and disobedience. I still remember God giving me a clear picture of him standing to the side of us watching, very much with us but unwilling to take away the consequence of what we had done. We deserved all that we received, yet God in his infinite grace, began to change us through his Son.
For some reason, God decided that we could indeed become useful to him, and the process of change began in our lives. Along the way, we found God infinitely gracious, yet firm in his dealings with us. The pride, the arrogance had to go. The lessons we learned, we now try to communicate to others – mostly, out of sheer gratitude for what Jesus has done in our lives. We look back today, and barely recognise the two who came together all those years ago, such is the transformation through and in Christ.
What did we learn?
Firstly, that God is immensely gracious in his treatment of mankind. Contrary to what most read in the Old Testament, I see a loving Father imploring people to follow his ways, not their own, for their own sake. The punishment that will come is a last resort against a people who will simply not give up their reckless living. God, for the most part, yearns to have people living in obedience to their benefit. We simply will not acknowledge this though, and we reject him out of hand. In our day to day visits to the streets, we face this all the time. They reject God, the Christ, not us. In Jeremiah, we see right up to the very last, God pleading with his own people to obey. They do not, death is imminent.
Secondly, and perhaps contrary to the first, we see in the Gospels, a Jesus who spoke red hot scorching words against sin and condemned those who would not repent. He preached repentance wherever he went, proclaiming much of the time that a person’s entire well being was dependent on their turning from disobedience. Healing was so often accompanied by sins being forgiven, by repentance, a person turning. Where there was repentance, such as with Zacchaeus, Jesus rejoiced and applauded the efforts with promises of much that was to come. The barb in the hook though is always those who stood and scoffed, those who considered their own efforts above all others. In most instances, it was the religious people, those who couldn’t see a way to give up their own righteousness who refused the offer from God.
We see this all the time. So often it is the humble, the broken who seem most willing to acknowledge their lack of standing before God. Whereas the educated, the rich, those who seem to have it altogether, there we find a reluctance to accept what God offers.
What does he offer? He offers a simple choice, life or death. When God spoke those words to the Israelites, this was no pie in the sky ‘getting into heaven’ this was live or die now. Such is the case in our day. We meet many for whom disobedience has exacted an exorbitant price on their lives, just as it did in ours.
But God can transform us, unbelievably, even startling so, he is willing to; for each of us, we can choose to live in obedience – or not. What we cannot choose though, are the consequences that come from that, eternal or otherwise. Life or death, that is the choice.