How to Live the Christian Life: by a Precise and Comprehensive Approach to the Commandments of God's Law

So speak and so live

The commandments of God's law are to be treated precisely, receiving their very definitions as authoritative for our thinking. They are to be followed comprehensively--not disregarding any one of them. But of the things that we learned about the role of the commandments of God's moral law in the Christian life last week, the one that has lasted with me is that they are personal commands.

Jesus, as a Person--God who became also Man that He might die an accursed death for us after living an obedient life for us, gives us the commandments of the Law.

He personally commands us not to commit adultery.

He personally commands us not to commit murder.

In explaining why we are to be so precise and so comprehensive in the attention that we pay to the commandments of the Bible, James zeroes in on exactly this point: it is because of Him who said the commandment.

So, as we prepare again for another Lord's Day, in obedience to the fourth commandment, I wonder, dear Christian. Are the commandments of God, that royal kingly law, that law of liberty that exonerates you via your union with Christ--are they personal for you?

Your Savior personally addresses you with each commandment.
For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.
James 2:10-12 
When the Reformed catechisms spend so much time on the details of God's Law, they are not being legalistic. That would be a strange charge considering what they teach about how we are made right with God. But, it becomes a stranger charge still, when we see in passages like this one that they are describing the Christian life exactly as the Bible does.

Devotional Questions to Review James 2:10-17 and to Preview James 2:18-26

Follow-up on the last Lord's Day:

James 2:10-17
   Questions for understanding this Scripture: How much of the law does a true believer aim at keeping(10-11)? · What is the law called in 12b? How is that true with respect to the guilt of sin? To the dominion of sin? What changes (12a) in the life of someone who knows that this has happened to him? · What specific instance is v13 responding to (cf. v1-9)? What is NOT true about someone who isn’t trying to obey not just this law but all the law(v14, 17)? What is NOT true about your attitude toward a brother, if you never DO anything for him(15-16)?
   Questions for applying this Scripture to our lives: What unbelievers in your life have you not yet considered how to love? Whom have you considered how to love them, but haven’t actually followed through yet? · What are your “pet” sins—those that you are most in danger of excusing instead of killing? How are they the front line in the question of whether or not you genuinely entrust your whole life to Jesus?

Prepare for the coming Lord's Day:

James 2:18-26
   Questions for understanding this Scripture: What do not exist separately from one another (v18)? · What by itself cannot constitute what the Bible means by faith (19a)? How do we know that it cannot (19b)? · What does the phrase “foolish man” (v20) mean about this man’s status before God (cf. 1Cor 15:10, 2Cor 6:1, 1Thess 3:5)? · When did the event in v21 take place? When did the event in v23 take place? Which came first—being right with God, or the works that fulfilled it? How is v21 evidence that Abraham really had been made right with God in Gen 15:6? · How is the word “justified” being used here (v21, 24, 25; cf. v14a, 18a, Matt 11:19, Luk 7:35, Luk 7:29, Rom 3:4, 1Tim 3:16)? · How is Rahab a test case for works demonstrating faith? What about her made her an unlikely candidate for being an example of “works”? How was this not all that different from Abraham (cf. Gen 16, 20)? How soon after her profession of faith did this work show up as a fruit of it (Josh 2:11-16)?
   Questions for applying this Scripture to our lives: Of what sin have you been repenting lately? What good works have you been pursuing? · How do Rahab and Abraham encourage you that what this passage is talking about isn’t perfection but real repentance and growth? On this count, are your claims to believe in Jesus “justified”?

Devotional Questions to Review Matthew 7:13-29 and Preview Matthew 8:1-22

Follow-up on the past Lord's Day:
Matthew 7:13-29
   Questions for understanding this Scripture: What is the comparative number of those who are being saved to those who are perishing(13-14)? What is one means by which many perish(15)? · What is a good way to tell a false prophet from a true one(16-20)? What are some examples of what is not a fruit to measure by(21-22)? · What fruit are we to look for instead(23b)? How does someone come to not be a worker of lawlessness(23a)? · What is the evidence(24a) that someone is resting his entire life upon Christ? What is the evidence(26a) that someone isn’t? What place does this comparison have in Jesus’ sermon (28-29)?
   Questions for applying this Scripture to our lives: When do you read and hear Jesus’ words? What do you do with them? · Based upon your responses to Jesus’ law, and what you make the rule and practice of your life, does Jesus know you? · What other things are competing for the place of the rule that you live by? What other things are competing for the place of the goal of your life? What would it show about where you are placing your hope, if you lived by or aimed at this/these other thing(s) instead?

Preparation for the coming Lord's Day:
Matthew 8:1-22
   Questions for understanding this Scripture: What about Jesus, in addition to His power, do v1-3 highlight? What was He unwilling to have done at this point (v4)? · To what nation did the man in v5-6 belong? Why might we be surprised that a Jew like Jesus would be willing to enter the house mentioned in 7? But what is the centurion’s objection to having Jesus come (8a)? · With whose authority does the centurion command his men (v9)? With whose authority did he believe that Jesus could command a demon or disease (8b)? · What is Jesus’ response to this faith(v10)? Of what was this a sample (v11)? · Where had Jesus not found such faith(10)? Of what was this a sample (v12)? · How did Peter’s mother in law use her health and strength once it was restored to her (v14-15)? Whom else did Jesus heal (v16)? Of what was this a sample (v17)? And yet, what is it often like to follow Jesus (v18-22)?
   Questions for applying this Scripture to our lives: In what situations in your life currently did you need to have this reminder that Jesus wills to do you good? In what situations did you need a reminder of Jesus’ total, almighty authority? · How are you employing what strength and health Jesus has given to you in order to serve Him and them? · What difficulty have you recently endured in following Him? How is this giving you a chance to conclude and affirm that following Him is worth it? How/when will you remind yourself of this?

Devotional Questions to Review Psalm 147:1-11 and Preview Psalm 147:12-20

Review from the past Lord's Day:
Psalm 147:1-11
   Questions for understanding this Scripture: What is true not only about Yahweh Himself but also about the action of praising Him(v1)? · What does God do for His people(2-3)? How wisely(4)? How powerfully(5)? How justly(6)? How lovingly(8-9)? · What kind of person played the instrument in 7b? What provision is v7 describing then? · With what is God not impressed(10)? Yet, in what does He take pleasure(11)?
   Questions for applying this Scripture to our lives: What is happening in your life right now that makes you praise God for His wisdom? For His power? For His justice? For His love? · If you are going to change the way you think about your activities to be more biblical, what daily activity are you going to find more pleasure in? Call beautiful? What weekly activity? 

Preview for the coming Lord's Day:
Psalm 147:12-20
   Questions for understanding this Scripture: Of whom was Yahweh taking care in v8-9? But whose God is He, particularly in v12-13? Who are blessed in 13b, and for whose sake? · What is one purpose of winter (vv16-17)? By what does He execute this (v15, 18)? How does this highlight Israel’s great privilege (v19-20, cf. 3:1-2)?
   Questions for applying this Scripture to our lives: When you see the world that God created, and marvel at His power, what should that make you think and feel in response to the fact that He is especially your God? · When you know that He has created this with His Word, and that not everyone has that Word, how then ought you to think of and make use of the Bible? And of opportunities to hear it taught and preached?

When Jesus Gives You an Empty Net

Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken. (John 21:11)
What a great gift! The Lord commanded 153 large fish to be in the right place at the right time, and also commanded that their net would not break. (Note also that He employed them in casting the nets over the side, and in hauling in the fish, when He could just as easily have commanded the fish to jump ashore)
Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We are going with you also." They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing. (John 21:3)
What a greater gift! The Lord commanded every single fish in the lake to stay out of their nets, not just at one point in time, but the entire night long.

Why is it a greater gift? Well, it certainly is a more comprehensive and sustained demonstration of His power. But, more importantly, it taught them that Jesus is sovereign over everything in their lives. 

Jesus is not just intimately and almightily involved in your conversations to tell sinners the good news and call them to be reconciled to God. He is intimately and almightily involved in your nine-to-five (or seven-to-six), and every other part of your life.

God, who became a man and endured Hell for your sake, commands absolutely everything--including apparent futility in the workplace at times--for your good.

Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, receive it all in the goodness of God, and do it all to the glory of God!

Devotional Questions to Review John 21:1-14 and Prepare for John 21:15-17

Review from the past Lord's Day
John 21:1-14
   Questions for understanding this Scripture: How long is it between 20:29 and 21:1? Why might we not be told? · Who else seems to have felt the tension of not knowing what was next or when(2)? How do they respond(3a)? What is the result(3b)? · Who is in control of this meeting(4)? What else is He in control of(6)? What does He call them(5)? · What better fishing had He previously called them to? What are some other ways Jesus might have responded to their fishing? What does it say about His patience and generosity that He chose this way? What does it say about all of their successes in the “better” fishing? · What does the demonstration of His power show to John(7a)? How does Peter respond(7b)? What did the other disciples bring(8)? Who didn’t need it(9)? What was He pleased to do with it anyway(10)? · What two kinds of extraordinary provision are in v11? What does the second provision mean that they will not have to do? · What event from John is Jesus reprising in v12-13? What was the great question of the Jews in that event, that the disciples do not now question? What was Jesus’ great answer in that event, that is now the answer to all of the rest of believers’ lives forever? · What is Jesus “showing” here(14)?
                        Questions for applying this Scripture to our lives: How is “waiting” a part of your relationship with Jesus right now? What areas of your life seem more “earthly”—but in which He is helping you and providing for you all the same? Are they really merely “earthly” then? · How are you responding to the fact that all of your life must come from Him? 

Preparation for the coming Lord's Day
John 21:15-17
   Questions for understanding this Scripture: Who starts this conversation (15a)? How does He start it? · What question does He ask? To which expert witness does Peter appeal in his answer? How is his answer slightly different than the question? · How does Jesus say Peter ought to show his love? How else does Jesus say he can show it, in His second answer (16)? · How many times does Jesus ask the question (17a)? How is the third time different than the first two? What effect does the third question have upon Peter (17b)? How does he intensify his appeal to his expert witness here?
                        Questions for applying this Scripture to our lives: How is kindly affection and service of “phileo” part of but different than the absolute commitment to God of “agape”? When there is evidence in your life that you don’t love Jesus like you should, and there is uncertainty in your heart about it, where does Christian faith look for reassurance that you do love Him? · When do you spend the time with Jesus for Him to restore you to fellowship and service? When do you do the praying in which you entrust yourself not to your knowledge of yourself but to His knowledge of you? · Whom among Jesus’ lambs and sheep have you been serving? How have you been seeking their feeding? How have you been seeking their care?

Holiness: Not Just Saved "from" but Saved "for"

The Lord had saved Israel from Egypt. This was a marvelous salvation indeed, and references to the Exodus appear throughout the rest of the Bible.

But more importantly than what the Lord had saved them from was what the Lord had saved them for.

Or better put: WHOM the Lord had saved them for.

The answer of course is Himself.
For I am the LORD who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. (Leviticus 11:45)
This was why literally, every time they sat down to eat, what was on the plate (and what wasn't on the plate) was a reminder that they had been saved in order to be specially set apart unto Yahweh. Everything that they touched and didn't touch. Every time that they had to wash with water and then remain unclean until evening.

They were continually reminded that the great part of being an Israelite was not that they had been brought up out of the land of Egypt. The great part of being an Israelite was that Yahweh was their God.

So also with you, dear Christian. The great part of being a Christian is not that you have been saved from sin. The great part of being a Christian is that you have been saved for Christ.

This is why the New Testament continues to say things like.
Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy." (1 Peter 1:15-16)
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:17)
Yes, the food laws are abolished. Jesus has declared all foods clean. But, what the food laws taught the Israelites, they all the more teach you, dear Christian. Everything in your life--everything!!--is especially set apart to Christ, and must be received and lived in that way. Your eating. Your drinking. Whatever you do.
for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. (Romans 14:17-18)
Be holy.

Devotional Questions on Leviticus 11 (last Lord's Day) and Leviticus 12 (next Lord's Day)

Review from the past Lord's Day:
Leviticus 11
   Questions for understanding this Scripture: What is Yahweh regulating in vv1-23, 26-31, 41-43? What are some of the details of what animals are clean to eat or touch? What fish? What birds? · What happens if they touch the carcass of or eat one of the unclean animals(24)? What must they then do(25)? What else can become defiled in this way, and what must be done with them(32-35)? · What is protected, and why in v36? In v37? When is a seed no longer just a seed(38)? What happens in the butchering or raw eating of even a clean animal (39-40)? · What is the great reason given for all of these regulations… from who God is(44a)? From what He has done(45a)? From what He is like(44b, 45b)?
                        Questions for applying this Scripture to our lives: What has God done for you? Do you belong to His church? What is required of you then, since He Is holy and has separated you from the world? In what parts of your life is this required?

Preparation for the coming Lord's Day:
Leviticus 12
   Questions for understanding this Scripture: What event (v3) puts an end to the uncleanness in v2? To whom (5a) is this event not available? What effect does this have upon the days of purification (4a, 5b)? · What in Gen 1:27 makes it plain that this is not a prejudice against girls in themselves? What is this difference saying about the benefit of circumcision (and especially what circumcision points to)? What other person, beside the baby boy, especially benefits from his circumcision? · What similar benefit also required a male (cf. Gen 3:15)? Who represents that particular male in v6? How does comparing v7 to v3-4a show that the sacrifice of the lamb is even greater than the sign of circumcision? · How does v8 show that the more important thing in the sacrifice is not the lamb itself but Him to whom the lamb pointed? What else do we learn about Jesus from v8 (cf. Luk 2:24)?
                        Questions for applying this Scripture to our lives: Whether you are a boy or a girl, what particular baby boy do baptism and the Lord’s Supper announce to you that you need? How did circumcision and animal sacrifice say the same thing to the Israelites? · What has every baby except Jesus brought into the world? If Jesus didn’t bring sin into the world, why did He need to be circumcised, and why did His mother need to be purified from the blood of His birth? · If a sinner can only be cleansed by what Jesus has done, where does that leave you? Have you placed yourself and your hope entirely upon Christ? · Why did Jesus become so poor (2Cor 8:9)? Are you rich?

One Letter of Scripture to Revolutionize Your Life

Some of the congregation knows how one New Testament Theology professor's skipping of Romans 9-11 eventually led to my securing the greatest of all my earthly blessings. I suspect that his is a common attitude toward this portion of Romans, and perhaps to the whole of Romans to this point--you know, the "doctrinal" part.

Which brings us to the first word of Romans 11:33, a single letter in Greek:
It sounds like its translation in most English versions, "Oh."

But it means something more like "Whoah!"

And that's just the point: doctrine is glorious because it's truth either about who God is or what God has done, is doing, or will do. In this case, it's both. How glorious is the exactness of His justice, and how glorious are the oceans of His mercy!

And, how brain-circuit-frying is the greatness of the wisdom in which He has planned and carried out the salvation of His people in a manner so to display His glory.

Once we begin to take this in, the rest of our life is lived as one big "Whoah!" of worship unto God, with our whole being. But more on that when we turn the corner to Romans 12:1.

For now, let our view of the practical usefulness and pleasantness of rich doctrine be revolutionized by this one letter: ᾽Ω

All Israel Disobedient and All Israel Saved: the theme not just of Romans 9-11, but of Romans 1-11

"But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel" (Romans 9:6) 
"For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable [...] For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all." (Romans 11:29,32)
There's Israel, and then there's Israel. There are those who are physically descended from the fathers, and then there are those whom God individually and specifically meant in the promises to the fathers (Rom 9:7-8; 11:29). Every physically descended Israelite that is saved is saved as a direct fulfillment of these promises.

But there is another thing that God promised the fathers, specifically to Abraham: that he would be the father of many nations, out of whom God would save many by grace through faith, as children of Abraham
Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, "I have made you a father of many nations") in the presence of Him whom he believed -- God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; (Romans 4:16-17)
It is in this way (ούτώς in 11:26) that all Israel is saved: all of the elect Jews, and all of the elect Gentiles--some upon their first hearing of the gospel, and the rest only after seeing others converted first.

This isn't replacement theology. It isn't a salvation plan B. It was always planned this way for the glory of God's mercy and grace as the alone way by which sinners are saved. It was one of the great reasons for the fall, for the law, and for the gospel.
"Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:19-23) 
"What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?" (Romans 9:22-24) 
"For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all." (Romans 11:30-32)

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