I had the idea for this blog post this morning, before church, then the sermon confirmed/intensified my desire to write it, then on the way home from church I went down. Coincidence? Not likely. But regardless, I’m down and telling myself that if I need to stop and cry every few words/sentences/paragraphs, that’s ok.
I was a weird kid in high school. I was homeschooled, which didn’t help the weirdness factor at all. I listened exclusively to classical music (Tchaikovsky was my jam), and I read constantly. Since I could choose what to study I usually studied odd topics, like British Literature, and how to manage a household.
One of those odd topics was Old Testament law. Yep, the gruesome, strict, “thou shalts” found mostly in Leviticus. I loved it. I realized through studying those just how much God loved His people (also, all the doom-and-gloom Old Testament prophets – wow, what an amazing show of love!).
Hold on, Anessa, you mean God telling His people “Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material” (Leviticus 19:19) is really God saying “I love you”? Yes. Alright Anessa, explain that one, because to the majority of us, that’s a really nitpicky regulation about clothing. Do I need to get rid of all my cotton/poly blend clothing? Ok, I admit, that one is hard to explain – as I was paging through Leviticus trying to find a good example I landed on that one and I though “hm, no, let’s find one I can explain and understand” then I thought “no, this is a perfect example, even if you can’t explain or understand it.” So I put it in. Some of the laws (“Do not take your wife’s sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living” Leviticus 18:18) have some obvious repercussions. Especially that one. That’s a “duh!” one. You ain’t gonna have nuthin’ but trouble if you break that law.
So yes, some laws (like the fabric one) require cultural context and understanding to explain how God was showing love to His people by giving them those rules. He was being a good parent, who gave rules and consequences for breaking those rules. The rules He gave about sacrifices and offerings were especially loving. Anessa, you’re losing me again. God told people to slaughter animals as a sign of love? Yep.
God didn’t need to make people. He wanted to make people. He wanted beings to fellowship with, be in relationship with. He gave them free will to choose if they wanted to be in a relationship with Him or not. In the beginning, it was perfect. And the two humans He started with were perfect too. Of course they wanted to be in a relationship with God, because they knew Him. But the perfection didn’t last. Sin entered the world, the result of a fallen angel who thought he could run things better than God and passed that lie along. Sin created a division between people and God, because as much as God loves us, God cannot tolerate sin. It is antithetical to His nature: He is wholly good, wholly holy. You cannot be in true close fellowship with God and have sin in your life. And because God desires so strongly to be in relationship with us, to have us know and love Him, and be close with Him, He wanted to fix the problem of sin. That’s something we cannot do on our own.
So in the Old Testament, He told them to slaughter animals for the forgiveness of sin and to be reconciled to Himself. Only something as serious as the shedding of blood and loss of life could dissolve the stain that sin leaves on our lives. Sin is a life and death issue. God takes it that seriously. We should too.
We as humans understand laws pretty well; it’s simple cause and effect: I do this, and that happens. If I do everything right, I get this. If I mess up, bad stuff happens. It makes sense to us; we’re wired that way. Humanity hasn’t changed much from a couple thousand years ago because even though we may view some of those laws as confusing and unnecessary we still see value in following rules.
But that’s the old covenant. The old deal that God had with people.
We don’t sacrifice animals anymore (thank God, seriously), we don’t have to to have reconciliation, fellowship, and relationship with God. I was trying to figure out how to do this big build up to why we don’t have to anymore, but it wasn’t working, so I’ll just say it: it’s because of Jesus. Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice for our sins, perfect in every way, the only One who could have died once and paid the penalty for all sins, everywhere, and for all time. Because of Him, we can accept what He did for us on the cross and receive forgiveness for our sins, and along with that, grace we don’t deserve, and the best relationship we will ever be in.
This is the new covenant. The new deal. And most of the time, we don’t understand it at all.
We are still wired for the cause-and-effect way of thinking. “I will sacrifice this animal, and God will forgive my sins.” The old covenant makes sense to us. “I will pay my tithe, and God will financially bless me.” “I will drink and drive, and the police will put me in jail.” (that’s a dumb example, but it’s the only negative cause-and-effect my brain is coming up with right now).
This new covenant thinking is foreign to us, because all we have to do is accept it. We think, “there has to be more to it, really. We can’t just say ‘Jesus, I believe that you died on the cross to take away my sins, please forgive my sins, I accept your sacrifice for me, and I make you the Lord of my life.'” ¹ there has to be something more. There is. Did you catch it in the prayer I just typed?
I’ve found it to be the hardest thing about being a Christian. Making Jesus the lord of my life: giving Him control. I’ve wrestled with this for the past 26 years, ever since I knelt by my parent’s bed and prayed that prayer. I take control back, then squeal with rage when He reminds me that He’s supposed to be the One in control. I tell Him “No God! You’re too slow! Let me be in charge for a while, I can make it happen faster!” When I fall flat on my face I shake my fist at Him and say “How could You let this happen! This is Your fault! You were supposed to protect me! You’re supposed to love me!” When I do something I think is right, something I think He wants me to do and the blessings I expect don’t come, I get impatient and upset, I begin to doubt God, all because I’m still believing the lie that I can do better than Him, and I’m acting like I’m still living under the old covenant.
Let’s put this into a secular analogy.
We and God are playing poker. (This is just an analogy, I in no way am condoning gambling.) God, through Jesus, went all in, and He had the most. All His chips are on the table; He has pushed in everything. Now it’s our turn. I’m not very good at poker, but I know enough that when someone goes all in, you have to match it. You can’t just throw a chip into the pot, that’s not how the game works. No longer will a chip or two be sufficient. You can fold, choose to reject even the chance of winning, but if you want to keep playing, you have to go all in too. Nothing else is enough. It isn’t cause-and-effect anymore, it’s a total surrender of all your chips.
There is a fatalistic freedom in going all in. There is no more trying after that; you’ve done all you can do and what happens is no longer in your control. You are free to be just who you are, and God is free to be just who He is too. And He is completely good, completely just, completely knowing, and completely loving. He knows what all the cards are, we don’t. He knows what’s going to happen next, we don’t. He knows what hardships (as a result of sin being in the world) He’s going to help us through, and He knows what blessings He’s going to give us just because we’re His favorite, not because we did something right.
The new covenant is not cause-and-effect. It’s going all in.
¹ “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Romans 10:9-10
Read the follow up to this article: What Happens Next