Deuteronomy 10:12-22 We are saved by God’s grace alone. That is the central teaching of Holy Scripture- and that is the rallying cry of the Reformation- and that is the confession of our church. Our life with God, from beginning to end, is a gift that he gives.
But God’s people have always struggled with what that means in their day-to-day lives—how to live that out. The problem is not with God and his gracious gifts. The problem is with our flesh that wants to turn grace and forgiveness and God’s saving work on our behalf-- into license and sin and going our own way.
That is what we see in God’s Word today. The people of Israel had been rescued from slavery. Their enemies were drowned in the waters of the Red Sea. They possessed the riches of Egypt. They were led into God’s presence.
But there in the sight of God at Sinai they abandoned their Savior God and made an idol and worshiped it in the place of the LORD and committed the worst kinds of sins.
Let me tell you the story of another people—a people who have been rescued from slavery to sin and death, a people whose enemies have been drowned in the waters of holy baptism, a people who possess the eternal riches of forgiveness and life, and yet a people who continue to sin in the sight of their Savior God and show with their lives that there are other things that come before him. We know those people, don’t we?
The words that we have before us today are spoken to all of God’s people, in every place and time (including us here today!) about what it means in our day to day lives, in how we live our lives, that we are the saved people of God. The Bible says:
What does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?
It is critically important to understanding and applying this text to our lives that we know WHEN these words were spoken.
God’s people had been saved. Their enemies had been destroyed. They had been given riches beyond measure. They had been provided for on their journey and led along the way into the presence of God. All of this was the accomplished facts of salvation history-- and so it is for us. This is what our Savior God has done for his people.
It is in that context of God’s saving work and his gracious gifts that these words are spoken to God’s people so that we might understand what God desires from us—not to earn our salvation—but to live out that identity.
We are to fear the LORD—to stand in awe of him and glorify him and magnify him. We are to walks in his ways—to value and treasure what he says as important and to go in the direction he leads. We are to love him—not because a command can make us love him--but simply because of who he is and what he has done for us. We are to serve him with everything we have, in all we do. And we are to keep his commandments.
And we are to do this for our good—for OUR good. You see dear friends in Christ, God does not need our love. God does not need our obedience. God does not need our service.
He has created us and redeemed us for OUR good --not only with the gift of salvation he gives, but so it is with the life of the saved that he calls us to live—it is for our good because he loves us and knows what will truly bless us because he is our Creator. The Bible says that:
to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.
Here is what the Holy Spirit wants you to understand—here is the love that will empower you to fear, love and trust in God above all things and serve him in every way all your days.
The one, true and living God of the universe, the One who is before and after all things, the One who called all things into being by his almighty, powerful word and sustains them in the same way today—that almighty, eternal, righteous, holy God-- loves you.
And he has always loved you- and always known you- and has chosen you in Christ to be his own and has done everything necessary in time and eternity to make it so.
Out of all the wonders of the universe, out of all the mighty works of his hands, out of everything he has done in the past and will do in the days to come, the LORD has set his heart on you.
That was the promise of everlasting love that God made to his ancient people and that is the promise of everlasting love that God makes to you sitting here today and the content of that love and the shape of that love and the source of that love is Jesus.
That was true for God’s ancient people and that is true for us: the promise to come for the Israelites and the promised fulfilled for us. For all of God’s people in every place and time, Jesus is the only reason for us to be counted as those loved by God. And it is that love- and only that love-- which has the power to change us. The Bible says:
Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.
There is no way to fear love and trust in God above all things-- and there is no way to serve God all our days in all our ways-- until our hearts are changed.
Our lives of faith and obedience and service do not make our place with God and they do not earn our salvation. Our lives of faith and obedience and service do not come first when it comes to having a life with God-- but follow God’s saving work for us-- and come from a change of heart within us.
That is what the Holy Spirit means when he says that we are to “circumcise” our hearts—heartfelt repentance and faith. It is not enough to merely go through the motions with God—to regard our faith and life with God as something external to us—to think that God is pleased with acts that are merely religious—or with people who think that they can make a deal with him.
That is what the Holy Spirit is talking about when he says that God takes no bribes and shows no partiality. Instead, we are to have a genuine change of heart and mind and direction in life and turn away from sins and turn towards our Savior God. Here’s the thing…
We will always see God’s call to live changed lives as a burdensome imposition—always as something that is outside of us--until our hearts are changed through repentance and faith that understands the holiness and righteousness of God to be sure-- but also the greatness of his love for us who do not deserve, and could never earn, his love. The Bible says:
He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
The great act of the Lord’s salvation in the Old Testament is the deliverance of God’s people from slavery in Egypt. They did not deserve it. They could not earn it. They could not do it on their own. They were poor and weak and far from home. All they could do was cry out to the LORD for his mercy. And that is what they received.
So it is for us. What we could not earn, what we did not deserve, what we could never accomplish by our own strength and resources God has done for us in his mercy, sending his Son into this world as our great Redeemer who has purchased our freedom by his own blood and set us free from sin and death.
The story of our life with God is one of love and mercy and grace and forgiveness and so that is to be the story of our life with others, a reflection of our life with God: we love because he first loved us and has shown us that love in his Son. The Bible says:
You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen.
I can’t imagine that there is anyone sitting here today who would not have loved to have been there with God’s people as they walked cross the Red Sea on dry land and then to be guided by his presence every step of the way in the wilderness. How could anyone who had seen and heard these things not offer to God their entire lives for all that the LORD had done?
And yet, what they saw and heard pales in comparison to what we see and hear in Jesus Christ. God’s own Son come to die for his people! God’s own Son defeating sin and death and the power of the devil! God’s own Son feeding his people with his own body and blood and God’s own Son leading his people to the Promised Land of heaven!
Our service and our praise and our worship is very little indeed compared to what God has done for us in Jesus and promises to do for us in the days to come. The Bible says;
Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.
There is not a person in the world who would have said that this small group desert tribesmen would have ever survived in Egypt. But the Lord was with them and even after centuries of oppression they were hundreds of thousands. Only the LORD could have accomplished that!
Today those hundreds of thousands who knew the LORD as their Savior God are now numbered in the billions and we are part of that multitude through faith in Jesus. That is why we can give ourselves wholeheartedly in the Lord’s service and trust that he stands ready to bless us with his gifts—because he has always done that for his people and always will! Amen.