Finally, it's the school holidays! Among other things that teachers don't get done during the school term like vacuuming the house, making up lost time on my Bible reading plan is on my to-do list.
Tonight, I've set aside some time to read before I sleep. I'm close to finishing the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. After many chapters of desert wanderings and detailed laws, at last, I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Or maybe I should say, at last the Promised Land is in sight! If I just read a few extra chapters tonight, I can finally start Joshua tomorrow. But suddenly, I stop short. A verse perplexes me, "For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off." In my bewilderment, I ask out loud, "Why does God say his commandment is not hard to keep? I thought sinners couldn't obey the law?"
My husband casually looks up from browsing Facebook, “Is that Deuteronomy chapter 30?” “How did you know?!” I ask. He smirks for a while longer, before eventually revealing, "It happened to be on my Bible reading plan for today." What a co-incidence! We're not on the same Bible reading plan, not to mention that the Bible App reminds me that I am 154 days behind schedule anyway. "Hey, doesn't Paul quote Deuteronomy 30 in one of his letters?" I ask. "He does. I think it's in Romans, maybe chapter 7? Or it could be chapter 6", he replies.
This time he proves himself a fallible human. Luckily, Google is a helpful bible study tool and after a quick search we find our way to Romans 10:5-9. “Well…” I try to grapple with what Paul writes in Romans, “he is using Deuteronomy 30 to talk to New Testament believers about having righteousness by faith. Does this apply to the Old Testament people? I mean the Old Testament sacrifice system kind of required Israel to have faith, right? Is that the same faith as the New Testament? Is that what Deuteronomy 30 is referring to?” He replies, “Uh, maybe. Hey, wait, I remember the latest episode of Ask Pastor John had a similar question.” We search the podcast. It’s the same question about the same bible verse from Deuteronomy 30:11-14: Did Moses Think Sinners Could Keep the Law? Another co-incidence! So Deuteronomy 30 does point to righteousness by faith.
I make a note in my digital Bible before I forget what I’ve learned, “Righteousness by works requires perfect obedience before we can be declared righteousness. This sort of righteousness is impossible for sinners to attain in our own strength. On the other hand, righteousness by faith is a gift entirely from God on undeserving sinners. An increasing joyful obedience of God's commands is the guaranteed fruit and necessary confirmation of receiving such a gift of grace. When the Bible says that obedience is not too hard it has righteousness by faith in view. ” It’s getting late. I guess I won’t be finishing the Torah tonight after all.
In the morning, I am working my way through 1 John and I am up to Chapter 5 verses 3 and 4, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” It is the same message of Deuteronomy 30! Yet again I am surprised by God’s coincidences.
This time it makes sense. Deuteronomy 30:6 calls it ‘circumcision of the heart’, John calls it 'born of God', and this new birth doesn't come from our efforts, but God gives it to us so that his commandments are no longer burdensome. It is our faith that gives the victory that has overcome the world. Amen!
I walk away from my unexpected bible study filled with thankfulness partly because it is a rare joy when God so clearly brings many little coincidences together to help me understand his word. But more importantly, I am reminded that God is not a God who asks me to do difficult things before I can approach him. I don't need to meditate in a cave for forty days to find God. I don't need to memorise the entire scriptures to gain merit with God. I don't need to pray five times a day, spend two years being a missionary and commit to a life of poverty in a monastery to be considered spiritual before God. The God of the Bible is a God who first loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins while we were still far away. He places his word in our mouth and our hearts so that through faith by grace, the righteousness of God is no longer beyond of reach and his commandments no longer a burden.