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Obedience, Disobedience, Pride, and Grace

In this week’s Torah portion (Leviticus 25:1-27:34), we read about God’s commandments concerning the Sabbatical year, the Year of Jubilee, redemption of property, kindness towards each other, redeeming poor people, blessings for obedience, and punishments for disobedience. That sounds like quite a bit, and it is, but there are reasons that God has given us these commandments; as we learned last week, we are given commandments so that we can walk in holiness just like God himself.

I would like to focus here on this week’s reading concerning blessings for obedience and punishments for disobedience. Through this, we will learn three things:

  1. Our obedience affirms our worship.
  2. God takes disobedience seriously.
  3. Strength is found in numbers.

Our Obedience Affirms our Worship

I would like to start off by saying that I believe that the church today is doing a bad job at explaining how obedience works alongside faith. I have heard so many times from Christian pastors and regular Christian people that obedience is unnecessary today because of grace, or that striving for obedience nullifies God’s grace through Christ. Nothing could be further from the truth. Consider what James says concerning this matter.

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”
(James 1:22-25 ESV).

James types being a man who simply hears the law of God as a man who looks vainly in a mirror, because he will forget the exact details and intricate features of his face once he walks away from the mirror. Likewise, if we simply hear the commandments of God with no regard of living them out, we are as the man who looks in the mirror; we forget what God expects of us, and ultimately, we forget what Jesus looks like because he is the incarnation of the very laws spoken of here in Leviticus (John 1:1-2; 14).

James further writes that faith without obedience (“good works”) is dead, because even the demons believe that God exists, yet they are the furthest things from righteousness. Why? Because they are the epitome of disobedience.

In Leviticus 26, right before God gives all his details of the blessings we receive if we obey him, he makes a seemingly passive comment about himself in relation to us.

​“You shall not make idols for yourselves or erect an image or pillar, and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land to bow down to it, for I am the LORD your God. You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD.”
(Leviticus 26:1-2 ESV).

Continuing from the previous section of Leviticus, God reminds us once again to not erect pillars or images like we did in Egypt when we were not his people, but he ends the statement by affirming that he is the LORD and that he is our God. The reasons he is our God is because we have submitted to his commandments for our lives; we are actively striving to obey his commandments, not in hopes of attaining salvation, but because he has already saved us. Our obedience simply affirms to God that we are his people and that he is our God.

God Takes Obedience Seriously

Starting in verse 14, God explains the punishments he will execute on us if we choose to rebel against him, refusing to hear and do his commandments that he has graciously given us. It is clear in the opening sentences that God will not be silent or unresponsive to his people’s deliberate sinning. God promises many curses that he will bring upon us if we do not live our lives in obedience.

God makes it a point to single out our pride.

“And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will discipline you again sevenfold for your sins, and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze.”
(Leviticus 26:18-29 ESV).

The problem with human pride is that it prompts us to trust in our own selves and our own self-sufficiency, not God. God aims to correct this behavior through discipline, just like a human father. God has promised to discipline us by taking away that which can make us prideful; in the case of the people of Israel during Moses’s time, God said he would take away their peace (v16), health (v16), their crops (v16), and even their kingdom itself (v17).

God can and will do the same today to us if we fail to remember his covenant with us. If we deliberately live in sin while confessing to be his people, he will discipline us and take away the very things that cause us to be prideful, whether that be our success, our health, our money, or whatever else causes us to rely on ourselves rather than him. But God also still promises to us that if we obey him and walk daily in his commandments, he will bless us beyond measure and set us as a city on a hill.

Strength Is Found in Numbers

While God is detailing the blessings for obedience in Leviticus 26, he gives a promise to us concerning our enemies.

“You shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword.”
(Leviticus 26:7-8 ESV).

Notice that God promises that we will chase away our enemies and first says that five will chase a hundred, which is a ratio of 1:20, but then he promises that one hundred of us will chase away ten thousand, which is a 1:100 ratio. The change in ratio is significant and not a mistake. What God is saying here is that five Torah-keepers working together are strong and have the might to overcome the enemy, but one hundred Torah-keepers have a stronger bond and power, increasing their effectiveness against the enemy. What this means is that the bigger our congregation – the more people we have working together in faith and deed – the greater our power in overcoming the enemy will be. In short, the power of righteous people working together increases exponentially as we grow in numbers.

We can live this out in our lives by not failing to neglect discipleship and bonding with our fellow believers. I have worked in various churches over the years, and one thing is consistent: there is a need for discipleship that is not being met by our churches today. We do great evangelizing and reaching the lost, but we fail at training our new converts once they come to faith. God promises us here that if we take time to actually grow as the church in our knowledge and faith in him and his commandments, we will be unstoppable.

Jesus prays just before he is betrayed and arrested for his people to be unified as one, just as he and God are one.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.”
(John 17:20-22 ESV)

Throughout the 2000 years since Jesus prayed this prayer, there have been more divisions in the church than we can possibly count. In the year 1054 CE, the unified Catholic Church (the only church at the time) split into two sections: the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Western Roman Church. This was known as the Schism of 1054 in church history. Then, in the year 1517 CE, Martin Luther pinned his ninety-five theses to the door of the Roman Catholic Church and began what is known as the Protestant Reformation. From this reformation, all the protestant denominations came to be through disagreements with the Catholic Church and other protestant denominations.

The church has faced divisions and splits since the time of Jesus, and sadly, it continues today. There are more denominations breaking off and forming every single year in the church, and I expect it to continue until the day Jesus returns if we do not begin taking this matter seriously. Regardless, it is clear that we are not currently living out the prayer of Jesus as he wants.

How can we fix this? I believe it first begins with pastors. I believe that pastors need to be diligent in their theological education and training. Yes, I believe anyone can be the mouthpiece for God in times of need, but I also believe that he expects his shepherds to be equipped and ready to lead a flock by acquiring formal educations and training so that he can be effective and consistent when training his congregation in the ways of Scripture.

Next, I believe that all Christians should be diligent in reading their Bibles from start to finish and have a familiarization with the entirety of Scripture. We need to stop making a division between what is “old” and what is “new” and see God’s word as his word, not his words.

Finally, I believe that, as a church, we need to establish common goals and reach them together. This comes only by becoming a true church family. We need to know every name of every member of our church and we need to be invested in each life in some way. We need to stop dividing the church into “the old crowd” and “the youth.” Our main goal should not be convincing the pastor to speak about certain topics when we want to hear them or to persuade the worship pastor to play more hymns or contemporary music, but to grow together in Spirit grow together in Spirit so that we can strengthen the body of Christ in order to face our many enemies together. Remember, the more people we have working together in God’s will, by living out his commandments and believing in his Son for the redemption of our shortcomings, the more exponential power we will harness.

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”
(Romans 12:4-5 ESV)

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