1 When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, 2 and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, 3 then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where He scattered you. 4 Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. 5 He will bring you to the land that belonged to your fathers, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. 6 The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love Him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. 7 The Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies who hate and persecute you. 8 You will again obey the Lord and follow all His commands I am giving you today. 9 Then the Lord your God will make you most prosperous in all the work of your hands and in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your land. The Lord will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as He delighted in your fathers, 10 if you obey the Lord your God and keep His commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.
15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
19 This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him. For the Lord is your life, and He will give you many years in the land He swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
In Leviticus 20:26 God says to the Israelite nation, “You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.” God spoke His law to His people in order to reveal His holy character, but His greatest desire for His people is that they too would be holy. And this principle of holiness didn’t only apply to the Israelites in the Old Testament. The apostle Peter in 1 Peter 1:16 is writing to the Church when he says, “Just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”
You often hear people say they don’t know what God wants from them. The simple answer is this: God wants us to be holy. The one thing He wants from us above all others is holiness. Once we grasp that foundational truth, it becomes easier to understand the details and the specifics of His will for our lives.
Whenever we read God’s Law, it is important to understand its nature and purpose. Jesus and the New Testament authors, particularly Paul, help us to understand the purpose of the Law and its fulfillment in Jesus, but let’s look at the background of our Scripture reading from Deuteronomy first.
Moses is now nearing the end of his life. He is the author of Deuteronomy, which is actually a series of sermons to the people of Israel. He was speaking directly to those who’d survived the 40 years in the desert as they wandered around before finally entering the Promised Land.
We pick up the story in chapter 30, towards the end where Moses comes to the end of his messages and there he teaches us one of the most important lessons in the entire Bible: The only way we can have a proper relationship with God is to walk by faith in holiness and obedience before Him. It’s about holiness.
The giving of the Law by God and the keeping of it by the people was never intended to produce salvation. The law was designed to show them and us our greatest need. We need a God-provided remedy for our hopelessly sinful heart. Genesis 6:5 probably says it best: “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” And in the words of Jeremiah 17:9, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked.” Many would disagree and say they are basically good people who make the occasional mistake, but the Bible pulls no punches in describing what the human heart is really like: it is infected with a deadly disease called sin – a disease beyond our own ability to cure.
So we can’t fix the mess that sin has made of our lives. We need a holy God to provide the solution for us, and this is exactly what He did provide to enable us to be obedient to Him once more. Outside of God, outside of the sacrificial death of Jesus we are without life and hope.
Our greatest need is not an external standard. Many times I have heard people say that they try their best to live by the Golden Rule, or they try to keep the Ten Commandments. Now at first glance that might seem like a good and honourable thing to do, but people who try to live like that are forgetting a fundamental flaw. Their hearts are desperately wicked, so it is impossible for us to keep the law, no matter how good our intentions might be.
Throughout the book of Deuteronomy God’s message spoken through Moses is consistent. The people of God will either walk in holiness and obedience before Him by faith and live, or they will turn away from Him to worship idols and experience punishment and death. And as we reach chapter 30 he makes it clear what their outcome will be. They will fail to obey God and they will chase after the gods of the pagan nations, despite the fact that God had expressly warned them not to. In the previous chapter Moses warned them, “You saw among them their detestable images and idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold. Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.” (Deuteronomy 29:17-18).
And the result of their disobedience is that God will send them away into exile in foreign countries. They will lose the Promised Land. In Chapter 30 is a prophecy of what was to come. It’s a picture of the people in those foreign lands because of the 100% certainty that they would fail to keep God’s Law.
Another important point we need to stress here is that the certainty of failure on the part of the Israelites all those years ago and you and I today does not call into question or challenge the Law or the Law-Giver. The problem is not a bad God or a bad Law, but rather the bad hearts of the human race.
In the New Testament in Romans 7:7 Paul writes, “What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” Paul understood that the Law is not sinful, but good. It’s a gracious gift from a good God, because it teaches us what sin is. The mistake of the Israelites in the Old Testament, the Pharisees in Jesus’ and Paul’s time, and many today is the assumption that we can be made righteous by keeping God’s Law. When we try to live like that we are doomed to fail, simply because our hearts are not right to begin with.
God did not give the Law so we could keep it and live. He gave it to us to show us we are sinful, dead, and unable to please Him on our own.
What the Law cannot do is produce faith in the heart, without which it is impossible to please God. In his writings the apostle Paul teaches consistently that the Law points us to our need for a Saviour, which God provided in Christ. Are you striving to please God by trying to obey His Law? Are you hoping your best efforts will be good enough for God to accept you? In the notes in the pew bulletin today I mentioned the fact that countless sermons and sermon series have been preached on the Ten Commandments. We have to know what God’s Law says, but the great danger is the more aware we are of God’s Law, the harder we try to live up to it. That is quite literally, a grave mistake. In Galatians 3 Paul says, “All who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’” So trying to live by the law is not only an exercise in futility, but you’re actually placing yourself under a curse. Paul goes on to say, “Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because the righteous will live by faith. The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, ‘The person who does these things will live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’” God requires holiness of us, but are you hoping to grow in holiness simply by trying harder to keep the law? Just as you were saved by grace through faith, you will only make progress in holiness by grace through faith as well.
However, there is a warning Paul gives to us in Romans 6 that we need to hear. Just because we live under grace and not the law does not give us licence to do as we please. In chapter 6:1-4 he writes, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” He says much the same thing in verses 15 and 16: “Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey - whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness.”
Because we are living in His grace does not mean we are free to live as we please. Remember what God’s grace does for us once we are justified: He continues to sanctify us as He changes us more and more into the likeness of Jesus with each passing day. And He can’t do that if we’re just living the way we want. He changes us from within, and the evidence of that change has to be seen in the way we now live for Him.
So our greatest need is not an external standard – a list of do’s and don’ts.
Our greatest need is a new heart.
The people of Israel in Moses’ time had experienced failure over and over again. Their lives were defined by a cycle of failure, repentance, restoration, failure, repentance, restoration. And they were trapped in this endless cycle. God had given them circumcision as a physical sign to distinguish them as His people. He had given them the Law as a standard by which they could know God's expectations and requirements. Their greatest need though, was not an external sign or standard, but transformed hearts. And He makes this promise to them in Deuteronomy 30:6 – “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love Him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” He promised them that a day was coming when He would do for them what they could not do for themselves. By His grace, God would circumcise their hearts, which would enable them to please Him with their lives. The Old Testament prophets also spoke about this promise.
Ezekiel 36:24-28 – “I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.”
Jeremiah 31:31-34 – “The time is coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time: I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
There are 2 key points in those prophecies in Ezekiel and Jeremiah: “I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.”
God’s Law still applies! But the difference is that by His grace He lives within us and He gives us a new desire to keep His Law. Not because if we don’t He will zap us. That’s legalism. That’s living under the law as a curse. Rather, now that He has given us a new heart, His Law reveals His holy nature to us, we are moved to obedience out of love for Him. There is a fundamental change deep within us now. With these new hearts God has given us by His grace, when we ‘do the right thing’ we are not doing it because we have to. Now we do it because we want to. That is the key to living a life of worship as we journey towards holiness and sanctification. Grace does not free us to sin. Rather, it frees us to live righteous lives.
Do you see the futility in trying to keep God’s Laws out of sheer blind obedience? It can’t be done, no matter how sincere your intentions might be. Because of your sinful nature you began this life on the back foot. You had three strikes against you before you even drew your first breath, and there is nothing you can do about it. In fact, trying to make things right on your own only makes matters worse. But God can do something about it. And He did. He sent Jesus. He came to give us these new hearts that God has promised us. Jesus is the New Covenant promised to us through the prophet Jeremiah.
Have you received a transformed heart by repenting your sin and confessing your faith in Jesus Christ as the only Saviour? There are no other options. Jesus Christ is our only hope of living in holiness and obedience before God. It is only the righteousness of Christ that pleases the Father. Are you living this new life of grace by faith that comes from a new, transformed heart, or are you still struggling in your own efforts to please God?
In Matthew 5:17-18 Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
Contrary to the claims of many in His day, Jesus did not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves, in that He obeyed God’s law completely and perfectly, fully meeting the demands of God’s holiness. And because we in our own strength cannot do what Jesus did, He offered Himself as the sinless lamb that would take away the consequences of our sin. He paid the price so we don’t have to, and when we in faith receive that, when we repent our sin and place our faith in Christ alone as Saviour, we receive forgiveness and new hearts. And now everything changes. In the words of 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”
Because Jesus perfectly fulfilled God’s Law, we are now able to walk in holiness and obedience to the Law through the work of the Spirit within us. He has given us these new hearts so we no longer try to keep the Law so that we will be justified by it. Now we live in in obedience to God’s Law, by faith in Christ, so that our lives will bring Him glory.
We can now live our lives for Him, and for Him alone.
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Galatians 3:10-14
What does Paul mean by saying that those “who rely on observing the law are under a curse?”
In verse 13 he speaks of “the curse of the law,” yet the Bible teaches that God’s Law is good, holy and perfect, so what does Paul mean here?
Many people, with all the best intentions, try to live a life in obedience to the Ten Commandments, yet the Bible condemns this.
Is this fair? Why, or why not?
Read Ezekiel 36:24-28 and Jeremiah 31:31-34
How do you understand the concept of a new heart, bearing in mind that Jeremiah 17:9 calls the human heart “desperately wicked?”
Both of these readings stress that we are still to follow and obey God’s law, but there are fundamental differences between obeying it with our old and new hearts.
Discuss some of these differences in your group.
What is the difference between living under grace, and living under the law?
There is a common misunderstanding that because we are forgiven and now live in God’s grace, we are no longer bound by the law, but the Bible warns us against this. (Read Romans 6:1-4 and 15-16)
How do you understand these warnings?
Close by giving thanks to God for our new hearts.