“People Of God’s Law” Nehemiah 10 2/10/02
SI: Chapter 10, continuation of this great spiritual revival. Recommitment to law.
INTRO: When I was in seminary I remember an argument some students
got into about a preaching class we had been taking.
The class dealt with principles and techniques of public speaking.
One student was very bothered by the class.
“What on earth do these have to do with preaching the Gospel?”
Study the word of God and preach from the heart.
Preach what Spirit leads in natural way. Shouldn’t rely on techniques, principles.
Another student said, These are good tools and there is nothing wrong with them.
If you believe your message is important, want to use craft and technique.
Other students said, I think that’s artificial and manipulative.
Student who was defending the class said,
Suppose you wanted to give your wife a great birthday surprise, because love her
But, you aren’t a very creative and can’t think of anything unusual.
You are in the bookstore one day and see book “100 Birthday Surprises for Wife”
So you buy the book, find one you like, circle it, and do it. Wife loves it.
Anything wrong with that?
Other student thought about it for a moment—“Only if she finds the book!”
Do you understand what these students were basically arguing about?
Does effective preaching depend on the use of principles and techniques,
or is it a matter of being led by the Spirit and preaching from the heart?
If you use principles and techniques, might stop relying on the Holy Spirit,
sermons might be polished and pretty but the leave people starving.
On the other hand, if you say that you are going to be led by the Spirit,
give little attention to craft, technique, short step to all sorts of problems,
(laziness, lack of preparation, rambling).
There is a similar tension in the Christian life regarding the law of God.
As a Christian, are you to follow the law of God or are you to follow your heart?
If your heart is in love with Jesus, if the Holy Spirit is within you.
If you love God with all you heart, soul, strength, and mind,
And if the Christian life is about a relationship with God, mind of Christ,
about following the spirit of the law and not the letter,
Doesn’t it make sense to follow your heart as the Spirit guides you?
St. Augustine: “Love God and do as you please.”
Furthermore, is it not true that obedience to the law, without love for God
is displeasing to Him?
Individuals and churches can place emphasis on lawkeeping, hearts far from Him.
And on top of all of this are all of those great NT passages like
“You are not under law but under grace.”
On the other hand, there are problems with following your heart,
relying on love for God, what you consider the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
Remember a person told me about confronting a Christian woman about a lie.
Sister, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”
She quoted Galatians, “If you are led by the Spirit you are not under law.”
Don’t bother me with the 9th commandment. That’s dead moralism. I’m in tune.
But we recoil at that kind of twisted logic.
Even our little covenant children know that Jesus didn’t save us
so that we can lie and brush away the 9th commandment.
And what about all the passages that say things like:
“O how I love your law, it is my meditation all the day.”
“I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law.”
Area of Christian life in which devil continually trying to sow confusion,
What is the Christian’s relationship to the law of God?
Tendency fall off on one side or the other—
to put the wrong emphasis on law, or to disregard it.
which leads to unbalanced Christians and unbalanced churches.
It’s artificial to try to separate living by love for God and living by God’s law.
Obviously, the law of God is very important in the Christian life,
at the same time, sense in which free of the law, guided by love.
Marks of revival, a proper re-connection to God’s law.
TRANS: Let’s look at this subject of relationship of the law of God
in the Christian life, connect it to this chapter in Nehemiah.
The Jews recommit themselves to keeping the Law of God.
vs. 29 all the people “bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations, and decrees of the Lord our Lord.”
Why did they make this solemn recommitment?
What did they think it would accomplish?
Study under two headings—
1. What keeping the law of God will not do.
2. What keeping the law of God will do.
To think and live as a biblical Christian, you have to keep these straight.
MP#1 Keeping God’s law will not change your status before God.
No amount of law keeping will ever save a person or make him acceptable to God.
In fact, if you try to make yourself acceptable to God,
you will find that the more you try to keep God’s law,
the better a person you try to become,
more you read the Bible and try to live a good life,
the more of your sin is revealed and the greater your guilt becomes.
Like a man working on his car in the driveway.
He gets some parts off, gets in trouble—goes and buys a shop manual.
Then he comes home and really gets into trouble.
We saw a sign on a plumbing store—“We repair what your husband fixed.”
Think how much he had fixed if he had bought a plumbing book at Lowes?
Same way with trying to keep the law to earn God’s approval.
It can’t be done. The more you try, the deeper the hole you dig.
Bible tells you not just actions, thoughts too—
“Thou shalt not murder.” Hate someone in heart, committed murder.
“Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Lust after a woman, commit adultery.
Not just thoughts—even matter of motive—Love God with all heart.
“All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”
If you rely on law keeping, God hold accountable for the whole thing.
But there is another way—it’s called grace.
Grace means that God chooses you, calls you, saves you, makes you one of His
beloved sons or daughters without any law keeping on your part.
It’s not that God doesn’t care about whether people keep or break His law.
He does care. God is not like a parent who overlooks his spoiled brat.
Keeps perfect books and demands perfect obedience.
“Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
But the reason that God saves you in spite of your law breaking is because
Jesus Christ perfectly kept His law.
Jesus kept the law of God perfectly in thought, word, and deed.
He was perfectly motivated by love for God His Father, by fellow man.
And by faith in Jesus, by clinging to Jesus and trusting in Him,
His perfect law-keeping is credited to you.
Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross was another fulfillment of the law.
By dying for the sins of His people, Jesus fulfilled all the punishment of the law.
By faith in Jesus, trusting in Him, your sins are credited to Him.
You are united to Jesus Christ by faith, His life is your life, His death is your death.
On the basis of all Jesus has done, God accepts you as His sons or daughter.
And absolutely nothing you do or don’t do can change that status.
As a loved son of God through Jesus Christ, nothing can change your status.
Keeping God’s law will not make God love you any more than He does now.
Breaking God’s law will not make God love you any less than He does now.
This is what the Apostle Paul means when he says things like:
“You are not under law but under grace.” Referring to your status.
Did the Jews in Nehemiah’s time understand this?
Absolutely. Look back at chapter 9:7
“You are the Lord God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and
named him Abraham. You found his heart faithful to you, and you made a covenant with him
to give to his descendants the land of the Canaanites. You have kept your promises because
you are righteous.”
What follows it a long history of Israel’s consistent disobedience and ingratitude.
But at no time does God reject them as His people. 9:19, 31
good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths.”
“But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a
gracious and merciful God.”
Do you believe this? Do you believe keeping the law does not change status?
Know you believe intellectually. Basic Gospel. Do you believe experientially?
1. Are you proud of your moral achievements? First mark of being under the law.
2. Are you critical of other people? Way of making self feel status secure.
3. Are you reluctant to admit your failures? Too painful, if admit insecure.
4. Are you suffering from discouragement? Trying to be acceptable. Impossible.
MP#2 Keeping God’s law will not manipulate God, change His mind, or earn His blessing.
So often people, even Christians, look at a part of their life that is messed up
and think—if I obey God’s law, He’s going to make this right.
Maybe it’s a matter of finances or marriage or health or family.
Person has a very definite idea of how things should be and what God should do.
If I obey, God will act and make things right.
Know a couple who had a series of miscarriages, thought if they began to tithe
their income to the church, had never tithed, God would give them a baby.
Donald Barnhouse, pastor years ago at 10th Presbyterian in Philadelphia
speaking at a conference on the topic of prayer.
man asked, Why hasn’t God answered my prayer?
Barnhouse—because you have never prayed in Jesus’ name.
You are praying in your own name.
You actually believe that God owes it to you because of your devotion.
Go home and repent of trying to manipulate God by your good works.
Man was shocked. Expected some sort of sympathy and got a slap.
Do you see what happens when you believe law keeping will manipulate God?
You get angry when the God of all creation, Your Father doesn’t hop like a waiter.
Your relationship with Him suffers.
Let me ask you a question? Are you angry and impatient with God?
Find yourself saying—Look at all I’m doing!
Law keeping cannot manipulate God. If you think it will, you’ll be angry.
There is another side to this.
Sometimes a Christian is blessed by God with peace and prosperity in every area—
blessed in marriage, in family, in finances, in health
And he starts to think that these blessings are because he is obedient.
When that is not at all true.
Jesus said, “When you have done best, an unprofitable servant.”
All righteous acts filthy rags.
Even your very best obedience is flawed by sin.
Love the story about Martin Luther. Preaching on prayer.
Prayer is the hardest thing in the world. Pure prayer impossible.
Man in congregation challenged him. Prayer is not hard.
Luther said I’ll wager you a horse that you cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer
tonight with your mind entirely focused on God.
If make wager, you will have to be honest. Shook on it.
Next day Luther saw the man and said, “Well?”
I prayed, “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name”
and then I thought, I wonder if I’ll get the bridle too?
The Lord graciously accepts your obedience through Christ but your
obedience is still imperfect and there is no merit in it.
Any blessing that comes is purely God’s grace.
Let me ask you a question?
Do you believe the blessings and peace in your life the result of your obedience?
That you have somehow earned God’s blessings?
Be careful. Will become ungrateful, less aware of your sin, judgmental of suffering
Were the Jews who made this vow trying to manipulate God by obeying the law?
Absolutely not. Remember their request in chapter 9?
Don’t let our trouble seem trifling in your eyes—we’re hurting, look at us.
You are just in your discipline. We have sinned. Look at us.
Don’t tell God what He ought to do. They leave it in His hands.
You must do the same thing.
Do you see why so important? Christian life a relationship with living God.
The Lord is a real person. Can’t manipulate Him.
Remember—two things keeping the law of God will never do:
Change your status before God or earn God’s blessing.
Move on to the second matter—Two things that keeping God’s law will do.
MP#3 Keeping God’s law will have temporal consequences.
And breaking God’s law will have temporal consequences.
temporal—pertaining to this life
If you break God’s law you will suffer, if you keep God’s law you will be blessed.
May think I’m contradicting my last point—said that
law keeping can’t earn God’s blessing.
But I’m not talking about earning a blessing. This has nothing to do with merit.
God’s law, the moral law is simply a statement of the way things are.
In other words, God did not just choose some arbitrary laws to impose on us.
Instead, His laws reflect the way He has made us.
If you rub your hand on a rough board you will get splinters
If you spit in the wind you will get a wet face.
If you lie, steal, indifferent, unfaithful—will be consequences, you will feel them
If truthful, generous, loving, faithful—consequences you will enjoy.
That’s the way things are.
There are laws God has established to govern nature, laws to govern morals.
This is what the book of Proverbs is largely about.
Reveals the consequences of various types of law keeping and law breaking.
“A gentle answer turn away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
“A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother.”
“Better to live on corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.”
“A heart at peace gives life to the body but envy rots the bones.”
“Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.”
Law keeping brings temporal consequences, law breaking brings temporal conseq
A Christian more than anyone else should be keenly aware of the spiritual principle:
“You reap what you sow, God will not be mocked.”
There are curses that even fall on Christians when they blatantly break God’s law.
These are not eternal curses (remember, status cannot be changed)
These are temporal curses that are the consequences of breaking the law.
The Jews in Nehemiah’s time had felt many of these curses.
When Jews recommitted themselves to the law, bound themselves with a curse.
We recognize, there will be consequences to disobedience. God has warned us.
Do you believe God’s law has temporal consequences? World doesn’t.
MP#4 Keeping God’s law will show your love for Jesus Christ.
When Jesus Christ saves you from the curse of the law He draws you into the
deepest possible obligation of gratitude to Him.
And your gratitude and love is expressed in obedience to God’s law.
This is the way Jesus put it:
“If you love me, you will obey what I command.”
It is entirely possible to keep the letter of the law and not love Jesus as you should.
Church in Ephesus did this, Revelation 2
They had kept God’s law outwardly in every way—doctrine and life.
But Jesus said, “You have lost your first love.” Repent.
There are other motivations besides love for Christ that can creep into your heart.
It might be fear of consequences. Might tell truth, avoid a sin because fear caught.
Might be pride. I’m not the kind of person who would do that.
Those motives might keep you walking the straight and narrow—but not love.
Love for Jesus is much more than just keeping God’s law—
it is having a heart that is completely committed to Him,
filled with gratitude and wonder that He has saved you and forgiven sins.
But even though love for Jesus is much more than just keeping God’s law,
it is never less.
In fact, the greater your love, the more you will desire to conform your life
in every way to God’s moral law.
Say with Psalmist, “O how I love your law, it is my meditation all the day.”
This was the desire of the Jews in Jerusalem.
They had experienced a great outpouring of God’s grace—completely undeserved.
Preserved them during captivity, had actually flourished.
Brought back to Jerusalem, given good leaders in Nehemiah and Ezra
Had enabled them to build the wall, protected from their enemies,
And had turned their hearts back to Him.
Knew they could not change status by recommitting themselves to law—His people
Knew they could not earn God’s blessing—He had already blessed them.
Recommitted themselves to the law out of gratitude and love for all the Lord
had done for them.
Now with all of this in mind, I want us to look at the laws they chose to emphasize.
Recommitted themselves to the whole law—vs. 29
but picked out areas in particular to commit themselves obey.
laws concerning marriage to non-Israelites—obey Lord in matters of love.
laws concerning the Sabbath—obey Lord in matters of time.
laws concerning offerings to the Temple—obey Lord in matters of resources.
The reason they picked out these three because important for them right then.
Lord was rebuilding them into community of faith.
So these three laws important.
Think that means that when Lord brings revival to church or individual,
will lead them to recommit themselves to obedience in particular areas.
Might be different from the three the Jews in this revival recommitted to.
But having said that, I do want to briefly look at these three areas of God’s law
and draw some brief application. Very relevant.
1. You must commit yourself to obey Christ in matters of love.
Reason Jews said, we will not marry foreigners, people worship other gods,
Countless times in Israel’s history Jews brought
spiritual ruin on themselves by marrying unbelievers. King Solomon example.
They knew that to keep themselves pure and church pure, marry only Israelites.
Of course—command brought right into the NT. Do not be yoked to unbelievers.
Lord’s command to obey Him in this most intimate part of life,
given for your good.
Spiritually damaging for a Christian to marry unbeliever.
Two different loyalties, two gods. Instead of two people united by love for Christ
You teenagers—your love for Jesus Christ should compel you to obey Him.
You shouldn’t date unbelievers. It will affect your walk with God.
You may say, I love him. I love her.
If your relationship with him, with her is affecting your commitment to Christ,
that’s not love, it is idolatry.
2. You must commit yourself to obey Christ in matters of time.
Jews recommit themselves to the Sabbath—setting aside a day for worship/rest.
The Sabbath had been neglected for generations.
People had grown hardened to God. Preoccupied with busyness of life.
Had forgotten the words of prophet Isaiah:
“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
With the resurrection of Christ the New Testament church not longer celebrates
the Jewish Sabbath—we celebrate the Lord’s Day, first day, resurrection.
This was the practice of the New Testament church—met on the first day.
In the history of the church, Christians have tended to go to one of two extremes
either neglect the Lord’s Day—no rest, little worship, erratic worship
or they become legalistic—long list of things you can’t do.
Both of those miss the spirit of this law.
The Lord’s Day, Christian Sabbath is a gift, that among other things
is intended to remind you that your time belongs to the Lord.
He has given you six days for your labor, this day belongs to Him.
Many of you talk about how busy you are, so little time for important things,
little time to pray, read Bible, talk to God—here is a day God has given.
Perhaps you need to take some time to re-order your week, re-evaluate priorities
so that you can show your love for Christ on His resurrection day.
3. You must commit yourself to obey Christ in matters of resources.
Jews recommitted themselves to give their resources to the Temple worship.
A variety of offerings they were commanded to give—money, wood, service.
Once again, these laws had been broken for generations, Temple worship suffered
Many priests and Levites had left Temple service. Now recalled to service.
Once again, the spirit of these laws carries over to the New Testament church.
From the very earliest days of the church, God’s people give resources for work.
Paul—writes to Corinthians—when gather on first day, take up a collection,
this money to be used for Christian in Judea suffering a famine.
those wonderful instructions—giving planned, proportional, sacrificial, cheerful
Few things will remind you that all you have belongs to Christ, you owe everything,
than giving of your resources out of love for Christ.