As I was reading in Leviticus 26 the other day, I was struck by the profound contrast between the consequences for obedience and disobedience to God.
Blessings for obedience: “I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God and you shall be my people.”
Punishments for disobedience: “I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you. I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins. I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant. You shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. And those of you who are left shall rot away because of their iniquity” (various punishments from vv. 14-46).
Through first reading this, I felt sheer gratitude and wonder that God would make his dwelling among sinners like us. That God would walk among us and be our God is truly astounding. Yet, God kindly reminded me of the price that was paid in order for these statements to become a reality for his chosen people. At first glance, the contrast between obedience and disobedience seems clear: obey God and he will dwell among you and be your God. Disobey God and he will discipline you with punishment too harsh to imagine. Ah, but we know there’s more to the story than that.
The rest of Scripture clearly shows us that our lives are not as simple as a binary reality in which we do good in order to inherit God’s promises. No, there’s actually nothing we can do. You see, when Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the garden and subverted his care for them, sin entered the world and fundamentally changed both their relationship with him and every human after them: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12).
No longer are we able to relate to God or to obey God as we should. The prophet Jeremiah describes the human heart after the fall in this way: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9). Sounds like a pretty grim reality, huh? Here’s the thing about a sick and sin-infested heart… every intention of its thoughts are only evil continually, in the words of Genesis 6:5. It is a heart that turns to its own way and continually goes astray (Isa. 53:6). It follows the prince of the power of the air living in the passions of its flesh and carrying out the desires of the body and the mind (Eph. 2:2-3). You get the point. We are not just bad people; we are dead people. We don’t just need a change of heart; we need a new heart.
What’s fascinating about the promise of blessing for obedience that we see in Leviticus 26 is that God knew we would never altogether obey him rightly in our present condition. He knew that left to ourselves, our hearts would remain dead. This is a grim reality given the punishment for disobedience listed in the rest of the chapter.
Yet, God does not leave us alone. His covenant love for his people unceasing. It is beyond the bounds of possibility to assume that something could stop God’s love. This is why, in the book of Ezekiel, God speaks through his prophet and says, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezek. 36:25-27).
As new covenant believers, we know that this promise would find its fulfillment through Jesus Christ, God’s son, sent to earth. He perfectly followed the law in our place (Matt. 5:17-20). Through his sacrificial death on the cross in our place bearing the penalty of our sins, Jesus took on himself the punishments for disobedience in order that we might receive the blessings for obedience. Let that sink in… Our sin has been traded for his righteousness. Read carefully over the punishments from above again. Consider the curse of sin. Now revel in the reality that Jesus took these upon himself in order that he might bestow the blessings of perfect obedience upon us. No longer do we have to read Leviticus 26 with fear of enduring the consequences for disobedience. For all whom God calls in salvation by grace through faith, he bestows the righteousness of Christ and thereby justifies their standing before him. It’s no wonder they call the gospel the good news! Indeed, it is good news.
If you’re a Christian, I pray this reality causes your heart to be filled with gratitude to God for what he has done for you. Aren’t you amazed that God will make his dwelling among you, and that his soul shall not abhor you? Aren’t you amazed that he will walk among us and will be our God and that we will be his people?
If you’re not a Christian, I pray that you carefully consider the consequences for your sin. Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The problem with the human condition is that we often don’t consider the consequence of our sin. Or, we assume that as long as we don’t sin more than we do sin, we’ll be made right. Don’t believe this lie. Take God’s word for it. I’d challenge you to read the gospel of Mark from the Bible and to ask yourself these three questions: 1) Who is Jesus? 2) What has he done for you? 3) Why does it matter?
I pray God grips your heart and causes you to realize that he desires to have a relationship with you if only you will confess your sins, and, by grace, believe in him.