Please join us this Lord’s Day, October 21, for the worship of the living God at the Prince Conference Center at 1800 E Beltline Ave SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546. We meet twice, the first at 10AM for study and the second for formal worship at 4:30PM in the Willow East Room (note change of rooms).
In the morning meeting we will continue our study of the life and work of Augustine of Hippo, specifically his conflict with the Pelagians on the fundamentals of salvation. This is the 6th in an 11-part series. If God commands perfection (Matthew 5.48), how can we be saved?
This coming Sunday, for our teaching on God’s law we will recite a portion adapted from Deuteronomy 8:
Take care lest you forget the Lord your God
by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes.
Lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and
live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver
and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied
then our hearts be lifted up, and we forget the Lord our God,
who brought us out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of
Who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery
serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water,
who brought us water out of the flinty rock, who fed us in the
wilderness with manna that our fathers did not know. That he
might humble us and test us, to do us good in the end.
Beware lest you say in your heart,
‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’
You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power
to get wealth,
that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to our fathers, as
it is this day.
These words of the Spirit through Moses are a sermon to the covenant people of God as they prepared to enter the promised land. Here the Lord lays before them life and death and urges them to choose life. He shows them that the keeping of the law would bring them temporal blessings, as Caanan was a type and foreshadowing of the reward which comes with obedience. Covenants come with both promises of blessing for the covenant kept (rewards), and promises of cursing if the covenant is broken (sanctions). Many of the Old Testament saints were blessed with material wealth and prosperity, for this was one sign under the old covenant of God’s blessing. But this principle was not universal: the righteous man Job in his time suffered deprivation and hardship in part so that we would understand that the ways of God are not like ours. In this life, the righteous do not always prosper, the wicked are not always punished. Much blessing and punishment alike are reserved for the next life.
Of course the Old Testament saints were not saved by their works, but only through grace, by placing their faith in the Messiah yet to come. Jesus says in John 8.56 that Abraham longed to see the day of Christ, that he saw it and rejoiced. Paul’s sermon in the letter to the Romans shows that by faith righteousness was reckoned to Abraham. Therefore we understand that merely belonging to the covenant – being a biological child of Abraham – did not make one regenerate. Paul teaches in I Corinthians 10 that not everyone who was a part of Israel in the desert truly belonged to Israel. The signs of the covenant (circumcision and the Passover) did not save, though for the ones who believed in the coming Messiah they were true means of grace.
In this liturgy from Deuteronomy, we are also reminded of all of the things from which God has saved us and all the blessings and prosperity he has given us. These blessings that we enjoy, whether material or spiritual, are a result of Christ’s obedience and not ours. It is he who keeps the conditions of the covenant that God made with us. It is he who felt the crushing load of the sanctions for the covenant of works which we broke in Adam (Genesis 3, Romans 5.12). It is he who merited eternal life in our place by being our substitute, and then continually gives us the benefits of redemption through his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer. And it is he who makes all of these effective for our salvation as his elect.
This liturgy then reminds us of our need for grace, and reminds us that the blessings we enjoy we have not earned. The material blessings of health and wealth that we often enjoy (which were promised the people of Israel for obedience) can be taken away, and we should not expect more in this life than suffering. After all, Christ tells us that if the world hated him it will hate us too (John 15) because no servant is greater than his master. The spiritual blessings earned for us by Christ, however, can never be taken away. Praise be to God.