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Be Happy or Die!

One of my three daughters has to be forced to eat dessert.  It's truly one of the most ridiculous things you'll ever see.  I'll sit there next to her with a warm chocolate chip cookie right out of the oven bending under its own weight in my hand, the chocolate stretching and oozing, begging her to take it and eat it, and she will start whining, "I don't want to eat it!"  And what's even more frustrating is that she loves chocolate chip cookies!  She has eaten them many times before, but there's still this ludicrous fight every time. Now, clearly I think that is a very foolish thing to do, but I must admit that I am guilty of something very similar - only my particular brand of stupid has more lasting and severe consequences than rejecting a cookie.  God says in Deuteronomy 28:47-48:

Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you.

I have found this to be the case over and over in my life.  I know what true happiness is.  I have tasted it many times.  I am most happy when I wake up eager to study God's Word in the morning, when I come before Him often in prayer throughout the day, when I delight to read what others have written about Him, and when I am being obedient to His commands.  It's not just good.  It's really good!  I love and delight in my job in these times.  I love and delight in my family.  I am just happy with pretty much everything.

At some point, though, I will entertain the lie that something else will make me happy.  This can be anything from video games, books, new hobbies, or whatever.  And the truth that masks the lie is that these things can be very enjoyable and can be a blessing from God when enjoyed in and through a relationship with Him.  That's not how it usually works with me, however.

Finding some enjoyment in such things, I start to ravenously pursue more and more until, somewhere along the way, I have lost sight of the One who is the source of all true delight.  At that point, I invariably find myself serving my Enemy in hunger and thirst and nakedness, lacking everything.  I've let myself fall into sin, I dislike my job, I'm unhappy around my family, and it's a chore to even get up in the mornings.  Down in this pit of despair, I look around and see all the things that I thought would end up making me happy.  They now form the walls of my prison.  And now, sadly, from this vantage point, returning to God looks hard and distasteful.

So I sit there whining while my Father holds out the delightful prospect of true happiness and contentment.  The whole episode has to look absolutely ridiculous to the heavenly court.  I'm sure any onlooking angelic beings think I'm a total moron.  I love cookies.  I even want the cookie that's being offered.  I just don't want to take it for some reason.

How long will we keep falling for the same old tricks and lies that lead us away from the only Person who can truly delight our souls?  And how long will we keep stubbornly believing that we have to stay in this pit once we've dug it for ourselves.  God, give us the strength and the wisdom to come back to You and to hold fast to your infinite delights.

Double Crushed

Disobedience to God's Law carries two different penalties.  There is the human penalty applied for crimes with physical repercussions: theft, murder, adultery, etc.; but then there is also a divine penalty applied for sins of the heart: covetousness, faithlessness, dishonesty, and others. Justice absolutely demands this duality.  A government charged with enforcing the law cannot make decisions about what goes on inside a person.  Human law enforcement must concern itself only with outward expressions of disobedience.  So, the person who secretly worships a god other than Yahweh should feel no wrath from the magistrate, but if the same person openly offers a sacrifice to a false god, then such a person is to be put to death (Deuteronomy 17:2-5).

So, one side of this coin is that human government is to punish outward disobedience to the Law, and the sentence may only be carried out on the basis of witnesses (Numbers 35:30), further cementing the fact that heart sins may not be punished by the human magistrate, since there are no witnesses.  The other side of the coin, however, is that God looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).  That is the purview of His justice, and we certainly ought not to think that the retribution He has in store for transgression of His Law in the inner man is inferior to that which the human magistrate can dish out.

The greatest of all commandments in the Law is actually a heart command: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deuteronomy 6:4, cf. Matthew 22:37).  A human court cannot measure this love within a person, and so has no jurisdiction, but God can and does, and He will pour out eternal punishment on those who disobey (Matthew 25:41-46).

This duality of punitive justice - civil and divine - is the reason why Jesus died on a cross and not some other way.  He was guilty of neither an outward disobedience to the Law nor an inner one, yet He suffered the consequence of both.  He was put to death by the magistrate - the highest form of human punishment for crime - and He was cursed by God.  The truth of the latter part of that statement is made clear to us from the Law itself:

And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.  (Deuteronomy 21:22-23)

The hanged man is cursed by God!  So by being crucified, Jesus bore the wrath of a criminal against man and a criminal against God when He was neither.  This is the essence of penal substitutionary atonement.  Christ did not suffer the wrath of both forms of justice for His own sins, because He had none, but instead He did so for those who trust in Him (Isaiah, 53:4-6, Romans 3:21-26, Galatians 3:13).

This is the great truth of the Gospel: the sacrifice of the sinless for the sinful.  Accept no substitutes.