Choices (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

Deut 30v19 choice 02

We all make choices. Each and every day of our lives, we choose things like what to eat, what to wear, where to go, how to get there and almost an infinite number of other things. As Christians living in the developed world, we have more choices than we know what to do with.

For thousands of years, philosophers and theologians have discussed the extent and limits of human choice. Some have argued that we have no real choices because every aspect of our lives has been predetermined by fate, destiny or something similar. Others have argued that we have unlimited choices and that we have the power to choose anything we want.

Like most things, I tend to think the truth lies somewhere in the middle – we have choices but those choices have limits. Ultimately, only God is totally free to choose. The rest of us are restricted by our genetic makeup (nature), our upbringing and past experiences (nurture), our physical restrictions and the way in which we perceive the world around us. It all gets pretty complicated, and while I’m not able to fully explore the idea of choice in this message, I’m always happy to discuss it with people more if you’d like.

No matter how we might perceive the extent or limits of human choice, the reading from Deuteronomy 30:15-20 reminds us that we have choices. Moses was addressing the Israelites at the end of their forty-year wandering in the wilderness. He was just about to leave them and hand over to Joshua to lead them into the Promised Land. Earlier in Deuteronomy, Moses had reminded the Israelites that they are the people God has chosen for his own (see 4:37, 7:6, 7:7, 10:15, 14:2). In this part of his address, Moses tells the Israelites that God was placing before them two different ways to move into their future. One way would lead to life with goodness and blessings. The other to death with evil and curses (vv15,19). I really don’t think Moses was threatening them if they make the wrong choice. He was just telling them how it is. One path would lead them to walk with God who creates and sustains all life with his goodness and blessing. The other path would lead them away from God, to the absence of good, along with curses and ultimately death.

In our time and place, with the emphasis our culture places on our freedom and rights to make choices, it is important for us to listen to what God is saying to us through Moses. There are choices we make which lead us down roads that are good or evil because they have consequences for ourselves and for the people around us. These choices either create and grow life in us and in others, or they impede, damage or even end life in us or in the people around us. For a lot of choices that we make, we need to understand and accept that they can result in either life or death, good or evil, blessings or curses, for ourselves and for other people.

Moses helps us to make choices which bring God’s goodness, blessings and life to us and to the people around us by saying that we can choose life by loving the Lord our God, listening to his voice and clinging to him (v20, my translation).

When we are living in the reality of the perfect and infinite love of God for us in Jesus, we can love God for his goodness, grace and love which frees us from sin, death and the power of evil. Trusting in the love of Jesus will help us to naturally make choices that lead to life. Through faith in the self-sacrificing love of Jesus and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can learn from Jesus how make choices that are based on love, choosing what is good and finding God’s blessings in our lives.

We encounter and grow in Christ’s love by listening to God in the words of Scripture. In my life, the Bible has been the clearest way that I’ve heard God communicate what he wants for us and how he wants us to live as his chosen people. I know that often the Bible doesn’t give us specific instructions on what choices we should make, but as we listen to God’s voice in his Word, the Holy Spirit will shape our hearts and minds in ways that will help us walk in step with God and lead us into the life God has for us in Jesus.

Clinging to God means that holding on to him in all the circumstances of life like we would a life buoy when we’re in deep water. Instead of thinking that we have to make a ‘right’ choice for God to love us, or worrying that God will reject us if we make a ‘wrong’ choice, clinging to God in faith means trusting that God’s love for us in Christ will change never change, no matter what choices we make. God won’t love us any less if we choose wrongly and he can’t love us any more if we choose rightly. When we make choices which are grounded in love by listening to God in his Word, we can find a lot of freedom because in Jesus God loves us unconditionally and can even create good when we get it wrong (Romans 8:28).

As our family faces the choice between staying here at Tea Tree Gully or accepting a call to serve another congregation, Moses’ words from Deuteronomy 30:15-20 aren’t just some abstract theological theory. These are words that give me guidance, comfort and hope in the decision that faces us. As people God has chosen for his own, like the Israelites about to enter into the Promised Land, God gives us freedom to make choices. Do we choose paths that take life away from us and from the people around us, leading us into evil and curses? Or, in the freedom we have through God’s liberating love for us in Jesus, do we choose life by loving God, listening to him, and clinging to him in all the decisions we make?

It’s not always easy, but God’s promise is that through his liberating love and grace for us in Jesus, we can choose life!

God’s Nearby Word (Deuteronomy 30:9-14)

Old fashioned vintage book on wooden background

In last week’s message, I left our church with a couple of questions:

  • In what area of your life would you like to know more of God’s peace?
  • With whom can you share God’s peace this week?

I wonder how they went answering or even thinking about these questions. Were they able to identify areas of their lives where they hoped for a greater sense of God’s peace? Were they able to share the peace of God which passes all human understanding (Philippians 4:7) with someone they know who needs it?

A couple of people during the week asked me where they can find the kind of peace that we were talking about. It’s a fair question. Sometimes it can be hard to find peace in the middle of the chaos, craziness and confusion of life with all of its stresses, worries and anxieties. Where do we go to find God’s peace?

It’s a question that can be asked of all the fruits God promises to produce in our lives through the Holy Spirit. Where do we find the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control that God promises his Spirit will produce in our lives (Galatians 5:22,23)?

There are lots of courses, seminars, workshops and practices that people offer to help us find this kinds of life. For a lot of people, they can seem out of reach and impossible to find, so we can settle for lives that are a long way from what we hope they could be, and from what God promises they can be.

In Deuteronomy 30:9-14, however, God promises us a better life. Moses was addressing the nation of Israel at the end of their 40 years wandering in the wilderness, just before they were about to cross the Jordan River and take possession of the Promised Land under Joshua. Moses gave the Israelites a choice between ‘life and death, between blessings and curses’ (Deuteronomy 30:19 NLT). Either their future would be a good one, full of the life that God had promised them, or it would be pain and struggle. Moses urged the Israelites to ‘choose life’ so that they and their descendants might live.

Many of us who grew up in the 1980s might remember the t-shirts that were in fashion for a while that featured the slogan ‘Choose Life!’ I wasn’t a fan of the band that made them popular, but it struck me then, as it does now, that our world is looking for the very thing that Moses was promising the Israelites – life! Jesus promised the same thing when he told his followers that he came to give them ‘a rich and satisfying life’ (John 10:10 NLT). The New Testament talks a lot about what this life looks like, but I’m going to take as my starting point what Paul says about the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5 – that the life Moses and Jesus promise us is immersed in and overflowing with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This is the life God promises us and wants to give us through his Spirit, not just for our benefit but so others can find life in God’s grace through us as well.

What Moses told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 30:11-14 is that this life isn’t hard for us to understand and it’s not beyond our reach. It isn’t up in heaven so someone has to get it to bring it down to us, and it isn’t across the oceans so someone has to go to find it. Instead, Moses tells us that we can find the life God promises us in his message to us, in the Word of God, which is very close at hand. In fact, the message contained in God’s Word is already on our lips and in our hearts so we can follow it and find life in it.

We can find the life God has for us in the message of the Bible. We have a tendency to want to over-complicate the Bible’s message, but it is actually very simple. For example, we hear it when an expert in the Law of Moses asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus points him to the two-sided command to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, and to love our neighbours as ourselves (Luke 10:25-28). Jesus says the same thing in Matthew 22:34-40 and Mark 12:28-34. John gives us his version of the way to life when Jesus gives his followers a new command, to love each other in the same way that he loves us (John 13:34). Paul’s version of the way to life can be summarised by what he wrote to the Galatians, that the only thing that counts for those who are in Christ Jesus is faith in a loving a grace-filled God which shows itself in love for others (Galatians 5:6). All of these passages are saying basically the same thing – that the path to life as God intends is by loving the God who loves us enough to sacrifice everything for us, trusting in his perfect and infinite love, and then loving other people in the same way in the freedom that faith brings.

It isn’t a complicated message. It’s something we can call understand. It’s right here, in the words of Scripture, on our lips and in our hearts, so we can obey it by trusting Jesus in all the circumstances of our lives and living like what it promises is true.

This is the way to find real peace in our lives, in our relationships, and in our communities. This is the way to find the life that Jesus died and is risen again to give us. The message of Scripture is the way the Holy Spirit will lead us into the truth of God’s love for us so we can be growing in his love and producing the fruit of faith in our lives. Like the Israelites listening to Moses, God gives us a choice. As people he has adopted and set free, God asks us to choose between life and death, blessings and curses. The way to life to the full which Jesus came to give us can be found by following in the way of faith and love that he teaches. We find this way through the words of the Bible – hearing them explained in worship, discussing them with others in small groups, and listening to God on our own.

So where do we go from here? Do we continue to live our lives as they are, without the hope of anything getting better? Or do we open our Bibles together, listen to what God has to say to us, learn to live in the way of faith and love from Jesus, and find the life God intends for us…?