At the beginning of the summer, I began reading the book of Deuteronomy in preparation for an independent study I'll be taking in the Fall to translate portions of the original Hebrew text. In reading through the English translation, I know quite a formidable task stands before me when classes begin in August, but I am truly excited to begin translating my second biblical language.
Largely a result of my own stubbornness and ignorance, I have often regarded the Old Testament as nothing short of pointless in my spiritual walk. I remember a few years back when I was going through a "Read the Bible in a Year" program (which inevitably failed) and was finding my treks in the Gospels and the Pauline Epistles especially beneficial while my time in the Torah, the Writings, and the Prophets scarcely scrounged even a bullet-point in my journal. What seemed like my own personal exodus in the wilderness was my forty-year wandering throughout Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. I felt like His people Israel, aimlessly roaming the desert, waiting to receive the land promised to their father Abraham. My study of the Old Testament produced no wisdom sweet as honey, nor did I come across a deeper knowledge of God, a knowledge nourishing like milk. I found no manna to sustain me and never did I encounter a stream flowing from the face of a rock to quench my thirst. All I encountered were miles of barren sand dunes and the shadows of vultures circling high overhead. When I traveled throughout the Old Testament I was in a spiritual wasteland, devoid of any genuine growth in my relationship with God.
I think the main issue I encountered in my reading of the Old Testament was largely a result of the narrow lens with which I viewed it. In almost every chapter I immediately focused my attention on the commandments, the rules, and the unnecessarily detailed explanations for sacrifices. In my ignorance, the Old Testament became a rule-book speckled with some exciting stories surely written-in to try and hold the rabbi's attention. The thematic statement of the Old Testament soon began to reflect for me what I feel many people outside of the church tend to think of Christianity: a religion ruled by an oppressive and angry God who demands perfection through compliance with a list of equally oppressive rules.
While one can certainly come to these conclusions by simply reading the text without any context or background information, I know that Scripture goes much deeper than the oftentimes shallow reflections we initially gather in reading the Bible. My mistake in viewing the Books of the Law as merely works that would be found in a lawyer's library prevented me from ascertaining the true purpose behind God's Law: holiness
I remember a time specifically in my Acts class when we spent nearly two weeks out of the semester discussing a concept prevalent throughout both the Old and New Testaments. Luke, the author of Acts, took special notice of certain events during the course of his writing to emphasize the exceedingly important theme of corporate solidarity. The principle of corporate solidarity essentially states that the part can legitimately stand for the whole and conversely. In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel could be considered the whole while any one person of Israel could be considered the part. It was in this relationship that authors of the Bible demonstrated a key aspect in their understanding of sin. One of the primary examples found in Acts of the corporate solidarity relationship deals with Ananias and Sapphira and their sin against the early Christian community and the apostles. The decision of this couple to keep back a portion of the money they received in selling their property and offering it to the apostles would ultimately lead to their deaths. It was not the fact that they kept back the money but the deceit they employed when giving it to the apostles, saying it was the full amount they had received. Deceit was their sin and upon Peter calling them out for it, they both breathed their last breaths and were carried out to be buried.
The authors of the Bible understood the damaging effect of unholiness and unrighteousness. In Luke dedicating a good amount of parchment to this event, he was revealing an even greater indication of the truly harmful presence of sin in not only the lives of the individuals committing the sin but the community to which that sinful individual belonged. This explanation points the reader back to the idea of corporate solidarity in that for Ananias and Sapphira to be allowed to sin freely without any punishment or consequence, surely their actions would have welcomed a devastating and destructive presence into the midst of the community. It would have ushered in distrust of their brothers and sisters, a growing greed for money and material things, and perhaps most important, would have weakened the testimony of the early Christian community to the great cloud of witnesses and onlookers all waiting for the Christians to mess up.
So what is the correlation between the story in Acts, corporate solidarity, and the book of Deuteronomy? All point to a characteristic of Christian life that God desires most in His people:
In the books of the Law, God shows the people of Israel a standard they should desire to attain. While the standard was never meant to be reached, witnessed in man's inability to fulfill the Law, the Law provided the people with something to strive for, some effort they could make with the purpose of glorifying God by living in holiness. Much like the nation of Israel throughout the Old Testament, the majority of the early Christian community in Acts observed the Jewish laws and continued to keep the Law as a means of giving glory to God by living in holiness. They understood that not only did their keeping of the Law bring them closer to God by living in accordance with that which He commanded, but a desire for holiness spread throughout the community presenting a people of like-mind, characterized by holiness in both word and deed, ultimately providing them a better opportunity to share the Gospel with those outside of the community.
As I have again taken up one of the books of the Law in my translations, it is with this new perspective that I view the commandments, the instructions, and the guiding words of God not with disdain but with a desire to adhere to what God expects of me. The justified state of the follower of Christ predisposes him to a lifestyle of a Spirit-led craving for holiness. This desire for righteousness is not fueled for the purpose of boasting of the Christian's own holiness but instead points all attention and due glory to Christ, for it is only in Christ that man can ever be righteous. When we live a life characterized by a genuine Christ-like love for others, people will take notice. In our actions and words people will soon see that the Christian moniker bears not the hypocritical, bigoted, and hateful designation that society is quick to deem Christianity.
In craving holiness we deny ourselves the previous desires we once had when we were dead and take on the desires of God, desires that ultimately lead us closer to Him. I admit whole-heartedly I am far from where I want to be, but I know God has called me to seek not that which I previously desired, because holiness is my new goal. In this understanding we work out our holiness solely for the purpose of pointing others to Christ, who is truly worthy of all glory and honor.