If we look around our church, we see that all know the sum of the commandments: "Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself." Even when we don't talk about it, they're there, as an ethos. But that doesn't mean we love God with all of ourselves. Nor do we love our neighbor as we want to be loved. But why?
We know the sum of the commands and we know, without having to be told, that disobedience to God's commands means harsh judgment for us. But that still doesn't seem to stop us from becoming complacent.
Millions of people have suffered and struggled before us. Millions more surround us now who are dedicated, work hard, and sacrifice every day so that they can love God and their neighbor. Why does it appear so easy for them whereas we can't even get the easy stuff right? Why do some seem to thrive by obeying God's commands whereas others go from bad to worse?
How do we combat our lack of commitment to God's commands? Is it about a more disciplined life?
We watch as other people live a life devoted to obeying God's commands. They enjoy a standard of living that we've never thought was within reach for us. We work twelve-hour shifts, six days a week, to put food on the table. Our health is poor and our life expectancy is short. When something goes wrong for them, there's always someone who shows up to make it better. On the other hand, when something goes wrong for us the only people who show up are police, paramedics, or bill collectors.
So how do we make things better? How do we combat our lack of commitment to God's commands? Is it about a more disciplined life? Get up at 4:30 am every morning. Read Marcus Aurelius' Meditations and embrace a stoic way of life. Train in martial arts. Drink mushroom coffee. Swallow some nootropics and "Get after it," as Jocko Willink likes to say.
Maybe it's about knowledge. We need to read God's Word and learn from rabbinic and Christian commentators how to live a life in harmony with God's commandments. Or, perhaps, it's about obedience. We need to find a school where the professors teach us in a similar way to how dogs are trained. Then again, maybe we need to seek out love gurus. If we give away more free hugs and encouragement to others, life will get better. We need to be more deliberate about manifesting gratitude. We need to buckle down and discover our love language. We need to learn from monastic types how to practice charity and sacrifice.
If that's what we go for, then we're not going to get any better. The end of the pursuit isn't regeneration, but degeneration. We're fighting fire with bottles of gasoline.
When we combat our complacency with selfishness and constant reflection on how our love for God and neighbor is changing (or not changing) us, we're not brought closer to God. We're trying to amend our life through a campaign driven by narcissism. Out of self-interest, we strive to love God with all of ourselves and love our neighbor as we want to be loved. Our struggle and sacrifice are self-chosen.
Obedience to the commands becomes our responsibility. We add a clause or trim away a word or two when we need to make an excuse for ourselves. When something bad happens to us we don't sit on the sideline, waiting for someone to help us. God helps those who help themselves. To whom much is given, much is expected. On and on go the cliches and trite platitudes.
The only other solution to our obsession with God's commands is if someone else can put in the work for us.
Like those law-abiding Christians whom we try to imitate, our solution is another slight to God. Every day we do use our neighbors in incredible ways to prove to ourselves (and God, of course) that we're worthy of his love and attention. We help others. We dedicate ourselves to decreasing sadness and misery in the world. We want to benefit our church's outreach. We stop to talk to strangers, asking if we can buy them a meal or drive them to a shelter. Few people are as devoted as we are to helping others because we know God watches us. We're aware that at the Last Judgment we want to see a thumb's up, not a thumb's down, from the Almighty.
The only other solution to our obsession with God's commands is if someone else can put in the work for us. Then we can take a vacation. Even if it's not something we think about often, and even if it costs us a great amount, it's worth it. Maybe if every Christian in the world asked God to choose someone to do the work for us, we would all be in a better place mentally, physically and emotionally.
Maybe, since there are so many Christians and we're spread out all over the world, God could send out messengers to tell us that he's found someone to do the work of loving him and our neighbors for us.
After that, since God's already done half the work for us, he could also give us a name for the person he's chosen. A simple name. Something easy to remember so we know what name we should listen for when his messengers show up. And if God could, at the same time, tell us what he wanted us to know about the person he's chosen to obey the commandments for us, and how he's planned on giving us confidence and comfort about what he's chosen to do for us, that would take care of everything. We could go on vacation without a worry in the world.
But that seems a reach. If God did that for us it would be too good to be true. That's why when Jesus shows up people don't believe him. He not only speaks and does things too good to be true, but he claims he is Truth itself.
Our God shows up for us and tells us to take a permanent vacation from our fears and anxieties about coming judgment.
God not only shows up for us to do the work of obeying the commands, he gives us his Name, provides a thorough description for us of what he does and doesn't do to secure our salvation, and sends out preachers to every corner of the earth to announce to all people that as crazy as it sounds, it's the truth: God has sent his only Son, Jesus, to do the impossible for us.
Our God shows up for us and tells us to take a permanent vacation from our fears and anxieties about coming judgment because we've failed to live up to the standards he sets by his commands. Jesus fulfills the commands, gives us all his works as if they were our own, and sends us preachers to drive home the good news, that Jesus the Christ has done it. He's taken care of everything that has to do with our salvation.
What was out of reach for us is now ours. In the power of Jesus' resurrection, God justifies us, imputes Christ's righteousness to us, sends his Spirit to call us by the Gospel, enlighten us with his gifts, sanctify us, and keep us in true faith with Jesus until the resurrection at the Last Day.
That's the good news God announces to us through his preachers, that through faith in Jesus we uphold the law, as Paul writes (Romans 3:31).
God did choose someone else to do what's impossible for us. God so loved us that he sent his only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life; because God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:16-17).