When I was a kid, my dad tried to improve my attitude about the things he told me to do by telling me that they were “get-to’s” and not “have-to’s.” He knew it would be easier on me to regard them as things I get to do, rather than things I have to do; that I would be more likely to do my best at them and have my heart in them if I did them because I knew it made him glad. (I’m not sure I appreciated his effort until I had children of my own.)
In the gospels, Jesus is recorded as uttering a lot of imperatives – things expressed in a tone of instruction or command to do or not do.
His followers, in the books of the New Testament that follow, are recorded as often doing the same, speaking in imperatives.
Are all of them commandments?
There’s a way of looking at such scriptures as “God commanded it, we obey it, that’s all there is to it, and that settles it.”
Is that the way God wants us to regard his word to us?
Let’s look at Acts 2:38-39 as an example:
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
(That’s the short version my tribe most often quotes. Sometimes we quit after “the forgiveness of your sins.”) Is the instruction to repent and be baptized a commandment? By far most of the people in the tribe of Christianity I call home would agree that it is. (In fact, I would be one of them.) But is it, strictly speaking, a commandment and nothing more?
There I might diverge with the most. The two verses begin: “Peter replied”. Replied to what?
Well, verse 37, of course:
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
So, to me, the context of this verse indicates that what Peter said was the reply to a heartbroken, guilt-drenched plea for help and mercy. Why? Because they heard something, and for that something we have to back up one more verse, to 36:
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
God made us, and knows us, and knows that when we are convicted in our hearts by His Spirit when we have done something wrong that the conscience He gave us fills us with a need to do something to try to make it right; to set right our relationship with God once again.
The problem is, there is really nothing we can do to un-do what we’ve done.
Until there was Jesus.
Knowing this about us, God extravagantly provided not only His Son, but other gifts by which we could accept His Son and begin a new life in Him: penitence and baptism. Penitence has been around since there were two trees in the middle of Eden, but there really wasn’t a way for it to give it the power to turn lives around until Jesus came, was crucified, buried and raised to life again.
So He also gave us baptism, the pledge of a good conscience; the washing of rebirth; the means by which God chooses to perform His initial saving work in us – and a tangible way for us to express an intangible new Truth in our lives, as well as our gratitude for Him and our faith in Him and our willingness to host Him and partner with Him in good works and truth-sharing.
Even Jesus Himself was baptized – not because He was somehow being baptized into His own yet-to-come death, burial and resurrection for forgiveness of any sins He had committed – but “to fulfill all righteousness.” He did it because it was the right thing to do; an example to others of an experience that God wants for all of His children to remember and cherish and treasure – and build their lives and ministries upon!
So, among all the imperatives in scripture that we call or think of as commandments, has there ever been even one of them which (even if seemingly arbitrary to us) was not given to us as a gift by the God who made us and loves us and knows us – and that has been given for any other reason than it is the right thing to do before God, and therefore good for us?
Look back at verses 38-39 again, above. There’s a promise attached to this imperative: yet another gift, the gift of the Holy Spirit. He is the means by which God empowers us to partner with Him to tell others about His Son – just as Peter and the other disciples did on that Pentecostal day recorded in Acts 2. How much of that gift do we need to share the Way, the Truth and the Life? Isn’t a life turned 180-degrees away from self and toward God pretty miraculous all in itself?
Is there anything God asks us to do that He has not been willing to do Himself? That He won’t partner with us to do through His Spirit?
Put that way, it all sounds too simple, doesn’t it?
I don’t know how you feel toward Mike Huckabee – and I’m not sure I would want him serving as President – but he did a remarkable job of working with legislators to reduce the amount of red tape and unnecessary paperwork and pointless hours of waiting to renew your Arkansas automobile license plate. The first time I went in to my local branch and zipped through the process in about five minutes, I was astonished. As I wrote my check, I asked the clerk “Are you sure that’s all? No sacrifice of my first-born son, or anything?” As deadpan as Ben Stein, she replied, “No, the Legislature won’t let us do that anymore.”
Does it really suit God’s purpose to load us up with as many commands as possible, making it as difficult as it can humanly be to divinely do what He wants to do with us and through us?
Is there anything that God wants FROM us that He does not also want FOR us?
Should we regard the things He asks of us merely as “have-to’s”?
Or are they really “get-to’s”?