“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm”(Deuteronomy 5:15)
The words quoted above are taken from the Sabbath Commandment and call upon Israel to keep the Sabbath in remembrance that it was the LORD who redeemed them from Egypt by His power, not they who rescued themselves. Rest from work is thus a reminder to rest in God’s saving work on behalf of His people (see also Exodus 31:13). This same idea is of course picked up in relation to the gospel and the finished work of Christ in Hebrews 3:7-4:13. Jesus invited those who labour and are heavy laden to come to Him in order to find rest for their souls (Matthew 11:28-30).
Throughout the Bible this idea of remembrance is important. Time and time again, in the words of Moses and of the Prophets, God’s people are commanded to remember the LORD. What is striking however is the fact that the first use of the word ‘remember’ is in relation to God not people. Thus, is Genesis 9:15 God says that whenever He sees the rainbow, He will remember His covenant with Noah. In Exodus 2:24 we read that “the LORD remembered His covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.” In both cases it is clear that this remembrance means that the LORD is about to act in fulfilment of His Covenant, not that He had suddenly recalled something which He had momentarily forgotten. Thankfully, God does not suffer from short or long-term memory loss! And as we look at the commands for God’s people to remember the LORD we discover likewise that the call to remember is always a call to act in the light of who God is and what God has done for His people, especially His action in redeeming them from slavery. Thus, we find a call to remember God’s redeeming power in the midst of the Ten Commandments. Obedience is always a response to who God is and what He has done for us.
How then does the repeated command to Ancient Israel to remember the LORD apply to us as Christians? Part of the answer lies in seeing the link between Israel’s redemption out of Egypt and our liberation from the penalty and the power of sin. This link is made many times in the New Testament especially by Jesus (John 8:31-36) and by Paul (e.g. Romans 6:1-14). Both Jesus and Paul teach us that as those who have put their faith in Christ we are now free – not free to live as we like but rather free to live for the glory of the One who has freed us at the cost of His own life. So, what is Gospel remembrance?
First, gospel remembrance looks back at the death and resurrection of Jesus and rests in His finished work for our salvation. The truth is that we cannot earn our salvation in any way and any effort to do so whether via religion or charity or morality ends up being both useless and an insult to the Lord. If we were able to save ourselves then Jesus would not have had to die for us. So, let us remember what Christ has done for us and trust in His finished work alone as the basis of our acceptance with God. God blesses us daily in His grace not because of who we are or because of what we have done (or failed to do) but because of who Jesus is and what He has done for us. Let’s remember that and live as those who stand daily under the grace of God.
Second, gospel remembrance looks back at the death and resurrection of Jesus and in the light of them determines to live a life of holiness and righteousness. Throughout the Old Testament the Israelites were reminded to look back at what the LORD had done for them and therefore to be different from the nations round about them. This difference in the light of what the Lord has done is what the Bible means by holiness. To be holy is to be set apart for the Lord and to be different from the world – in that order. Holiness is not difference from the world just for difference sake. It is difference for the Lord’s sake. And thus, it is difference only in those things in which the Lord requires us to be different. We may differ from others in all sorts of way and for all sorts of reasons, but these differences do not constitute our holiness as Christians. Holiness does not consist of not conforming or for that matter conforming to the standards of other people, no matter how well-meaning or sincere they may be or how zealous we may be. Nor is it a mere conformity or non-conformity to religious tradition, no matter how ancient or well-intentioned or how modern and popular. Holiness is to be like Christ in any and every area in which we are called to Christ-likeness. This is why true holiness is only possible in the power of the Spirit of God at work in every one of God’s people.
So, as we move into this new year let us remember the Lord and all that He has done for us. And in the light of these things, let us trust Him wholeheartedly and follow Him gladly.
Written by Mervyn Eloff