The book of Deuteronomy has significantly shaped my life. Over forty years ago, I read it in one sitting in the library of the London School of Theology, where I was studying. Our professor said, “If you want to feel the weight of this book, you need to read it right through at one time. You’ll never get the impact of the book if you break it up.” It’s thirty-four chapters, so that’s a fairly long read. I came out of the library that night with one overwhelming impression: I never realized that there is so much of the love of God in the Old Testament.
That discovery was defining for me. I saw clearly, for the first time, that the Bible is not two different books with two different messages—a nasty, old book full of laws and a nice, new book full of love—as if there were two different Gods, or that God had somehow changed during the course of history. No! There is one God and He never changes. We are to love Him as we fear Him and we are to fear Him as we love Him. He is as much to be loved in the Old Testament as He is to be feared in the New.
Deuteronomy is for all of God’s people—for leaders, families, the church, and entire communities. Why? So that we can learn to fear Him and obey His commands. Kings were instructed to “read it all the days of [their lives]” (Deut. 17:18). Every seven years, it was to be read before the entire community. “Assemble the people—men, women and children…so they can listen and learn…” (Deut. 31:10-12). This book is even for people who have forgotten the Lord, as did God’s people who experienced half a century of national leadership without access to the Word of God.
Deuteronomy is a story about God’s people facing a major transition. This book is for people on the threshold of an entirely new experience. The book’s great question is: How can the people of God with a faith become the people of God with a mission? How can you move from being a person with a faith to a person with a mission? How can we move from being a church with a faith to a church with a mission?
Two Steps to Move Toward Mission
See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land that the Lord swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them (Deut. 1:8).
1. Break free from being defined by your past.
Think about God’s people standing on the verge of the Jordan, less than 100 days from entering into the land of Canaan. They had all been born in the desert—they didn’t know anything else.
Imagine you’re in your late 30s, and you were born in the desert. You have a young family of your own, and your children were born in the desert, too. God has been good to you. He has provided manna every day, and you’ve never known anything else. You believe in Him, and you’re grateful for all He has done for you. But your whole life has been shaped by the instincts and choices of your parents. They were believers, but they were so cautious, so afraid of risk, and that has defined you.
The only faith you have ever experienced is a faith that leaves you wandering around, experiencing God’s provision, but not doing anything to advance His purpose in the world. You’re a believer, but your life has no defining mission! If your life is going to count for God, you need to break free from being defined by your past. You need to be freed from thinking that believing in God and enjoying His provision is all there is.
2. Overcome your fear of the future.
God was calling His people to do some things none of them had ever done before. Moses says, “We’re going to live in houses!” How do you live in a house when the only thing you’ve ever known is sleeping under canvas? Moses says, “We’re going to plant crops and raise harvests!” But the only thing you have ever known is gathering manna from heaven.
God was leading them to a place they had never been and to a life they had never known. Maybe you are going to a new school, or you are starting a new marriage, and everything is new. When you move into something you have never experienced before, there are always fears.
Here’s the challenge God’s people were facing: Can we break free from the past, or will the past always shape us? Can I overcome my fears of the future, or will these fears always hold me back?
And so Moses gets up to speak the words in this book to a community of believers who were defined by the past and afraid of the future. He speaks to people with a faith but not with a mission, and what does he speak to them about?
Moses spoke to them about the call of God because, when God calls you, He gives you the power to break free from the defining patterns of the past. And Moses spoke to them about the love of God because, when God’s love pours into your own soul, it empowers you to overcome your fears of the future. Perfect love casts out fear (1 Jn. 4:18).
Run the Bible story forward 1,300 years, and we find Jesus with His disciples on the night that He was betrayed. Picture these men gathered around Jesus. They have a faith, but they don’t yet have a mission. They are believers, but nothing about them is changing the world. Then “Jesus showed them the full extent of His love” (Jn. 16:33), because the place is full of fear and they are all so discouraged.
After the crucifixion, the talk among the disciples was all about going fishing, retreating to what is safe and familiar. Then the risen Christ comes into the room. He breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit… As the father has sent me, so I am sending you” (Jn. 20:21-22). When they receive the love of Christ and the call of Christ, people of faith become people on a mission.
If you ask, “Why am I stretching myself to be a leader? To serve my family? To love my church? To support my community? Why am I making these sacrifices in ministry?” The answer is: Because God calls us to be more than people with a faith. He calls us to be people on a mission.
You, too, can become a man or woman with a mission when the love of Christ enables you to overcome fear, and the call of Christ breaks you free from being defined by the past.
This article is an adaptation of Pastor Colin’s sermon, “Make a New Beginning”, from his series, Take Two: The Power of a Fresh Start.