It was around early December when I got a phone call. They couldn’t find her. We called everyone we knew, without a positive outcome. As the days passed it became evident that she was gone. One month later a body was recovered. The press, friends, and people from Church were not informed of whose that body was. Just the family and a couple of us knew that it was her. DNA tests were performed on the corpse. It was almost two months after she was reported missing that the results of the DNA tests were released to the public. The week the information was to be officially released her mother asked me to preach at her funeral.
The weekend of her funeral I was to preach both at the funeral and at my local church. I ran some errands earlier that morning, and then I drove to Starbucks to grab a cup of coffee and work on the details of my Sunday morning sermon when I got a phone call. A good and close friend from Church was missing. I froze. Could it really be happening again? Another person whom I love, gone? Our senior pastor was not able to go and check on the family, so it was up to me to go.
On my way, I called my sweet friend’s pastor to confirm details of my participation in her memorial. He didn’t pick up. Immediately after I had hung up, he called me back. His voice evidenced that there was something serious going on. He asked me how I was, and I told him that I was unsettled because we couldn’t find this guy from church. Then he just spilled out what was going on. We hung out and promised to keep in touch through the whole day as we both knew that it would make an enormous impact on people as the pieces of information were released later that evening.
I drove to my friend’s house and urged his mother to go to the police department to file a missing person’s report. Then hell broke out for this family (because I love this family, I will not give out any more information or details about what happened next). It was not until Monday morning when the press released the name of my friend and informed that he was in jail, waiting for his trial to start. In Mexico, they’ll put you in jail, and then the prosecutor will prove your guilt. The premise in Mexico is that you’re guilty unless proven otherwise.
We knew that our church was hurt. Our teens had a lot of questions, and they were all in shock. The youth pastor called me, and after prayerful consideration, we decided to hold a special youth meeting. We host a combined session with both teens and young adults. We knew that we had to face reality, that we couldn’t lie to them, and we also knew that we were not entitled to release details on the case, as the family of the victim had requested the judge to keep all the diligences and trial “door closed”. Still, our young people needed to know that sin bears pain and brings devastating consequences.
While preparing for this meeting, I came across a very powerful verse. When I read it, it stroked me, leaving me speechless. It is found in Deuteronomy 28:15:
“But if you ignore the Lord your God and are not careful to keep all his commandments and statutes I am giving you today, then all these curses will come upon you in full force
The first fourteen verses of chapter 28 speak of blessings the people of Israel would receive if they obeyed God’s law. These are wonderful blessings, blessings that speak of flourishing, by which they were to blossom as God’s special people, as the chosen ones. All these beautiful and amazing blessings would be poured out directly from heaven with one condition: they were to obey God.
Deuteronomy 28:15 then comes into the scene, and it starts with a conditional. The author uses a conditional here with the sole intention to make the particular emphasis that what he is about to say comes in clear contrast to what has been stated before. The following verses reflect the great principles that underlie the covenant relationship and the severe penalties that follow their violation. Let us not forget that Israel and God had entered into a covenant, a covenant done and performed by God alone. Still, it had some clauses that the Israelites were supposed to meet.
The same is true for us today. Our salvation is not a condition of whether we obey God or not; our salvation was gained for us at Calvary. It was a perfect and flawless exchange, the just dying for the unjust, the son of God bearing our sins. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we entered into a new covenant, one which guarantees the justification we received when we placed faith in the redemptive work of Christ. In other words, our spot in heaven is eternally secured.
The spiritual principle contained in Dt. 28:15 is still active today. This new covenant, in which we are participants, has some clauses as well. Jesus said: “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ Loving God with all our heart means surrendering our hearts to his, it involves placing out heart where it ought to be: submitted to the Word of God. To put it in a simple way, the main clause of this new covenant is to love God with our self. We demonstrate our love and allegiance to him through obedience.
Obedience is the ultimate act of worship. The major portion of Scripture regarding this theme is 1 Samuel 15:22.
But Samuel replied:
“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
God had instructed Saul to “attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”  But Saul decided to do otherwise. Hi did not completely obey God’s command. He intentionally disobeyed God; he defied God’s command. Going against God’s instructions does bring a toll. In this case, Saul lost his kingship (1 Samuel 15:23).
Obedience is essential. There is a blessing attached to our obedience. Jesus himself told that to his disciples. In John 15:10, he says, “When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” To remain in his love by no means ought to be understood as a personal effort to keep one’s salvation safe. Salvation has been forever granted to us, and nothing can take it away from us. Even if we fall, grace will still be available to us. Restoration and help are available. In this regard, the apostle Paul wrote if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. There’s always hope. Even if you failed the first time, get up and do it again; this time, know without a shadow of a doubt that God will back you up if you truly obey him. God would not release the consequence of your failure; that is for sure. However, he will help you get through, and he will put you back on the right path.
The combined meeting we held at Church, which I told you about before, went incredibly well. The Youth Pastor spoke about the importance of having the heart where it belongs: rooted in Christ. A stray heart will lead you directly to destruction. I talked about the reality of sin and its consequences. The Bible is clear in letting us know where all problems blossom: For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. That is the reason why we are urged to safeguard and protect our hearts.
The temptation is real. There is no doubt about it. The devil wants to see us down and living a defeated life. Scripture tells us that God does not tempt us, but it is Satan who does. Having our hearts where they are supposed to be will prevent them from being dragged away by their own evil desires. When we allow evil thoughts to enter our minds and remain there, instead of taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ, we allow such thoughts to pass from our minds to our hearts where they set root and eventually produce sin.
“Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
Jas 1:15 NIV
Sin is real, its consequences also. Not only have I experienced the wages of sin, but I’ve also seen firsthand the destruction and devastation sin brings to people. It’s painful. It destroys. It collapses worlds. We cannot change consequences, regardless of how much we want to change them. I’ve seen lives ruined due to sin. Right now, as I am writing this, there’s a young man in prison waiting for his trial to begin. He could have prevented himself from getting into this mess had he made the right decisions in life and stayed close to God. Two mothers are grieving over their children. One of them will never hold her precious daughter on this side of eternity; the other lost a son to jail. Sin is real and so is the pain it brings.
God is serious about having us obeying him. There is a good reason for that. Walking in obedience will guard our lives against evil; it will enable us to walk in the love of God, and it will enhance the reality of heaven within us. In simple words, walking in obedience will unleash all the potential of God’s promises in our lives.
Grace is available to us all. It doesn’t matter that you have gone astray or lost the track in your Christian life. God will extend grace and mercy once more to you. This proved to be true hundreds of years ago when God warned the people of Israel to obey him; their failure to do so would unleash judgment over them. In Leviticus chapter 26:14-38, we get the specifics of how God’s judgment will be manifested. The list presented in those verses is not an outstanding one. Still, verse 39 brings forth the reality of God’s grace.
“However, when they confess their iniquity and their ancestors’ iniquity which they committed by trespassing against me, by which they also walked in hostility against me God (and I myself will walk in hostility against them and bring them into the land of their enemies), and then their uncircumcised hearts become humbled and they make up for their iniquity, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and also my covenant with Isaac and also my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.”
Le 26:40–42 NET
God is clear in letting us know what is to be done for us to be restored. Restoration is possible through confession and repentance, “…when they confess their iniquity…”. Confession is the first thing to do in the process of restoration. Ideally, confession should be made out of a personal conviction of our own wrongs as a direct result of exposure to both God’s word and presence before having God bringing our sins to light. If you know that your heart is far from God and that you are living under the yoke of sin, I urge you to admit your wrongdoing right now; do not let it pass. Unconfessed sin will soon spread its roots in your heart and, in time, will bring its high toll on you.
“…Their uncircumcised hearts become humbled….” Confession always comes out of a humbled heart, out of a constrained heart, or out of a repented heart. It does so for it is there where sin is conceived. Therefore, the constraint must come out of the same place. To confess is to place ourselves in a very vulnerable position. Do not be afraid of it; it is just when we feel the most vulnerable that out of our vulnerability we cry out for God’s help. We need to humble ourselves and admit our wrongdoings. Not doing so is evidence of the greed we still hold in the bottom of our hearts.
“…and they make up for their iniquity…” How in the world do you make up for your sin? The truth is that you simply can’t. Jesus did the job for you beforehand. He died for your sins before you gave yourself completely to sin. All you’ve got to do is confess your sin, ask for forgiveness, apply the blood of Christ to your life, and repent. Repentance means changing your ways. It means not going back to the pit from which you have just been released. It’s like driving and suddenly making the wrong turn. The GPS starts beeping and shouting, “Rerouting.” Repentance is following the new route provided by the GPS for you to get to your destination safely.
When you confess and repent of your sin, restoration takes place. God said, “I will remember my covenant…” These words echo deeply in the people’s hearts. Their whole identity as a nation came from the Abrahamic covenant in which God promised them land and special blessings. They all knew what was at stake when those words were spoken. It meant all the goodness of God, all the power of God, and all the blessings of God would be unleashed without restriction upon them. In the same way, when we repent and retake the right path before God, we soak in his love, we abide in his love, and we start living in his love.
Walking in freedom is the result of living a life of obedience. Freedom in Christ is not the allowance to do whatever you want. Freedom in Christ means that you are enabled to decide what is right and walk by it. To love God is: “to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). To obey God is to live in him, and when we live in him, his blessings come in full force.
The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
1 Jn. 3:24 NIV
 Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2005), Dt 28:15.
 Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 356.
 New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Mt 22:37.
 The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 1 Sa 15:22.
 The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 1 Sa 15:3.
 Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013), Jn 15:10.
 Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013), Ga 6:1.
 The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Mt 15:19.