By Russ Ramsey
Back in college, I lived in Jerusalem for a semester. My dorm room was less than a mile from the Western Wall where Jewish people from all over the world would gather to pray. Many wore tefillin—small leather boxes attached to long leather straps they would wrap around their heads and arms. The concept for these tefillin comes from Deuteronomy 11, in which the Lord tells His people to “imprint these words of mine on your hearts and minds, bind them as a sign on your hands, and let them be a symbol on your foreheads” (Deuteronomy 11:18). The leather boxes contain bits of Scripture, which are then symbolically bound to hearts and minds through the literal binding on their arms and foreheads.
Why did God call His people to bind His word to our hearts and minds? Because we are meant to know it and follow it. We were created to remember and obey.
Today’s passage gives us a simple truth that has never changed—God calls His people to obey Him. Now, this obedience is not a means of salvation. God is the One who saves. In the cross and resurrection of Jesus, those of us who trust in Christ for salvation are saved by grace alone. Our hope rests in what He has already done, not our own obedience.
Still, obedience matters to God. We see this in today’s passage. The Lord calls Israel to obey Him in the promised land. He says things will go well for them if they do, and poorly if they don’t. Then He reminds them that He has the power to give and withhold rain, seasons, and crops. Obey Him, and these will all come at the right time. Disobey Him or turn aside to other gods, and they should expect His disciplining hand.
His Word gives His people a map for how to live in this world. His commands are not arbitrary, but prescriptive for how He wants us to live as people in relationship with Him. It follows, then, that we should expect the Lord to bless us when we obey, and discipline us when we disobey.
1 John 5:1–4 tells us obedience is a matter of love. Though your own obedience can’t save you, you are still called to obey. Why? Because we were created to know, love, and serve the Lord. God calls us to obey, not as an attempt to obtain salvation, but as a response to the mercy and grace we’ve been shown. The Lord wants us to follow Him because we were created to serve Him and love Him. We won’t find peace if we spend our lives fighting against Him. As Saint Augustine said, our hearts will be restless until they rest in Him.
For this reason, we need to know His Word. How can we obey what we don’t know? How can we delight in the mercy and grace of Christ apart from knowing what we’ve been saved from and what we’ve been saved for? Remembering and obedience come hand in hand as ways of binding God’s word to our hearts and minds. We were made for this.