Life and Death Decisions
The New Covenant brings life. It does not exclude death as a judgment of God, as Moses shows us, but it has resurrection power to overrule death in the end.
Deut. 30:15, 16 says,
15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; 16 in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it.
Keeping in mind that this particular speech sets forth the New Covenant, it is important for us to know that it covers not only “life and prosperity” but also “death and adversity.” It is clear that when we “walk in His ways” then “the Lord your God may bless you.”
On the surface, this appears to be a command and a warning for the people themselves to take the initiative. In other words, at first glance Moses appears to revert to an appeal to the Old Covenant. But that is not the case. This speech is about the New Covenant. That is the context, and so Moses was telling us what God’s New Covenant vow will do for us.
In essence, the New Covenant is based upon God’s vow to cause us to be obedient (Ezekiel 36:27). We know from personal experience and from history that when the Spirit of God was sent to the church at Pentecost in Acts 2:4, it began a work within the hearts of the people to make them obedient.
The New Covenant in Two Phases
The descent of the Spirit at Pentecost did not make the disciples instantly obedient in all matters. Even though the baptism of the Holy Spirit can indeed be a life-changing experience, Pentecost itself is insufficient to perfect us. It is a leavened feast.
Tabernacles perfects us with the fulness of the Spirit.
And so, it is plain that the provision of the New Covenant comes to us in two parts: Pentecost and Tabernacles. In Pentecost, we learn obedience, as our Father teaches, trains, and disciplines His children until we come into full agreement with Him. This is how the Spirit of God works in us to fulfill God’s vow, causing us to “walk in His ways” in compliance with His laws, statutes, and judgments.
This continues until the time when the feast of Tabernacles is fulfilled and the overcomers are granted immortality and incorruption (1 Cor. 15:53, 54). At that point, obedience is made obsolete by the fact that we are in full agreement with God and all of His ways. Replacing obedience with agreement does not mean we may now sin, but rather that the weakness that we inherited from Adam will be gone when death is swallowed up by life (immortality). The old man in us will be completely dead and gone, and the New Creation Man in us will stand alone in full agreement with the will and mind of Christ.
Meanwhile, we still live in the last days of Pentecost, even though I believe we are in transition toward the feast of Tabernacles. We are still being trained and disciplined by our heavenly Father. The two paths of life and death, prosperity and adversity, still lie before us. When we follow the old man of sin, we trend toward death and adversity, for that is where a life-style of sin leads. When we follow that holy seed—the New Creation Man, Christ in us, which has been begotten by the Spirit—life and prosperity flows through our veins.
Understanding this, it is clear that the same admonition that Moses gave to Israel is relevant to us today. Every day, moment by moment, two paths are set before us. The lawless path, which does not reflect “His ways,” is the path of disobedience. The lawful path is the way in which the Spirit of God leads us (Rom. 7:25).
The War of Wills
Moses continues in Deut. 30:17, 18,
17 But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You shall not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it.
If the people disobey God persistently, they will “surely perish.” There is no doubt that the majority have followed this path throughout the past millennia. How, then, could God fulfill His vow? Is it possible for the Spirit of God to fail in His mission to cause the people to walk in His ways? If so, then God has failed to keep His vow—if not out of willful failure, then certainly because of His inability or lack of power.
This brings us to the great clash of wills between God and men. The will of man (that is, the old man, Adam) has been tainted with death (mortality) and is inherently too weak to save any man. Death is man’s sickness, his “leprosy,” as the Scripture pictures it. This death has crowned King Sin to reign over us and to enslave us (Rom. 6:12), causing us to be as disobedient as he was. On the other hand, the will of God operates through the New Creation Man who is also in us, causing us to be obedient.
The essential question is this: Is the will of God stronger than the will of man? Who will win this conflict, this warfare? Is God even capable of winning? Most Christians would answer, “Yes, God can win some of the time, but most people will be lost in the end.” But can it be said that God fulfilled His oath if He succeeds in saving only a few? When God vowed to fill the whole earth with His glory (Num. 14:21), does this only mean that He will succeed in removing the majority of mankind from the earth—those whose human wills prevailed over the will of God? Or would this be a tacit admission of failure?
In my view, God is perfectly capable of fulfilling His oath to all men. In fact, if He can change the hearts of a few, He can change the hearts of all. Fulfilling His oath has nothing to do with how strong or weak the will of man may be. It was an unconditional oath. God did not consult the people in making this oath. He said in Deut. 29:12, 13,
12 that you may enter into the covenant with the Lord your God, and into His oath which the Lord your God is making with you today, 13 in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God…
The people were gathered, not to make a vow with God, but to witness God’s oath. God’s oath was a revelation to them of what God intended to do by the power of His own will, as Paul affirms in Eph. 1:9, 10. Yet we also know from plain history that most people live and die without having faith in the God who made this oath. And no one, apart from Jesus Christ, reached perfection, not even those reputed to have reached sainthood.
So how can it be said that God’s oath was fulfilled? Is God embarrassed for shooting off His mouth? Is God losing face? No, a thousand times no. If death were the end of the matter, and if there were no salvation beyond the grave, then we would have grounds to claim that God has failed to fulfill His oath. But that is not the case, as I have already shown.
Salvation in the Age to Come
The age of divine judgment will begin with a court-ordered subpoena, whereby all of the dead, small and great, are ordered to stand before God (Rev. 20:12). All unbelieving sinners will be sentenced by court order to pay restitution for their sins, as the law demands. None of them will have sufficient assets to pay their debt, of course, and so they will be sold into slavery, as the law also demands (Exodus 22:3).
Who will purchase them? Who will be their redeemers? They will be sold to the believers, who will rule and reign with Christ (Rev. 5:10; 20:6). In order to rule, these believers need someone to rule over.
The believers will have much work to do, training the former unbelievers in the ways of God. This will not be difficult, because at the Great White Throne, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess Him as Lord by the Spirit of God. They will not be hardened and incorrigible criminals, as so many have been taught.
Isaiah 26:9 says, “when the earth experiences Thy judgments, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.” The reason that judgment is necessary to teach men righteousness is given in the next verse. It is because when the wicked are shown favor, they do not learn righteousness. In other words, if God were to extend grace to them in the divine court, they would simply think that sin was acceptable and that they got away with it on account of God’s love.
But God says that He will bring judgment upon them, so that they learn obedience until they finally come into agreement with Him. This is God’s method of teaching righteousness to the wicked ones, and this will begin in earnest at the Great White Throne.
Hence, the will of God will indeed prevail over the wills of men. God will indeed fulfill His oath. While men may lack confidence in the ability of God to prevail over the will of man, God has no such lack of confidence. The divine plan will prevail.
The Restoration of All Things
We can hardly understand this unless we have been taught about the Restoration of All Things and God’s intent to put all of creation under the feet of Jesus Christ. This plan, of necessity, must be fulfilled in the age to come through the judgments of God, as Rev. 20:14, 15 clearly tells us. This is consistent with the revelation of Moses.
Moses knew that the nation as a whole (except for the remnant of grace) would utterly corrupt themselves (Deut. 31:16, 29). He knew that if God’s oath had to be fulfilled in this life time, the divine plan would fail. The only way God’s righteousness could stand would be for Him to fulfill most of it through the Great White Throne judgment during that age of judgment. The will of God will then be decreed and enforced by law.
The holiness of God seems to stand in the way of God’s ability to fulfill His oath. God’s holiness says, “I will not tolerate sin.”
God’s righteousness says, “I will cause them to walk in My ways.”
God’s love says, “I will send a Savior to pay for their sin-debt.”
God’s wisdom says, “I know how to accomplish this.”
God’s power says, “I am confident in My ability to do My will.”
Witnessing God’s Witnesses
So Moses called the whole nation of Israel to stand before him, including the non-Israelites among them, to witness God’s oath. After explaining it to them, he said in Deut. 30:19, 20,
19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, 20 by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.
Heaven and earth are the two greatest witnesses. In this case, heaven (God) made the oath, while the earth (Israel) bore witness. This unconditional oath did not negate the need for the Israelites to “choose life.” It only ensured that at some point in time all of them would indeed choose life. At first, most of them would choose death, especially those in generations to come, and so God would bring them into judgment. But in the end, God’s oath had obligated God Himself to turn their hearts and cause them to be obedient. So even those who chose death during their time on earth will bow before Him at the Great White Throne and declare Him to be Lord and King.
Nonetheless, because they chose death in their life time, they will indeed experience the “second death,” which is “the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:14). This is not the first death, which is mortality, because mortality came upon all men on account of Adam’s choice. The second death is the judgment of the law for our own personal sin (Rom. 6:23). I explained this more thoroughly in Volume 1, Paul’s Epistle to the Saints in Rome. This lake of fire is the law, will, and character of God by which their hearts are turned, so that God’s oath may be fulfilled in them.