Making a Good Choice

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Parents and educators teach their children how to make good choices. Good choices are decisions that keep you heading in the direction which is best for you and others. Bad choices, on the other hand, end up being counterproductive and can quickly spiral into stress, confusion, and despair.

Like any other helpful habit, making a good choice has to be taught. We want to raise kids to make good choices even when we’re not there. Even when there’s no immediate reward or praise. Even when it’s hard.

What does this look like in practice? Imagine a child who is getting ready to do something that could cause problems in the future. We might ask, “Is that a good choice?” Or suppose they’ve done something you’ve warned them against and are now suffering the consequences: Instead of saying, “I told you so,” we can ask “What would have been a better choice?”

Making good choices is a necessary skill for all ages, but it’s best to start early. These are skills that everyone needs to learn how to do on their own. The advantage of learning this as a child is that the consequences of poor choices aren’t usually as drastic as when you become a teenager or adult.

It’s nice to have choices. In fact, many would propose that having choices is a (divine?) right. Honestly, we can propose that choices are truly God-given. Except we quickly discover that God offers only two choices: “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil” (Deuteronomy 30:5).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Life is full of choices. Each choice carries with it consequences. Few choices carry eternal consequences. But this choice—do we follow our covenant-God, or do we go away to follow other gods?—is as important as life itself. Trusting the Lord and living His way isn’t just the only way to stay alive; it’s the only way life can be rich, full, and productive—the way He created it to be. To reject God’s mercy and to seek greater joy or satisfaction somewhere else is the surest way to personal and national ruin. The choice God gives Israel is simple: Either live in the new land with the life God has given you in freedom from slavery or die in sin and evil clinging to your lifeless idols.

In presenting two choices here, Moses takes us back to Eden, where God had placed before Adam and Eve “the tree of life” and “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” The eating of the former would confirm the blissful life in God’s presence that our first parents enjoyed in Genesis 2 before the fall. Eating from the latter tree would and did bring death (Genesis 2:17; 5:5; Romans 5:12-14).

At the beginning, humanity was faced with the two choices: life and good or evil and death. Despite all of God’s good and gracious provision, humanity chose a path that led into slavery to sin and idolatry, culminating in death. However, God Himself committed to setting them free from slavery through the first Gospel promise of the Savior (Genesis 3:15; cf. Romans 16:20). If she recalls the fall into sin and death, the curse (Genesis 3:14, 17-19), as well as the promise of the woman’s Seed, Israel will have further motivation to make the right decision.

You will find the idea that only two options are available to humanity in the New Testament as well. The first encompasses Christ, grace, faith, Baptism, salvation, and eternal life. The second is false religion, attempted works-righteousness, not believing in Christ, death, and eternal damnation. See, for example, the two alternatives in the following passages:[Jesus says:] “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). The apostle affirms: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus says: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).

In reality, there’s only one good choice. When Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,’” (John 6:68). Believers do not have the power within themselves to choose life from God. However, the Lord first chose Israel (Deuteronomy 4:37; 7:6-7; cf. 1 John 4:19). In response, those who have been chosen and who already have the gift of faith from God have the ability, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to choose to keep the life that God has given them. Unbelievers cannot choose life, since they are blind, dead enemies of God. Believers have two choices: to keep what they have by grace or to throw it away and return to sin and death. Again, a choice that is really a non-choice.

The words of Jesus to His disciples in Matthew 7:13-14 say the same thing as this verse. He contrasts two gates and two ways of roads: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Because God chose Israel, she already enjoys “life and good” (Deuteronomy 30:15). She can choose to keep “life” and its blessings from God. Or she can choose “death” and turn away from Him to the “evil” of other gods. Moses speaks plainly about the outcome of the latter choice (Deuteronomy 30:18): You will perish. You will not enjoy the promise of the Fourth Commandment: “that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 5:16).

Typically, a ruling nation and its vassal state ratified a covenant between them by submitting lists of their national gods, whom they called as witnesses to their treaty. By calling witnesses, each side said, “May the gods bless me if I keep the stipulations of this agreement. But may the gods bring the curses of this treaty on me if I break the demands of this covenant.”

Since there weren’t any other gods to call on, Moses summoned all creation—the Lord’s creation—to witness this treaty. Moses could not be the Lord’s covenant mediator with Israel. He would urge them to do the right thing, but He couldn’t choose for them. They had to choose for themselves.

Moses leaves no doubt about what He wants for the nation. He “choose[s] life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20). The words “loving the Lord your God” remind Israel that covenant faith and faithfulness is a matter of the heart and sincerity. Merely going through the motions of covenant sacrifices and the “respectable” behavior of society—has no place in Israel. Blessings come as a result of a living faith and the loving obedience that follows faith. Blessings will never accrue by legalism and hypocrisy. “Without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (Hebrews 11:6).

God sets before the Israelites (and us) clear alternatives: life or death, good or evil (v.15), blessing or curse (v.19). The fact that He includes good alternatives for sinful people is in itself Gospel, for in the light of our continuous history of evil He is not obligated to do that. The fact that He offers us choices implies that we are not stone or wood but creatures of will and emotion and decision.

However, both Israelite history and biblical theology consistently demonstrate that our will is free only to choose the bad alternatives. No amount of our sinful volition will ever choose God rightly, and no act of our will can save us. Instead, ever since the creation and in light of our sin, God planned to send His only-begotten Son as the new Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45) and also as all of Israel in one person to choose what we will not and cannot.

In light of our sin, Jesus chooses to do His Father’s will, which has opened to us the way of everlasting life. He accomplishes this by hanging on the cursed tree of Calvary, where His vicarious atonement reverses the curse and does what we cannot. Adam and Eve could not do it at the tree in the garden and were cast out into the wilderness of sin. Israel could not do it in the wilderness because even though they would choose God, eventually their sinful nature was incapable of keeping that promise. We are fully aware that we cannot do it by our own reason or strength (SC, explanation 3rd Article the Apostles’ Creed).

But what man is incapable of doing on its own, God does by sending Jesus Christ to take our humanity into Himself for us! In Baptism, we cross the Jordan to a promised land of faith. By grace, the Holy Spirit creates and keeps these promises throughout the life we have with God in Word and Sacrament. In light of all God has done for us in Christ, is there any idol worth worshiping? Is there any other way to salvation? Again, it really is a non-option, is it not? Jesus is “the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through” Him (John 14:6).

To put it simply, today’s’ Gospel consists of God not only holding before us a good choice but also empowering us to make good choices. God gives us His life in order that we might choose His life. In the verses preceding our text, the Lord encourages His people and tells us how we this can be: “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it” (Deuteronomy 30:11–14).

The power God gives us to choose life and obey His Commandments is near us; it is in our mouths and in our hearts. The grace and mercy that brings about such a change in our hearts is offered to us through the Word and Sacraments, which deliver Jesus Christ and His forgiveness to us. These, God’s means of grace, not our choice, really do enable us to live faithfully in obedience to Him.

In Holy Baptism, God circumcises the heart by washing away the hardness that exists because of original sin and creates in us a new man formed and fashioned in the likeness of Christ. Likewise, in Holy Baptism, God fills us with the power to put to death each day the old nature that desires to cling to us and allow the new nature to come forth, fully equipped to live and serve Him according to His good and gracious will.

Our gracious heavenly Father continues to sustain this work in us as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ comes to us in His Holy Supper and strengthens us each day to walk in obedience to His will and serve Him faithfully.

All of this gracious working in us produces what Paul labels “the obedience of faith”: “Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations” (Romans 1:4-5). The obedience that comes through faith is the loving desire to do God’s will and obey His Commandments, not because we see them as a way to righteousness, but because they display the righteousness we have already been given through faith in Christ. Obedience, then, is our way to display a loving response to Him who loved us in Christ.

Thus, equipped through Word and Sacrament, we can go forth into a world of temptation, testing, and moral imbalance—so many evil choices—fully capable of making the good choice between two paths. We don’t really have, we don’t really want, any other choices. We choose to obey God’s voice, follow Him, and turn aside from the many voices of the devil, the world, and our flesh.

Like Israel of old, called to be a light to the nations through obedience to God’s commands, so we are called to go forth into a land clouded in darkness and needing to see the light of life and salvation. As we continue to gather around God’s Word and Sacraments, we will be guided to choose life and to offer to the world new life now and eternal life in the age to come.

Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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