The ultimate resolution in the life of the believer is simply stated in these two commands. Love God, and love others. Our New Years Resolutions may change from year to year, but if you are a believer in Christ and are being transformed in His image, then hopefully the heart of your goals each year is this: to love God, and to in turn love others because of the love you’ve received.
When we hear these commands, it sounds simple at first—but these two commands are really the basis for how we live out our entire lives! These commands should shape how we make decisions, how we relate to others, what we pursue, how we spend our days. And the way we spend our days is the way we spend our lives.
So as you head into your resolutions for the New Year, I pray that this encouragement would come as an invitation, not as a message of condemnation. I pray that as you hold your life up to Scripture and read the Words of God in its pages, you would not hear these words through the lens of condemnation, where obligation based on shame pushes you into a pursuit of perfection and self-striving to please God.
Instead, I pray that you would hear these words humbly and gently, as a invitation. And that as you realize you cannot earn anything for yourself in the kingdom of heaven, you would walk freely as an invited guest, covered in grace.
I want to encourage you with some truth from Deuteronomy—one of my very favorite books of Scripture. The Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, are full of history and law, but they also contain truth and encouragement, and many reminders of God’s faithfulness to His children.
Why the Shema Still Matters
When we come to Deuteronomy 6:1-9, Moses has just reminded the Israelites of their history. He’s recounted the ways that they have turned in stubbornness away from a faithful and steadfast God. Then we come to these words:
“Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long.
Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Now you may be wondering why these verses matter, since they were clearly written to the Israelites. But here’s something to remember about the Law. The Law has three factors that make it binding – the people it was written to, the period it was written in, and the purpose it was written for. When one of these three factors is fulfilled, the law is no longer binding.
Think about this realistically — as a four year old in your parents house their laws were intended to keep you alive… don’t touch to stove, don’t drink cleaning products, hold my hand before we cross the street. Now, you’re no longer four, you no longer live at home, and you are no longer in danger of killing yourself around the home most likely — so you are not bound to those laws in the same way.
The principles they were instilling in you are hopefully still something you carry with you – to live wisely. The Law was written to the children of Israel in a time where Christ had not yet come and it’s purpose was to bring them to the arrival of Christ. It was how they were to be made right before Christ came.
So when Christ arrives and we read about His teaching the New Testament, he tells us that he did not come to abolish the law – but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17-18). So we see a fulfillment of all the rituals and ceremonial sacrifices that the people were to make. He served as the ultimate sacrifice once and for all. This is why we can eat shellfish and wear clothes made of more than one type of cloth.
However, there are many heart laws – principles or values of God – that Jesus teaches in the New Testament, too. Not only do you not commit adultery — don’t even lust. Not only do you not murder — don’t even be angry with your brother. The first commandment to love the Lord is still one we follow today – because it was instructed for our heart (as sinful creatures) to love God (as a holy being) – and that has not changed even after Christ’s death.
Because Christ fulfilled the Law that was given in the Old Testament, we are no longer bound to it’s rules simply because of the OT Law. In other words—if the law is a guideline for our heart to pursue holiness and aligns with what is pleasing to God—so we still seek to obey it—all with the understanding that Jesus is our righteousness and in no way can we fulfill the law or earn approval for ourselves.
In the same way your mom taught you to be wise as a four year old – you aren’t bound to those laws – but you apply the principles in your life.
But that brings us back to the Shema – these verses in Deuteronomy. The Shema is a prayer that Jewish people pray three times a day. These words – reminding them to love God with everything in them – they pray when they wake up, midday, and before bed. We can know that they still apply to us because they are for all people for all time – and we see Jesus affirm this when He is asked by the Pharisees what the greatest commandment was.
Flip over to Matthew 22. The Pharisees are trying to test Jesus and see if He is really who He claims to be. One of the Pharisees – a lawyer – comes and asks Him this question in verse 36:
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
So we see clearly that Jesus is referencing the Shema here – to love God with everything you have. He adds here to also love Him with your MIND – because these were very intellectual people in a time that valued knowledge. And then he also adds something that would stretch them — to love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.
This would have been hard for them to really grasp — they had the knowledge and the understanding of God, but to commit all of themselves to loving and living in light of Christ, and then as a result to turn around and love others more than themselves — this would be a call to sacrifice their self-righteousness and pride. This was a call to humility, and a call to lay down their lives.
But WOW, That’s Intense
When I go back to Deuteronomy 6 and read through all the places we are supposed to be thinking about and talking about Scripture and the word of God — it almost sounds too much. It seems extreme.
Think about it. The first thing when you wake up. The last thing before you fall asleep. When you’re out walking about, when you’re sitting at home, when you’re talking to your family, when you’re leaving the city or coming into your home. Tie it on your hands and bind it right in front of your eyes.
Does that sound intense or difficult to anyone?
Let me just point out something here that has been rocking my world this week. Allow me to paint a scenario for you and I want you to tell me if it’s hard to imagine or sounds abnormal:
- You wake up in the morning to the sound of your alarm, reach over and grab your phone to turn it off.
- You lie in bed for a few minutes, scrolling through Instagram, checking your email or seeing if you missed any texts from friends.
- You wake up and shower, get ready for the day, and play music on your phone – or maybe a podcast – while you prepare for the day.
- You use your phone to check the weather app to see if you need a rain coat or sweatshirt.
- As you walk out the door and hop in your car, you put an address in your phone to get to your next appointment.
- You get to your location and notice you have some time, so you pull up Facebook or maybe check on some emails you’ve been putting off.
- You use your phone to set a reminder to pick up your kids, and text your friend to see if she has lunch plans – then call her when you arrive since you don’t see her at first.
- During lunch your phone’s on the table and you glance sideways to see if you’re missing anything when you think she isn’t looking.
- And then if you happen to see that someone DID text you – you interrupt your friend’s story and say hold on a second – and put the phone right between you, attached to your hands, in front of your eyes as you disengage from conversation to respond to something a little more interesting or urgent.
- You carry your phone as you shop for groceries, looking up the recipe you pinned and trying to remember if you have enough eggs. You keep your phone nearby to check the time after dinner, making sure you get the kids into the bath and up to bed on time.
- Then as you get ready to go to sleep, you scroll through Instagram one more time to see how many comments you got from the picture you shared earlier of your Christmas decorations with a clever caption about gratitude and being present.
- And you fall asleep with it in your hand, ready to start all over again tomorrow.
Now, let’s look back to Deuteronomy. Aren’t those the exact places we carry our phones?
When we rise and lie down. As we walk about the way. When we sit at home. When we go out or come in. Attached to our hands and in front of our faces.
Yet we say we don’t have the capacity or time to love God and talk about Him and think about Him or devote any significant amount of our efforts, time or energy to walking with Him. Something seems off, friends.
I’m guilty of this too. My heart, mind, soul and strength are often preoccupied with lesser things. And it’s not that our phones are evil — but it’s simply this:
We have the capacity to commit ourselves and depend on something so much that we don’t even have to give it a second thought – it’s second nature, it comes naturally and constantly. But to let that thing be Jesus — it requires surrender, sacrifice, intentionality, and an honest look at what we prize and value in this life.
Friends, it is possible. But it’s difficult. And yet, it is the greatest invitation— to walk in freedom and experience lifelong joy— we will EVER receive — but we are usually so distracted by the lesser invitations and longing to be included in the smaller things that we leave no capacity for loving God with all we have. Because we have nothing left to give Him.
Just think on it for a second. Are you there? Do you hear these words – and really want them in your life – but just don’t know if you can really commit to them because it might mean letting go of other, lesser things?
I’ve been there. I am there most of the time. It takes constant surrender to love God with every emotion I feel, with every thought I have, with every part of my being and my strength. It’s not easy. I won’t lie and tell you that it is. This is a radical invitation and calling. But I know this to be true in the deepest part of me: IT IS WORTH IT.
The Gospel – the love of God – the pursuit of His kingdom — it is the only thing in this life that matters. And while saying yes may mean some sacrifice here on earth, the eternal security, joy, satisfaction and relationship we receive in exchange makes that small sacrifice so incredibly worth it.
Scripture tells us that IN GOD’S PRESENCE WE FIND FULLNESS OF JOY. Jesus came that we may have LIFE AND HAVE IT ABUNDANTLY. He offers us his yoke which is light and his burden which is easy — because he does the work on our behalf.
We are freed from the Law – but we are invited into obedience as a means of actually enjoying our freedom. Because when we walk in God’s best for us, when we lay down the lesser things and seek after the only thing that matters, the Gospel changes our lives. We’re given a new identity, a new name, and a new inheritance.
So How Do We Respond?
But. I want to acknowledge the possible responses you may be having in your heart right now. I think there are 5 ways we can respond to this call to love God with everything we have.
1. “She believed she could and so she did” — maybe you’re gearing up to really get after it – to make a check list so you can meet with God enough times in your day to feel like you’ve really accomplished something. Maybe you’re mustering up your strength and you’re ready to go and you’re going to read your whole bible tomorrow night and never miss a quiet time.
- Let me remind you of Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
- Pray that you would be humbled to know that only God can bring lasting change – we cannot earn our way to Jesus.
2. “Jesus loves this hot mess” — maybe you hear this and you’re like — but what about grace? I thought that meant I was fine? I accepted Christ when I was seven and he loves me like I am and he wants me to be happy — so I’m just going to stay here, acknowledge I’m a mess – and that’s good enough for me.
- Let me remind you of John 15:1-2, 6 Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit… If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”
- Pray that you would not be stuck in your sin – but that the power of the Holy Spirit would change you radically and constantly.
3. “All I need today is a little bit of coffee and a whole lot of Jesus” — maybe you really do want to commit your life to Jesus, and you know you need Him – and you may even want Him! But you just need to hold onto that thing over on the side — just in case Jesus isn’t really enough. So you can have Jesus, but you can also have the boyfriend, the job, the friendship, the approval, the acceptance – whatever “Jesus plus ___” it is for you.
- Let me remind you not to add to the gospel – Galatians 1:6-7 “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”
- Pray that you would push away those other things you’re clinging to and recognize that all you need is Jesus. Period.
4. “Life’s too short – so I’m going to eat, drink and be merry” — maybe you hear this and it just sounds like it’s not for you. It’s not appealing to you – sounds like a lot of work – and you really don’t know if you want to give up anything, much less everything. Maybe you hear the gospel and think it sounds ridiculous. You just don’t get what the fuss is about.
- 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
- Pray that God would unveil your eyes. That He would show you what this abundant life is all about.
5. “Take the world but Give Me Jesus” — maybe you’re here, at the point of brokenness — fully aware that you have nothing good to offer and no strength to earn anything for yourself — and in that awareness, you long for Jesus to meet you and be your strength. You long for your life to look like these words here in scripture and you want your heart to be fully devoted, totally smitten with the goodness of Jesus.
- I think you’re right where God wants us to be. In humility, to realize our need, but in faith to come and accept the beautiful invitation of walking with Him. Isaiah 55:1-3 puts it beautifully:
- “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.”
I believe that when we come to this place of surrender and of faithful, eager obedience – we find the greatest satisfaction and joy we could ever know.
The invitation is not easy – there will be times of sacrifice and times of trouble – but the peace of Christ that you receive when your heart is physically tight and the anxiety you experience threatens your joy; the sadness you feel when you get let down or disappointed or struggle with depression; the rejection you face when people fail you; the stress you feel of the future and all the unknowns; the tension you’re facing with your roommates; the uncertainty of all that you have to do to get the grade you need to get the job you want —
Come and lay those down. Let go of all that you’re clinging to for contentment and hoping in for peace.
Only Jesus Christ can bring true peace, joy and freedom.
When we say YES to His invitation and when we let go of everything we’ve been clinging to — we don’t lose ourselves — we become who we are always meant to be.
- We find joy – that is the realization of grace in our lives, not based on circumstances.
- We receive peace – that surpasses human understanding and calms our heart.
- We overflow with hope – because we know that this life is not the end for us.
- And we start to extend love – true, selfless, thoughtful love to everyone we meet because we know that God loves them and He’s given His love to us – so we pour it back out in praise to Him.
Friends, wherever you are tonight – take a minute and pray that the Lord would speak clearly to your heart. Pray for the Spirit to show you what you’re holding onto, what fear you’re carrying that keeps you from loving God with everything in you.
And I invite you to come to the Lord, admit those things you’re clinging to, and say YES to His invitation to abundant, joyful, life-giving FREEDOM that can only be found in Jesus Christ.
I promise you it’s worth it.
Jesus, be in us all that we cannot be.