“Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, ‘This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.’” — Exodus 19:3-6 (NIV84)
For three months the children of Israel followed the pillar of cloud and fire as they traveled through the desert. Their destination? Mt. Sinai. The Lord, and Moses, were leading them back to the place where God first met Moses in the burning bush. God told Moses then that the sign that all that God told him would come true would be that he would bring the people of Israel back to this mountain to worship the Lord. Now here they were. Moses returned to Sinai with the Israelites just as the Lord said he would, and the Lord called Moses to come up the mountain to speak to Him. Note the Lord’s opening statement: “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” Second the Lord said, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.”
I believe the distinction made in the two sentences above are critical for us to have a proper understanding of our relationship with God. He is the initiator of the relationship. He calls. He redeems. He saves. He expresses His grace toward us first. Only as recipients of His grace can we respond in any form of obedience. Our obedience to God is always rooted in our response to His grace. Our works follow His mercy. John said it best, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). This distinction is critical because it roots our lives in God’s grace. Everything we do is in response to what He has done for us. To turn the tables around and speak of our works first would place us in a position where we would have to earn God’s grace by what we did. Works of obedience always follow God’s act of love toward us. The ultimate expression of this truth is that Jesus died for us, not because we were obedient and earned His grace but rather because “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Finally, the beautiful thing that rises out of this proper relationship with God is better understanding of our true purpose. Like the Israelites who were a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” we find our purpose in sharing the grace of God with the world around us. Peter says, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation; a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.” Because our relationship with God is rooted in His grace, the very purpose of our life is to respond to that grace with lives of obedience and to tell as many people as we can about the God who loved us so much that He saved our souls.