Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version of the
Bible © 1979, 1980, 1982, 1990, Thomas Nelson, Inc
Lesson 2: First Things First
When you put your faith in Jesus and acknowledged Him as
the Lord or “ruler” of your life, you put yourself on a path of obedience
and discipleship (learning to follow Him). As a believer, you may already
be confronted with the fact that the Bible contains hundreds of different
commands, mandates, and prohibitions. As we have mentioned, God’s
commands and His desire to see us free from sin (whether we sin by
disobedience or sin by lack of obedience) stems from His desire to see us
free from the effects of death which sin causes. Your choice to follow
Jesus will have an effect on virtually every area of your life, and we
will consider these areas as we go along. Your choice to follow Him and
obey Him will also introduce many challenges and obstacles… the least of
which is figuring out where you go from here!
Your first steps in the Lord are your most important
steps, believe it or not. Experts tell us that children have already
formulated the majority of their character by the time they are 5 or 6
years old. Spiritual growth is no different. You will formulate a view
of God… whether good or bad… in the first 4 or 5 years of your Christian
life. That view will determine a lot about your vision of God’s high call
for your life and the vision of why you are alive on planet earth. One of
the reasons why Christians can stop growing in the Lord or stagnate and
get burnt out in the race of faith is because they were not birthed
properly or subsequently nurtured in the right aspects of the faith. When
they later on become disappointed with God or possibly offended or hurt by
other Christians, they are easily knocked out of the race. Knowing the
FIRST principles is very important to maturity and growth as a follower of
Jesus. As you will probably soon discover, there are literally hundreds
of different “areas” of Christian faith that you can study and learn
about. Even Christians themselves have “favorite” areas of doctrine or
certain commands that they think will be very important for you to study
or begin doing.
It is very important that you begin to participate
and cooperate with the Holy Spirit in identifying areas of sin in your
life, changing your mind about those areas, asking for grace and
forgiveness, and then renouncing those old ways so that you can begin to
live in the new life of the Spirit in those areas. However, the Holy
Spirit is more than likely only going to focus on one or two areas of sin
in your life at a time… mainly because we as humans just can’t handle much
more than that. Just as children do not become adults overnight, the
spiritually young in the Lord do not become spiritual giants over night
either. Many Christians, with seemingly good intentions, may want you to
change many areas of your life so that you can conform to their idea of
what is a “good Christian”. The most important thing for you to do right
now, however, is to read and meditate on the Bible and discover what the
Holy Spirit is focusing on specifically. As the Lord speaks to your heart
about an area, set your mind, will, and emotions to be changed in that
area so that you can obey His leading.
begin to read and meditate on the Scriptures more and more, you will begin
to realize that God says a lot about how we are to live. Just the
commandments and admonitions that are found in the Bible can alone be
overwhelming to think about as you try to put them into practice. The
commandments of the Bible are in fact a “mirror” in some ways by which we
can identify those areas of sin in our life that we need to change.
Remember as well, the Holy Spirit will use the Bible more than any other
tool in your spiritual growth to conform you to the image of the Son of
God. God’s commandments are designed to be clear guideposts to
righteousness (right living) and holiness (living as a special possession
that belongs to God).
What commands (or commandments) in the Bible are
you already familiar with?
What commands are you aware of that you have broken or disobeyed?
Do you think there are commands you have broken that you are not even
What do you think the most important command in the Bible is?
The first five books of the Bible are called the
“Pentateuch”. They contain the history of creation and the forming of the
descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob into a nation that God chose for
His special purposes: Israel. These 5 books are also some times referred
to as “the Law” or “the Torah”. God recorded many laws, commands,
admonitions, prohibitions, precepts, and statutes in the Torah—all
revealing His moral character and also revealing His heart toward humans
in how we are to treat Him (in love) and treat each other (in love). The
most famous or well know laws from the Torah are called the “10
Commandments”. Many of you may have seen a movie about Moses and the
giving of the law. Most of us have heard in the news about the
controversy over displaying the ten Commandments in governmental buildings
in the United States. For all of us, however, reading the Ten
Commandments and understanding their intent can certainly make us feel
uncomfortable. They make us feel uncomfortable especially when we realize
that we may have broken most if not all of them at some point in our
life. When we combine that with what the cost of breaking even one of
those laws is (death or separation from God), the conclusions can be
scary! The message of salvation in Jesus begins with the fact that we
have all fallen short of God’s standard of righteousness (we’ve all
broken His laws and commands) and we are in need of someone to pay the
price for our sins: in short, we cannot save ourselves and we need a
The Book of Deuteronomy is part of the Hebrew Scriptures
that also describes the giving of God’s law to Moses and the
nation of Israel. It is significant that even in the giving of the
law, love for God was preeminent or first on God’s mind.
You should know that the “Old” testament can be used to declare the Gospel
(good news about Messiah) almost as effectively as the “New” testament.
It all just depends on how you read it! Many people read the Old
Testament and only see “law”, without ever discerning God’s heart.
However, the “scriptures” that the early church and the apostles used to preach about the Messiah were the Hebrew Scriptures (the
Law, the Prophets, the Writings: Genesis to Malachi). The same Holy
Spirit who inspired the apostles to write the New Testament also inspired
the prophets who wrote the Hebrew Scriptures. In either case, Scripture
was breathed by God to point to the person and the work of Messiah—Jesus!
God told Moses in Deuteronomy 11 that if the children of Israel would
carefully keep ALL these commandments which He commanded them to
do—certain things would happen. What was the very FIRST command on the
To LOVE the LORD your God…
Do you also notice WHY God wanted them to love Him (first)
AND obey His commands (second)? What did God want to do for the nation of
Israel if they would just love and obey Him (v 24)?
Now let’s think about how this applies to you personally.
Do you have “enemies” in your life that are “greater” or “mightier” than
you or your power? If we are honest with ourselves, we all have
such enemies to some degree or another. One thing we need to realize is
that people are not our enemies… but rather our own flesh, the kingdom of
darkness, and the ways of this world are all against us and
against our growth as mature lovers of God. Some people have
uncontrollable rage and anger, uncontrollable eating habits,
uncontrollable spending habits, uncontrollable tongues, uncontrollable
lust, uncontrollable bitterness, uncontrolled resentment, uncontrollable
jealousy and greed, and so on and so on. The point is that God WANTS us
to love Him so that He can destroy and drive out all of these enemies
before us so that we can possess all the promises of God that He has made
to us. Rage, anger, malice, lust, greed, addictions, hatred, and
bitterness (just to name a few) will ultimately kill us (physically and
spiritually) and destroy our lives! God wants to drive out and kill the
very things that would kill and destroy us if we were left alone to
ourselves and to our sins.
We all have areas of weakness that we have yielded to in
our lives. God wants to see you have victory over every area of darkness
that would lay claim over you. It was for freedom’s sake that
Jesus died on the cross. Whose freedom is spoken of? Your freedom! It
was for your absolute freedom from every work of darkness and every
work of the enemy that God took on the form of a man, came to the earth as
a humble servant, and took upon Himself your sins on the tree. God was
manifested in the “flesh” (He became a man) so that He would
destroy every evil work and activity of the devil of those who are of
the “flesh”: human beings like you and I.
Deuteronomy 6:4 is known as the “Shema” because it is the
Hebrew word for hear ( “Hear O Israel” is “Shema Israel”). The
Shema is considered the centerpiece of God’s law that was given to Israel
and as a result is a centerpiece of the faith that we have as believers
and disciples of the Messiah, Jesus. The Shema was, and still is today,
very important in Jewish culture: it is normally the first memory verse
children in religiously Jewish homes learn. When we see ourselves as
“God’s people” in these verses, we notice that God commands us to
diligently teach these particular words to our children, to put
these words in conspicuous places in our homes, to talk about these
words in everyday conversation, and to keep these words at the
forefront of EVERY day to day activity that we perform.
What subjects of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 make it so important?
When the LORD says that He is “one” (v 4), He is actually
revealing something about Himself. He is revealing something about His
nature and His image. The Hebrew word for “one” is echad
and it in essence means a plural unity. The word echad (or
one) describes a “more than” oneness as opposed to an “only” oneness.
Imagine that! This matches perfectly what other Hebrew scriptures
describes God as being like as well. The Messiah would later describe God
as being a Father, Son, and Spirit who is One God. Do you see that this
is part of God’s image and God’s nature?
Notice what follows in v5 after God’s revelation about Himself in
Deuteronomy 6:4 …
We are commanded to love God with:
1) All of our _______________________
2) All of our _______________________
3) All of our _______________________
The heart, soul, and strength of a person correspond to
our spirit, soul, and body. This is nothing less than the ENTIRE makeup
of what constitutes a human being. It includes our mind, our will, our
emotions, our spiritual being, our physical strength: EVERYTHING WE ARE!
God did not leave anything out of the mix did He? I hope you see the
connection here. God first wants us to KNOW Him and about His image
(“Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one”). Then God wants us
to respond to that revelation by LOVING Him (Love the LORD your God…) and
then OBEYING Him.
Did you know that there are 613 commands in the Hebrew
Scriptures? 248 laws command things to be done (imperatives) and 365 laws
prohibit certain activities. For many people, being a Christian is almost
synonymous with the obeying of certain commandments. For the
religious leaders of the Jewish community in the days of the Messiah, the
understanding and explanation of these laws was very important. In fact,
teachers and religious leaders would often prioritize laws to know which
one took precedence over another if there was a conflict between them.
For example, the law of the Sabbath said not to do any work and another
law said to take care of your animals… but what if your sheep fell into a
hole and it required “work” to pull the sheep out? What law would take
precedence? (see Matthew 12:10-12 for the answer!) These kinds of
questions were very common among those who studied the Scriptures as a
primary occupation (like the scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees).
When the Pharisees (the most expert teachers of the Law of Moses and the
Hebrew Scriptures) asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was, what was
The Shema… Deuteronomy 6:4!
This is the verse that Jesus quoted from the Hebrew Bible
(the only Bible of His day) and said, “This is the first and greatest
commandment”. Does it surprise you that Jesus did not quote one of the
Ten Commandments? Why do you think the greatest command would not have
been “Have no other God’s before me?” Is it possible that the we could
have no other “gods” to choose from (and thereby fulfill the command to
not worship idols) but yet still not love God?
The Shema was FIRST because it is preeminent to ALL other
commands. It is also GREAT because it speaks about why you and I were
made and put on planet earth: to discover who God is and learn to love Him
What you need to realize is that God’s first command
to you is that you learn to love Him and that you learn to see yourself as
a person who loves God. If you spend all your initial energy as a
believer simply trying to obey His commands, you will most likely find
yourself quickly in condemnation because you are not able to live up to
all of them at once. If your identity as a Christian becomes based on
what commands you obey and what acts of service you do, then you may loss
your identity if you ever wake up one day and don’t feel like doing His
commandments or feel like serving! However, if you will spend your energy
learning how to love God and how to let God love you, then obedience
will come about.
It is an immutable or unchanging law that when we grow in our love for God
(which is something that comes from our heart), then our ability to obey
God and live for Him will grow at the same time!
If loving God is voluntary, why do you think God
“commanded” us to love Him?
What kind of people are concerned about keeping God’s commands anyway?
Notice that Jesus told His disciples, “If you love Me,
THEN keep my commandments…” You can almost rest assured that God never
expects anyone to obey Him who does not FIRST love Him. Don’t get me
wrong: God does want people to obey Him! However, He knows that
they really can’t obey Him fully without getting to know Him in truth and
loving Him first.
What are two things that characterize people to whom the
Holy Spirit is given?
What is the relationship of the “world” to the person of the Holy Spirit?
In John 14, Jesus does describe His activity and the
activity of the Holy Spirit toward a person that loves Him. John
14:16-17 tells us that Jesus was sending the Holy Spirit to those who
love Him and who would keep His commands as a result of that love.
The world is defined as those who cannot receive the Spirit of God,
cannot see the Spirit of God, and cannot know the Spirit of
God. Notice that Jesus relates loving Him to obeying His commands and to
receiving the INDWELLING Spirit of God. Jesus said that because of His
presence with the disciples, the Spirit of God “dwelled” WITH them. He
then said that the Holy Spirit would be “dwelling” IN them, speaking to
the relationship of the Spirit with the disciples after His crucifixion
and resurrection. You may not understand all there is to now about the
Holy Spirit right now, but just know that the Holy Spirit is “another”
Helper given to live with and in you—just because you love
Jesus. God’s commands are directed to those who love Him, just like the
Holy Spirit comes to live in those who have said “yes” to Jesus and love
Him. It is through the Holy Spirit’s activity in our hearts that we begin
to want to obey God and not to obey sin any longer. As we partner
with the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, He will transform us over
time to be holy, righteous, lovers of God—just like Jesus.
Jesus also made a similar statement in John 14:23 as that
recorded by Moses in Deuteronomy 11 (God was speaking in that instance as
well). In the case of Moses, God promised that He would drive out all the
enemies of Israel if they would love Him and obey Him. What does Jesus
promise His disciples who love Him and obey Him (keep His Word) as a
result? Not only does God promise to drive out OUR enemies like He
promised Moses and the children of Israel, but our love for God allows Him
the opportunity to manifest Himself to us!
Jesus said that His Father would love you because
you loved Jesus and that they would come and make their home or
dwelling in you. Think about the incredible nature of this statement!
The Creator of the universe has offered to come and make a dwelling place
in us—all because we have said a simple “yes” to His Son, Jesus. The
Father, Son, and Spirit desire to take up residence and build a home in
us. Of all the places in the universe or in the spiritual realm where God
could dwell, He tells us that human beings were designed in a way so that
the very Creator can take up residence in us. This is hard for our minds
to understand and even for our faith to accept, but God really does want
to make a dwelling place in your heart. This is no religion… this is not
a set of precepts that we live by. This is all about the Creator coming
to take up residence in us! You don’t have to be rich, famous, or
important: your love for Jesus and your willingness to obey Him
(voluntarily) because you love Him is what allows this home to be formed
Can a person obey God or obey His commands without
Can a person love God without obeying Him or obeying His commands?
Jesus indicated that He had demonstrated two things to the world by His
life and that His imminent crucifixion would be based on these (John
1) He had _____________________ the Father
2) As the Father gave Him ___________________________, He did them
Jesus was the perfect demonstration or model of what a
life of love to God looks like. He demonstrated how fully He loved His
Father by obeying Him… even obeying the Father’s command for Him to go to
Jerusalem knowing that He was to be crucified. The crucifixion and
passion of Jesus for our redemption is the greatest demonstration of love
and obedience to God we can ever imagine. You will learn as you study
Scripture more that it was also Jesus’ love for YOU and I that led Him to
the tree as well.
Many people can obey God or even obey Biblical precepts
without ever loving God or acknowledging Jesus as their Lord. In
fact many religions around the world have systems of lifestyle and belief
that cause people to demonstrate some degree of love for other humans and
to live moral lives. Other religions, however, do not acknowledge that
Jesus is the only way for us to be reconciled to God or that He is the
only way to God. Other religions are missing the element of truth that
comes from God’s Word alone. For those who love Jesus, we know that He is
THE way, THE truth, and THE life … THE only way that we have access to the
Father (John 10:10). Acknowledging the truth of the Word is a key part of
loving God with all of our soul—which includes our minds and intellect.
When you believe what the Bible says... even if you do not have absolute
proof or evidence or even if you do not feel the truth of it immediately…
you are loving God with your mind! Loving God with all of our mind begins
with formulating a right view of God and a right view of how God views us
in redemption. You cannot love or obey a God that you believe to be
angry, mad, or disappointed with you most of the time.
Paul made it clear to the believers in Philippi that one
day mandatory obedience will be enforced to all of creation. In
other words, those in heaven, those on earth, and those under earth will
one day acknowledge by bowing of the knee that Jesus is the Lord of all
and that He is God’s Messiah. There will be NO choice to this. They will
bow their knee. Everyone! No one will be excluded. However, right now,
obedience to God is not mandatory. Believe it or not, the 6000 years of
human history that has transpired has been based on a simple principle
that God has ordained in His sovereignty (His full power to control all of
creation): human beings have a choice whether to love God or obey Him,
and there choice carries eternal consequences that are real. You can be
sure that there is an inseparable link between obeying God and
What does it mean that God’s commands are not
If you are to be an overcomer, what must you believe?
How can you “know that you know” God?
Many new believers can be intimidated by the words of the
Apostle John. By the way, He was most likely the youngest of the
disciples (maybe 18-20 when Jesus called him) and was known as the
“disciple of love”. Of course John wrote His letters (including the book
of Revelation) later in life. We will study more about John’s view of the
Lord—which is one of the clearest expositions of the deity of Jesus in the
New Testament—and also consider some of the “heresies” that he dealt with
through these writings. One of those heresies, known as “Gnosticism”, was
a belief system that many people were adopting during the latter period of
his life (70-90 AD). When John told people that whoever “knows Him
(Jesus)” keeps His commandments, He was addressing Gnostic heresy. The
Gnostics, among other things, believed that people could literally “sin”
with their body without having any effect on their relationship with God.
They believed that because the body was “bad” by nature and that anything
“spiritual” was good, they reduced belief in Jesus to something that did
not require obedience to His commandments! Could you imagine such a
belief? We actually have similar beliefs in existence today, but they are
called by different names and are part of other false belief systems.
Either way, John was directing many of his statements (such as those in
the book of 1 John) to those who had fallen prey to this destructive
heresy. The reason I mention this is because I remember my early days
with the Lord… I had such an intense love for Jesus and an intense desire
to really want to please Him. However, I had many areas of darkness that
I soon found did not go away overnight. I would read John’s statement
about knowing God and keeping His commands—that those who don’t keep them
are “liars”. I would often condemn myself because I knew that I did not
have victory over certain areas of darkness in my life—yet I desperately
What I want to encourage you with this as we leave this
lesson, is that John was talking to people who did not WANT to be free
from sin or did not WANT to follow God’s commands. John was talking to
people who were being influenced spiritually by others who essentially did
not love God. They may have loved philosophy or intellectual pursuits
about God or theological discussions about spirituality... but ultimately,
Gnostics did not love God. John was addressing people who might
believe that they could sin and not follow God’s commandments because they
had some deeper understanding of “spirituality”. I had no such ideas in
my early days with the Lord! I knew that my sins separated me from God
and I knew that God wanted me to renounce them and be free from them. I
knew that in my heart, I wanted to be free from sin, I wanted to repent, I
wanted to stop doing certain things, I wanted to stop thinking certain
thoughts. I would read these passages from 1 John (and other parts of the
Bible), however, and walk away feeling condemned before God… feeling like
a “liar” because I knew that I was not measuring up still in so many
I want to make it clear to you that there is a vast
difference between someone who sincerely loves God and wants to be free
from their sin and someone who is living in rebellion against God. We
will look at this difference as well during our study. If the devil can
convince you that you are not really a sincere lover of God, then he can
cause you to lose any hope that God is on your side and that God is
committed to your victory. The enemy can cause your growth to be
“stunted” just by convincing you that you don’t really love God, that you
really didn’t give your heart to Jesus, and that you are just a
“church-going hypocrite” like everyone else. If you are playing
with God, then you do need to repent, no doubt. But if you are
someone who is sincere with God in wanting to live for Him and to really
be free from sin, then John’s words are not meant to condemn you. They
are actually meant to “reaffirm” you! He says that if you are “born of
God”, you WILL overcome the world.. you will overcome sin… and you will
overcome the devil. But you must continue on… you can’t fall and never
get back up or fall and run away from God. God’s great love for us is
what causes us to love Him… His love is what causes us to
want to obey Him voluntarily.. and ultimately, His great love is what will
bring us absolute victory over every enemy in our life.
We must understand that “to know God” is “to love God”…
obedience is the fruit of a tree that is rooted in love for God. If we
ever hope to keep His commandments, we must start by learning to love God
with all of our heart, soul, and strength.
1. To whom are the first 3 commandments in
the “ten commandments” directed to? ____________________ To whom
are the last 7 commandments directed to? ____________________ (Exodus
2. The first and greatest commandment tells us to
love God with what: (Deut 6:4/Matthew 22:37)
3. To whom is the first and greatest
commandment directed to? ____________________
To whom is the second commandment directed to? ____________________
4. What tool will the Holy Spirit use more than
any other tool to form you and mold you into the image of Jesus?
5. True or False. You can bow your knee and
declare that Jesus is “Lord” without loving Him or wanting
to obey Him. (Philippians 2:9-11)
6. Why did God want the children of Israel to
love Him and obey His commands?
___________________________________________________ (Deuteronomy 11:1,
7. Why did Jesus want His disciples to love Him
and obey His commands? ___________________________________________________
8. If we want to overcome and have spiritual
victory, we must believe that Jesus is the _________ ______ _________ .
9. Jesus summarized the 248 imperatives and 365
prohibitions found in the Law of Moses into two commands. What are they
in order? (Matthew 22:36-37)
10. True or False. A person who has no desire to
turn from their sin or obey God’s commandments does not love God. (1 John
2:3-5, John 14:15,19)
11. Which one should come first, obedience
to God or love for God? __________________
12. What characterizes the people that the Holy
Spirit is given to? _______________________________ (John 14:15-18)
13. What was the greatest act of love and
obedience that Jesus showed to the world and to those who would be His
followers (disciples)? ________________________________ (John 14:31)
14. Loving God with all of our ______________ begins with formulating a
right view of God and a right view of how God views us in redemption.