A pastor we heard yesterday made an important observation about the Law, specifically the Ten Commandments. Note the words at the beginning of Exodus 20:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
This is what He says before He starts giving them the Law. "I am the Lord your God." Not "I will be the Lord your God once you get your act together and start following these laws," but "I'm your God now -- our relationship is already established. These laws don't create a relationship between us; they maintain that relationship and protect you."
You all know we got a dog in January. Wheatly. Cutest dog ever. Had there not already been a fence around our yard, we probably would have put one up after we brought him home. Not to make Wheatly our dog, but because Wheatly is our dog, and we want to keep it that way.
Say Wheatly got out of the confines of our fence somehow and ended up in the neighbors' yard. They may have called us to say, "Hey, we have your dog." We would not have responded by saying, "Oh, no, that can't be. If he's out of our yard, outside of our fence, he's not our dog. Any dog of ours would be inside of our fence."
No, inside or outside of our fence, we still claim him. He still belongs to us. The fence doesn't make him our dog. The fence allows us to take care of him, to protect him, and to enjoy him -- and allows him to enjoy us, which he does.
This is how the Law works that God gave his people. He didn't give it to us as part of a contract: you do your part by obeying all these commands, and I'll do my part by taking care of you. Our relationship is only intact when we both keep up the contract. Stop obeying the rules, and I'm no longer under obligation to consider you mine. The relationship will be cut off.
No, the relationship came first. The relationship came by His initiation, His invitation, and our acceptance. He loves us and claims us no matter what we do, because we are His and never stop being so. The fence -- the rules -- are not there to establish the relationship but to make the relationship work. To protect us and to keep us in a place where we can actually enjoy each other.
The fence-crawlers, those always looking for a gap where they can get to the other side of the rules . . . they would do much better to relax and realize the joy and peace of living in relationship with the Father. I am the Lord . . . your God. The world outside the fence ain't got nothin' on life with Him.