Nobody ever thinks they’ll get killed on vacation. In 2012, A 65-year-old man and his family took a walk on a Florida beach. Out in the water, a powerful riptide began to snatch and carry away a little girl. He dove in and saved her. During the process, he suffered a cardiac arrest and died.
At some point every person who is saved at the expense of another person’s life ends up in an interesting position. For instance, how will this girl think about the whole thing later when she’s all grown up? Will it alter her life at all? Should it? Most people would say, no. She should just go on to enjoy her life and be grateful. I agree, but what does “grateful” look like? Anything?
This is the question Israel faced as it came out of Egypt—now what? Do they just say “Thanks” and go out? If they did so, their lives would largely look like where they all grew up—Egypt. They would continue living by a script taught to them by Egypt. That is, worship according to Egyptian thought, morals and behavior according to Egyptian standards.
While we’re at it, Christians must answer the same question. Having met Jesus and been saved, now what do we do? A popular response seems to be to live by an American script, that is, however you want to live. In fact, some folks meet Christ, rejoice, and then refuse any kind of further development—no Bible, no prayer, no growth, no church. Nothing. In essence they got saved for nothing.
It’s like in 2 Corinthians, when Paul pleaded with the Corinthians not to receive the grace of God in vain. In effect the apostle was saying, “Please don’t let the Son of God have gone through all He went through for you so you could just stay stuck in sin.
Exodus chapter 13 gives three general points that describe life subsequent to God’s salvation. You will always be challenged by them and you will always grow according to them: “Consecrate to Me” (Ex. 13:2), “Remember this Day,” (Ex. 13:and “God leads.” I’ll cover the first in this post.
Number one on the list is to put God first. “Consecrate [dedicate] to me all the firstborn” (13:2). Those ancient Jews were to give God their first and best. Everybody knows this today. Everybody says it. Every Christian business there ever was has this saying as their credo. Even Mary Kay promotes it—“God first, family second, business third.” (Yes, I’m married to an ex-Mary Kay lady).
“God first!” is not nearly as easy as it sounds. Here’s how it was supposed to look in Exodus 13 for a Jew coming out of Egyptian slavery: Give God all the firstborn of male animals by sacrificing them (v. 12). If the animal was a non-sacrificial species, like a donkey, redeem (substitute) it with a lamb. If you don’t substitute it, break its neck (v. 13). In the eyes of God, whatever isn’t redeemed is as good as dead. The next verse is gospel, because humans could be redeemed by substitution with a lamb. Thank God. (See the end of this post for the extra remarks about animal sacrifice in the Old Testament).
Why would God command all this activity—apparently complicated and brutal? You should ask. Eventually God anticipates even kids asking (v. 14). Watch the response (vv. 14-16). The typical Israelite answers by recounting how God saved him out of Egypt—how God judged all the firstborn, but saved the firstborn of Israel by allowing them a substitute, a lamb in their place (Check out all of Exodus 12 about the Passover). They commemorated it by dedicating their firstborn in return.
The idea of salvation by substitution was deeply impressed upon them—“Something died for me so I could live and be free.” It was like a sign on their hands (governing their deeds every day) and between their eyes (at the forefront of their thoughts) (v. 16). That’s why the Israelites offered their first and best to God. It wasn’t just because He said do it and if they didn’t He’d squash them.
The commandment to put God first and give Him the best sounds unreasonable and difficult. This is always the registration someone has when they are on the outside of a relationship looking in.
It’s like the committed bachelor who dates, but never wants to marry. He’s sure he wants to be single forever. Why? Because he has looked in to his best friend’s marriage and guess what he’s seen? A poor guy who can’t suddenly pick up and go wherever he wants anymore. He has to negotiate with a (sometimes) disagreeable wife when it comes to vacations or movies or where to go out for a bite to eat. Even whether the toilet seat is up or down becomes an issue. That’s not fun, it’s the state penitentiary. No way would Mr. Bachelor ever want marriage. It’s awful. Yet people outside the New Covenant also think this way when they look at a committed relationship with Christ. Everything is so…confining.
In the Old Testament, animal sacrifice was part of the law of God. You couldn’t opt out. On this side of the cross though, it’s not a literal law, but instead furnishes principles of relationship. Exodus 13 tells New Testament people God wants to bring them into a relationship with Him where we put Him first and give Him our best. Why? “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
God took the first step in the Old Testament by furnishing a lamb as substitute for Israel. He also took the initial step in the New Testament by offering His first and best—His Son. He wants to bring us into the same gracious heart of giving toward Him as He has toward us. This doesn’t mean we try to pay Him back (because His Son Jesus is of incalculable worth). Repayment is impossible. Besides, salvation is a gift.
Consecration then, has nothing to do with paying anybody back. It’s all about a deepening relationship. Just as God gave us His first and best, we do the same for Him. This is how any relationship flourishes and becomes rewarding, whether it’s a friendship, a marriage, or a relationship with God. I give my best; you give yours. Of course we can’t out give God, but we can taste some of the grace involved in selfless giving.
A tremendous amount of your spiritual growth involves consecration. At particular moments believers will find themselves in personal crisis. For years they may have lived by the maxim, “God first”, affirmed it at gigantic ministry events, and used it to counsel others over coffee. And now the time has come to test what really does come first. God asks for something we wouldn’t dream of being without.
It’s a right we feel entitled to, or a cherished plan or a creature comfort of some sort. Maybe it’s a priority that has guided life. At any rate, the fear and the discomfort of the moment are both palpable. The only word that comes to mind is No! We imagine catastrophe. Misery. We write an entire horror novel in our heads. Our grip instinctively tightens. Never mind what we are being asked to offer will be safer and better off in the hand of God than it ever could in our own. Only the threat of loss feels real.
That’s when the desperate search begins, polling the opinions of others, trying to find some angle that will allow us not to consecrate our lives in that area. We read Bible verses (if there are any) hoping there might be some alternate way of interpreting them—preferably some way that will let us off the hook. The whole time God kindly, patiently waits for us to run out of alternatives. We offer Him something else. No use. It is impossible to distract Him with shiny trinkets. I’ve tried.
The good news is that God doesn’t demand like a tyrant with a billy club. He offers an invitation, a doorway into new depth. As with Abraham being told to offer Isaac, how you respond will be a defining moment, a turning point. Will your relationship with God remain thimble-sized, or will it swell to some previously unknown capacity?
And so the process begins. For some of us it will be a one time choice. For others a daily re-commitment on bended knees.
“Do it,” God says. “Put Me first and see what happens.”