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Before there was the Westminster Confession of Faith, before Christians affirmed the doctrines of the Nicene Creed or recited the Apostles’ Creed, the people of God summarized their faith with the words of the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4). The Shema derives its name from the Hebrew imperative translated “hear,” the command with which the verse begins. The Lord called on His people to listen, to receive the truth about Him so that the truth might mold and shape the way they lived. The Shema is a theological affirmation that provides a foundation for discipleship. Let’s look at that foundation and at three of the ways that we are to build a godly superstructure on it.

The theological foundation that we have in the Shema emphasizes the uniqueness and unity of God. The Lord our God is one because He is the only God who truly exists. Israel first heard these words on the plains of Moab. Though the people had left the idols of Egypt behind, they were about to enter Canaan, a land filled with gods, where they would face great temptation to give their devotion to someone or something other than Yahweh. All other gods, however, are meaningless. They can offer no hope or comfort to their devotees. The Lord God of Israel is the only true and living God. As Christians who read the Shema in the light of the full canon of Holy Scripture, we realize that this affirmation also stresses the unity of God. Yahweh is a plurality in unity—or to put it another way, Yahweh is the triune God. The one true God exists in three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

What kind of life should God’s people build on this foundation? First, a follower of Christ should exhibit a life of wholehearted devotion to the Lord. Immediately after the declaration of God’s uniqueness and unity, Moses writes, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (v. 5). Love is a central characteristic of obedient discipleship. When a Pharisee asked Jesus to identify the greatest commandment, the Savior quoted Deuteronomy 6:4–5. God is one, and we must love Him with our whole being. Christ then added a second command by quoting Leviticus 19:18. We are also to love our neighbor as ourselves (see Matt. 22:35–40; Mark 12:28–34). The teaching of the Law and the Prophets depends on these two commands because when we love God, we will follow the first four of the Ten Commandments. We will worship the Lord alone, refrain from idolatry, reverently use His name, and honor His day. Similarly, when we love our neighbor, we will seek to obey commandments five through ten.

God calls us to live a Bible-saturated life so that the truth of Scripture fills us to overflowing and spills from us in our speech.

A disciple’s love is more than an emotion, a warm feeling, or a sentiment. Love is a heart commitment to give oneself to another in service. When we love God, then we give our lives to Him in service and devotion. We lay down the right to claim our lives for ourselves, we pick up our cross, and we follow the One who bore the cross for us (Mark 8:34–35). These instructions from the Lord Jesus summarize the very essence of what it means to be His disciple. On the other hand, when we love others, we seek selflessly to serve them. The disciple’s goal is to be a servant rather than a lord or master. To be like Christ, we must take the lowly position of humility and seek, as He did, not to be served but to serve and to give our lives for the good of those around us (10:42–45).

Second, the life of a disciple is to be a life of reflection. Moses does not merely emphasize the need for devotion but states that if we love the Lord (Deut. 6:5), we are to love and meditate on His Word. “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart” (v. 6). As the Puritan pastor Matthew Poole stated it, the Scriptures are to be “in thy mind to remember them, and meditate upon them, and in thy affection to love and pursue them.” Christian discipleship should involve both meditation on and memorization of the Bible. The term translated “meditate” in the Old Testament means “to mutter.” We are to mutter over God’s Word, repeating its phrases and sentences to understand them and draw from them their sweetness and spiritual nourishment. As we mutter over God’s Word, we will store it in our minds for future recall and use as the Spirit’s sword (see Eph. 6:17). We will hide Scripture in our hearts so that we might not sin against our Lord and Savior (see Ps. 119:11).

Third, devotion and reflection should lead to instruction. The Israelites were to teach God’s Word to the next generation (Deut. 6:7). They were to talk about the Scriptures when they were at home, when they were out accomplishing their daily tasks, when they went to bed at night, and when they got up in the morning. They were to keep the Scriptures close to the forefront of their minds, always within reach (vv. 8–9). Our Christian discipleship should be no different. God calls us to live a Bible-saturated life so that the truth of Scripture fills us to overflowing and spills from us in our speech. Then, by speaking God’s powerful Word, we make other disciples, men, women, and children who love the Lord and seek to walk in the way of devotion, reflection, and instruction because they, too, serve the only true and living God. This is the path of discipleship. This is the path of the Shema.

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From the July 2023 Issue
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