God's Will - His Law In Our Hearts
Series: Deeper Life Camp 2010
I’d like to start this morning by telling you a story. The story is an allegory, which means that the make-believe characters and events in the story represent real-life ideas and principles. One of the most famous and best-selling books ever written was an allegory. You’ve probably heard of it or even read it: The Pilgrim’s Progress. But the story that I want to tell you this morning is from a much lesser-known allegory called The Pilgrim’s Regress. I’m sure you’re familiar with it’s author, C.S. Lewis, who also wrote The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and six other titles in The Chronicles of Narnia which are being made into movies now. C.S. Lewis became a Christian in the early 1930’s after a long search for truth. The Pilgrim’s Regress was the first book he wrote after his conversion, and it’s an allegory of his spiritual journey from Atheism to Christianity. Lewis represents himself by the character John who is a boy living in the country of Puritania as the story begins. Every time John gets into some mischief, he’s scolded and told that the Steward would be angry with him. John has never met the Steward, but he’s told that the Steward makes all the rules for the country because he’s been put in charge of it by the Landlord who owns the country. Since I can’t improve on Lewis’s excellent writing, let me just read you the next part of the story right from the book.
One dark, cold, wet morning John was made to put on new clothes. They were the ugliest clothes that had ever been put upon him . . . caught him under the chin, and were tight under the arms . . . and they made him itch all over. And his father and mother took him out along the road . . . and told him they were taking him to see the Steward. The Steward lived in a big dark house of stone on the side of the road. The father and mother went in to talk to the Steward first, and John was left sitting in the hall . . . his father had told him that the Steward would be angry if he did not sit absolutely still and be very good: and John was beginning to be afraid . . . . After a very long time his parents came back again, looking as if they had been with the doctor, very grave. Then they said that John must go in and see the Steward too. And when John came into the room, there was an old man with a red, round face, who was very kind and full of jokes, so that John quite got over his fears, and they had a good talk about fishing tackle and bicycles. But just when the talk was at its best, the Steward got up and cleared his throat. He then took down a mask from the wall with a long white beard attached to it and suddenly clapped it on his face, so that his appearance was awful. And he said, “Now I am going to talk to you about the Landlord. The Landlord owns all the country, and it is very, very kind of him to allow us to live on it at all . . . .” . . . The Steward then took down from a peg a big card with small print all over it, and said, “Here is a list of all the things the Landlord says you must not do. You’d better look at it.” So John took the card: but half the rules seemed to forbid things he had never heard of, and the other half forbade things he was doing every day and could not imagine not doing: and the number of the rules was so enormous that he felt he could never remember them all. “I hope,” said the Steward, “that you have not already broken any of the rules?” John’s heart began to thump, and his eyes bulged more and more, and he was at his wit’s end when the Steward took the mask off and looked at John with his real face and said, “Better tell a lie, old chap, better tell a lie. Easiest for all concerned,” and popped the mask on his face all in a flash. John gulped and said quickly, “Oh, no sir.” “That is just as well,” said the Steward through the mask. “Because, you know, if you did break any of them and the Landlord got to know of it . . . he’d take you and shut you up for ever and ever in a black hole full of snakes and scorpions as large as lobsters - for ever and ever.” . . . Then the Steward took off the mask and had a nice sensible chat with John again, and gave him a cake and brought him out to his father and mother. But just as they were going he bent down and whispered in John’s ear, “I shouldn’t bother about it all too much if I were you.” At the same time he slipped the card of the rules into John’s hand and told him he could keep it for his own use. (from The Pilgrim’s Regress, pages 3-5)
I think that story memorably illustrates the impression that many people today have about Christianity. They think it’s just keeping a lot of rules. You probably figured out the allegory: John represents the average child, the Steward is the pastor of a local church, and the absent Landlord symbolizes God. And John’s first impression of religion is that he has to obey an infinite number of rules that prohibit a lot of the fun things he likes to do. If he breaks the rules and gets caught, he’s in danger of severe punishment from God. Similarly, many people today - especially those outside the church or loosely affiliated with it - think that Christianity is obeying lots of rules in order to gain favor with God.
Now the Bible does make it clear that a Christian will live a different looking sort of life from a non-Christian. According to the New Testament, the lifestyle of a Christian will be holy and pure and upright in every way. He’ll display character qualities like love and joy, peace and patience, kindness and gentleness. That’s what God’s Word says, so it makes sense that people outside the church would expect Christians to live upright lives also. Remember that the only evidence of holiness that a non-Christian can see in a Christian is his outward actions and words. The non-Christian can only see the morally upright outward lifestyle, and to him it looks like the result of strict rule-keeping. He sees the Christian refraining from lots of things that a non-Christian loves to do, and he sees the Christian spending lots of time on other things that a non-Christian finds boring or repulsive. What other explanation could there be for this besides a rigidly disciplined regime of rule-keeping? Now we Christians know that according to God’s Word we can never earn forgiveness or salvation by our own good works. No amount of law keeping can make us acceptable enough that God will save us based on our own merits. But after we’ve become Christians, how are we supposed to live the Christian life? We agree with God’s Word that our lives as Christians are to be holy and blameless. To put it quite simply, we shouldn’t live in sin anymore. But what’s supposed to be the motivation behind this godly lifestyle? What’s supposed to be the driving force behind our Christian lives? Is it a regimented regime of rule-keeping? Is the Christian life supposed to be a life of disciplining one’s self to follow God’s law and do the right things?
Let‘s see what God‘s Word has to say about this. When Jesus Christ was on earth, He was a contemporary of some of the most stringent religious rule-keepers of all time. In fact, they became so well-known for their rule-keeping that you can still find their name in dictionaries today: Pharisees. They kept so many rules because they felt that by doing so they were being pleasing to God. They even complained to Jesus that His own disciples were not keeping as many rules as they were. My intent here is not to criticize the Pharisees because I think it’s doubtful that you or I could ever outstrip them when it comes to self-discipline and rule keeping. Actually, I brought them up because I wanted to uphold them as a prime example of rigid religious self-discipline. There was no one who could excel them in that category. But Jesus said to His disciples, Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:20). This was probably quite a blow to the disciples because they already knew that they couldn’t keep pace with the disciplined lives of the Pharisees. How could their righteousness ever exceed that of these religious leaders? Then Jesus expounded further. First He talked about the subject of murder. This was unquestionably a vile sin, and everyone knew that for many centuries the Ten Commandments had forbidden it. It was a sin to be shunned because it incurred God’s wrath and judgment. But now Jesus told His disciples, Whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment, and, Whoever says, “You fool!” shall be in danger of hell fire (Matt. 5:21-22). In other words, the retribution for being angry with someone or insulting them in one’s speech is the same as the retribution for physically killing them. God is equally unpleased with both. Then Jesus went on to address another of the commandments: You shall not commit adultery. Here was a commandment that we know the Pharisees kept rigidly. When someone caught a woman in the very act of adultery and the Pharisees found out about it, they brought the woman to Jesus and suggested that she be stoned as God’s law commanded. But now Jesus said to His disciples, Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matt. 5:27-28). What is this important lesson that Jesus was teaching? It’s that the actions of physically killing someone or having an extra-marital love affair are just visible outgrowths of the sin that lives inside a person. The real problem of sin isn’t in one’s actions but in one’s heart. And the sin in one’s heart is the actual thing that is under God’s wrath and judgment. This could pose a real problem for Jesus’ disciples. It’s possible to restrain one’s outward actions, but it’s much more difficult to control the thoughts and intents of one’s heart. Yet Jesus didn’t stop at just this point. Some time later when a lawyer asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus answered this way: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37-40). Jesus said that those two commandments were the sum total of all the laws that God had given. In other words, it’s not sufficient for one’s own heart to merely stop thinking or desiring evil. What God wants from us is that our whole being - heart, soul, and mind - actually love Him and love everyone around us. Even if we could control our outward actions and words, and even if we could restrain our inner thoughts and desires from evil, all of that isn‘t enough in God‘s eyes. Our hearts are supposed to be fountains of goodness that love God and others, both friends and enemies. Jesus’ summary of the matter was, Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you . . . You shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:43-48). And the Apostle Peter in writing to the early Christians quoted God’s words from the Old Testament: Be holy, for I am holy (I Pet. 1:16). That’s the goal for us who are Jesus‘ disciples, but how do we reach it?
Based on what Jesus said, one way to not reach that goal would be to merely discipline one’s self so that the outward actions match what God says they ought to be although the heart is left unchanged. That’s what the Bible calls a dead work. Let me give you an illustration. In our back yard we have an apple bush. You’re probably wondering what an apple bush is, and I’ll tell you how we got one. We live in a semi-rural community right on the edge of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. Not very many of the lots around us have houses on them yet, and there’s still a fair amount of wildlife that roams around. We’ve heard coyotes howl and we’ve seen a snapping turtle on our street. And we have lots of deer that wander through our yard. A couple summers ago we planted a Honeycrisp apple tree, and it was really healthy and thriving. Then that fall a buck came through our yard and found that our young tree was very nice for rubbing his antlers on. The tree trunk was only about an inch in diameter, but he rubbed over half of the bark off of it about two feet above the ground. Everything above the rub died, and I finally cut off the top four feet of the tree late the next summer. That’s how we got a two-foot-tall apple bush. But suppose that instead of cutting off the dead part, I had left it attached. I was embarrassed to have a two-foot tall apple bush, but I was just as embarrassed to have a dead trunk sticking up in the air, so I determined to make the dead part look as good as the rest of the tree. Suppose I took some leaves from other trees in our back yard and tied them onto the dead branches with twine. Then I went to the grocery store and bought some beautiful Red Delicious apples and used twisty ties to fasten them to the branches in likely locations. All of that would make the tree look nice for a little while, and maybe people walking or bicycling past our house would be fooled from a distance and comment on what a beautiful apple tree we had. But decorating the dead branches to have the appearance of being alive would never actually make them alive. And similarly, merely displaying outward evidence of Christian growth and fruit while one’s heart isn’t right with God is just a dead work. It might appear to be godly, but it’s just a decoration that’s covering up the heart which is wrong.
Sometimes dead works can fool other people, and sometimes dead works can look so authentic that they even deceive the person doing them into thinking that he is justified before God. But dead works can never deceive God because He sees past the outward appearance and right into the heart itself. Jesus said to the Pharisees, You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts (Lu. 16:15). God knows if one’s heart isn’t right with Him, and no amount of actions - good, charitable, or religious - will convince Him otherwise. After King David had sinned, part of the prayer of repentance and confession he prayed to God was, You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart - these O God, You will not despise (Ps. 51:16-17). In those Old Testament days, God had commanded that certain animal sacrifices be performed to atone for sins. But David knew that just killing an animal wasn’t the ultimate thing God was after. The sacrifice He really wanted was David’s heart. God wanted David’s heart to be broken from serving sin and to be humbly and completely yielded to God and His ways. That’s why David also prayed, Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me (Ps. 51:6,10). Why isn’t God at all interested in mere outward actions and disciplines? Because outward actions are only something that our bodies do, but these bodies that we have now won’t go into eternity. They’ll go into a casket and under the ground and decay back into dust. It’s only the heart or the soul - the inward part or the hidden part as David called it - that goes into eternity, and so God is primarily interested that our inner part be right with Him. What good is it to just obey outwardly when our outer man will perish someday and our outward actions will perish along with it? Our inner part is what needs to be right with God because that’s the part of us that can go into eternity to be with Him. That’s why God is so concerned about the heart.
So we’ve seen thus far that the Christian life, a godly lifestyle, is something that’s supposed to emanate from our hearts. It’s not the result of disciplining one’s self to outwardly obey God’s law. But what is the motivation behind our godly lifestyles supposed to be? Let’s look at some examples of godly people in the Bible and see if we can discover something of the answer to that question. Just a minute ago I was talking about David, and I think he would serve as a wonderful example. We know that David was a man that God was pleased with and upheld as an example. To put it in God’s own words: I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will (Acts 13:22). Of course we’ll just have to admit right up front that David wasn’t perfect or sinless. But he confessed his sin to God and was forgiven. And years after he had died, God still referred to him as My servant David, who kept My commandments and who followed Me with all his heart (I Ki. 14:8). What was this man’s own testimony? Did David ever record what was the driving force behind his godly life? Yes, he did. Let’s take, for example, some excerpts from Psalm 19 that he wrote. The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul . . . The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes . . . More to be desired are they than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb (Ps. 19:7-8,10). Now to be honest, that sounds a little unusual. David isn’t just saying that he strives to keep God’s law because he knows deep down inside that it’s what’s best for him and it’s what will keep him out of trouble. No, he says that God’s law and statutes and commandments actually make his heart rejoice and be happy. He says that he’d rather have God’s law than great wealth. How could he say those things? Was he just a one-of-a-kind religious eccentric? Or was he trying to earn extra-special favor with God by not only disciplining himself to keep God’s law but even imagining that he loved to do so? No, not at all. He explains a little more in Psalm 37. There in verse 31 he’s talking about the righteous person, and he says, The law of God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide. So that was the motivation behind David’s godly life! God’s law was actually embedded in his heart. It wasn’t some external thing that David had to plug into now and then. It was living way down in his heart and flowing out through all his words and actions and causing him to do and say the right things. It was a part of who he was. To put it very simply, David lived a godly life because he wanted to, not because he had to. How a person can get that desire inside him we’ll look at later; but for now, suffice it to say that a desire like that could really make the Christian life a lot easier to live.
How about a New Testament example? I can’t think of a New Testament Christian who had more exuberance for being what he was being and doing what he was doing than the Apostle Paul. He loved to live for God and he loved to tell other people about Jesus and he even traveled around much of the known world doing so. God inspired him to write 13 books in the New Testament, and because of those writings Paul is often upheld as the prototype of what a Christian should be. And it’s hard to imagine a Christian who wouldn’t want to be like him. So what was Paul’s testimony? He recorded different aspects of it in several places, but I’d like to look at his account in Philippians chapter 3. Of course Paul hadn’t always been a Christian. He used to be just the opposite, but even then he was at the head of the pack, so to speak. To put it in his words: If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless (Phil. 3:4-6). Paul had been raised in the best and most desirable of environments of that day. He had been born into the people group that God had chosen as His own special people. He had taken part in all the prescribed religious ceremonies. He had been noted as a chief representative of his nation. He had learned God’s law from some of the most qualified teachers, and he had thrown his life into obeying that law. Yes, in his earlier days he did persecute the church; but remember that he did so because he believed that the church was actually anti-God and that he was doing God a service by persecuting it. To sum it up, Paul had kept God’s law so thoroughly that no one could find any fault with him. He could claim to his credentials many of the things that people today would love to have. But then something happened to Paul. He met Jesus Christ and found out that He was God and the Savior of the world. And so, after listing all his own credentials in Philippians 3, Paul goes on to say, What things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish [manure, refuse, sweepings off the floor, despicable things] that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ . . . that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings . . . (Phil. 3:7-10). Paul’s enthusiasm is enviable. What had happened to him? Obviously, he wanted to live for Jesus Christ and give Him his all. He wanted more than anything else to be a Christian. But what made him that way? Clearly it wasn’t just a desire to live an outwardly cleaner and morally purer lifestyle because Paul had already been living a more outwardly godly lifestyle than any of his counterparts. But something had changed now and made him want to live for Christ more than anything else in the world. The reason? In one place, Paul explains it this way: I delight in the law of God according to the inward man (Rom. 7:22). Well, that’s the same thing David said. Paul wasn’t living the Christian life because he had to but because he wanted to. In fact, he didn’t just want to - he loved to . . . he longed to . . . there was nothing he desired more.
Is it possible for us to have that same desire in our hearts? Is it possible for us to live godly, to live the Christian life, because we want to and not because we have to and have to discipline ourselves to do so? Yes. If it was possible for David and Paul, then it’s possible for us too. How? Well, let’s discover that answer by looking at an important passage that appears twice in the Bible. A lot of the Psalms that God inspired David to write were actually prophecies about Jesus. One of these prophetic passages was Psalm 40:6-8. In the New Testament, the author of Hebrews quotes that same passage in chapter 10 verses 5-7. The Hebrews passage uses slightly different wording from Psalm 40, so let me read you a combination of the two passages. This is Jesus speaking to God His Father. Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me. Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require; You had no pleasure in them. Then I said [Jesus said], “Behold, I have come - in the scroll of the book it is written of Me - [I have come] to do Your will in which I delight, O my God, and Your law is within my heart.” Like we said earlier, in the Old Testament times God had set up a system of animal sacrifices and offerings. Sheep and goats and other animals were killed and burned and offered to God to atone for the people’s sins. But there was something lacking in that system of sacrifices (see Heb. 8:7). On their own, the sacrifices were just outward actions that didn’t do anything to change the heart. They never took away a person’s desire to sin and replaced it with a desire to live godly. They couldn’t cleanse the conscience from sin. The system of sacrifices was something God had put in place for a time, and there was a purpose for it. But now Jesus makes clear in these verses that God’s ultimate desire wasn’t the sacrificing and offering of animals. God didn’t find pleasure in mere outward actions and religious duties that never affected the heart. So He removed the first system, the animal sacrifices, and established a new and better way in its place. That better way was Jesus Christ Himself. Just like those verses say, God prepared a human body for Jesus, and sent Him to earth in the form of human flesh. Of course you know the rest of the story. Jesus died on the cross, and then He rose from the dead. Those are the two main things we remember about Jesus. But what do they really mean? Let me make a statement that sounds very simple, but I think it will really help us understand what Jesus came to do. Jesus’ death takes away everything bad, and Jesus’ resurrection gives everything good. Jesus’ death takes away sin, and Jesus’ resurrection gives life. This makes sense to us. We usually think of Jesus’ death as having taken away the guilt of our sin - we don’t have to pay the penalty for our own sin anymore. And we usually think of Jesus’ resurrection as having given us eternal life - we’ll have a home in heaven someday. But did you know that Jesus’ death takes away much more than just the guilt of sin? Yes, Jesus’ death can even take away the desire to sin out of our hearts! Here’s how the author of Hebrews put it: For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, [how much more shall Christ’s blood] cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb. 9:13-14) Imagine that! Jesus’ blood - his death - can even cleanse our conscience from dead works. He can cleanse us from just doing the right outward actions without meaning them from the heart. How does He do it? Jesus Christ was the perfect sacrifice for sin. He was completely God and completely human all at the same time, and He never sinned. When He died, the part of Him that died was the part of Him that was in the form of human flesh like us. But you remember that just before Jesus’ body died, He cried out to God, Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit (Lu. 23:46). Jesus’ spirit was perfect and spotless. It was the part of Him that delighted to do God’s will and had God’s law written within it like those verses said earlier. And because Jesus’ spirit was perfect, it was eternal. It couldn’t die. There was nothing deserving of death in it. Jesus offered His perfect eternal spirit to God His Father, and God accepted that offering. Jesus’ perfect spirit lived on. Now when you and I become Christians by believing in Jesus, everything that is His becomes ours because we are in Him. His death to sin becomes our death to sin - the sinful part of us that does dead works can die. But also, Jesus’ eternal life becomes our eternal life. His perfect eternal spirit that delights to do God’s will is put inside of us. This is an entirely different way than the old system of animal sacrifices. In one place, God describes this new way with these words: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts (Jer. 31:33 & Heb. 8:10). If the Spirit of Christ - the Spirit of God - dwells within us, then God’s law will naturally be embedded within our hearts. Jesus’ eternal spirit which delights to do God’s will emanate from us. We will live a godly Christian life because we want to, not because we have to. That’s a Christian’s motivation for living righteously. The motivation comes from within - from the Spirit of Christ within us.
Now as we wrap up, let me just briefly mention three things. First, all of this is not to say that we Christians will never sin again and will always without fail want to do the right things. That won’t happen completely until we leave this earth and enter heaven. Many of the things that we’ll experience completely in heaven someday we have only in part here on earth. But as we submit to God’s Spirit working inside of us and we become more yielded to Him, we will find our sinful desires fading and our godly desires increasing. Secondly, it’s important to remember that much of the New Testament is written to Christians who have God’s law written in their hearts. Many New Testament verses and passages sound like they’re giving commands, but they aren’t intended to be rules that we just strive to outwardly obey. They are more of appeals or exhortations given to receptive hearts that have been newly created by God and delight to do His will. So if you’re a Christian, don’t listen to the New Testament like a list of laws that you have to try to discipline yourself to keep. Listen to it like exhortations speaking to the new life inside of you. Thirdly and lastly, let’s take away this simple truth from the message. It is possible to live a godly, holy Christian life because you want to in your heart and not because you have to and have to discipline your outward actions to do so. God’s will is that His law be written in our hearts. He’s made that available to us through Jesus’ death and resurrection. And that’s the only way possible to live the Christian life - through Jesus Christ.Log in to add a comment
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