Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sermon on the Mount

Thoughts from my reading in Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy by Paul David Tripp. The devotional is indented and abbreviated.

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Psalm 51:6

Confession results in deeper personal insight. Further confession leads to greater insight. This is one of the graces of confession. You see this spiritual dynamic operating in the life of David in Psalm 51. This man, who was so completely blinded by his own lust that he wasn't able only to use his God-given position of political power to take another man's wife but also to put a contract out on her husband and have him killed, is now able to see not only his behavioral wrongs but the heart behind them as well.
I was thinking about the idea of confession leading to insight and more confession leading to greater insight. I’ve seen that working in my own life. At first there is usually denial – I didn’t do anything wrong. Then responding to the Holy Spirit I admit something and that admission leads to complete confession. It’s hard to admit that. I don’t want to think of myself as so devious, dishonest and deceived. Thank God for His mercy.

You and I will only ever be holy by God's definition if we put the moral fences where God puts them. We tend to put the fences at the boundary of behavior. For example, rather than telling our children the importance of a respectful heart and the issues of heart that cause us not to respect others as we should, we instruct our children to use titles of respect when they're relating to others. Now, there's nothing wrong with this as far as it goes; the problem is that enforcing certain behaviors won't create a spirit of respectfulness. A child who's mad at his teacher for an assignment she's given may say, "Whatever you say, Mrs. Smith!" in a tone that's anything but respectful. The teacher immediately knows that the child has used a title of respect to tell her that he doesn't respect her at all, but to tell her that in a way that won't get him into trouble!
I don’t completely agree with this. I know it can’t change the heart but certain fences can help. I remember a friend telling me he was reluctant to install a filter on his Internet because he knew that what was needed was a change in his heart. Without a heart change, the filter will end up being bypassed. That’s true but sometimes the fence will protect us in our moments of weakness. It makes it a little harder to take the action of sin.

This is where Christ's teaching from the Sermon on the Mount is so helpful. Christ draws the fences in much closer. He calls for us to fence our hearts because he knows that it's only when we fence the heart that we'll willingly and successfully stay inside God-appointed behavioral fences. So he says, "You have heard that it was said, `You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:27- 28).

Consider the importance of what Christ does here. He isn't adding to the seventh commandment. No, he's interpreting it for us. He's telling us what the intention and extent of the command has always been. God knows what lust lusts for. Lust doesn't lust for more lust. Lust lusts for the physical experience of the thing that's the object of the lust. A heart controlled by sexual lust won't be satisfied with better and more graphic fantasies. No, a lustful heart craves the actual experience and will only be satisfied when it has actually experienced the thing for which it lusts. This is why it never works to put the fences at the boundary of behavior. Even if I've placed clear fences there, I'll cut through them or climb over them if I haven't first fenced my heart.
As I said before, I think there is a place for the fence. I know it’s not enough in itself but it serves a purpose; maybe like training wheels on a bike. I hope to teach my children lessons that result in heart change but there are plenty of fences I put up to protect them until they are more mature.

Have you fenced your heart? Have you tried to stay inside of behavioral boundaries only to have climbed over them again and again? Go and read the wisdom of the Sermon on the Mount, which is found in Matthew 5 through 7, and ask God to "teach you wisdom in the inmost place." By God's grace, determine to fight the battle of thought and desire, knowing full well that it's only when you win this battle that you can be successful in the battle of behavior. And rest assured that when you fight this battle you aren't fighting alone, but your Lord wages war on your behalf.
I am thankful for the changes that have happened in my heart through the years. I’m thankful for the things that have lost their grip so an external fence isn’t necessary. I am thankful that the Lord does fight on my behalf and through grace changes my heart.

Take a Moment

What "fences of the heart" do you need to erect that are not there now?

Where is there evidence that you are stepping over God's "boundaries of the heart?" Stop and confess and receive God's offer of forgiveness.


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