The Law in Our Hearts
Jeremiah the prophet said God would write the law in our hearts. Surprisingly to some, Paul reiterates this in the New Testament. Is God writing His law in your heart? How does that happen?
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I’m taking you back into ancient history today – all the way back to last week. Last week feels like ancient history to me sometimes. But we covered a presentation that we’d done recently, called God In Us. The temple that Solomon built was a dwelling place for God in ancient Israel was now a shadow of a work God is doing now. We saw that, in that physical temple of old, there was the Ark of the Covenant, which was a box with a lid on it. And …
And in that box – that box that stood for God’s throne – there were two tablets of stone that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai, on which God has written with His own finger the Ten Commandments. We saw that those tablets, located where they were under God’s throne, symbolized that they were the foundation of His relationship with Israel. And we saw that those stone tablets were a shadow of the applied law that Jesus mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount – same ten points, but no longer just a set laws for a nation, but now applied to include a person’s motives and attitudes, as well as behavior. For example, it’s no longer good enough to avoid murdering someone, but it is now necessary to love even those who hate us. So God not only gives us a shadow in the old temple of what’s happening now, but also a prophecy, which we can read in Ezekiel 36, beginning in verse 26.
Ezekiel 36:26-27 – And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. You can think of the term hard-hearted – that’s what He was saying Israel was in the past. And now, in His new temple, He’s going to give people a softer heart. I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules. So it will be a willing thing that people do. This is the work of the new temple that God is building.
So today we’re going to think about the implications of this change. Let’s start in Galatians 5, and verse 19. This is a couple of verses that talk about the works of the flesh, or the fruits of living by what the Bible calls, the sarx. It’s a part of our nature.
Galatians 5:19 – Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality – those are all terms related to inappropriate sexual behavior and thought – idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these – you know, just to name a few, he says. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Now everybody knows about sexual immorality – although nobody in our society today lives by those rules, it seems – but let’s look instead at enmity, strife, jealousy, divisions and envy.
There was a situation in Corinth while Paul was ministering to them. People began to divide up into factions. They were each following a hero. And each one of their heroes was a minister. Paul was one of them, Peter was one of them, and Apollos was one of them. So here’s what Paul said about that in 1 Corinthians 3:4:
1 Corinthians 3:4 – For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? In other words, “You’re being controlled by the sarx” – that bad part of you. God does not function that way.
This sarx thing – it was not originally in Adam and Eve, but later became a part of their heart after they talked to the devil. Paul said, “In my flesh – in my sarx – dwells no good thing.” So, when he talks about the fruits of the flesh – or the sarx – he’s talking about what we call carnality today – and sometimes, people call it human nature – though there’s more to human nature than just that bad part. That sarx is the part of us that causes divisions, rivalry, gossip, jealousy in the church, which is the new spiritual temple God is building.
All the divisions of Christianity we see today come from provoking others by bad behavior, or erroneous belief, or being envious of what others have, or who others control, or an unwillingness to work together. And when we see these characteristics in ourselves or others, we can know that the sarx, rather than God, is at work in us. And when we see this, we can know that construction of the temple – the new temple, which is the work God is doing now – has stalled out. It’s come to a halt – at least, in our corner of it. Nothing good is being written in our hearts at that point.
Immediately after Paul listed a few of the fruits of the sarx, he detailed the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22.
Galatians 5:22-26 – But the fruit of the Spirit is love – God is love and love is obeying the laws. So the two tablets are still very much a part of the project. It’s just that they’re applied in expanded form now – even more applicable to us. Continuing: joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – against such things, there is no law. So this is the way people behave when God’s Spirit is at work in them – when the law is being written in their hearts. And he continues: And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sarx with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Let’s not say things that are inciteful or cause people to get angry. Let’s just live at peace.
Those things that cause problems in our midst, those are the things that a converted person crucifies. We do everything we can to avoid behaving that way – thinking that way. Often we excuse ourselves when we act badly, but there really is no excuse for it. We have God and Jesus Christ living in us to help us with that. So we need to ask, “Am I building my part of God’s temple or am I tearing it down?” when we behave that way.
So this new amplified Spirit of the law is what’s being written in our heart. It’s not like the national laws of Israel that were in the Ark. It’s the heart of God being written into our hearts. He does that by the struggle that He invites us to join when we surrender to Jesus Christ and begin to – as Paul said – crucify that part of us that wants our own way above God’s. It’s only when we come to grips and do battle with our own nature that we begin to become Godlike. When we’re having that struggle, and we win it, but with God’s help, that’s God writing His law in our hearts.
If you talk to anybody who has kept the Sabbath for a long time, they’ll tell you that when they first started doing it, it was a struggle. It felt like a restriction. But the longer you keep it, and the more accustomed you get to it, the more you appreciate it and love it, until you just become a Sabbath-keeper. That’s an example of the process that God is using to write His law into our hearts.
When we make a commitment to let God rule us, then He comes and dwells in us. We read that in another scripture last time during that other presentation I was telling you about. As we surrender over and over, our way becomes easier to subdue and God’s way easier to follow.
Let’s look in Ephesians 2:20 – he’s talking about the spiritual temple that God is building. He says in verse 20 of Ephesians 2:
Ephesians 2:20-22 – built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…. You know, in most organizational pyramids, you see the guy that’s in charge is at the top. But in this one, Christ is at the bottom, holding it all up. It’s an inverted pyramid. It keeps getting bigger and bigger. There’s no end to it. …Christ Himself being the cornerstone – verse 21 – in whom the whole structure – the whole structure – being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a spiritual dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
Wow! Let’s think about this new temple. We read that it’s not really a building. That’s a metaphor. The temple of old is just a shadow for us, so that we can understand what God is doing. It’s the Israel of God – it’s God’s people – that’s the temple. It says there that this structure is joined together. So what’s the glue that holds it together? How is it joined together? Is it when we all sit down together and make a plan to do something for God? No. It’s been said that we plan and God laughs. What joins us together is the Spirit of God. That’s what we have in common. That Spirit helps us all act the same way – joyfully, peacefully, respectfully, non-judgmentally. We believe the same things and we worship the same way.
Some years ago, my friends, Jim O’Brien and Guy Swenson, and I got together and formed what we call The Common Faith Network. Now, it would be completely foolish to think that that concept and the objective that went with it is what draws all Christians together. Even the ones that know about it, that’s not the purpose of it. We created that entity with the hope that the independent churches of God could have more spiritual resources, if we had a way to share what God has given various ones of us. I mean, there’s no reason why we can’t have Winter Family Weekends and Feasts of Tabernacles and work projects and things like that all together. But there needs to be some way to accommodate that. So we just created that entity for that purpose and with that hope. So our plan didn’t make us one with everybody and neither do all the various groups and denominations. Only the Spirit of God does that. And that Spirit produces certain behaviors and certain attitudes and certain beliefs that unite us all in Christ.
In John 10:4, Jesus was talking to His disciples:
John 10:4 – When he has brought out all his own – he’s talking about a good shepherd – he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. We know the voice of Christ by what He tells us in the Bible. And, if He and the Father live in us, that’s the voice that we hear. Those people that He’s called know that voice and follow it. Of course, if we’re not living and thinking and feeling that way, we can easily be led off in another direction. But those led by the Spirit hear the voice of Christ in those who follow Him also. That’s how people from the US can go to Africa, for example, and meet people they’ve never met before and find that they believe just like they believe – totally different culture, different race, different continent, even, different country and all believe the same things about God.
I was talking to a man in my counseling office once, who kept the Sabbath, observed the holy days, believed the law was still valid, etc. In seventeen years of counseling, that’s only happened to me once. Now, I’d never met this man before he came for therapy, and I had never met anybody in his family – at least, at that time, I hadn’t – and I don’t to this day know anybody in his congregation or any of his friends. The only connection we had was counseling and the Holy Spirit. It’s a strange and awesome feeling. If it’s not happened to you, I hope it does, because it really is – beside being strange and awesome – it’s fun! We both really enjoyed experiencing that.
Let’s talk about this new temple and the work we’re to do. I, occasionally, meet people who wonder why God has called them. They don’t know the work they’re to do. God does give people specific gifts that we can use to move the church forward, but those gifts are adjunctive. They’re not God’s main focus. The real effort is focused on you and on me. We are the temple. And, as God told Solomon, “I have given you a work to do, so be strong and do it!”
So, if we are the temple, and we’re to build it, what part would naturally fall to you? Yes. You are your first project and I am mine. Our job one is to learn to yield ourselves to the Father and Jesus living in us, instead of choosing our own will. We need to take seriously the admonitions to stop being judgmental, jealous, envious, rude, thoughtless, hurtful, and take seriously the instruction to be joyful, peaceful, respectful, law abiders, etc. That’s our work! God is building a temple. Each one of us is part of it. And He’s working with us, but He wants us to work on ourselves. That’s our work.
When we think about doing the work of God, most of us focus on physical activities, like going to church, helping with services, activities, giving money, things like that. And those are all good things – and necessary, so I’m not saying they’re not a part of the picture – but they are not job one! We are. That’s how we build the new temple of God.
Look in 1 Corinthians 3:16. You know, I just mentioned that there were some people in the church in Corinth dividing up over Paul, Peter and Apollos..1 Corinthians 3:16, he said:
1 Corinthians 3:16 – Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? So where do you get off dividing up and having favorites and all that? That’s what he’s saying. If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy and you are that temple.
So can you feel the personal responsibility he’s laying on those people to live by the Spirit and allow the Spirit to rule in their hearts, instead of carnality and taking up sides, and picking favorites? See, they were dividing and creating divisions in the church – choosing sides. Contrariwise, when we are mild, and respectful, and empathic, and drawing people together, we’re building the new temple.
I was at a seminar once, where I listened to a major brain researcher, talking about the findings that he had about how the mind works. And a lot of the people that were atheistic and science-oriented would argue with him about it. He said their minds were closed. So he just started saying to them – when they would argue with him or point out problems with his research, supposedly – he would saying, “Interesting. Tell me more.” He was very well respected, because he just didn’t fight with people about stuff. And he listened and learned more – and that couldn’t hurt him, right? So, if a famous scientist can do that, why can’t we? Well, we can, if we would. We don’t have to defend every single position we have all the time. God’s going to defend us if we’re right. And, if we’re not, we’ll find out later that we’re wrong.
If we’re mild, and respectful, and kind, and empathic, and not argumentative, and we work on pulling people together, we’re building that new temple. And we are in this process, allowing God to write His law – His nature, His very own heart – into our hearts. Think about that. Everybody says they want to go to heaven, or they want this, or they want that. We say we want to be in the Kingdom, we want to be in the resurrection. What are we willing to do? That’s the question.
Now all this is not to day, by the way, that there is no need for evangelism. It’s just that the way God wants us to grow the church is not the way we traditionally think about it. How do we help build the temple in others? We talked about how we should do it in ourselves. Let’s talk about it in others. Now, we traditionally think about preaching, and teaching, and singing, and playing instruments, and praying, and supporting people many other ways, creating ministries or programs. And all these things are not only good, they’re vital. But they’re not the main thing that any one person can do.
When the first church I was ever a part of started to split, my job in that organization was to help the youth of that church. And I noticed that, as the split grew more defined and more people chose up sides, the more spiritual damage was being done to the youth of that church. They were sad. They were angry. They were confused. And they were weakened in their faith. And do you know what would have prevented that from happening? If all the adults had exemplified Christ in their behavior and their belief, the younger ones would not have suffered so much.
So what does that have to do with us? Well, in Matthew 5:14, we’re told:
Matthew 5:14-16 – You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand. And it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father, who is in heaven. That would include people in our own congregation.
Jesus said, “If you offend a child – a little one – new in the faith or a young person, which many of them were – you’d do well to put a millstone around your neck and go jump in the ocean.” A lot of us have opted out of the millstone, but there may still be one waiting for us. We have to do what God tells us to do, and just because we think something – or this or that – we have to consider other people and how it’s going to affect them.
So helping God build the temple bigger – outside of ourselves – always goes back to job one – surrendering ourselves to God and letting our light shine for others to see – in and out of the church.
I once went to an evangelism training. And it was not what I thought it was going to be at all. The approach they took was, that the people God is calling are attracted to spiritually healthy congregations and people. Wow! We’d never thought of that before in the church I was in. But here was this mega-church in the Chicago area – if I mentioned the name of it, most of you would know what it was – that’s how they figured to grow. They figured, if they could help people in their congregations become Christ-like, that would attract people that wanted to be Christ-like as well.
There really is no shortcut to take. A fancy building won’t do it. Fun music won’t do it. Fun Sunday schools won’t do it. Good small groups won’t do it. Now there’s always people that like that stuff, including me. The people God is calling will eventually seek people who are setting a good example of being Christ-like. If you think about it, when you go to a new group, you want to know how you’re going to be received, and what people believe, and how they treat each other. Those are the important things.
So let’s think now, as we conclude, about the serious import of all this that we have discussed. Let’s go to Hebrews 12:18 – Paul goes back to where we started today with the temple and the tabernacle. He says:
Hebrews 12:18-21 – For you – you people in the church in the spiritual temple – have not come to what may be touched – the temple of God is a spiritual thing – a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. You’ve not come to that. You haven’t come to the place the ancient Israelites were – the Israel of God back then. For they could not endure the order that was given: “Even if a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”
So there was a tabernacle and a temple, and the ancient Israelites, when God sent Moses down from Mount Sinai to give them the law, and God spoke in person many times from that place. That temple was the work of Israel and it was the center of their lives. But that temple was just a shadow of what God is doing today. And he picks that up here in verse 22:
V-22 – But you have come to Mount Zion – where the temple was – and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem – not just that temple over there on that hill – and to innumerable company of angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn, who are now enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant – he’s talking to Jews who don’t understand this. He’s telling them that God worked with people back then that way, and now He works this way. So you’ve come to something better and more powerful and a new covenant. …and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns us from heaven. Now I suppose many ministers would leave off that last part. Their congregations tell them they want only encouragement. They don’t want to hear hard things. If you feel that way, there are plenty of other ministers you can listen to. But I hope you realize this is not my message. I read it out of the Bible to you. It’s God’s message. I’m just the messenger and I’m nothing.
But here we read the whole verse, the whole passage, and the whole Bible. God is drawing those who want the whole message and who are willing to submit to it. And it’s in those people that God will write His whole law.