I know that, despite popular opinion among some of my more “conservative” brethren, God’s law in it’s entirety is not found in the pages of the Holy Scripture. I know this fact from the Holy Scriptures themselves. For the writer of the book of Hebrews restates for us an ancient prophecy handed down to us from Jeremiah stating:
Behold, days are coming, says the Lord,
When I will effect a new covenant
With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah;
Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers
On the day when I took them by the hand
To lead them out of the land of Egypt;
For they did not continue in My covenant,
And I did not care for them, says the Lord.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
After those days, says the Lord:
I will put My laws into their minds,
And I will write them on their hearts.
And I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.
And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen,
And everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
For all will know Me,
From the least to the greatest of them.
For I will be merciful to their iniquities,
And I will remember their sins no more.”
(Hebrews 8:8-12, NASB)
Too many confused people try to equate the New Covenant with the Old Covenant. They try to make “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:2, NASB) similar to, if not precisely like, the Old Testament Law of Moses. In other words, they go looking for a “thus sayeth the Lord” along with book, chapter, and verse to “authorize” everything they do, or don’t do, when it comes to matters of faith and Christian living. This tendency to want to turn the writings of the New Testament into something akin to the book of Leviticus or Deuteronomy often causes people to imitate the spirit of the Pharisees who were so devoted to the Law of Moses that they missed the very One of whom the entire Law prophesied. I remember Jesus one time saying, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life” (John 5:39-40, NASB). I wonder if some people haven’t fallen into exactly that same trap when they study their Bibles looking for every command, example, or inference that may authorize, or not authorize, a particular religious practice, but then seem to miss Jesus!
Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I believe with all my heart and soul that the Bible is God’s revealed word in written form; that it is holy and inspired, and that it contains God’s will for our lives. I hang my hat on what Jesus said when He told His disciples, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32, NASB). The writings and teachings of the apostles and prophets of the New Testament are His word.
But anyone who has actually READ the New Testament knows that it does not read like the Law of Moses. Anyone who has followed the Apostle Paul’s instruction to, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB), knows that God made the apostles and prophets of the New Testament “adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6, NASB). Anyone who has studied their New Testament through the lens of a “student of the word” — honestly wanting to discern truth and not simply justify a position — knows that there are many areas of one’s personal faith that are solely dependent upon how God is dealing with one’s heart. Paul said:
One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. (Romans 14:2-5, NASB)
He then when on to say,
The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin. (Romans 14:22-23, NASB)
Note that the Apostle Paul did not give them a “thus sayeth the Lord” for establishing a policy on eating vegetables or meat. He did not provide them with book, chapter, and verse regarding the observance of holy days. Rather, He simply cautioned them against judging one another and then pointed to their hearts saying, “the faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God!” Why is that not enough for some people? Let’s face it folks, there are a plethora of theological issues, moral issues, social issues, and personal issues for which we will not find book, chapter, and verse. But does that mean that God has not spoken to us regarding these issues?
The prophet, Jeremiah, says:
The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?
I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give to each man according to his ways,
According to the results of his deeds.
(Jeremiah 17:9-10, NASB)
While there are many who lift this verse out of context and run amuck with it, saying we can never, under any circumstances, trust the content of our heart to any appreciable degree, I do not go along with that line of thinking. I believe, in light of New Covenant teaching, that we can trust our hearts to the extent that our hearts are truly surrendered to the will of God. But the point that the Lord is making here is that I must be careful about trusting my heart solely, or trusting it too far. I can easily deceive myself into thinking that I don’t need to pay attention to scripture because I know something “in my heart!” Or, I can easily fool myself into thinking that, because I do have “scriptural authority” — book, chapter, verse — for something, I am therefore free to practice it regardless of the effect it may have on others around me.
On the one hand, the legalist says, “If there is no ‘law’ permitting it, then it’s wrong to practice it!” On the other hand, the liberal says, “If there is no ‘law’ forbidding it, then I am free to practice it!” In my view — and I can already see the stones flying at me from both directions — both of these positions are wrong! They are both legalistic to the core. They are both incredibly inconsistent in practice. They both depend on the “letter of the law,” not “the Spirit of life in Christ”! And, they both have moved the discussion out of the realm of faith and love, and under the jurisdiction of law! “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4, NASB). This verse applies equally to both the legalist and the liberal; each deceived by their own heart and seeking to justify themselves by some law, or lack thereof.
Can I, or anyone, understand or comprehend my deceitful heart? Yes, God, through Jeremiah, says, “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind!” Wow! My heart may fool me, but it will never fool God. He knows me inside and out. And note how the prophet says that God does that testing; He gives to each man “according to his ways,” “according to the results of his deeds!” The heart will always reveal itself in action. I may convince myself that I “feel” a certain way, or even “believe” a certain way, but my “ways” and my “deeds” with reveal the actual content of my heart. Furthermore, I may be able to trust my heart when it is fully surrendered to the will of God, but only to the extent that my words and my deeds are consistent with the word of God. Jesus said, “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man…” (Matthew 15:18-20, NASB).
And yet, it is precisely there — RIGHT THERE — in the midst of my sick and deceitful heart, that God has chosen to write His law. And this is what makes the New Covenant superior to the Old Covenant. The Ten Commandments were engraved upon stone. The Law of Moses was imprinted with ink on scrolls of parchment and vellum. But, “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” is written upon human hearts by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. He uses Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James, and others to do that. He also uses wisdom poured forth within our hearts by the power of the Spirit to do that (James 1:5). He speaks to our surrendered hearts in a myriad of ways through scripture, through prayer and meditation, through life and experiences, through fellow spiritual sojourners. But, regardless of the tools He chooses to use to put His laws into our minds and write them upon our hearts, Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27, NASB). Authentic disciples of Christ will always know and follow God’s desire for their lives.
God is in it for my heart, deceitful though it may be at times. He wants me to love Him and serve Him from my heart. The Old Covenant controlled people by rules and regulations inculcated from without, by the letter of the law. But God’s New Covenant children are controlled by a heart surrendered to the will of God in all things. As the Apostle Paul said, “For the love of Christ controls us…” (2 Corinthians 5:14, NASB).
~ Philip ~