Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Thursday, 21 April 2022:
Listen to this teaching from Bob Davis of North County Chapel on Leviticus 19 — https://www.blueletterbible.org/audio_video/popPlayer.cfm?id=10398&rel=davis_bob/Lev
Leviticus 19:1-2 — And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.
Heinrich Heine, a famous nineteenth-century German poet, allegedly spoke these last words: “Of course God will forgive me; that’s His job.” Whether or not this man died in faith is debatable, but if we simply isolate these words from their context, we end up with a phrase that could summarize how much of modern Western culture thinks about the Creator. Vast numbers of people today believe that it is God’s duty to forgive — that He is obligated to pardon people no matter what they have done. Though people may fall far short of what they know to be right, they think the Almighty must forgive them, even if they never seek absolution.
Of course, we know our Father in heaven is abundant in mercy and eager to forgive the repentant (Luke 15:11–32). Yet we also know that God is not obligated to forgive anyone, especially if it would violate His righteousness, thereby trivializing sin. He will have mercy upon whom He will have mercy and show compassion to whomever He wills (Rom. 9:14–18). The only way He forgives without violating His holy character is in having “steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other” (Ps. 85:10). God will forgive only those who trust in His promises — those who rely wholly upon Jesus, who was condemned for sinners so that they might receive the blessing of forgiveness.
We need forgiveness not merely because we have sinned against others; rather, we need forgiveness because we have failed to reflect the image of God, having fallen far short of the glory He intended for us (Rom. 3:23). Our Creator demanded that His old covenant people be holy just as He is holy — set apart from all uncleanness and pure in character (Lev. 19:1–2). Ultimately, this call is given to all, Jew and Gentile alike (Acts 17:22–34), and especially to the church (Matt. 5:48; 1 Peter 1:13–16).
The demand could not be higher — everyone is to be as holy as God is holy; our predicament could not be greater — sinners cannot possibly be this holy; and the Father’s answer could not be more gracious — His Son died in our place to satisfy His wrath, making Him able to forgive without forsaking His own righteousness. May we always recognize our failure to be holy as God is holy, our inability to obligate our Creator to forgive us, and the great mercy He has shown us in His Son, Christ Jesus.
We are often tempted to trivialize God’s demand for holiness and instead look to somebody or something other than God as the standard by which we measure ourselves. Remember, though, that the Lord has pronounced judgment on His image bearers for failing to reflect His holiness. Thanks be to God, He has provided a way to escape this wrath by confessing our failures and turning to the One who sacrificed Himself for our salvation.” (Ligonier Ministries)
Leviticus 19:12 — You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.
“Within the new covenant community, the most common way the name of God is taken in vain seems to be the frivolous making of promises and failure to keep sworn oaths and vows. During the time in which the Bible was written, Israel understood that the third commandment prohibits the false swearing of oaths. Ancient commentaries on this commandment interpret it as “You shall not swear falsely by the Lord your God,” and the serious way in which the New Testament looks at oaths and vows confirms this as a proper reading (Matt. 5:33–37; James 5:12). Moreover, today’s passage tells us explicitly that to swear falsely by the name of the Lord is to treat His name as less than holy.
There are perhaps three main ways to swear an oath falsely. First, we profane God’s name if we swear by a name other than His own. We swear oaths in the presence of the Lord as a witness, in effect testifying to the parties with whom we are making a compact that if we are not true to our word, God will hold us accountable. Even when others do not pick up on our failures or when they cannot prosecute us for breaking our word, the Lord knows, and He will have the final say in the matter. To swear an oath by one other than the triune God is to usurp His judging power, His ability to prosecute an oath made by a creature of His design. Consequently, we falsely attribute power and knowledge to things and persons that really possess neither (Gal. 4:8).
Second, we abuse the name of the Lord when we swear oaths on frivolous occasions. The Westminster Confession of Faith 22.2 affirms that oaths and vows are proper only in weighty matters, largely because these are the only occasions in Scripture where we see oaths being made (Ezra 10:1–5; Ps. 132:11). Swearing oaths on frivolous occasions can be done only if we do not take God seriously.
Third, we trample upon God’s name if we make promises that we do not keep. When we do not keep a sworn oath, we act as if the Lord does not care about the truth and that He will turn a blind eye when we tell outright falsehoods or misrepresent the facts — that He will not let our lies find us out. What could be more vain or foolish than that (see Num. 32:23)?
Consider today whether you are a person of your word. Can your friends and family count on you to keep your commitments? If you consistently fail to keep your promises, then take better care to decide whether or not the promises you make can realistically be kept. It is better not to make promises than it is to promise and then fail to keep them. Let us make only promises that we are realistically able to fulfill.” (Ligonier Ministries)
Romans 7:6 — “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”
The more you live by the Spirit, the less your earthly desires need to be controlled by the Law. The Law is not required where the Spirit reigns. There are three levels of motivation — the lowest is fear (pride is the other side of that coin); the second lowest form of motivation is duty (doing something because you know you are supposed to). The Law threatens the fearful with punishment and gives rules to the dutiful to control behavior, but in the end, the Law will never be enough to constrain the heart. The highest form of motivation is love, doing something because you really want to, despite the personal cost. When the heart is controlled by love, no law is required. The Law is not abolished, it still exists, but it is no longer a concern because it comes naturally. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17) Jesus called us to fulfill the law out of love rather than fear or duty. When you are lacking in love, you must still fulfill the law of love, though your motivation of fear or duty are impure. However, you must use the mirror of the law to see that in yourself, to search your heart, and to pursue love. And remember, we are not just seeking to be good people, we are seeking to be one with Jesus in love. God searches the heart, seeing beyond words and deeds to motivations.
Romans 7:7 — “For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead.
The Law is a guide, a curb, and a mirror. It shows you the way to go, keeps you on the road, and as a mirror, the Law reveals your sinful desires.
Contentment: “Scripture addresses the problem of covetousness in many places, including today’s passage. Paul addresses the question as to whether there is a problem with the Mosaic law itself since it arouses sinful passions (Rom. 7:5–6). The essence of Paul’s answer in Romans 7:7–8 is, “No, the problem is not in the law, the problem is in us.” God’s law is holy (v. 12), but our sinful hearts twist it and turn what could restrain us into an avenue by which our desire for sin is strengthened.
Paul emphasizes the law’s role in encouraging him to covet. His point is not that he had no intellectual awareness of the sin of covetousness before he read the tenth commandment; rather, he speaks of experiential knowledge. The Apostle knew it was wrong to covet before He studied the Law, but reading the Law exposed how covetous he truly was (v. 7). He began to feel His wickedness in a new way once he read the tenth commandment, seeing how much he coveted things that were not his and how he actually relished covetousness instead of hating it (v. 8).
All sinners can testify to this reality. There is just something about the wicked human heart that loves sin in itself and not simply the fleeting pleasures it provides. We sin simply because we can and because we enjoy it. Augustine captured this well in book two of his Confessions when he spoke of stealing pears as a youth. His “pleasure was not in those pears, it was in the offense itself.”
In conversion, the Holy Spirit breaks this hold that sin has on us, but when we are not walking in the Spirit, our flesh can seize the law to encourage sin in us once more (Gal. 5:16). If we have trusted Christ, the only way we can fight this is to “walk by the Spirit,” pursuing fruit such as joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control, among others (vv. 23–24). Such things are possible only when the heart is content, so the pursuit of contentment is the best way to slay our urges to covet.
Scripture’s answer to the problem of covetousness in Christian hearts is not to abandon all desire. Neither is it to view material goods as evil and look down on those whom God has richly prospered. Instead, the Bible calls us to “be content with what [we] have” (Heb. 13:5). We are to cultivate contented hearts that are happy when others flourish and know that Christ Himself is sufficient whether we own many things or not.
Western culture does everything it can to stoke the fires of discontentment. Politicians pander to class envy. Advertisers depict products in a way that makes us think we must own them if life is to be worthwhile. Hollywood tells us that we must be young and beautiful to have any dignity at all. God, however, calls us to be content with what He has given us. As we walk in His Spirit and encourage one another, we can be satisfied with whatever we have.” (Ligonier Ministries)
Romans 7:14, 15 — “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. There is no self-control in the flesh.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 21 April 22: Today, practice trusting in God’s strength rather than yours. Be willing to do what God says, even if it seems impossible, simply because God commanded it — this is faith and hope. Today, search your heart for the motivations behind your actions. Seek to do what God has commanded you simply out of love, not out of fear, a hope for reward, or out of a self-righteous sense of honor and duty.