What does it mean (practically) to be Gospel Centered?

What does it mean (practically) to live a gospel centered life and to help others in this endeavor?   Scott Thomas & Tom Wood provide some helpful insight in to this in their insightful book, Gospel Coach: Shepherding Leaders to Glorify God.  A few things really stick out to me.
1) What we believe theologically drive how we approach life, discipleship & our pursuit of holiness.
2) We naturally prefer lists and formulas to modify our behaviors more than we have a deep desire to know God.
3) We naturally think that our problems are outside of us and the solutions are inside of us instead of realizing that our sinful, rebellious heart is the problem and the atoning work of Christ is the solution.
4)  “The motivation question is the lordship question.”  This is hugh because what motivates our hearts reveals who our real Lord is – You can’t dodge this question with external pretending, it strips us bare and reveals what we really worship (even if we look great on the outside)!

Moralism-Do Good
“While many leaders may teach and believe they are justified by God’s grace, they effectively deny that same grace by their efforts at being a godly leader. They rely on their own moral ability or on the way other people perceive them as good, moral people; thus, they are blind to their own sin. They trust in themselves or in the faulty judgment of others rather than in the grace of God, the cross of Christ, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. This type of leader often shames his family and the people he is leading into doing better and deals harshly with those who fail to perform to the level of acceptable behavior.
The gospel tells us that our standard for morality is Jesus Christ and that we only attain his perfect morality through his righteous imputation — we are declared righteous on the merits of Christ alone (Romans 4:3–8). As Tim Keller states, “I am more sinful and flawed than I ever dared believe. I am more accepted and loved than I ever dared hope.” A Christian leader who neglects the importance of the gospel relies instead on systems and structures that offer techniques for living a good life. Moralism leads to methods of behavior modification where we seek to change what we do without addressing who we are as sinful people. Moralism does not help us gain favor with God or ease our pressure. In fact, those who rely on systems or structures for living a moral life or managing their sin are neglecting the gospel of Christ.”  Kindle Locations 433-443

Therapy-Smile & Be Happy
“Therapy is the belief that adherents enjoy psychological benefits by participating in something good. This is not a religion of repentance from sin or of living as a servant of a sovereign God. Rather, therapy encourages us to pursue the goal of feeling good, happy, secure, and at peace with the world. It seeks to attain a state of subjective well-being by resolving problems and avoiding conflict with people. It’s about doing good things so that you feel good about yourself.
There is a dangerously fine line between serving God and serving ourselves. Ministry leaders may tend to overuse their “speaking for God” attitude to encourage followers to find their own happiness, since, as they say, “God wants you happy.” Others may encourage disciples to apply “easy-to-follow steps to personal wholeness.” Some leaders may lean toward the “be nice and smile” solution, ignoring the effects of sin. A person who embraces the therapeutic mind-set often focuses on the positives and avoids conflict at all costs — even if it involves compromising principles or the clear teaching of Scripture.
Many well-meaning Christian leaders offer therapeutic solutions to the problems we face. They often suggest that we simply need new hobbies or retreats or routines. One church leader said in an article that his best way of dealing with ministry stress is to listen to soothing music, hang out with some good friends, get a massage, and shoot his guns. Another leader said, “I take mental holidays while I am at church during the week.” Still another said, “I have a note card that I wrote to myself that I stuck inside my desk. It simply says, ‘Lighten up and smile.’”6 These are all different ways of dealing with stress, and each takes a different approach to ignoring the root problems in the heart. I seriously doubt that a note card encouraging me to lighten up and smile will be of any benefit when a family member gets cancer or I’m counseling a friend who has just lost a child. Sadly, much of the “advice” given out by church leaders today is unbiblical. With our churches filled with leaders who believe these things, is it any wonder that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is thriving in the church?”  Kindle Locations 445-462

Deism-Be There if I Need You
“Deism is the belief that there is a God who exists, who created the world, but who is now uninvolved in the affairs of life. God exists, but he basically leaves us alone. At a practical level, deism conceives of God as a Divine Butler who waits for us to call on him to intervene in times of great need or as a Cosmic Genie who exists to grant our wishes. If our plans and goals do not succeed as we expect, God gets the blame for our disappointment and pain.”  Kindle Locations 464-467

Man Centered vs. Gospel Empowered
“At its core, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is based on a humanistic, man-centered way of seeing our problems. And it offers solutions that we can manage and accomplish in our own strength and wisdom, without depending on God. In this sense, it is directly opposed to the gospel of God’s grace, which declares us dead in our sins, desperately in need of salvation that only God can provide through the atoning, all-sufficient work of Jesus Christ.” Kindle Locations 472-475

“The main focus of most life coaching today is not pathology — a thorough examination of the nature of our problems and their causes, processes, development, and consequences. Rather, humanism is focused on behavioral change through increased awareness and choices to allow for desired future results and solutions to current “problems in living.” In other words, much of life coaching is less concerned with issues of sin, rebellion against God, and our need for a Savior; it is about helping us achieve our self-determined goals in life, enabling us to seek happiness in fulfilling our personal desires.”  Kindle Locations 491-496

Many of those theories are based on the assumption that the client is basically good and that the answers to the maladies of life are found by “looking inside” and focusing on our desires. Rogers taught that man is good and that corruption enters our lives from the outside.”  Kindle Locations 498-500

“But this is a wrong assumption that is based on the notion that people are inherently good, that rather than being inherently selfish they are simply in need of self-discovery. In contrast, we contend that any approach that relies on a client-centered coaching approach, even if it flies under the banner of being Christ centered, is fundamentally flawed.
The Scriptures clearly reject the presupposition of our moral goodness, insisting that the effects of the fall stemming from human disobedience and rebellion against our Creator are much worse than we dare believe. The apostle Paul wrote:  I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. — Romans 7:18–20”  Kindle Locations 519-527

“To experience their full God-ordained potential, a Christian leader must first recognize that he or she is a forgiven sinner made righteous entirely through Jesus Christ and not through their own merit or ability. Transformation occurs as Christians appropriate the gospel and live by faith in what God declares true in Jesus. Those who have been transformed by the power of this message recognize that every wrong action, thought, or emotion is fundamentally a form of unbelief in the gospel, in what it declares to be true.
Though a person can believe the message of the gospel, functionally we often reveal a deeper, heart-level belief that our power, approval, comfort, and security are more worthy of pursuit than God. Since Jesus Christ is the only way that God has provided for us to be saved, we sin when we find our meaning and worth in anything other than our identity in Christ. This sin is a form of idolatry, a refusal to believe the good news that God has saved us in Jesus alone, instead looking to and relying on someone or something to give to us what only God can give. David Powlison explains this connection between biblical idolatry, sin, and our hearts:
Has something or someone besides Jesus Christ taken title to your heart’s trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear, and delight? It is a question bearing on the immediate motivation for one’s behavior, thoughts, and feelings. In the Bible’s conceptualization, the motivation question is the lordship question. Who or what “rules” my behavior, the Lord or a substitute?
Whereas the humanistic approach to coaching tells us that the problem we face is “out there” and the solution we need is inside of us, the gospel teaches us the exact opposite, namely, that the problem is really inside the heart and mind and the answer to our problem is outside of us — not in our work or effort — but in Christ alone. The gospel is the ultimate solution for every problem we face, and the answer is obviously not something we find inside of us. The power of the gospel comes when we look away from ourselves, relying on Jesus. As we trust in Jesus and his work on our behalf, we receive the supernatural power of God through the gracious gift of his Spirit.”  Kindle Locations 535-552

Thomas, Scott; Wood, Tom (2012-05-08). Gospel Coach: Shepherding Leaders to Glorify God. Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

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God is enough

“Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning. If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children.
But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.
Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms. When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” (Psalms 73:1–28 ESV)

I love the honesty of Scriptures – the writer acknowledges the reality of how it seems that wicked people often times seem to have relatively few problems and walk in relative ease.  “For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” (Psalms 73:3 ESV)  This can even cause us to be envious.  This is a psalm to push us to contentment, even when it seems like those who do not follow God are walking in prosperity.  It cautions us not to be tempted to follow their lead.

Verses 4-12 reveal some of the ways that their lives are prosperous & easy – they have plenty of food & resources and seem to be spared the futility & troubles that the rest of humanity walks in.  Verse 6 is a turning point:  “therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment.” (Psalms 73:6 ESV).  Because their lives have been relatively easy, because they have had few difficulties they become prideful – as if they had spared themselves from these difficulties due to their own abilities.  This is like Romans 1:28-31 where there is a failure to acknowledge God and His goodness.  When we take credit for the good in our lives and don’t give it to Him we become glory thieves.  We have natural abilities that we did not generate on our own.  We did not choose the families that we were born in or that we were exposed to the gospel.  We could have just as easily been born in complete poverty where the gospel is not preached and anarchy is the law of the land.  We did not choose that.

There is a point at which we have to ask ourselves if difficulty & suffering that ultimately strengthens our faith is worth it or do we really just want an easy, comfortable life.  Do we want comfort, security & ease or Jesus?  They seem to be mutually exclusive.  The psalmist’s logic goes like this:  because their lives have been relatively painless & prosperous they have become prideful at their circumstances & now they walk in all sorts of hard hearted “follies.”  They look down upon others, oppress them & pridefully brag against God & others.  ““How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?”” (Psalms 73:11 ESV).  The writer concludes like this:  “Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.” (Psalms 73:12 ESV).  We have to begin to see some of the difficulties in our lives as a gift of grace to us because it causes us to see Him more clearly.

Why is it that we seem to think that we can have prosperity & fail to see how prosperity can create problems in our pursuit of Jesus.  You can’t chase both at the same time (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13).  If you have a life of relative comfort, ease & prosperity be grateful, but be aware of its power to draw you away from singular devotion to Jesus!

There is a tinge of bitterness and jealousy at the prosperity of the wicked – it doesn’t seem right or fair!  “All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning. If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children.” (Psalms 73:13–15 ESV)  A true heart of bitterness is revealed.  Who hasn’t felt this way when life seems to be going so unjustly?  Our bitterness in situations like this spill into all areas of our life – and is normally rooted in a bitterness towards God.  Honesty & bitterness at what seems to be unjust is welcomed by God.  Is He not the Sovereign omniscient Lord of all?  He knows what’s in your heart, you might as well tell Him!  Jesus’ death bought you the right to confidently approach God as Father and share what is really going on inside of you.  There is no more hiding or pretending for the Christian.

What we see revealed was the psalmist’s real motives.  “All in vain have I kept my heart clean.”  The singer reveals that what he really wanted was God’s blessing.  Isn’t this true of us – don’t we desire God’s blessing & protection more than we desire His presence?  This is especially true when life is difficult; don’t let the bitterness sit in your heart, let it diagnosis your idolatrous desire for God’s goodness and protection more than His presence. The bitterness in verses 13-15 are really aimed toward God if you peel the layer of the onion all the way back to its core.  Life has not gone the way that we wanted, expected or planned and we are mad at God because He has not given us what we really think that we need or deserve.  The beauty of the gospel is that we get reconciled with God – that is it.  We get God, nothing else is guaranteed which frees us from bitterness and anger.

We feel like the psalmist when we believe that God has abandoned us?  Brutish ignorance is the result of a bitter heart that feels like it has been treated unfairly (verses 21-22).  And yet, the psalmist is careful not to let his bitterness spill over onto others so as to undermine their faith (especially the faith of the next generation, see verse 15).  This is wise counsel, but it still does not deliver us from bitterness.  Trying to understand this is a wearisome task on our own; it is futile, meaningless.  We can mull it over, try to figure it out and weigh it on all sides, we can wear ourselves out trying to understand, but the answer is not in us; the answer is not found under the sun.

It is wearisome, futile & meaningless until we come in to the presence of God.  Perspective becomes clear in the presence of God, we get above the trees in order to see the forest, we are comforted at His presence, we see that there is a larger & grander plan than just us.  In His presence, trusting God doesn’t seem meaningless any longer.  The psalmist starts to sound like Habakkuk (see Habakkuk 3:17-19) as his perspective shifts.  The smallness of creation becomes apparent when we are in the presence of the infinite Almighty.

The Psalmist turns the corner as a result of being in the presence of God (v23).  He realizes that he is with God because God is his sustainer, protector & guide.  Whom do we have in heaven besides God (more specifically Jesus, who is interceding at our right hand)?  The heart has shifted from dwelling upon the horizontal to seeing the vertical realities as it proclaims “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” (Psalms 73:25 ESV).  Is this your singular affection?  This is what happens to the heart that has been in the presence of God – to gaze on the beauty of majesty, albeit veiled, always produces a peace that surpasses all understanding & a heart that sees Him as the supreme treasure worth trading everything for.  Sanctification involves us getting ourselves to the sanctuary and begging God to reveal Himself.

Regardless of what happens in this world even though our heart & our flesh fail us, we find that God is our strength and our portion – He is enough, regardless of what is happening around us (v26).  Tough marriage, difficult child, physical ailment, financial stress, relational breakdown, overall futility in life?  Go to the sanctuary and beg God to reveal Himself and stare until you see it.  When He reveals His majesty, your perspective will begin to change.  Things end badly for those who don’t desire God, “but for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” (Psalms 73:28 ESV).  This life is brief, pursue Him as the supreme Treasure that He is!

Need is all that you need

“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.
“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”(Deuteronomy 30:11–20 ESV)

If you have been in the church for a while, then you have likely heard this passage used as a charge for you to walk in obedience.  It certainly is that!  It certainly is a call to obey the Lord’s commands, but what is in view is not some white knuckled, hard fought self reliant form of sanctification.  NO!  Obedience is only possible with new hearts.  It is only by trusting in God’s grace that you will find the fuel to obey His commands.  It is not too hard if the heart has been regenerated.  This text looks forward to a day when the word is in their hearts & mouths so that they would obey (14).  The circumcised heart enables obedience (30:6).  Paul quotes this passage in Romans 10:6-8 to distinguish between a righteousness that comes by faith versus dutiful obedience to the law.  God’s requirement is not superhero like works, but faith in the gospel.  Dependence is all you need; need is all that you need.  Joyful obedience flows from hearts that have been made new.

The options before them were clear and the consequences of their actions were clear, but they didn’t obey – they couldn’t obey rightly.  They did not have believing hearts.  God is not after just any type of obedience, He is after a certain kind of obedience.  God is after loving hearts that overflow in joyful obedience (v16).  Obedience without love is not real obedience – it is external compliance, which does not glorify God.  Moses gives them a choice at the summit of His preaching – it really is about trusting in the goodness, sovereignty & grace of God and walking in glad submission to the Lord of the universe (15-16).

If, however, your heart turns away & your ears become hard of hearing and you worship other gods then you will perish (17-18).  Love, affection & desire are at the heart of man; the very essence of a man is what he decides is worthy of his worship.  We become like that which we worship (Psalm 63:2, 2 Corinthians 3:18).  Moses says that life & death was before them and he implored them to choose life (19-20)!  Life consists of loving God, trusting God & obeying God.  Life comes from Christ and Christ alone (John 10:10).  Jesus is the One that perfectly obeyed the law as a result of His perfect love for God.  He then gave us His perfect obedience and took our sinful rebellion upon Himself in what has been called the “Great Exchange.”  If you are a Christian, then striving to please God is done – God is pleased with you because of the perfect obedience that Jesus gave to you.  You can stop striving and begin walking in joyful submission to the commands of God because you no longer have to earn or prove anything because Jesus victoriously proclaimed, “It is Finished!” (John 19:30)

The need for new hearts

“And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
And you shall again obey the voice of the LORD and keep all his commandments that I command you today.”
(Deuteronomy 30:6, 8 ESV)

The Israelites problem was their hard, unbelieving hearts.  This is a major focus of Deuteronomy – God is not after mere dutiful obedience, He is after our joyful submission overflowing from grateful hearts.  The people did not have these kinds of hearts because God had not given them believing hearts.  But God, being rich in mercy, promises to give them hearts that obey – new hearts, hearts of flesh rather than hearts of stone.  Only with new hearts are we able to enjoy a covenant relationship with the Creator.

This involves God writing His laws on our hearts which produces relational intimacy (Jeremiah 31:33), and hearts of flesh that allow us to walk in true obedience (Ezekiel 36:26-27).  Those that are truly His are not based on external heritage & race – it is those who have circumcised hearts wrought by the Spirit (Romans 2:25-29 & Colossians 2:11).  Circumcision was an external sign of the covenant, but this was merely an outward picture of the inward reality of our need for circumcised hearts (Deuteronomy 10:16).  Circumcision symbolizes the removal of our stubbornness that prevents us from loving God rightly (which is the first & greatest commandment – see Deuteronomy 6:5).   This is the same as uncircumcised lips that do not speak well (Exodus 6:12) or uncircumcised ears that do not hear well (Jeremiah 6:10).   We are a stiff-necked, rebellious & stubborn people apart from the regenerating, faith depositing grace of God (here).

The book of Deuteronomy readily points out that the people need new hearts – hearts that obey, but this is not something that they can produce on their own – they need God to do it in them (Deuteronomy 30:6, 29:4).  Only those whose hearts have been made new are truly His – external rituals, signs & obedience are not enough; new hearts are required (Jeremiah 4:4 & 9:25-26 & Romans 2:25-29).  Faith springs forth from a regenerated heart.

If you are a Christian, it is not because you prayed a prayer or walked an aisle.  If you are Christian, it is because God graciously determined before He made anything (Ephesians 1:4-6) that He would make your dead heart alive (Ephesians 2:4-6, Colossians 2:3, 1 Peter 3:18).  It is because of His sovereign choosing, not because of you being spiritually attuned to God or seeking after Him.  We don’t seek God (Romans 3:11, 10:3), He seeks us (Luke 15:4-10, 19:10).  When we realize that our best efforts are but filthy rags before a perfectly holy Creator (Isaiah 64:6), we are moved to cry out for mercy.  When we realize that our faith is the result of God’s regenerating work in our hearts, then our hearts begin to overflow with gratitude & appreciation and we worship.  Be thankful today that He chose to regenerate your heart not because of anything that you did, but solely because of His goodness & grace.

Being okay with your smallness

““You know how we lived in the land of Egypt, and how we came through the midst of the nations through which you passed. And you have seen their detestable things, their idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold, which were among them. Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the LORD our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike. The LORD will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the LORD and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven. And the LORD will single him out from all the tribes of Israel for calamity, in accordance with all the curses of the covenant written in this Book of the Law. And the next generation, your children who rise up after you, and the foreigner who comes from a far land, will say, when they see the afflictions of that land and the sicknesses with which the LORD has made it sick— the whole land burned out with brimstone and salt, nothing sown and nothing growing, where no plant can sprout, an overthrow like that of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, which the LORD overthrew in his anger and wrath— all the nations will say, ‘Why has the LORD done thus to this land? What caused the heat of this great anger?’ Then people will say, ‘It is because they abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them out of the land of Egypt, and went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods whom they had not known and whom he had not allotted to them. Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against this land, bringing upon it all the curses written in this book, and the LORD uprooted them from their land in anger and fury and great wrath, and cast them into another land, as they are this day.’” (Deuteronomy 29:16–28 ESV)

Beware lest just one person’s heart turns away and chases other gods and idols.  Apparently, idolatry is contagious.  Pride & hardness of heart will lead a person to the point at which he (or she) says, ““I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.” (Deuteronomy 29:19 ESV).  WOW, what arrogance & pride; I’ll walk in disobedience because I am the master of my own fate, master of my own soul.  God’s response to this outright rebellion is wrath.  He will not sit idly by, while His chosen people mock Him openly!  This is rooted in the justice, holiness & jealousy of God.  He has rights on their souls (and ours) and He had been profoundly merciful & gracious towards His people (and towards us), but there is a point at which He exacts justice because He will not allow His people to tread on His holiness.  Mass destruction of the land will ensue because of the people’s rebellion and their neighbors will want to know why God did such a thing.  The answer:  ““It is because they abandoned the covenant of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 29:25 ESV).  The Christian is safe from these curses because a Substitute obeyed perfectly on our behalf. 

What is ironic is that they had no relationship with these false gods, and yet they chased after them thinking that they would produce soul satisfaction (v25-26).  God is completely involved with His people – He cares & is connected, He is not some distant deity!  He is close!  And yet, created gods which are no gods at all, hold power in the hearts of the people.  God, protect us from chasing created gods thinking that they will satisfy our souls!

Verses 24-28 anticipates the people’s rebellion & idolatry as they break the first commandment and chase after other gods!  Chapter 28 weighed blessings & curses, but now it seems apparent that the author anticipates the people’s rebellion because “the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.” (Deuteronomy 29:4 ESV).  These are strong words that show us that apart from God’s divine intervention, we will not be able to obey.  Yes, unless the Spirit regenerates the motivations of your heart, you will not be able to believe & obey.  This is no white knuckled effort, this is dependent grace that glorifies God.

“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29 ESV).  God has some secrets that He has chosen not to reveal to us and we are going to have to be okay with that.  We are going to have to trust that He is faithful, good & sovereign.  We are going to have to admit that we aren’t unlimited in our understanding & perspective.  This means that even when I don’t fully understand, I’m called to obey.  This is not mechanical obedience; my obedience is rooted in a relationship of trust, not in trying to earn God’s approval because it has already been earned.  I must walk by faith & not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7) because my eyes always fail me, for there is a way that seems right to me, but it really leads to death (Proverbs 14:12 & 16:25).  Lord, help me to recognize my limitedness and help me to walk in joyful obedience, trusting in your goodness & grace.

God, give us believing hearts

“And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: “You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.” (Deuteronomy 29:2–4 ESV)

The Israelites had been witnesses of the loving care, miraculous power & sovereign rule of God and yet they did not have seeing eyes, hearing ears or understanding hearts.  They had wandered in the desert and their clothes & shoes had not worn out, God had defeated kings and given them their land (29:5-9).  Their obedience was designed to flow out of grateful hearts that remembered their God & His faithfulness to them.  It is easy for us to look down on the Israelites for their unbelief – after all they saw God do mighty miracles with their own eyes!  We ought to be careful with our self-righteousness, because unbelief is our problem as well (“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”” (John 6:29 ESV), see also 1 John 3:23).  Jesus alludes to unbelief by using the same analogy of having a hearing problem (Matthew 11:15; Mark 4:9, 12 & 23; Luke 8:8, 14:35).

Why didn’t the people obey?  Because the Lord had not given them believing hearts.  Unless the Lord opens our eyes, ears & hearts, we will remain blind, deaf & cold towards Him.  God is the one who opens hearts (Acts 16:14), and enables faith by the regenerating power of His Spirit; our only contribution is the sin that makes reconciliation necessary.  One of the major themes of Deuteronomy is Israel’s need for right hearts; it foreshadows the people’s inability to respond rightly to God (Deuteronomy 5:29, 8:17, 9:4).  It looks forward to a day when God would give His people new hearts (10:16, 30:6), which is a theme that is continued throughout the Old Testament (see Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:25-27).

Our greatest need is not more impact, influence, morality or even obedience.  Our greatest need are hearts that truly believe the seemingly impossible promises of God.  The Central Promise of the bible is that a good, perfect, holy & all powerful God would make a way for His rebellious creatures to be reconciled into a relationship with Him.  The staggering implications of this should mark our entire lives.  The more that we understand that we are far more sinful than we first thought, but the gracious sacrifice of God in Christ covers our ongoing apathy & rebellion, the more that we walk in dependent humility.  A deeper, fuller understanding of the gospel shatters self-righteousness which is rooted in our own performance & morality.

Let us abandon our propensity of pretending to be godly, and let us actually pursue godliness.  Let us beg God to give us faith to believe, for we cannot produce this on our own.  God, take our far too small faith & multiply it, we do believe, but help us with our unbelief (Mark (9:21-24); help us to behold you for who you really are and cause us to become more like you (2 Corinthians 3:18).