Christian singer Jimmy Needham blogged this earlier this month under the title Good Luck Being Good.
1. You shall have no other gods before me.
2. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth. beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them.
3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain
4. Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you.
5. Honor your father and your mother
6. You shall not murder.
7. And you shall not commit adultery.
8. And you shall not steal.
9. And you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
10. And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.’(Deuteronomy 5:7-21 Edited)
Israel was summoned to a meeting. Down from the mountain came Moses to speak to God’s people. What followed would become one of the most famous passages in all of Scripture. Churches, city centers, courthouses and classroom walls would all be emblazoned with these words millennia later. Folks would build whole cultures around them. Major motion pictures would be made about them. Men would lose status and reputation for upholding them. Others would lose their lives for ignoring them. These words have undergone such scrutiny, so many interpretations, applications and misuses that there is hardly anyone (at least, any westerner) without an opinion on what has come to be known as the Decalogue, or the 10 Commandments.
So the scene has been set. God issues 10 Commandments to His people to obey completely. Picture yourself standing at the mountain’s base for a minute. Fire and smoke swirl all around you. The Lord of glory’s majestic voice bellows through you as you hear Him speaking from heaven. What awe you must feel at His words! What terror! What can you say? What should you say? Well I’ll tell you what Israel said: “Yessir!”. Israel said to Moses,
“Go near and hear all that the LORD our God will say, and speak to us all that the LORD our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.” (Deut. 5:27).
Now, maybe this promise doesn’t phase you. God said “obey” and the people said “done”. No big deal, right? The problem is, Israel wrote a check they simply couldn’t cash. Look at God’s words to them about their noble pledge.
“And the LORD heard your words, when you spoke to me. And the LORD said to me, ‘I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!” (Deuteronomy 5:28-29)
You get the sense that the heart of God was touched at their promise, but ultimately the wisdom of God knew better. He said “O that they had such a heart”. What was God’s response to His people when the pledged allegiance to Him and promised to obey His commands? He said that they didn’t have the heart to do it. I believe that this phrase is one of the most important passages in all of Scripture. It’s important because it’s the exact same thing God says to us when we think that we can be good enough to meet His perfect standard. “O that they had such a heart”.
C.S. Lewis once said, “No man knows how bad he is till he as tried very hard to be good”. I don’t know about you, but I was raised with the understanding that the Commandments were the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Good people kept them. Bad people broke them. It was important, therefore, to do your best to obey. What I didn’t know was that the same Bible that told to obey also told me I lacked the ability to do so! The thing is, you don’t need to be taught this truth. Just go try to be good for one day. I mean, really good. How’d it go? Fact: We are all terrible at morality. Even when we get the external actions down, our heart’s internal motives are usually selfish and prideful the whole time. God demands goodness. Worse, God demands perfection, and all we do is sin. Is there any hope for us?
The answer is yes! But it isn’t found in more trying. Believe it or not, it’s found in open-heart surgery. Many centuries later, God spoke through the Prophet Ezekiel to the nation of Israel. Through the Prophet God gave His people insider information on how he intended to fix their sin problem.
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 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. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27)
The problem: God demands our obedience but our hearts won’t let us obey him because they are sinful. God’s solution: Give us a new heart. He removes that old stony heart that doesn’t care for Him and gives us one that beats for the things He loves. This was fulfilled after Jesus rose from the grave and sent His Spirit to live inside every believer. This is the great promise of the Old Testament fulfilled!
I pray this comes as a relief to those of us who have tried to be good enough for so long and have always failed. May we learn to cease trying in our own power and yield to the Spirit of God who gives us new desires and causes us to be obedient. Maybe you read this and think, “I have no idea what this means. I thought Christianity was about being good and moral.” May I say to you, there is only one way to be good, and it’s not by working harder. It’s by trusting in and treasuring the one who worked on your behalf, Jesus Christ. He achieved what we could not: Pleasing God perfectly. Give Him your sin and let Him give you His goodness. Then you will truly be free to obey all God has commanded you, for His glory and your good.