Stewarding the Mind
Topic: Sermon Scripture: Deuteronomy 6:4–6:9
- The Confession
- The Implication
- The Application
- The Explanation
In the year 1995, a Christian historian named Mark Noll released a book titled The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. In it, he made the following controversial statement: “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”
Personally, I’m of two minds on that observation. On the one hand, if you look out at what’s often called the evangelical landscape today, there’s a painful amount of truth to his statement. Just look at the songs in many churches today compared to a couple hundred years ago—while not all the music in the average evangelical church is cotton candy, “Jesus is my boyfriend” stuff, the content found in many churches is probably closer to that than it is to, say, hymns like “Amazing Grace” or “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Or take the sermons—in my first pastorate, people used to get grouchy when I ran twenty minutes long, when the churches of previous generations would happily listen for an hour or longer. Many Christians today downplay the importance of the Christian’s mind, in favor of experience or the heart or other things—more on that later. Anyway, Noll had reasons for writing what he did.
And yet, I’m still not sure it’s completely fair. Noll’s accusation assumes a lot of churches nowadays described as “evangelical” actually are, but my observation is that many so-called “evangelical” churches really aren’t distinguished by the “evangel,” the Gospel. It would probably include thousands of Trinity-denying Oneness churches and tens of thousands of prosperity gospel churches and millions of their followers that teach a different evangel entirely, just for one thing. I rather suspect that those parts of the Christian tradition that have been more self-conscious about the “evangel,” such as, for example, the Reformed and the Lutherans, are also those parts that have valued the mind more highly.
That said, though, Noll is definitely right that the vast majority of those described as evangelicals have neglected the mind. Indeed, speaking from experience, one of the major tasks of a Christian pastor these days isn’t just teaching the basics of the Christian faith, but actually simply teaching folks how to read their Bible properly in the first place, and that their beliefs need to actually be consistent with each other. In other words, I’d say that we live in an age where a growing part of evangelism and discipleship is simply teaching Christians how to use their minds in the first place.
That’s probably why my fellow elders decided that this subject, “Stewarding the Mind,” needed to be addressed from the pulpit. In order to do that, I chose this text we’re looking at today—Deuteronomy 6, and I’m looking in particular at verses 4 through 9. While at first glance it may be hard to see a connection with the mind here, I hope and pray that by the time we’re done you’ll see that not only is there a connection, but that the mind actually becomes an absolutely critical and non-negotiable part of our faith. Let’s read the text:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut. 6:4-9 ESV)
Let’s start with verse 4. The Lord, Yahweh of the Hebrews, is God, and this God is God alone.
Let’s take a moment to unpack this, because this is crucial. There’s a reason why this statement is the fundamental confession of the Jewish faith. This is the theological bedrock for everything that follows in Deuteronomy. It’s the immovable, inescapable truth that everyone and everything stands on whether they want to or not. We can’t even begin to talk about matters of the heart and soul and mind, until we deal with this. And indeed, everyone has to reckon with this. If Yahweh is God and God alone, then that defines existence itself.
First, Yahweh is God. The being who revealed himself at the burning bush to Moses, and shared his name, is deity. He is God. He’s not merely some spirit or angel leading this little band of Hebrews around in the wilderness. He is the I AM of Exodus chapter three—his very name tells us something about him. He is. He simply is. Existence itself is defined in relation to him. He was not caused or created by anything or anyone else. He exists in himself and unto himself. He’s completely self-sufficient. He does not depend on anyone or anything. That’s why he can be titled “God.”
Second, this Yahweh is God alone. It’s really another way of saying the same thing. But in Moses’ day, like in ours, people preferred to hedge their bets when it came to religion. Monotheism wasn’t unheard of but it certainly wasn’t popular. Egypt, the Hittites, the peoples of Mesopotamia, the Caananites—they all worshiped multiple gods. And at least part of the attraction of polytheism, one of the benefits of multiple gods, is that it places limits on the gods you worship. There is no ultimate being, no one with all the authority. Sure, there might be a king god, but his power can’t be limitless. And that means human beings have alternatives. There’s options. And who gets to judge the gods, to weigh the divine alternatives? Human beings. Human beings get to decide who is worthy of worship and service. Gods compete for man’s loyalty. Men get to prove through sacrifice, or service, or warfare which god is worthy. Polytheism, really, is just another way to exalt the importance of human beings, to exalt man.
That’s the background. It’s not enough, then, for Israel to understand that the I AM who appeared to Moses in the burning bush is divine. They need to understand that this God is God alone. That he has no peers, no competitors. Not Ba’al of the Caananites. Not Ashtoreth of the Phoenicians. Not Ra of the Egyptians. If he truly is Yahweh, the I AM, completely self-sufficient, then there can be no other gods worthy of the title.
God is God and there is no other. That’s the bedrock. That’s the hard and unyielding stone on which we stand, the truth that underlies everything else.
And if it’s true that there’s only one God, this truth has a profound impact on how we view the world. Multiple gods would mean a universe of chaos and disorder, as the deities compete and contend with each other. But a single God over all means that the universe can be expected to be orderly, and consistent, and regular. Try doing science in a universe without order and consistency. Christian assumptions about the universe fostered modern science because a Christian looks at creation with the expectation that it is orderly and consistent. Same goes for the existence of universally binding, over-arching truths like the laws of logic, mathematics, and so on. Same goes for concepts like absolute truth, like universal morality and ethics. These realities only make sense in a universe created and governed by one all-powerful God. And not just any God—only the biblical God makes sense of the world. Islam, for instance, can’t make sense of a universe where unity and diversity can peacefully coexist. There’s a reason why Islam, as a system, lends itself to such violence—the system itself can’t tolerate dissent or difference or diversity. That’s because the god of Islam is only one person—one god in one person. That’s the astounding difference of Christianity, which believes in one God, one deity, who eternally exists in three persons, not just one. And so Christianity holds to a God who can actually be love, because within the life of God the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the father. Islam’s monopersonal god can’t truly be love in his essence. Christianity makes sense of a universe where unity and diversity aren’t opposed to each other, where you can have order and consistency and peace even in great diversity and variety. That’s because the very life of the Triune God of Christianity is a display of perfect unity in diversity. Islam can’t say that. Materialistic secularism can’t say that. Political progressivism, socialism, can’t say that either. If there isn’t one, biblical, Triune, sovereign God over all, you can’t have true love, or tolerance, or grace, or order.
This leads us to the heart of the passage, no pun intended! Fourteen hundred years later, when Jesus was asked, “What is the first and greatest commandment?”, where did he go? He went here, to Deuteronomy 6:5.
The truth that Yahweh is God and God alone is the bedrock of our faith. This command, flowing as a direct implication out of that truth, this command is the foundation that’s been sunk into it and anchored to it. On this command everything else in Deuteronomy, and from that all the prophets and the writings of the Old Testament, are built. And the towering structure of the Old Testament, with this command as its foundation, built on the bedrock of God’s self-existence, this towering structure is what God built in order to lift up and display the perfection of his own glory: God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, our Saviour.
If Yahweh is God, and God alone, that has direct implications for every human being. If he’s self-existent and self-sufficient, then nothing else is. Everything must come from him. Everything must exist only at his will. Everything—and this is crucial—everything belongs, completely and wholly and totally, belongs to him and him alone.
If God is God alone, we exist for God alone. Full stop. That’s it.
If we exist for him, we don’t exist for ourselves. We are his possession, not our own. We owe him everything and he owes us nothing. We depend completely and utterly on him.
Does this command begin to make sense now? God commands his people Israel, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” There’s three parts to this command.
It’s a command to “love.” What does that mean? The command, and the verse that follow, unpack what love looks like, so we’ll come back to that.
First, we are to love God with all our hearts. What does that mean? It’s tempting to read this in our English Bibles and assume “heart” means what it does in 21st-century Canada, but that would be misleading. As always, the Bible interprets itself. In the New Testament, this command is unpacked for us. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us the story of Jesus, when he was challenged by a scribe, giving this command as the most important one in all Scripture. Yet all three, in the same way, change the wording slightly. They all record Jesus saying: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
Why do the Gospels say it this way? Because the Gospels were intended for an audience of not just Jews, but Gentiles—Gentiles with a Greco-Roman worldview. The Greeks, like us today, distinguished the mind from the heart. The mind was the home of reason and thinking and logic. The heart was the home of the passions and emotions. That was the Greek understanding. And that’s still our understanding today.
That was not, however, the Hebrew understanding. Moses’ audience didn’t think that way. And so there’s a critical lesson for us here today, in a Greek-influenced culture, reading this Hebrew book. When God here says “all your heart,” he means all of your deepest inward self. To the Hebrew, there was no “eighteen inches between the head and the heart.” Wellum and Gentry explain it this way: “In Hebrew, the word “heart” refers to the core of who you are, the center of each person. It refers, in particular, to the place where we feel, where we think, and where we make decisions and plans, i.e., emotions, mind, and will…. The heart is where we reason and think and make decisions and plans.” Thoughts, emotions, and will go together, affect one another, direct one another, influence one another. To the Hebrew, there was no way a person could, for example, neglect one’s emotional life in favor of the life of the mind, or exalt one’s affections and emotions at the expense of one’s thoughts. To the Hebrew, to use the one is to use the other. And that’s why Jesus adds “mind” to the command—to tell the Gentiles that the mind is included in God’s command.
And so, crucially, when God commanded Israel to love him with “all your heart,” what is he saying? He’s saying: “Everything in your inner being, your inner life—your thoughts and your emotions, your thinking and your feeling—all of it is mine. I claim it all. It all belongs to me.”
It’s fashionable in some church circles these days to diminish the importance of thinking and reason, to downplay the role of the mind in the Christian life. But if the “heart” is our whole inner life, then that’s not just wrong—that’s disobedient. That’s refusing to yield part of what God claims as his. If we are to love God will all our heart, that means everything in us is his.
I’ll get into that more when we look at what this means for us today. For now, let’s move to the second part: “all your soul.” What does that mean? If the “heart” encompasses the very core of our inner being, what’s left? The word “nephesh,” here rendered “soul,” isn’t the more Greek idea of the immaterial part of the self. I think that here, rather than “soul,” it might be better to render it “life.” Wellum and Gentry summarize it well: “Our entire life in terms of our desires and needs is to be devoted to the Lord.”
Third, God says: “with all your strength.” In most places in the Bible, this word is normally an adverb—that is, “greatly” or “exceedingly.” Maybe it’s a bit more clear to rephrase the whole verse the way Wellum and Gentry do: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul—and that to the greatest extent.
Myself, I’ll unpack it even further. The great I AM, who owns you and everything else, who is God alone, commands you to love him with all your thoughts, and with all your emotions, and with all your decisions, and with all your desires, and with all your needs, and with all your very life—and all this to the greatest and fullest extent you can give.
In other words: everything you are and everything you do shall be devoted completely and fully and totally to the Lord, who owns you.
God then goes on to say: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.”
This God has already revealed himself to Israel in many ways. He has revealed himself in spectacular, visual fashion: a pillar of fire by night, and of smoke by day. He has revealed himself through his provision, by manna on the ground almost every morning. He has revealed himself in their history—in Deuteronomy, this is the generation that followed those brought out of Egypt. The Exodus was history to them, and so their very presence in Sinai testified to God.
And yet—don’t miss this, brothers and sisters. And yet—Israel’s experience is not enough. God does not reveal himself merely or finally or fully through our experience. Even though Israel had witnessed and eaten and felt the effects of God’s presence, it was not enough. So at Sinai, and here again, God reveals himself through what? Verse 6: “these words.” Words. God reveals himself through word.
Do you see why it’s so critically important to read “heart” in verse 5 as the seat of our understanding and reason? We don’t just love God with our emotions and feelings—even more, we love him with our reason and understanding. And that to the fullest extent. This is so vitally important because God tells us who he is, shows us who he is, reveals himself to us, by way of words. Words, that need to be read. And memorized. And interpreted. And understood. And applied to different circumstances. And connected to other words, harmonized with them.
The very first application God makes of the first and greatest commandment is to tell Israel that his words are to be on their heart. The very first practical way God gives for Israel to love him with all of their lives is to devote themselves to the words he gives them. They are to internalize his words, steep themselves in his words, marinate themselves in his words, allow these words to penetrate to the very core of who they are. Israel is called to be the kind of man described by the great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, a man who if pricked would “bleed Bibline.”
God’s first practical application of the most important command in all the Old Testament, a command arising directly from the truth of who he is, is to tell his people to devote themselves to the words he reveals to them.
That’s the application. And God immediately then drills it in by explaining it in various ways, giving several examples of the kind of devotion to his words that he is expecting.
What does it mean to have the words of God on your heart—especially as the first application of the love of God? It means that, first, we teach them to our children. The focus here, I think, is not on the teaching itself but—because of the context—the focus is rather on the manner in which it is done, the spirit and attitude behind it. How do kids learn? They catch our enthusiasm. They are drawn to what we are most excited and enthusiastic about. Israel is to teach these things to their children as an application of this whole-hearted and complete love for God. This is not, this cannot be, may it never be, merely a duty we perform with a sigh and suppressed grumbling. Rather, it should be something that is such a deeply rooted joy that it simply bubbles and pours forth out of us as we go about the day. When I read verses 7-9, I see verse 5. The Jewish religion—and, I suspect, more than a few Christians today—treated this passage as being primarily about duty and obligation, and so completely missed the point, the Jews making little boxes to strap to the head, carving words into doorpieces. That’s not what’s meant here. God is calling for his people, whom he has already loved by saving them and giving himself to them in covenant, to love him back! He’s calling for his beloved people to love him so deeply and completely that wherever they go and whatever they do their devotion to him simply spills out on everything. They will love God so much that they will teach their children diligently. What does that mean? This isn’t about a calendar or a schedule. This isn’t like a college tutor earning his paycheque by showing up every day. This is about loving devotion, about passion—it’s more like a hockey-mad parent spending hours teaching his child to skate so he or she can share his joy, or going to the pool day after day to make sure Johnny is a strong swimmer because you want to take him to the waterpark and enjoy the waterslides you love so much. It’s a parent so excited to share the joy of his heart of hearts, so excited to show the perfections and beauty of God, that not only does she grab every opportunity she finds to point her child to him, but she actively seeks to go out of her way to make opportunities like that—when sitting in the house, when walking, when lying down, when getting up, and everything in between. This love for God should be so all-consuming that the one who follows the Lord should have God’s words stored up in his heart, memorized and meditated on, so that they are as readily available and accessible as if they were tied in a box to his forehead, so that everyone around them can see he is full of them. All these are examples of a servant of God so wholly devoted to him that passion for his Word simply bursts out of him all the time and all over the place. That’s what verses 7-9 are about.
So let’s summarize this passage: God has revealed himself as utterly and completely unique, as totally self-sufficient, as exclusively worthy of worship. The first and most important implication of the existence of one sovereign all-powerful God is that his people are therefore bound to love him with every fibre of their being, to devote all of themselves completely and fully to him. In turn, the first way they are commanded to apply that truth is to devote themselves to the words God has spoken and press them into the very core of their being. And finally there’s this explanation of what that will look like—a man or woman so devoted to and in love with the words of God that he or she is filled to overflowing with them, such that they bubble and spill all over the place in everything they do.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR US TODAY
The title of this sermon is “Stewarding the Mind.” I chose this text because, in my view, this text is foundational for understanding the role of the mind, for applying the importance of thinking and reason, in the Christian life. So I have two applications on the mind for us this morning, before closing with a more general application.
LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR MIND…
So first, I think it should be obvious now that God never intended for human beings to neglect their minds. If his intent is to be loved with all our hearts, and our hearts includes our thinking and planning and decisionmaking, then the mind is a non-negotiable element of our growth as Christians.
I’m deeply saddened that it’s become pretty much standard in many Christian churches and schools to diminish the mind, to downplay the importance of the mind. I spent a lot of time in Pentecostal churches where the exercise of Christian intellect or “mind”, through things like doctrine and theology and expository preaching, was devalued in favour of feeling or experience or alleged supernatural phenomena. Church services were far more heavily weighted to emotional music and less to preaching and teaching. And one thing I saw as a result in those brothers and sisters who were with me in those churches was a desperate hunger and thirst for “more.” There was this pressing need in many of them for something “deeper.” The lack of emphasis on feeding the minds of these sheep left them malnourished. As a result, many were drawn into cults that promised “deeper” or “higher” teaching. The Word of Faith heretics, for instance, captured several in my church. Extreme charismatics teaching heresies like Latter Rain theology, or Dominionism, drew in others. Just as sad were those with promising gifts who had to leave in order to find good teaching because it simply wasn’t there, and now serve other churches.
Listen to this text. God deserves nothing less than complete devotion. That means we are commanded, we are bound, we are obliged to love him with everything in us. So, for instance: if you’ve been taught that the way to a closer relationship with God is to turn your mind off and simply “feel,” or if you’ve been told that the way into God’s presence is to practice “not knowing,” you’re being lied to. I know it’s become popular in many churches and Christian schools to practice what’s called “contemplative” or “centering” prayer, which put simply is an attempt to draw near to God by emptying the mind. That’s dead wrong. That’s not Christian prayer at all. It’s disobedient and dishonoring to the Lord. And no Christian should have any part of it. God wants you to love him with all your heart—again, that means with all your feelings and thoughts and will—not switch them off and ignore them.
Even worse are those movements and teachers that seek to diminish the role of God’s words in the Christian life. Ours is an age that exalts experience, for sure; it’s also a lazy age that diminishes the value of hard work and study. It’s sad that some in the church would seek to imitate the world, but they do. One prominent teacher once asked: “When are we going to see a generation who doesn't try to understand this book (the Bible), but just believes it?” In other words, he’s saying, the Bible isn’t to be understood. Or to put it another way, the Christian’s mind has nothing to do with faith. Studying and trying to understand and apply the Bible is worthless. It’s no surprise that another popular author in the same movement can describe the Bible as “the moldy old pages of what God has done” in the past, dismissing its usefulness for today. Christians are being taught that the Bible is of diminished value and usefulness, partly because Christians are convinced that the mind is of diminished value and usefulness. This is disobedience. This dishonors God. Again, what’s the first application God makes of our duty to love him with all of our hearts? God’s words—the things he has said, the things his servants have written in the Bible—God’s words are to be on our hearts. In such a way that they fill us to overflowing and come bursting out of us. That’s not remotely the kind of spirituality some teachers promote as Christianity today. Stay far away from anyone who would tell you not to understand or study the Bible. As God tells his people elsewhere in Deuteronomy, This book is your life.
Any teaching or spiritual practice that seeks to diminish or downplay the role of the mind and of reason in the Christian life is deeply dangerous. God not only made the mind of man—he calls man to use it. “Come, let us reason together,” he says in Isaiah 1:18. “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding,” Proverbs 2:6 tells us. Our Lord Jesus is called “Christ,” meaning “anointed” because as Isaiah 11:2 says: “the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” Jeremiah, describing the restoration of God’s people under a New Covenant—that is, speaking of the church today!—says in Jeremiah 3:15: “I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” It’s no wonder that the way Titus was to strengthen the churches of Crete was to “appoint elders in every town,” elders who “hold firm to the trustworthy word,” elders who are “able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” That’s in Titus 1, and in the next chapter, Titus himself is called to “teach what accords with sound doctrine,” “in your teaching show[ing] integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned.”
The Christian faith is a faith of reason and knowledge. It certainly is more than that—and we’ll get to that in a moment. But it is not less.
…BUT NOT JUST WITH YOUR MIND, THOUGH
There’s a flip side to this truth, though. To love the Lord our God, we must love him with all our hearts and all our souls—and all this to the fullest extent. That means loving him with all our minds, with all our thoughts and knowledge and understanding. But it means far, far more than that.
We in Reformed Christianity, we Christians who hold to the doctrines of grace, rightly uphold the value of the mind and of studying God’s words. And yet, I’m sad to say, we’ve got a really disturbing tendency to do the same thing as many other Christians, and neglect to love God with all of ourselves.
See, it’s not enough to simply love God with our understanding. Christian maturity is not the same thing as doctrinal knowledge. Far too many Reformed Christians think it is, but it’s not. We need to love God with not just our mind, but our emotions, with our feelings, with our decisions, with our will, too. If you know lots of stuff but lack joy and peace, you’re not loving God with all your heart. If you know lots of stuff but you’re cold and distant, you’re not loving God with all your heart. If you know lots of stuff but you ignore your lonely or exhausted wife’s cries for attention or help, you’re not loving God with all your heart. If you know lots of stuff but can’t help clicking on that tempting ad or going to that website, you’re not loving God with all your heart. If you know lots of stuff but can’t summon the will to read to or play with your kids in the evening, you’re not loving God with all your heart. If you know lots of stuff but you haven’t submitted your imperfect self to an imperfect local church and its imperfect elders to imperfectly hold you accountable and to help you imperfectly use your gifts, you aren’t loving God with all your heart. If you know lots of stuff but your passion for knowledge isn’t matched by your passion for Christ’s bride the church, or your passion for other believers, or your passion for holiness, or your passion for evangelism, or your passion for worship, you’re not loving God with all your heart.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m preaching to myself here, too. But I’m emphasizing this because this is the sinful tendency of way, way too many (mostly younger) Reformed guys. Some folks in our churches can be like the amateur aspiring gym-rat who hits the weights and just works on his biceps because he wants to impress the ladies with the gun show—it might work for a little while, but pretty quickly, he’s out of balance and actually more prone to injuring himself than he was before. Some of you have this tendency. I’ve got this tendency and have fought with it my whole Christian life. You throw yourself into the books and into Bible studies and into podcasts and into the Internet, and these can be good things. Yet you do it at the expense of your marriage and your family, or you do it in a way that insults and hurts other people, or you find yourself dismissing the advice and counsel of more experienced believers God has placed around you because you think you have all the answers. Listen: you’re not loving God with all your heart until you’re loving God with all your heart. That means devoting every part of yourself to God, and not just your intellect. And that means letting all God’s words be pressed and driven into your hearts, and not just the theological and doctrinal and historical stuff—all the wisdom and all the practical exhortations and all the laments and all the commands to holy living need to be bursting out of you, too.
And that’s the irony. A young, restless, Reformed guy who devotes himself to doctrine and apologetics and neglects the rest of the faith actually shows he hasn’t actually understood the Word in the first place at all. Don’t let that be you, brothers and sisters. Better to know a bit less and actually understand and live consistently and strongly and passionately what you know, than it is to know a lot and have it all rattling in your head useless to you and to everyone else. Love the Lord your God with all your mind, which means loving him with all your heart and soul and strength, too.
DO YOU LOVE THE WORD?
We who belong to Jesus, who live on this side of the Cross, we live under a New Covenant. Deuteronomy is not our covenant.
But the truths laid out here in this passage are eternal, and so they apply to us today. There is still only one God above all. This God still demands full and utter devotion from those he has created. And, crucially for the Christian, it’s vital to understand that God still reveals himself through his Word: first, the Word made flesh, God’s own Son Jesus Christ, himself fully God and fully man; and second, the Word written, which Jesus always upheld and appealed to during his earthly ministry.
So for us today, the most important meaning, and this morning’s final application for our own lives, is this. Do you love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength? Are you completely and totally devoted to him with all your thoughts and all your feelings and all your plans and all your desires and all your longings and all your needs? And are you completely devoted to, submitted to, his Word? Both the Word that was in the beginning, that was with God, and that is God—Christ Jesus—and the prophetic word of the Bible that points to him?
Israel failed to keep this command. They were never fully devoted to the Lord. Even the very next generation after Moses failed to keep themselves apart from the pagan peoples around them, and within a few dozen years Israel had fallen into idolatry and compromise. Even with judges and kings and prophets sent by God, over and over and over, to call them back to the Lord, Israel continued to wander away and to break this covenant.
Even Christians are prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love—as the old hymn goes. We, too, forget to devote everything we are to him. We sin. We fail to control our tongues, or our anger, or our eyes, or our time. We are hypocrites, and the world sees it.
Israel couldn’t keep this command. We can’t either. But one man did. God the father sent God the Son to become a man, born of Abraham, the rightful king of Israel. And on behalf of Israel, and not only them but on behalf of all men, Jesus kept this Word. He was completely devoted to his Father. He loved his Father with all of his heart and soul and strength. He was filled with God’s words, such that whenever challenged by Satan or Pharisees or others, what came out of him was God’s words. This Jesus was so committed to God the Father that he died the death we deserved, took the punishment meant for us. And his love and devotion for his Father was vindicated, as Jesus took his life again and rose from the dead, and even now at this moment is standing before his Father and pleading for us.
This is the good news: even though none of us has done our most basic duty and loved God for all he is worth, God laid the punishment we deserved on Jesus instead and now calls us to turn from sin back to him. Even though we simply can’t keep God’s word perfectly, God calls us to trust in the One who did—and promises to count his obedience in place of our disobedience, if we will just believe and trust in this Jesus. If you don’t yet know this Jesus, now is the hour of salvation. Please don’t put this off. God will judge the heavens and the earth, and he will judge you. You don’t know if you’ll survive to the end of the day today. So if you don’t know him, put your trust in this Christ. Cry out to him and throw yourself at his mercy. Talk to me or one of the members of this church after the service if you need to know more.
And if you do know Jesus, be encouraged. None of us is this devoted to the Lord, it’s true. We all still struggle with indwelling sin. But—Jesus died for that sin, too. We are forgiven in the Beloved! And we are given the Holy Spirit by whom we can pick ourselves up and try again, striving mightily to glorify God even in imperfect obedience. More than that—take heart because the day is coming when sin will be destroyed and Satan banished and our bodies—with our heart and our soul—will be made new and perfect. On that day—on that day!—we will love him as we should. On that day we will love him with all our heart and soul and strength, forevermore.