Saturday, March 5, 2011

Discerning the Thoughts and Intentions of the Heart

In the previous post I wanted to show from the book of Hebrews that the aim of Scripture is to "make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" by exposing our sinful condition in need of redemption and by pointing us to God's gracious provision of a Redeemer, Jesus Christ. In this post I hope to examine the first purpose a little more thoroughly.

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:11-13)
In 3:7-4:10 the author (Barnabas? Apollos? Paul?) provides an exposition of Psalm 95:7-11, which was written to teach Israel not to follow the example of their forefathers who, though they had been led out of Egypt's bondage and had had good news of deliverance and restoration preached to them, nonetheless refused to trust and obey God. As a consequence that whole generation died in the desert and failed to reach the Promised Land. "So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief" (3:19). The author of Hebrews embraces the idea that God the Holy Spirit still speaks today, calling us to turn from the hardening deceitfulness of sin and to embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ "firm to the end" of our pilgrimage on this earth (3:7-15). The ultimate goal of faith is that by it we "share in Christ" and enter and enjoy rest from our works, even an ultimate "Sabbath rest" for the people of God.

But in order to hear the good news that has come to us (4:2), we must constantly know our danger. The deceitfulness of sin continually hides in the shadows, not as an external enemy, but as an enemy within--"an evil, unbelieving heart" (3:12-13). We today in the age of the Second Exodus share in the same fallen condition of those of the First Exodus. Therefore we are urged not to "fall by the same sort of disobedience" (4:11). Temptations to sin are the same today as they were 3400 years ago; they are "common to man" (1 Cor. 10:13*).

Our sobering need, then, is to allow the word of God to do the painful work of a surgeon's scalpel, piercing through our defenses and facades to our innermost places of idolatry and unbelief. As we read the Scriptures, the Scriptures read us, showing us who we really are, "naked and exposed" before the God from whom we cannot hide. The word judges "the thoughts and intentions of the heart."

How do we do this? Using Bryan Chapell's language, we must first identify the "Fallen Condition Focus," the sinful attitudes and behaviors--or general brokenness--that prompted God to speak or act in that passage. This involves identifying both personal or communal sin (wrong belief, idolatry, etc.) or brokenness of our world due to sin (death, disease, pain, injustice, etc.).

It's easy to identify behaviors that contradict God's law and nature. But the real matter is seeing through external behaviors (sins) to the heart attitudes beneath them (sin). Jesus himself taught that wrong living is the overflow of a wrong heart (Mark 7:20-23; Luke 6:43-45). The behavior is the "fruit," whereas the heart is the "root." In order to free a garden of weeds, the roots have to be removed. And because we are susceptible to "the same sort of disobedience" as Israel, we too must examine our own hearts.

So if we see in Scripture Israel trying to shore up security against Assyria by forming an alliance with Egypt (fruit), we have to recognize the root: a desire to exercise tangible control over their circumstances rather than releasing themselves to the hands of the Sovereign Lord. They not only craved control--an exercise of unbelief in their good and powerful Father--but they also were in effect usurping God's role as controller of destiny. They were setting up themselves as gods, a subtle but insidious idolatry. As we read, we need to ask: Where am I doing this same thing? Do I get mad at my kids when they don't follow my orders? Do I slam my fist and curse when yet another Virginia driver putters along in the left lane or merges onto the expressway oblivious to the presence of other cars around him? (Seriously, what is with drivers in this state?) Prohibitions against lust reveal the worship of pleasure as god and a vain quest for satisfaction apart from the living God. Fearing others' judgments and criticism may mean either too high a view of yourself or an inappropriate fear of people rather than a fear of God.

In the end, if we're reading the Bible rightly, we ought at many times to see ourselves as hopeless sinners, knowing that no behavioral regimen or list of dos and don'ts will be enough to save us and set us on the right path in life. We ought to be left craving deliverance from without--and that's exactly what the Bible does, giving us hope by revealing and proclaiming to us Jesus the Savior.

*In 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 Paul uses the same idea that Israel fell in the desert because of idolatrous hearts set on evil, just as what threatens the church today. He says that the whole of Israel's history was written as examples to train the New Testament church in wise living.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would never want to say ahytning to anyone who in providing the gifts that God gave them, in understanding or in what ever way they are in serving God and it has been as the result of this work where one has been helped beyond Words.
All I then wamt to say is that I agree with what you have said and God was glorified in your handeling of His Word.

May I say thank you and may God continue to bless you.

To God be the glory