A Clean Heart

Psalm 51 is David’s penitent prayer to God in the aftermath of his sin with Bathsheba.  In this psalm David pours out his heart to God in remorse over his sin and in his fervent desire that God would forgive him.  In v. 10 of this psalm David said, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”  These words summarize David’s realization that his only hope to be right with God was for his inner person to be changed.  They also reflect David’s awareness that it is by God’s power that this change takes place.

David understood that for his life to change his heart had to change.  This is why he asked God to create a clean heart within him.  The truth of David’s understanding is validated by the teaching of our Lord during His earthly ministry.  In Mt. 15, after His encounter with the scribes and Pharisees over the disciples not performing the ceremonial cleansing before eating, the Lord explained that the heart is the source of the evils that defile us.  In Mt. 15:19 the Lord said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.”  He said in v. 20 that these are what defile a man, not eating with unwashed hands.

Since the heart is the source of evil thoughts and conduct, it behooves us to seek to have clean hearts, as David prayed in Psa. 51.  And, since it is God who creates clean hearts, it behooves us to seek His intervention in our lives to make this happen.  Having said this, however, we must understand that although God creates a clean heart in us, He does not do so by supernatural means, or without our participation in the process.

According to the scriptures spiritual cleansing occurs when we obey God’s will, first by being baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, and second, by repenting of our sins and asking His forgiveness each day once we have become a Christian.  The conversion of Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul the apostle, demonstrates the first cleansing.  In Acts 9:1-19 Luke tells us how Saul saw Jesus in a blinding light on the road to Damascus, and how he fasted and prayed for three days in the city waiting to hear what the Lord would do with him.  Some years later, as Paul the apostle, he told of his conversion in Acts 22, and quoted the message of the preacher Ananias, who said, “Now why do you delay?  Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” (v. 16)  When Saul of Tarsus was baptized into Christ, he was cleansed of all his sins.

The second cleansing is for those who are Christians and we read about it in 1 Jn. 1:7.  John said, “But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”  In vs. 8-10 we learn that walking in the light involves confessing our sins so the Lord will forgive our sins.  This is how Christians continue to be cleansed by God.

At the heart of both of these cleansings, however, is devotion to God’s word, for without this, no one would ever have a clean heart.  In Rom. 12:2 Paul told the Christians in Rome to not be conformed to the world but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds.  In scripture, the mind and the heart are synonymous for the source of our thoughts and actions.  In order to renew our minds, then, we must focus on godly things.  In Phil. 4:8 Paul told us how to do so.  He said, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”  If we dwell on God’s word, our minds will be renewed and we will not be conformed to the world.  If we dwell on God’s word, God will create in us a clean heart.

Poured Into The World’s Mold

The essence of the Christian walk may be summarized in two verses of scripture.  In Rom. 12:1, 2 Paul said, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”  In this brief exhortation Paul gives both the positive and negative aspects of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.  He also tells us how to implement the positive aspect of discipleship in our lives.

The positive aspect of being a Christian is that we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God.  Paul says that this is our “spiritual service of worship.”  This means that it is a natural expression of one whose life has been hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3).  The imagery of a living sacrifice draws from the Old Testament practice of worship, in which an animal was killed as a sacrifice to God, but with an important difference.  Christians die to sin, but are alive to God.  Our sacrifice is a living one, in which we show our devotion to God by our faithfulness to His word in our worship, and in everything we do each day.

Paul says that we implement this positive aspect of discipleship by being transformed by the renewing of our minds.  This transformation is effected by the word of God, which is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12).  The word of God gives us the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:15), and when we devote ourselves to its study, it makes us all that God wants us to be.

The negative aspect of discipleship, as stated by Paul in Rom. 12:2, is what we must not do if we wish to be pleasing and acceptable to our God.  He says that we are not to be conformed to the world.  Conformity means adherence to a recognized pattern, whether of speech, dress, conduct, or ideology.  In some respects conformity is a good thing, but in this instance it is not.  Christians are not to adhere to any of the things that characterize the world.  This means that we do not act like those who are in rebellion against God and His word.  In other words, we do not allow the world to pour us into its mold.

A mold is a form or pattern into which a liquid or some other malleable material is poured or packed in order to turn that material into the shape of the mold.  Every time material is poured into a mold it comes out looking exactly like that mold, and exactly like every other portion of material that has been poured into that mold.  If we are poured into the world’s mold, we will think, speak, dress, and act like the world instead of being living sacrifices to God.

Christians must not be poured into the world’s mold because the world is destined for condemnation.  If we allow ourselves to be shaped like the world, two things will happen.  First, we will not be living sacrifices to God, and will therefore not be pleasing to Him.  Second, we will suffer the same fate as the world at judgment.

The only way to be acceptable and pleasing to God is to be poured into the mold of His word, which transforms our minds, and by being a living and holy sacrifice to Him all the days of our lives.

Feigned Obedience

Psalm 66 begins with these words: “Shout joyfully to God, all the earth; sing the glory of His name; make His praise glorious.  Say to God, ‘How awesome are Your works!  Because of the greatness of Your power Your enemies will give feigned obedience to You.  All the earth will worship You, and will sing praises to You; they will sing praises to Your name.'” (NASB, vs. 1-4).  This psalm is one of many in which worshipers are invited to offer praises and adoration to the God of heaven  It is also one of several in which the enemies of God also bow the knee to Him because of His awesome power and works.

An interesting aspect of this passage, as rendered in the New American Standard Bible, is in v. 3, where the psalmist says, “Your enemies will give feigned obedience to You.”  The NASB is the only English translation to use the phrase “feigned obedience” in this verse.  Most of the other translations speak of God’s enemies cringing before Him.  Admittedly, the idea of God’s enemies cringing is an appropriate and worthy image, given His majesty and power.  Nevertheless, the idea of them offering “feigned obedience” is textually supported and may be a more appropriate imagery, given the nature of human beings.

The intent of the original Hebrew language in this verse is to give forced praise, given from hearts that still resist God’s will.  In the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew text completed about 250 B.C., this part of v. 3 is rendered, “Your enemies will lie to You.”  This is because the Hebrew term in this verse most often means “to lie or to deceive.”  In this place it conveys the idea of forced or unwilling submission, and thus, feigned or hypocritical submission (Eddie Cloer, Truth for Today Commentary, Psalms 51-89, p. 259-260).

Feigned or hypocritical submission to God’s will was the primary flashpoint in the Lord’s conflicts with the scribes and Pharisees of the first century.  In Mt. 23 the Lord pronounced a series of woes on these leaders and called them hypocrites seven times in the course of twenty-one verses (13-33).  He did so because their outward piety was actually feigned obedience.  In Mt. 15:8, 9 as He dealt with their use of human traditions to set aside God’s law, the Lord quoted the prophet Isaiah and applied it to the scribes and Pharisees.  He said, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me.  But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”

The point, of course, is that the Lord expects genuine submission from His people.  Faith in Jesus Christ is not a matter of rote repetition of ritual.  It is a matter of a heart that sincerely seeks to do all that God’s word requires in every circumstance of life.  Paul spoke of this necessity in Col. 3:22-25.  He said, “Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.  Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of inheritance.  It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.  For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.”

It stands to reason that if we are supposed to give sincere service to our earthly masters, how much more so must we give sincere service and obedience to God our Father, and to our Lord Jesus Christ?  Feigned obedience is disobedience, and will result in eternal condemnation for all who practice it.

Such A Heart

In Num. 20:12 God told Moses and Aaron that they would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land because they had failed to treat Him as holy when they brought forth water from the rock at Meribah.  Aaron died in the wilderness shortly thereafter, but Moses continued to lead Israel until they were encamped on the east side of the Jordan across from Jericho.  Before he died, Moses prepared a book in which he reminded Israel of all the things God had done for them to bring them to that place, and of everything He expected of them as His people.  We call this book Deuteronomy.

In the early chapters of this book, Moses recounted  the events that had taken place at Mt. Sinai, when God gave His law to Israel.  He reminded them of how frightened they had been when they heard God’s voice from the mountain and saw the smoke and fire that enveloped the mountain to signify His presence there.  At that time the people begged Moses to speak with God and then relay His message to them.  They promised that they would do whatever God told them to do.

In Deut. 5:28, 29 Moses related God’s response to this request.  He said, “The Lord heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me, and the Lord said to me, ‘I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you.  They have done well in all that they have spoken.  Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!'”

We see in v. 29 God’s greatest desire for Israel.  He wanted them to fear Him and to keep all His commandments so He could bless them abundantly in the land that He was giving them.  It is important for us to understand that to fear God in this context means to revere Him and to respect Him in all that they did.  They were already terrified of Him, as evidenced by their reaction to His presence on Sinai.  That kind of fear, however, has no lasting effect.  God wanted them to have a heart that always esteemed Him higher than anything or anyone else.  The proof of their esteem for God would be their obedience to His commands.

God’s statement in v. 29 underscores a fundamental truth about human beings.  Our hearts are what dictate our thoughts and actions.  Our Lord Jesus Christ taught this same truth in Mt. 15:18-20, where He said, “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.  These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”  If we have a heart that does not fear God, we will be disobedient to His will.  This was the basis of the Lord’s condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees in Mt. 15:8, 9.  He said they honored Him with their lips, but their hearts were far away from Him.

The fact that our Lord taught the same truth that His Father expressed to Moses and Israel tells us that God has not changed His desire for His people.  He still wishes for people who will have such a heart that they will fear Him and keep all His commandments.  Knowing this, and knowing that this is the basis upon which God showers His abundant blessings on us, should motivate us to cultivate our hearts so they are exactly what God wants them to be.  Of course we can only cultivate such a heart by devoting ourselves to God’s word and by surrendering our will to His.  Oh that each of us would have such a heart!