Yesterday I pondered the familiar but radically exciting truth of having sins forgiven. This core feature of the New Covenant has to drive us deeper, to the issue of the heart. Sin is not just behavioral error, or contravention of legal codes. Sin springs from where it is born: the human heart.
A solution to the problem has to address the problem as it is. If the issue were merely a failure to obey, then God could simply provide empowerment to obey. A better battery. Simple. But what if sin goes deeper than external obedience? What if the very problem Christ came to address was the problem of human hearts?
Then something along the lines of the New Covenant would be needed. Not just a power supply to enable obedience, but a change of heart from death to life. And what would that new heart, new inner life, also point toward? An inner living desire to please God.
Believers in the days of David, of Daniel, or whoever, could only dream of the day when God would do a work in the heart of all his people. They could only imagine what it would be like for God’s people to have heart-stirred inner motivation for fulfilling the moral requirements of a just and holy God.
Speaking of moral requirements, Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment. He pointed to a matter of the heart – the requisite of love for God and for neighbour. Such a love would leave the whole legal corpus unbroken. That’s an amazing thought. In fact, Paul said the same thing, in Romans 13 for instance. Love fulfills the Law.
So its fairly simple then, we’ve just got to preach and pressure people to produce love from their own inner being, right? Tell ‘em to love God and love others, and hey presto, we’ll have communities of law abiding Christian citizens?
Every parent, every pastor, every preacher knows that telling people to love God and love others doesn’t quite seem to work. Its almost as if we aren’t in control of our own hearts, but they are in control of us. We do what we love, right?
So there has to be a better way than pressure. Most pastors and parents tend to fall back on that, because in the absence of a clear alternative, it seems better than saying nothing. But God doesn’t seem to be groping for a solution to the self-loving human heart.
He brings about the transformation of the New Covenant, in which our hearts are made alive and the requirements of righteousness are written there, rather than externally. How? Well, we love God (and we love at all), because we are loved first. He demonstrated His own love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! It is the cross that presents the powerful love of our loving God – it is His love that ignites in us a love that is nothing other than response to His great love.
So what does this mean for preachers? Well, for one, perhaps we need to put more preaching effort into presenting Christ and Him crucified, and less effort into pressing Christians to copy Christ and His character exemplified.
And if God is doing a work on the heart, surely there’s another level to plumb too. Tomorrow.