“Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations?” – Jeremiah 7:9-10
I have now arrived in the book of Jeremiah in my Scripture reading plan and came upon this really convicting verse. Sometimes we can feel ourselves removed from the context of the situations where God is condemning Israel in particular, in verses such as these. However, if we believe all of Scripture, we would also believe Jesus’s words in the New Testament concerning the Law in the Sermon on the Mount.
For instance, He says, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:21-22). In addition, He goes on to say, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).
With these words and other similar statements in the sermon, Jesus ratchets the Law up to a level that is absolutely impossible for us to keep, because within our hearts, we are sinning continuously, at least according to God Himself (Genesis 6:5), whose perspective and opinion on the matter seem to carry a bit more weight than what any man thinks, seeing as how God sees the depths of our blackened hearts. Not only does committing the act of murder or lust make you liable to judgment, but so does merely insulting someone in your heart or looking at a woman lustfully! According to Jesus, it’s the same as if you had committed these acts in the eyes of the Lord if you even think them in your heart.
So the verses from Jeremiah at the beginning do indeed apply to us in the Church today and are not just meant for the Israelites in their respective context. We evangelicals are the “Israelites”. We are the one’s who steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to other gods … and then go into the Lord’s sanctuary and say, “We are delivered … by Jesus.” Many times, we then leave the service without any conviction of our sin, only to go on doing those same things, either externally (through explicit acts) or internally (through explicit evil thoughts).
May God have mercy on all of us, on me. Our hearts are quick to run to sin and that must be a principle that is always on the front of our minds, which will drive us to constantly rely on the Holy Spirit for the ability to do what is right. In as much as I say this to anyone reading this, I say it to my own heart. We need His Spirit to not only restrain us, but then change us from the inside out so that we do not want to do things that are displeasing in His sight. We need desire-change, heart-change, thought-change, will-change, that is all renewed and regenerated in the likeness of Christ. Only then can we do what pleases the Lord.
This whole point of our faith and practice goes back to that DesiringGod video I posted a week ago, based upon James 3:10, “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”
Praise God He does not leave us without hope though. If that was the stopping point of the message, it would just be conviction, guilt and shame without any resource for changing the source of our thoughts and actions: our hearts. We would still be left in our sin, without hope of recovering, only expecting to return to the same things again and again. Yet there is free grace extended to us in the Gospel, that we would repent of our wickedness daily, continuously even, and return to Christ for cleansing and forgiveness (knowing confidently that in Christ, we are fully acceptable to God because of His cross).
Our goal in coming to the Lord’s house, corporately with the people of God, or privately into His throne room in communion with Him, through the intercession of Christ’s blood, is not just to be forgiven of our wickedness and idolatry and then return to our vomit once again (Proverbs 26:11), abusing the grace of the Gospel and putting God to the test, just as the Israelites did in the desert.
But our goal is to come, be convicted of our sin by God’s Word, in light of His holiness, and ask the Lord’s forgiveness, knowing full well He is faithful and righteous to do just that because of the cross (1 John 1:9). Only then can we move forward in holiness by His power working in us, having been accepted in His presence because of Christ’s work in our place to save us. And all of this in light of God’s great mercy toward us that we are not owed or have earned in any sense. He freely gives it to those whom He pleases to give it.
If the Gospel is simply a means to the end of staying in your sin (which according to statistics recently by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life many evangelicals are doing just that), we should fear the wrath of God that is coming, for it exposes the possibility of our not having apprehended or accepted the Gospel of God’s grace and mercy with a living faith to start with. Sure, you can respond back with all of the answers from the Bible about what the Gospel is. But the question we should be asking is, “Have I personally received this Gospel by a supernatural work of God in me? Have I been born again by His power instead of my own?” This is the one of the themes in Hebrews, James and 1 John.
Now of course in no way are we going to achieve perfection until we are with Christ. But this is the point: if our hearts are not on track with the convicting and liberating message of the Gospel, we should examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith or not. The books of Isaiah and Jeremiah show us that it would not be out of the ordinary for those of us who claim to be redeemed to be far from the heart of God, just as the Israelites were.
Our lack of zeal for the Gospel and turning away from our sin exposes the fact that we have not been struck with the power of the Gospel in our hearts, by God’s Spirit. Yes, we can have down days or even seasons, for certain. But what is it that drives you in everything you do? The world or Christ? That is the issue. It should make us mourn that we don’t consider the work of Christ in everything we do, but at the same time we should not cower away from Christ, but instead return to Him that we may be healed and restored by His power. It is only His sustaining grace that will carry us through to the end.