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Heart

Moses holds the tablets of the Ten Commandments
Image source: Moody Publishers/FreeBibleimages.org

“Which is the most important commandment?” a young man asks Jesus in today’s Bible reading. (Mark 12:28)

At the time, the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day had taken the original six hundred, thirteen Laws of Moses — which included the Ten Commandments — and added thousands of additional laws in the Midrash, a commentary on the Mosaic Law. The main idea behind adding the other laws was to “build a fence around the Law” to ensure that no one broke the laws of Moses.[1]

For instance, the Fourth Commandment concerns resting on the Sabbath Day. (Exodus 20:8–11) The rabbis took that one commandment and added thirty-nine categories of qualifications to it. They defined how many steps you could take before you began to “travel”, thus violating the command to “rest” on the Sabbath.

But instead of helping the people to love, worship and obey God, the additional commandments built a bigger stumbling block that kept people from coming to God at all. The focus became on obeying the Law, not having a relationship with God. And that wasn’t good.

So when the young man asked Jesus which was the most important commandment, he wasn’t asking which of the “Big Ten” was the most important. He wasn’t asking which of the six hundred, thirteen was the most important. He was asking which of the thousands of laws was the most important.

And Jesus told Him which was the most important. In fact, the most important commandment is what the rest of the Law is based on. If you can master this one most important commandment, you won’t have to worry about any of the others. The problem is, no one has been able to master this one: Love God with everything you are. (Deuteronomy 6:5)

Application

Here and elsewhere, I have referred to Christian Hedonism. It’s a term coined by John Piper, which he expanded in his first book, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. Given that hedonists are pleasure-seekers, Christian Hedonists recognize that the highest source of pleasure can only be found in a relationship with God. And seeking the highest pleasure in a relationship with God brings the most glory to God.

CS Lewis rightly pointed out that our problem isn’t that we seek pleasure/satisfaction. Our problem is that we are far too easily satisfied. We settle for fleshly pleasures found in relationships with people, experiences, and things. But ultimate satisfaction can only be found in a relationship with God.

Do you pursue a love relationship with God? First of all, do you even have a relationship with God? Do you pursue Him with all that you are? Your heart? Your soul? Your strength?

Spend a few minutes today asking God to show you that your ultimate satisfaction is found in Him. Spend time in His Word. Spend time in prayer. Ask Him to satisfy you with all that He has for you in Jesus Christ.

[1] https://www.pursuegod.org/rules-pharisees/

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If you’ve been around church for long, you’ve probably heard the parable of the soils (Mark 4), part of today’s Bible reading. Jesus pointed out that He spoke in parables to reveal secrets of the Kingdom of God to those who would inherit His Kingdom. (Mark 4:11) Yet His parables cloaked the secrets of the Kingdom from those who would not inherit His Kingdom. (Mark 4:12)

So who will inherit God’s Kingdom? Who can understand the secrets hidden in the parables?

It seems obvious that those whose hearts are “good soil” are the heirs to the Kingdom. They are the ones who will receive God’s Word enthusiastically and apply its teachings to their lives. They are the ones who will protect their hearts from being choked by distractions. They are the ones who will prepare their hearts to give His Word even more depth to grow.

Application

So how do you have good soil? How do you make the most of it?

If you’re asking these questions, you’re on the right track! You position your heart to listen. You position your heart to receive all that God would say in His Word. You do everything you can to clean out those things from your heart that would seek to distract you from letting God’s Word grow deeper. You do everything you can to drink in all of the nourishment from God’s Word so it can grow even more.

Here are some practical ways to “do everything you can”: Implement as many Spiritual Disciplines as you can. Prayer, Bible Study, Bible Reading, Bible Memory, Worship, Fasting, Witnessing, Fellowship with other Believers, Giving of your time, talent, and treasures, and Giving thanks.

That will get you started!

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There seems to be a great concern among some that they have committed the unpardonable sin and are hopelessly doomed to spend eternity in hell for committing one sin. Well thankfully, Jesus addresses the “unpardonable sin” in today’s Bible reading.

As we look at this sin which can never be forgiven, let’s look at what Jesus actually says and let’s look at the immediate context.

Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:28–29 ESV)

So what is blasphemy?

Blasphemy means “to speak against someone in such a way as to harm or injure his or her reputation (occurring in relation to persons as well as to divine beings)—‘to revile, to defame, to blaspheme, reviling”[1] To blaspheme against the Holy Spirit is to slander Him.

Now, look at the context:

“And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” (Mark 3:22 ESV)

From the definition and the context, we can conclude that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is to see God’s works occurring before one’s eyes and speak against God in such a way to attribute the works of God to the devil himself.

Application

Have you ever committed the unpardonable sin? Have you sinned so greatly that God will never forgive you? Look at what Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter.” (Mark 3:28 ESV)

Jesus says that God is able to forgive all kinds of sins of all kinds of people. He can and will forgive all of all. Except for one sin: attributing the works of God to the devil. Have you ever done that? Have you ever seen Jesus do the works of God and say, “No, the devil did that!”

It’s important to note something Jesus says in just a few chapters later. “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.” Mark 7:21-22 (ESV)

In other words, our lips give away the inclinations of our hearts. An unbelieving heart will speak of its unbelief. And an unbelieving heart will speak against the works of God in such a way to attribute God’s works to the devil.

So have you committed the unpardonable sin? Are you unforgivable? Are you beyond God’s redemption?

The fact that you are concerned enough to ask the question speaks of a heart inclined to believe. An unbelieving heart wouldn’t even care if it had done something so heinous that it couldn’t be forgiven.

So take heart! If you’re concerned that you can’t be forgiven for something, that’s the work of God in your heart to redeem you, not to reject you!

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains 1996: 433. Print.

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Babylon intolerance

In today’s Bible reading, John records the fall of Babylon the Great. I won’t go into the theories of what Babylon the Great is. But I will point out the command from God for His people: Come out and don’t participate in the sin of the world. (Revelation 18:4-5) While the rest of the world grieves the fall of Babylon, God’s people are to expose Babylon’s sins. (Revelation 18:6)

The world will never accept Believers who take their stand for righteousness. Regardless of what we may say or do, the world will never respect or tolerate those who are serious about their faith. Oh, they may accept, highlight, and celebrate it when a Believer rejects the faith. But unless that happens, the world knows it and the Christian faith are at odds.

Why would a Believer want the endorsement and recognition of the world? Why would a Believer want to “be cool” and try to be accepted? Tolerance will only be afforded to those who capitulate and endorse sin. Look at Paul’s chronicling of the progression of sin in Romans 1. First, sin is tolerated. Next, sin is accepted. Finally, sin is endorsed and celebrated. That is the natural progression of sin. It will always go that way… unless God performs a miracle and rescue a believer from the clutches of sin.

I have said on many occasions, lost people will act like lost people and we shouldn’t be surprised when they do. Only when God intervenes do sinners repent and turn to Jesus. As I stated in Saturday’s devotional, our natural way is to choose anything other than God. Reformer John Calvin rightly pointed out that our heart is an idol factory. We will always choose something, anything over God … unless God does a work in us.

Application

Has God done a miracle in your life? Have you turned your idol-making heart over to Him for Him to do a supernatural work? Self-justification and self-righteousness won’t work. Moralism (working hard to do the good and avoid the bad) won’t work. Only a miraculous work of God which results in your repenting and turning to Jesus, trusting His payment for your sin-debt will work.

If you haven’t turned to Him, don’t delay! Turn from your sin and turn to Jesus. Ask Him to do a miraculous work in you to make you more like Him from the inside-out.

If you have turned to Jesus, spend a few minutes today thanking Him for all that He has done (which is everything!) to make you right with His (and your) perfect, holy Father.

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Sinclair Ferguson on God's acceptance of us

In today’s Bible reading, John says something that is difficult to grasp. “These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast. … For God has put it into their hearts to carry out his plan by having one purpose and to give their kingdom to the beast until the words of God are fulfilled.” Revelation 17:13,17 (CSB)

What’s difficult to grasp is that these kings give their power and authority to the beast because God put it in their hearts to do so. Did they not have a say in the matter?

Is there anywhere else in the Bible where something like this occurs? Look at the story of the Exodus. When Moses asked Pharaoh’s permission to take the Hebrews to the desert to worship God, Pharaoh hardened his heart, right? Yes. (Exodus 8:15, 8:32, 9:34)

And yet, no.

But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had told Moses.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may do these miraculous signs of mine among them,
But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the Israelites go.
But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was unwilling to let them go.
Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his land.

(Exodus 9:12, 10:1, 10:20, 10:27, 11:10 CSB)

We want to think that we are completely independent and can do whatever we want. After all, we have free will, right? Not so fast.

Jeremiah tells us that our hearts are wicked (Jeremiah 17:9) and Isaiah says that our righteousness is worthless. (Isaiah 64:6) The Fall affected us to the core of our being. Human beings were radically corrupted by the Fall in Genesis 3. The Reformer Martin Luther pointed out that even our will was affected by The Fall. So no, our will is not as free as we think it is!

God is capable of bending our will. And He must do so if we are to hear and respond to the Gospel message. Otherwise, we will never respond to His call to salvation. Because of The Fall, our natural inclination is to choose other than God.

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him,
and I will raise him up on the last day.

John 6:44 (CSB)

Application

Without God’s intervention, human beings — you and I — are lost. We are destitute. We are objects of God’s wrath. We are separated from God. We are dead in our trespasses and sins. We are enemies of God. We are hopeless! (see Ephesians 2 for the condition of those without Jesus)

Sinclair Ferguson said, “It is misleading to say that God accepts us the way we are. Rather, He accepts us despite the way we are. He receives us only in Christ and for Christ’s sake. nor does He mean to leave us the way He found us, but to transform us into the likeness of His Son.”

Praise be to God that God accepts us despite the way we are! Spend a few moments today praising God for His grace and mercy.

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