Sunday, July 20, 2014

The rise and fall of Saul

by Peter Waller
 
The narrative of the life of Saul in 1 Samuel makes for gloomy reading. A tall, handsome young man receives a stunning call from God and is anointed the first king of Israel. Shy at first, early heroics under the influence of the Spirit of God win over his detractors and embolden him to lead. More battle success follows before Saul’s character cracks in some high-pressure situations. It becomes apparent he isn’t fit to lead God’s people. By the time he dies on a lonely battlefield, the armies of Israel vanquished at the hand of the Philistines, his sins are truly staggering. Jealousy and insecurity led him to attempt the murder of David and Jonathan, his own son, and drove him to execute 85 priests of God and their families with scant evidence against them. And on his last night alive he consults a medium, despite knowing doing so is forbidden by God. What insights can we glean from his life that may prevent our lives from becoming similarly ill-spent?

But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. (1 Peter 3:14-15)

Saul’s first two major sins were committed because he feared men more than God. Faced with an army that was scattering and a priest who was dithering, Saul overstepped his duties and offered a sacrifice he had no business offering. On another occasion he caved in to the will of his men and let them take some livestock after destroying the Amalekites, going against God’s instruction to destroy every living thing, including the animals. To be sure in both cases he was under great pressure from men, but this only served to reveal the hierarchy in his heart. He feared man first, God second. This led him down a path of sin and devastation and he never returned to God. He layered sin on sin, unlike David who dealt with sin by repenting. His own story became more important than the story of God. He esteemed his own name above that of God’s.

Following these sins, Saul was told by Samuel that God had taken away the kingdom from him and would give it to another. Saul’s response to hearing this news is galling. He pleads with Samuel to appear in public with him so that Samuel’s (and God’s) disapproval of him would remain hidden from the people. Although Saul knows the root of his sin is his preoccupation with what man thinks of him, when Samuel confronts him his response is not to attempt to make right with God but rather to preserve his image before the people.

Saul, as I see it, was familiar with God. He did not see him for who he is – a consuming fire – and so he did not revere him as he ought to have. Perhaps he saw God as a merciful, easy-going God who was more likely to overlook sin than he was to actually do anything. This is evidence of how poor our memories sometimes are and how slow we are to comprehend who God is even though we see him act clearly. Saul’s calling and rise to king had God’s fingerprints all over it. It was not a hard “case to crack”; Saul became king through divine intervention and lots of it. Yet if Saul was a detective, it seems he would have arrested the wrong man. His life as king began with God, yet was lived as if it began with himself.

Next time I’ll consider how David was prevented from becoming overly familiar with God.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Theatre of Nightmares - A Letter to the Newspaper

Below is a letter I recently sent to the Cape Times regarding adverts for a strip club that appear on their Sport's page each day:


I am shocked that the Cape Times has agreed to run the Mavericks adverts. These adverts are pornography (albeit not hard-core).

If you are addicted to pornography, you should be aware that it is exactly that - an addiction. And I would argue that it does more damage than the addictions of alcohol and nicotine. It ruins minds and destroys relationships. And it is more rampant than alcoholism.

I am fortunate enough to have a father who is not naive about the hazardous effects of porn. He ran an anti-porn campaign when I was a young boy, and that may be the reason that I have managed to avoid succumbing to a porn-addiction; unlike so many of my peers who have ruined their lives unwittingly.

Ted Bundy, the serial rapist and murderer, testified in an interview conducted just hours before his execution, that pornography, more than anything else, had led him to commit his heinous acts. What started out as mere dabbling in soft-core porn as a youth, raged into a wildfire of lust that even hard-core porn could not quench. So he turned to rape. Murdering his victims was merely part of the clean-up operations.

You may be addicted to porn and not be driven to such extents. Your addiction may be played out in the privacy of your bedroom or study. But what effect does it have on your life? Does it add depth to your relationships, or does it undermine them? Does it make you feel good about yourself or ashamed?

If you confidently assert it does not have any negative effects on you, I fear you are a typical addict. Like the alcoholic who blames his problems on circumstance, the gambler who insists he does not have a problem, or the druggie who gets irritable when his next high is threatened.

What difference do these adverts make in an oversexed society? They serve to further deaden our consciences to the horror that pornography is. We are a society perishing for a lack of knowledge. We do not trace problems to causes. Rape and divorce are as common as Impala in Kruger; one barely gives them a second glance when they appear. Relationships are impoverished. Pornography is a key villain in so many of these tragedies, yet we laugh at it as if it were the Jester... we perceive it to be little more than some entertainment. And this is what Mavericks want us to think. They are to be pitied even above their victims.

But, thankfully, there are many who are aware of porn's destructive potential. Some of them are ex-addicts who have fought courageously to rid themselves of the filth. Yet we are still vulnerable... corruptible. In our more lucid moments, we know it will do us more harm than good. Yet, if we let down our guard for a moment, our sexuality is easily overwhelmed. 

Enter the Cape Times. I turn to the Sport page as I sip my cup of tea mid-morning... and I'm fighting, again, to maintain my sanity. I realise I am not an audience member watching a Jester; I am a part of the play and am on an assassin's hit list. Except that this is not make-believe.

Peter Waller
Cape Town

PS. I will not support the Cape Times so long as the adverts are allowed to run. And will attempt to dissuade my employer from doing so. I appeal to the Editor and Owners to be courageous and so "No." to Mavericks' money for the sake of their readers.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Psalm 40 - David a Man After God's Own Heart


by peter waller
God as deliverer
This Psalm was written by David in a time of fear, yet it starts out with a recollection of what God has previously done for him:

I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.

I want to be like David. Although he was a king, he was humble before God. He didn’t rely on his own ability to deliver himself. He recognised God (and God alone) as deliverer. And this caused him to wait on God and cry out to God. What about us? When we’re in a tight spot, where do we turn? Do we spend more than fleeting moments in prayer? Do we recognise our dependence on God and wait for him to act? Or are we consumed with our own strategies for deliverance, wherein God plays merely a minor role at most?

Us as worshippers
The benefit of waiting on God is that he acts; we are delivered. But, even more importantly, we see him act and this transforms us into the kind of people we were made to be – worshippers:

He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.

Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie! You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told.

I’ve heard it said that what every person craves, ultimately, is glory. We love the glory of rock concerts and sports events. We revel in the glory of great art. It is glory that satisfies us and makes us glad. And it is David’s sighting of God’s glory that is behind his exultation in these verses – “none can compare with you!” David’s happiness causes a song to rise from his heart to his mouth. And this song is not just any happy tune – it is a song of praise. Seeing God as our deliverer satisfies our souls and the overflow is worship. As worshippers we realise our true calling or identity which, in turn, secures our contentment.

Obedience built on relationship
This experience of God and worship of him lays the foundation for a relationship with him. David now makes a surprising comment:

In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.

Then I said, “Behold, I have  come; in the  scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”

This comment is especially surprising when you think of when it was written – under the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant was based on on-going sacrifice. Sacrifices were ordained by God. They were not man’s idea to deal with sin in order to be reconciled to God, they were God’s idea! Yet David says, “In sacrifice you have not delighted.” He seems to have a deep insight into God’s heart.

To be sure, these verses are “Messianic” – they are prophetic of the life and work of Christ. I’m not sure what degree of insight David had in this regard. I don’t know whether he appreciated he was writing about Christ, or whether he knew fully how to apply what he was writing to his own life. But the fact remains he had got an insight into the New Covenant that was at the core of God’s heart. God was yet to unveil his plans fully, yet here is David writing about them. What do we make of that? I think we say, “David had a relationship with God; a relationship where God showed David what was on his heart.”

David saw that God was after more than base level Old Covenant living. He was unhappy about the distance between himself and men and he wasn’t particularly excited about the system of animal sacrifice as a means of forgiveness. He saw that God wanted people who delighted to do his will; who obeyed from the heart, not begrudgingly.

David’s relationship with God is reflected in his communication with God. He heard God, “You have given me an open ear”, and he responded to him, “Then I said”. God was delighted! Here was a man that “got” him; that heard him. He bragged of his closeness with David, describing him as “a man after my own heart, who will do all my will”. David was a man ahead of his time in this way. Its almost as if he was a Christian before Christ had come to earth. He obeyed from the heart; he delighted in obedience. Whereas God described most of David’s fellow Israelites as having ears but being deaf, David says, “God gave me ears to hear!”
Why don't you ask God for ears to hear if you want a clearer understanding of what he is really like?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Staying True To The Faith With Cards

Three Reasons To Use Christian Birthday Cards:

A birthday should be a celebration, and as a Christian you probably like to celebrate as much as the next person. 

The problem that you will face is when you go to buy birthday cards for those that you love. Most mainstream birthday cards do not reflect Christian values and degrade many of the things that you believe in. Many of these cards are far too sexual in nature, or they seem to enjoy insulting the recipient. 

You want a card that will help you celebrate someone’s special day, but you do not want to violate your principles to do so, and the best way to do that is by buying Christian birthday cards from a Christian retailer.



Christian Birthday Cards Glorify Christ

In all things Christians are to glorify Christ and the God that created them. Where a secular birthday card may talk about how close the recipient is to the grave, a Christian birthday card tells the story of the years that Christ has loved the recipient. 

The focus of the card is on the goodness of God and how God kept that person alive for another year, and blessed them with friends or family that love them enough to bring them a birthday card. Rather than focusing on the year that has passed, Christian birthday cards point to the good things that exist in the present.

The Cards Are Uplifting

How many times does a person turning forty need to hear a joke about being “over the hill”? To many Christians the joke is tasteless and glorifies death at the expense of God. Secular cards are full of such jokes, laden with sexual innuendos and other things that are unsuitable for Christians to give each other. 

On the other hand, a Christian birthday card is a way to express to someone an interesting verse or thought that can be very uplifting. The right verse, at the right time, can cause the spirit to soar and bring people into a greater relationship with Christ. This can be a double edged sword. When you go to pick out a birthday card for a fellow Christian, and it has a verse of uplifting message, make sure that you take the time to really look for one that says what you want to say to that person. A thoughtful card is powerful, but a thoughtless card can cause a lot of damage.

Good, Clean Humor

So far the focus has been on serious birthday cards, but not all Christian birthday cards have to be serious. There are plenty of good, clean cards that you can give your brothers and sisters in Christ that are sure to get a chuckle, but do not have to stoop to the level of more secular choices. 

The whole point of the card is to show the recipient that you love them and wish to celebrate another year of life with them, and part of celebration is laughter. Do not be afraid to have fun with birthday celebrations, just make sure that the jokes that are on your card are something that you would have given to Christ.

There are a lot of choices out there for birthday cards, but as a Christian, finding the right card is not always easy to do. With a little extra effort you can give the people that you love Christian birthday cards that they will enjoy and that honor Christ at the same time.

I am George Hancock, long-time pastor and Christian for over thirty years. I am encouraged when I see Christians taking the time to find their Christian birthday cards at Christian stores because I know the message will be suitable. For my cards I shop at http://www.dayspring.com/cards/shop_by_occasion/birthday/, and I can find everything that I need.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Seeking Glory And Life After Death

 Unconventional Thoughts On Seeking Glory And Life After Death

Many people assume that seeking eternal life is no friend to hoping for and seeking after one’s enjoyment.  Surprisingly enough, the two are dynamically cohesive.  Truth be told, man is too easily pleased and often too distracted and caught up in fleeting lower forms of happiness only to miss out on ultimate and endless satisfaction.          

 

Striving for things Eternal

Many people are spiritually weak.  People tend to ramble about in life, coasting listlessly.  People tend to be bored and held captive from spirituality.  According to the Bible, we are to fight for faith and take hold of eternal life, which is given to those who eagerly seek, not dawdle.

Seek glory, honor and immortality more than you seek anything on earth.  Seek it, want it and pursue it.  If you are an apathetic person in spirituality, pray to God that he pushes you intensely toward seeking these things such that you know how precious glory and honor can be.

 

True Honor & Glory

Seeking honor is not seeking praise from man, but seeking praise from God.  On judgment day, God will bring to light things that have been hidden in darkness, and then man’s praise will come to him by God.

Seeking Glory is to seek God’s glory.  We first must want it and enjoy it and seek it as the highest treasure of worship.  Admire and delight in Him and do not exchange that for anything, for what can a man give in exchange for his soul?  Seeking is not just to see the glory, but to share in the glory of God.

There may be many sufferings along the path to glory, which is why ministries like Heart Felt Christian Counseling exist; nevertheless it is how we respond to the sufferings,  that leads  us to the glory.  It is not losing heart, it is our outer self, decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed daily.  We should not look at the things that can now be seen, these things are temporary, look for the things that are unseen,  these things lead to eternal life.


 

Life after death

Different religions have a variety of answers and explanations about what happens to us after death.  The overall arching theme apparent in all of religions, save Christianity, is that one must be a good person in order to inherit those good things that await a man after death.  Though the definition of good and of bliss varies, this line of thinking dominates religions.  This is a striking contrast to what Jesus and the Bible teach, which is that a man can never be good enough, thus needs to rest in the merits of the sinless Savior, having no merits of his own. 

Another way to think of it is that being good is not enough, we must be perfect, because God is Holy and cannot look on wickedness.  He is also just, therefore by His very nature cannot overlook our rebellion against His will and must bring forth justice.  The just penalty for sinning against an infinite God is an eternal sentence in Hell.  Most people think this is outrageous; however it usually boils down to the reality that they simply do not understand the magnitude of God’s purity, thus how absolutely offensive sin is to Him.    

Any reasonable person understands they are not perfect, which is why man must look to Jesus, the perfect one.  And because Jesus is infinite, His death on the cross was sufficient to pay for our eternal indebtedness to God, enabling us to come before His presence and have fellowship with Him forever.   

Being found clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, which is the gift of God to all who turn from doing whatever they please to doing what pleases Him, and not trusting in their own merits but His, the believer can enjoy God for all of eternity.  If one truly desires enjoyment he would do well to seek out eternal life.  


Cinidi manages to find time to write despite her full time profession as a medical coder in Missouri.  As an author, she has the pleasure of supporting orginizations such as heartfeltcc.com.

Friday, April 26, 2013

An Expert's Diagnosis of My Heart


by Peter Waller

My wife and I have a private joke. Sometimes when someone (including ourselves) does something obviously wrong, we say, “But they shouldn't be too hard on themselves”. We got this from someone who, after telling my wife about some downright childish and wrong behaviour of theirs, said, “But I think I’m being too hard on myself.” We are so quick to justify and overlook our own sin. This leaves us feeling superior to people around us. Well, Romans 1 and 2 has just the tonic we need...

Romans 1:18 – 2:5 starts with a cutting appraisal of mankind, which we'll look at shortly. In it, it seems that Paul is only condemning the vile and unbelievers. But Chapter 2 makes it clear that if anyone judges people for the behaviour in Chapter 1, they are hypocrites, for they are no better. Rather than judge, they are to see God’s patience and forbearance with them as sinners. They are to see his kindness and be motivated to repentance by it.

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things... Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.


GRACE: THE WAY TO REPENTANCE

Paul is saying that people who have known God’s kindness should not assume that it is because of their goodness. They should not presume themselves to be good and to have merited God’s kindness. Nor are they to judge those God is opposed to. Paul wants us to see that we are no better than anyone else. And then we will see God’s kindness for what it is – grace – and not for what it isn't – merited favour. 

We must do this if we are to find repentance. God’s way for bringing human repentance is mercy. He gives us extravagant grace and over-the-top, undeserved blessings in order to lead us to repentance. His kindness is meant to be what changes us. We are not recipients of his kindness because we are different from anyone else. Rather, if we are to be different from others it will be because of his kindness.

Perversely, his kindness often leads us to believe that we are righteous. But as we read Romans, we realise it is not the case. We realise that we are all like our first father, Adam. The apple didn't fall far from the tree. Seeing this – the fact that we are made of exactly the same moral material as the vilest sinner – enables God’s kindness to us to have its intended effect. Failing to see this, will result in his kindness only deepening our deception and self-righteousness.

So, until we know God’s kindness – and until we know that it is because of grace, not merit – we will not repent, not really. Since grace is God’s path to repentance, if we don’t know his grace we have missed repentance. Fortunately, he is patient with us in this regard.

In light of all their repeated shortcomings, the person who continues to judge others is hard-hearted and impenitent. The person who doesn't step out of the seat of judge and fall on their knees in repentance before God has a stubborn heart. And they are storing up judgement for themselves.


MY DIAGNOSIS, YOUR DIAGNOSIS

Given how important it is for us to see the depth of our corruption, it is now good to re-look at what it says in Romans 1:18-31. These verses are cutting. And they are descriptive, not of the worst people, but of all people. As we read them, may God’s Spirit remove the veil from our eyes and heal our blindness to our true condition, outside of Christ. May we realise that they are talking about us. Let’s see them as a diagnosis of our own unregenerate hearts, whether or not we are guilty of each specific behaviour described in them. Paul, a spiritual physician expertly trained by God himself, is diagnosing us all. It is worth reading them as if he has come with his stethoscope and blood pressure gauge and examined us. He has checked our skin and our eyes. He has taken blood tests. He has quizzed us on what symptoms we have experienced. All the while he has scribbled notes. Now he is reviewing his notes and, as he does so, a frown settles on his brow. As we sit and wait anxiously, the frown deepens, until, after clearing his throat, he breaks the awful news of our diseased body in a grave tone:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen... And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.


Footnote 1: Objections

  • "Well, I did seek God so I’m different to the people described above." The bible is clear that all who seek God, do so because he first seeks for them. And they love him because he first loves them. (See 1 John 4:19; Romans 5:8; John 6:35-39, 44; Romans 9-11)
  • "If we’re all the same and are reliant on God’s mercy to seek him and escape from our sinful natures, why does he hold those who don't seek him accountable?"At first I thought this was a difficult question, now I think it is more flawed than difficult. Typically, it is a question about the justice of God: is God just to judge sinners who have no hope of obeying his commands and satisfying his requirements, no matter how hard they try? But the question contains the answer. We are sinners; he is holy. Our sin offends his majesty and holiness and, therefore, he is just in judging all of us. That he saves some is mercy; it does not make him unjust in not saving all. It is his mercy, so he is entitled to dispense it as he pleases. This then moves the question on from justice to why doesn't he save all? This seems to me to be the truly difficult question. In Romans 9 Paul seems tentatively to suggest an answer. He suggests that God's mercy is seen more brilliantly by those he chooses to save against a backdrop of the judgement they deserved being administered to others. This doesn't fully satisfy me, however, and I'm left with Paul's closing words in Romans 11 going through my mind: 
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,

or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
Whatever the reason, if we will remember that it is his prerogative to show mercy to whom he pleases, then we will avoid slipping into the trap of believing that God owes salvation to all men.


Footnote 2: A clarification

In relation to the grim diagnosis Paul makes of all men, it seems necessary to clarify something. Christians should move from seeing themselves as sinners to grasping their new identity as saints. This is because of the wonderful doctrine of rebirth or regeneration. The word regeneration has the same root word as genesis which is Greek for “origin”. So regeneration speaks, if you like, of a rewriting of the book of Genesis in the life of believers. And in the second take on Genesis, there is a new Adam – Christ. Now, just as people who have not experienced a new origin are just like their father, Adam, so those who have been regenerated are just like their new father, the second Adam, Jesus Christ. Jesus lived a life free from sin. He obeyed God perfectly, even to the point of giving up his life to die on a Cross. This is the new cloth we have been cut from. And we have the same characteristics and qualities as this second cloth. In the past we were like a filthy rag, now we are pure white. Why we don’t always act like it is because we are still carry the flesh with us and so we are capable of resorting back to our old natures. There will come a day when the old nature is cut from us and we are fully free. But for now it is important that we see that our real selves are the regenerate selves, despite having the old nature clinging on like a dead body tied to us. And that, just as we are capable of living as our old selves (which, in Adam, are slaves to sin) we are also capable of living as our new selves (which, in the second Adam, are slaves to righteousness).


However, simply because Christians are now in the second Adam does not mean that the verses in Romans 2 (concerning God’s kindness leading them to repentance) are nullified. On the contrary, being new creations makes the repentance of Romans 2 possible. Christians are still the recipients of God’s unmerited and incredible kindness. “While we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Without God’s mercy and grace, there would be no new creations. We would still be stuck in the first Adam as rotten sinners condemned to suffer God’s wrath. And while it is important that we shift in our minds from seeing ourselves as sinners to understanding we are saints, we must never go so far as to forget our condition when we first received of God’s kindness. We should always remember our deep poverty at the time God first smiled at us. That first smile was pure mercy. When he kissed our mouths and breathed his life into us it was sheer grace. And when he embraced our old corpses until they came alive it was entirely charity. Being in Christ entitles us to enjoying his smile on an on-going basis. But let’s not forget that our position in Christ has nothing to do with us – it was all Him and it was all mercy on his part. Therefore his favour is founded, ultimately, on grace and mercy.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

God's Commands, Their Effect, Their Current Status and How to Obey Them


By Peter Waller

In this post I am going to look at certain aspects of the commands of God, including:
  • Man’s tendency to try and bypass the commands of God;
  • Differences between the Old and New Testament;
  • How our hearts respond to God’s commands;
  • What God is looking for in this area; and
  • How we grow in obedience to God.

It contains some complex areas that I don’t fully grasp and is not a complete analysis.

SCRIBES SCOLDED FOR REPLACING GOD’S COMMANDS WITH THEIR OWN

Mark records how, one day, scribes came to observe Jesus, seeking to find some fault in him. They noticed his disciples don’t wash their hands before eating, as is required by Jewish elders’ tradition. These traditions are man-made rules apparently intended to apply the Mosaic Law into day to day life. They ask Jesus why his disciples aren’t following these rules. Some preliminary thoughts I had on this are: 
1. Was it really necessary to add to the Mosaic Law? While the 10 commandments are concise, they cover all important areas. Further, the ceremonial laws given through Moses were many and practical. So why were they added to? I think it is because the human heart wants some hoop to jump through so it can gain a sense of achievement and assurance or peace. The human heart is into self-righteousness. The rich young ruler was like this (Mark 10:17-22).
2. In addition, creating additional law served as a power trip for the religious leaders; don’t we all love to be moral judges and founts of wisdom? The human heart is into judging others and moral pride. Further, the passage continues to suggest personal gain may often be at play for creating human rules that act as a loop-hole by which people can avoid sacrificial obedience to God – for example the “Corban” tradition I mention below.
 I don’t suspect the scribes were ready for Jesus’ scathing counter-attack:
“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘These people honour me with their lips but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” Mark 7:6-8
Jesus condemns them for rejecting God’s commands in favour of their own. He goes on to refer to the human idea of “Corban” as just one of many examples where religious leaders have done this. Under Jewish tradition, children could avoid honouring their parents by providing for them in their old-age (if necessary) by declaring funds that would be available for this purpose to be “Corban” i.e. given to God. I can see how this serves man in at least two ways:
1. It serves the religious leaders since “Corban” funds would typically flow into the temple treasury; and
2. It serves the children since this may allow them to be deceitful and not give all, or even any, of the funds that they say are “Corban”. It effectively allows them to escape being held accountable for caring for their parents since they can simply explain that they have given the money to God instead (whether or not they actually have). In addition, it again panders to the heart’s desire for self-righteousness and self-justification since giving money to the temple may seem more sacred and godly than caring for your decrepit parents.

THE IMPOTANCE OF THE LAW: AN AGE OLD PROBLEM

This behaviour raises an age old problem, namely, that rules do not lead to obedience. On the contrary, they encourage rebellion. This is because the unregenerate human heart is sick. Jesus goes on to explain that it is not external washing that cleanses or defiles a man, but the internal condition of his heart.
“From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.”Marc 7:21-22
It is the bible’s teaching that law’s do not purify us. Rather, they provide an opportunity for us to demonstrate our impurity. In fact, they stir up our sinful natures, just like a sign saying, “Do not walk on the grass” may tempt us to do just that when before we were contentedly walking along the path without any desire to walk on the grass.

THE CURRENT STATUS OF THE LAW

On another occasion, when Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment, he replies: “Love God with all your heart, mind and strength. And the second is similar: love others as you love yourself. On these two commandments depends all the Law.” Now, you may think that by saying this Jesus is simplifying the Law. Our silly minds can be inclined to think: “Oh well, that is much better than a long list of laws – now I just need to remember two – how convenient.”

But our greatest difficulty with God’s Law is not remembering it, but obeying it. And in saying we must love God with everything we have and love others like we do ourselves Jesus is making the Law much harder for us to obey, not any easier.

And that is what he intended to do. In saying these things, he is putting an end to the game of jumping through hoops. He is taking us out of the realm of duty and throwing us into that of desire. He is moving us away from cold achievement into the territories of the heart... Of emotion and desire. Of loyalty and priority. Of joy and delight. In the first passage I quoted, Jesus condemned the scribes for paying lip service to him without any involvement of their hearts. In this chapter, He shows that the question we will have to answer at the end of our lives is not, “Did you murder etc.”, but rather, “Do you love Me?”

I think this is a question worth asking yourself now. And one way to answer it is to ask yourself: Am I stirred by God? Am I loyal to Him? Do I delight in Him? Do I long for Him? Do I miss Him when I don’t spend time with Him? These are typical questions someone may ask their spouse in attempting to ascertain if they are loved. If you answer yes to any of these questions, you can ask a second question: “How much?” For there are degrees of love.  

Another good question to ask is, “Do I obey Him?” Although superficial, cold obedience proves little and will receive no reward from God, Jesus said that those who love him will obey his commands. I mention this to prevent us from becoming too sentimental and wishy-washy. Obedience remains the acid-test of our love for Christ. In short, it is love-inspired obedience that God is after.

It is also worth pointing out that, regardless of how much we love God, none of us love him and others perfectly, as Christ commands – so we all need mercy. This is why Christ had to die – to release us from the requirements of the Law. As Paul says: “You have died to the law through the body of Christ”. He compares the Law to a oppressive husband that a woman is bound to so long as she lives. Once in Christ, we are considered to be dead to our old husband, the Law, and alive to our new Husband – Christ. This is because we die and are raised again with Christ. Paul says we are released from the Law and “serve in the new way of the Spirit and not the old way of the written code.”

From this I conclude that although we are no longer under the Old Covenant – chained to an impotent husband – we are not free to do as we please. Christ has given us a new commandment: to love God and people wholeheartedly. One crucial difference is that our justification no longer depends on our performance in this regard (which is our sanctification). Another is that the New Covenant holds out great hope for us for it gives us new, soft hearts and makes real obedience possible.

HOW ARE WE TO OBEY THIS GREAT COMMAND

So then, can we obey this command of Jesus, at least to some non-insignificant degree? And if so, how do we? Below are four points which form something of a theoretical answer to these questions. How these issues will practically work themselves out will necessarily involve engaging in the spiritual disciplines of prayer, worship, meditation etc.

1. As new creations

In Colossians, Paul summarises our heart condition before we experience rebirth in Christ:

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies [of God] in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death.” Paul describes us as enemies of God. Our hearts were hostile to God: we don’t love him before we are raised as new creation’s with Christ. As Jesus said to Nicodemus: "You must be born again."

2. In the power of the Spirit
Jesus told his disciples they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. And Paul said we were to be filled with the Spirit continually. We need the Holy Spirit.

In Ezekiel, God speaks of the New Covenant, and both of these first two points are clearly made:
“I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” Ezekiel 36:26-27
3. Receiving from Him
Throughout our lives, we also need to come empty handed to God and receive. This is the antithesis of “hoop-jumping”. This is the antidote to the poison of self-righteousness. God gives grace to those who humble themselves and declare their self-poverty. John wrote, “We love him because he first loved us.” We need to experience God’s love before we will love him.

4. Gazing at Him
After rebirth we have functioning spiritual eyes with which we are able to see God. And if we will use them to gaze on him – and see him in all his perfections – we will love him.

5. Knowing Him in life and service
As we engage in the joys and challenges of life in a relationship with him we get to know him. And, since he is the most wonderful person of all, we will love him. This is especially true when we seek to live a life serving him in our homes, churches and work places.

As a final thought... one of my favourite quotes is from St. Augustine. He prayed, “Grant what thou commandest and then command what thou wilt.” In other words, he asked God to grant him the ability and the heart to obey His commands, rather than trying to manipulate the commands of God to suit him.