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Learn God's Law

Trust that the God who made you is wiser than you are, and obey him.


We naturally like to hear of philanthropy, of charity, of giving. Our hearts may be warmed as we hear of Bill Gates or Warren Buffett choosing to give billions of dollars away. On a more personal level, I know I am deeply encouraged when I encounter instances of giving in the church: when I see church members organizing freely to make meals for someone who needs them, or when I hear about an encouraging letter written to someone who is discouraged, or when I hear someone share a story about evangelism on a Sunday evening, or when someone tells me of their own growth they've found, maybe in their ability to love or to forgive by God's grace. Seeing others give, even if it's not to us, encourages us.

When we hear words like "law" and "command," "precept" and "statute," we naturally think of what we can do. Some of us work in Congress or a state assembly or other bodies that make laws and rules. Others of us do that as employers. Teachers do that for their classrooms; parents do that for their children. We also think of our ability to keep the law, of what we can do. Some laws can be good, and yet hard for us to obey: how many times did my grade school teachers tell me to be quiet?

Sometimes, when we hear rules and regulations talked about, we think they're just cold, formal rules that have nothing to do with anything other than technical matters; they're far removed from the sphere of personal relationships. In your friendships, do you have rules that you follow?

Language of commandment and requirement pushes us to look at our own law-keeping. The prospect of a church spending a few weeks looking at the longest chapter in the Old Testament, which is all about the law of the Lord, can seem uninteresting, daunting, discouraging, or even dangerous. Hasn't Old Testament law been overturned by New Testament grace? Haven't the thunderings of Sinai been drowned out by the cries of Calvary?

An acrostic opportunity

The Book of Psalms is the longest book in the Bible. It's full of different kinds of poems or psalms: some individual, some to be used publically and corporately, some celebrating, and some reflecting sadness or longing. Some are about God, some are about human experience, and some are about God's wisdom. That's what Psalm 119 is: it's a psalm about the wisdom of God. It's called a wisdom psalm, and it's similar to the Book of Proverbs. It celebrates the law of God and considers the goodness of keeping that law.

Psalm 119 is also a very special kind of poem. Extra effort has been put into crafting it. It is an acrostic: that is, it follows an A-B-C pattern with the letters that begin the first words of each line. It goes through the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet; thus, there are 22 stanzas. They have even been labeled alef, bet, gimel, dalet, he, vav, zayin. These are the letters of the Hebrew alphabet: it goes through all 22 of them. There are eight verses in each stanza, and each of those verses begins with the stanza's signature letter. In the first stanza, all eight verses begin with a word that begins with the letter alef: "a." Next it will do that with "b"—bet—and so on.

Each letter has its own opportunity, as it were, to lead us in praising God for his laws and his testimonies. All the letters are used to show that this praise is full and complete, and yet at the same time, it shows that the entire alphabet can be exhausted before we come to the end of the glories of God's law. It is such a vast expanse of material, worthy for God to be praised for.

I know that might seem far removed from a lot of us. We live in a culture of informality and spontaneity. We value sincerity as shown in something immediate and casual. To us that seems real, and therefore valuable. We are just the kind of people—marked by our love for ease and convenience—who can miss the beauty there is in art. After all, artfulness shows deliberateness, and it shows thoughtfulness. In Psalm 119, we see a beauty of expression, which itself is reflecting something of the beauty being reflected upon. The expression is so artfully crafted because that which it is reflecting upon is so deliberately crafted.

Even in this chosen style, conforming to a freely chosen form produces beauty, just as our conforming to God's precepts brings a beauty, a rightness, an appropriateness, a blessedness, and a happiness to our own lives. Do you want to live a miserable life? Do you want to cause misery for people around you? Then sin. Do you want to live a blessed life? Do you want to be happy? Then trust that the God who made you is wiser than you are, and obey him. That's what this Psalm tells us.

(Read Psalm 119:1-8)

I wonder if you notice what the Lord has given his people, in this passage about the law and the testimonies about the Lord's ways and his precepts, in this passage about our walking, seeking, doing, and keeping. I want to point out three things the Lord gives his people that we see in these verses.

The gift of wisdom

First, we see that God gives wisdom. Here, the psalmist is describing the way to blessing. Those first three verses are two lines of poetry each, and those lines are what's called parallelism. It doesn't mean simply that they were physically written along the same line; it means they have parallel meanings, that what's said in line one is repeated in line two. You don't have a whole fresh boatload of information coming in line two: line two is restating what line one says. You don't look at the different words to figure out that it's all this special distinct meaning. It's just a fuller way for you to appreciate this. "The day was beautiful, it was a gorgeous day": I've just spoken in parallel lines there. I've said the same thing using two different words. That's what's going on here, and it gives us a fuller appreciation for what he's saying about the law. The same point those six lines are making in verses one through three is repeated in the last line of verse four: "that are to be fully obeyed." His precepts are to be fully obeyed.

The first half of verse four sticks out in these verses. Which one of these things is not like the other? The first half of verse four. It's in the second person, addressed directly to God: "You have laid down precepts." The psalmist ends that merely descriptive third-person reference to God and his laws or testimonies or ways, and instead, he addresses God directly. He says, "You have laid down precepts," and then he returns to the theme of the first three verses: "that are to be fully obeyed." You begin to perceive, then, that the fount of all other blessings is there in God's revelation of himself and his will. If he did not freely give his wisdom, no one would be wise. At best, we might be involved in some kind of spiritual hide-and-seek with God, but even then, how serious would we be inclined to be about that search? Probably not that serious. How could anyone be blessed with a blameless way if we don't know what the way is? How could we even aim at doing no wrong if we don't know what wrong is? Morally, the Bible is clear that we are all made in the image of God; we are all born with a conscience. But the Bible is also clear that we are all fallen: that we are all, by nature, self-centered and spiritually dead.

If you're here and you're not a Christian, that right there is what separates Christianity from all other world religions. If you're somebody who innocently has thought all religions are the same, then this is one of the places where it's really not the case, and you won't understand this psalm if you get this wrong. Every other religion says people are basically okay: you just need some rules, some ways to live better. Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam say you need some more instruction, and then you can live fine. Of the major world religions, Christianity alone says you are spiritually dead by nature: you are alienated from God and you are at enmity with him. He is your Creator and your enemy because of your sins, and that explains why this world is so messed up. But it's not a hopeless religion at all; it's the grandest of all hopes. Christianity tells us that not only can we have a better life, but we can be adopted by this God: that we can be forgiven and made new and brought alive spiritually.

For instance, when we read this psalm, we need to have in mind that the Bible is clear we are fallen and spiritually dead. Even though we have consciences, our consciences are fallible. We see that all over the place. Someone in Egypt can kill their family member for bringing shame in their family and think they're doing the right thing. Someone can feel good about the selfishness that keeps their lives cocooned off from others in need and others they should love. Our consciences are messed up. They're better than nothing, and they're messed up.

In the midst of these promises of blessing for following the way, we must begin by noticing that in the first half of verse four, God has revealed himself. God has ordained that we should diligently keep his precepts, and he has let us know what these precepts are. All of these various words that are used here for precepts and ways and testimonies are other ways of referring to God's law: God's revelation of himself and of the way we should live. God gives us his wisdom.

Having established that, we can see why we would be blessed by following God's way. In verse one, we read, "Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, / who walk according to the law of the Lord."

Now I want to be careful. We can be confused by this word "blameless" in the Psalms. When referring to God, it can certainly have its fullest meaning. Whenever it's used of people, though, it is a relative term. David uses this word of himself in Psalm 18; he says that he's tamim, he's blameless. He also confesses in Psalm 51 that he sinned against God, so whatever he means by "blameless" is not utterly and completely sinless.

The use of "blameless" about people in the Bible, however, usually means they would be someone who has lived in such a way that they can't honestly be charged with straying from the path the Lord has laid out in a particular way. They have largely lived in the way the Lord has said, or in a particular case. Noah was said to be such a blameless man in Genesis 6, and Job in Job 1. God even brags to Satan that Job is a blameless man. Abram is called to be blameless in Genesis 17. In fact, all the Israelites were called to be blameless in Deuteronomy 18:13. We are called to be, as God's people, blameless. David, in Psalm 18, said it was God who made him blameless.

When we go to the New Testament, we find the same idea. Paul often prays that the Christians be made blameless: he prays that for the Christians in Ephesus. He says that God had chosen Christians in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In fact, Paul himself claimed to be this in a limited way, either in keeping of the law or his behavior in certain situations. For that matter, I'm not even supposed to be here as your pastor with you listening to me if you don't think I'm blameless. In 1 Timothy 3, it is a qualification for being an elder, and it's a qualification for deacons later in the chapter. Blamelessness, in this sense, is supposed to be what typifies elders and deacons.

I spent all this time on this point because here, right in this first phrase of this great psalm, is what people so often misunderstand. They take "blameless" to mean in the perfect sense that only God is, and then they get confused thinking the psalm is laying out a way we can obey ourselves into God's forgiveness, obey ourselves into God's presence in heaven, and obey ourselves into the Fall being undone.

While obedience will be typical of us as Christians, it will be because we are Christians. Our obedience alone will never make us Christians. Our blamelessness in this fallen world will always be a relative blamelessness in a specific situation, or generally in our thoughts, motives, or actions. It will never be an absolute, complete blamelessness. We've already jettisoned that option through Adam, and we've confirmed Adam's decision in our sins.

Israel, the law, and the coming Messiah
So what wisdom is the Lord giving us here? It's his law, which he gave at Mount Sinai through Moses, which we read in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. God explains something of himself and what he's like: something of how, therefore, his people should live in order to reflect his character and to represent him specially in his creation.

At first, this was revealed specially to the family of Abraham, and specifically to the Israelites, in a way it wasn't revealed to the Egyptians, Babylonians, or to other Africans, Europeans, Indians, or Chinese. God intended Israel as his preparatory missionary force for the world, preparing the world for the real coming of his Messiah.

The Messiah would be the real deliverer that Moses was just a foreshadowing of. The Messiah would deliver people of every nation from their spiritual bondage to sin and death, giving them everlasting freedom as the adopted children of God. From Mount Sinai in Exodus 20—where God publically takes the nation of Israel as his special people, and they take him to be their God—to the coming of Christ, spiritual and physical reality uniquely overlaps in Israel.

In Israel's history, God's approval and disapproval are supposed to be transparent. It's supposed to be obvious: with faithfulness being rewarded with prosperity and flourishing, and with idolatry being punished by famine and defeat and—ultimately—exile. This public display is what Israel was created to be. If you want to know more about that, read Deuteronomy 26-30.

It's different than now. Today there is no individual, political, familial nation built like that. There was a uniqueness in Israel's time to the coming of the Messiah, in preparation for the coming of the Messiah, where God was making his law and his holiness especially obvious in a particular distinct people and nation.

The analogy of that would be in the church. In that sense, proverbial wisdom—like we see here in verses one through four—is always and everywhere true. It is always and everywhere our spiritual duty to submit to God and his revealed Word, but such wisdom was to be especially and obviously true in Old Testament Israel. Obedience was publically and materially blessed. Disobedience was publically and materially cursed. Previews of the end were given: one way or the other, Israel would be a display of revelation of God's wisdom.

That's not normally the way it is in a fallen world. In a fallen world, you can sin for years and get away with it. You can appear virtuous and really not be virtuous. You can do the right thing and be punished—Christ was crucified. That disconnect between our actions and what we get for our actions is what it means that this world is fallen. Israel, in the Old Testament, was a temporary clarifying in order to teach holiness—teaching what God was really like so the people would be specially prepared for the coming of the Messiah. So that when he came and displayed holiness and then died as a sacrifice, it would be especially clear in understanding what he was doing.

A different kind of walking
Now there's a new kind of nation—Christians—which isn't limited to certain families or certain countries. We know God's blessing intensely, but not exactly in the same way the people of Israel did. This wisdom, this law, was how they were supposed to walk. We see that in verse one. Walking is just an image of how you regularly live. Such walking is one evidence of fearing the Lord. This kind of walking would be shown today in the way Christians might give their money to the Lord's work or to someone who needs it more than they do.

We read in verse two, "Blessed are those who keep his statutes / and seek him with all their heart." Statutes are his laws. God has revealed his laws. This is not advocating mere outward conformity; this psalm is no groundwork for legalism. Keeping God's testimonies is paralleled with what? Seeking the Lord, even seeking him with their whole heart. This is a consuming passion. This fits in with how we're called to relate to God. Deuteronomy 6:5 reads, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."

Psalm 119:3 reads, "they do no wrong / but follow his ways." Doing no wrong won't cost you any money. It's not something only somebody else can do. It's just the idea of being kind and fair to others. We are to be like God, who does no wrong.

Again, we see this image of walking. It was their main form of transportation in this era. Most people never rode on anything—at least, if they did, it was a very unusual time for them. Most people walked. Every place they got, they walked. There was no GPS, there was no Internet to look up where things were. There wasn't even an atlas. When you found out how to get someplace, that was valuable knowledge: "Oh, you know the way to get over there! That's good to know." When the way has been revealed, you've got something important that you know.

Here the Lord was revealing his ways. God had shown his people the way to blessedness, to happiness. He'd shown them his ways, as he puts it here in verse three. He'd promised Israel when he took them on, before they went into the Promised Land, "The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the Lord your God and walk in obedience to him" (Deut. 28:9). The way they lived was to distinguish God's people then, and it's to distinguish God's people now.

One difference we experience when we're born again and become one of God's people is that we do less wrong, because we are walking in his ways. John tells us in 1 John 3:9 that we can't keep on sinning if we've been born of God. Do you know why I'm concerned for you if you constantly deceive others and lie? It's not so much for your lying, though I'm sorry for how that hurts other people. I'm concerned for your soul, because you have deceived yourself into thinking you're a child of God—when I can tell you, from the Bible, that a child of God won't keep doing that.

I understand we struggle with temptation our whole lives, but that's very different from getting into sin and living in sin. My concern for you, if you are living in a particular sin and if you continue on unrepentantly, is not, fundamentally, that sin; it's not that you keep this law better. My concern is for your soul; that you're lost, that you've deceived yourself, that you think you're okay, when your whole life is showing you're not okay. Out of love for you, I want you to wake up and realize you are not okay. The children of God don't live like that. We get convicted of our sins.

In our workplaces—though everyone else may be dishonest and our boss may even encourage it—if we've been born of God, we remember that every earthly boss we have is going to give account to our heavenly Master. But it's our heavenly Master we ultimately work for, and we work to please him. We live in light of his laws, of what he tells us.

We can say with the psalmist in Psalm 119:4, "You have laid down precepts / that are to be fully obeyed." Again, keeping these precepts diligently never made the Israelites God's people. If you go back to Exodus 20:2, at Mount Sinai after their deliverance from Egypt, God tells them that he is their God and they are his people before they have ever really obeyed him much at all. He has simply made them, and he has chosen them. All the law he gives them after that is to reflect the relationship he has already established in grace. The law was telling them how to live as God's people. Their precept-keeping didn't purchase their fellowship with God; they were to respond with obedience to God's kind gift of his wisdom for their lives.

Brothers and sisters, are we diligently keeping God's precepts? Are we doing that as diligently as we are keeping the rules at our school, our company, or in our family? God's precepts are good. God's Word is how we know his wisdom, so we study it and we even come to love him through it. Pray that you would come to love God's Word more than your sin. Work to obey the Lord. Salvation by grace doesn't mean it's wrong to work at holiness. I work at preaching God's Word. You're working and listening to it right now. That's good work, and that's absolutely fine. We all work at applying God's wisdom to us in Christ; Christ, who is referred to as "the wisdom of God" in 1 Corinthians 1:24. God gives wisdom.

The gift of love

We also see in this passage that God gives love. Look again at verse five: "Oh, that my ways were steadfast / in obeying your decrees!" "Decree" is one of the most commonly used words in this Psalm. This is a healthy yearning that the psalmist has. This is a humble prayer for love.

First, why would I call this a prayer? He addresses God: he says they are "your decrees." He is speaking to God. Okay, so does that constitute a prayer? Someone who intends to keep God's precepts diligently—one of God's own special people speaking to God and telling God something he wishes was the case? I think it does. It's true that he didn't directly ask God to make his way steadfast. But when you tell someone who loves you and is committed to you—who is predisposed to bless you and help you—something that you want, that's pretty much a request. If my wife says to me, "Honey, we don't have any tuna, and I sure wish we had some tuna," and I have the time and money and knowledge of how and where to get this tuna, and she knows I do: well, her telling me what she wishes for is a way of requesting me to get the tuna. Verse five is a prayer.

But why would I call this prayer humble? The psalmist is far from being confident of his blamelessness and his own power. He prays and he asks for God's help, showing that he knows he may not perfectly keep God's statutes.

Let's say you knew the three worst sins in each person's life sitting around you right now. If you're born again and you read God's statutes, you are going to be so much more concerned about your own sins that it will not matter what those other people's sins are. They won't even register because you know your own situation before God, and you will be aware of your own need for God's mercy and for him to deal with you. This is a humble prayer. This man is not writing about this way to blessedness as if he is confident of his own moral ability; he is writing and aware of his need for God's help. I would go so far even to say this is a prayer of a broken man. He knows the weight of his own neediness and his own sin.

Third, why would I call this a prayer for love? Because only love for God is a sufficient reason to bring about the kind of true obedience that God's wisdom calls for. How did Augustine put it in his Confessions? He said to God, "You move us to delight in praising you, for you have formed us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you." All the law language should not hide the love language there is in this psalm: the personal nature of the following. Again, up in verse two, you notice how it is paralleled there. The psalmist speaks of keeping the Lord's statutes, seeking him personally. If we love this God, we will obey him. Jesus said in John 14:15, "If you love me, keep my commands." We understand this, don't we? Kids, if you say you love your parents, but you don't do what they tell you, I'm not sure what you mean when you say you love them. It looks like you don't respect them: you don't regard what they say, you don't care about it. It doesn't look like you love them.

If you're here today and you're not a Christian, I wonder what your own goodness is rooted in. Surely you think you have some goodness. I assume you mean to do good with your life. But if your actions aren't rooted in a loving obedience to God—if your goodness is not part of your seeking him—then even the best of actions could be a kind of self-centeredness that's actually part of an idolatry of yourself and part of a rebellion against God. What do you do when something you think is good conflicts with something you want? That might be a helpful question to think about.

As a church, we ask God to help us obey him, love him, and grow in our desire for holiness, not being ashamed to live for him. We come together in order to give ourselves to prayer; we pray for God to grow our love for him. He has even shown us his love already by sending his own Son. If he has loved us in giving us his only Son, how will he not—with him—freely give us all things? God gives love. We pray for it because we know this is one of the things he gives.

The gift of God himself

Third and finally, God gives himself. Look again at verses six through eight, assuming his prayer in verse four gets answered. Here, the psalmist knew the ultimate blessing to be sought was God himself. All three of these verses are looking at the last day, and they're expecting some evidence of that last day in this current life. In verse six, we see the psalmist asserting that if God will answer his prayer in verse five, then God will not shame him. In verse seven, we see that God's righteous ruling will instead cause him to praise God. Finally, in verse eight, we see a kind of summary, where the psalmist asks God to not forsake him—and we assume God will answer by not forsaking him. What's implied is that the Lord will instead keep him and therefore give the psalmist himself. The heart of the psalmist being kept is being in fellowship with God forever. That's what it means to be kept: it is God giving himself in mercy and grace to the psalmist.

In verse six, we see what the psalmist imagines what will happen when God answers his prayer in verse five: "Then I would not be put to shame / when I consider all your commands." I love the way he says he considers all your commands. We were made to fix our eyes on all of God's instructions to us. We should never desire to obey only some of God's commands. If we're desiring to obey only some of God's commands, we're not really obeying any of God's commands. We're just obeying those things we have other reasons to like. No, when we're obeying simply because it's God command, then we're anxious to know anything God would command, because we want to do it because God commands it. Then we don't pick and choose between them: we're obeying what God commands.

We could look like we're interested in God's commands our whole lives, as long as a significant portion of them overlaps with things we like for our own reasons. We can palm ourselves off as Christians and make people think we're Christians, and maybe deceive ourselves. But a good little test is over here in this area that is not overlapping: where you clearly see that this is what God says, but you don't understand it. You disagree with it; you don't like it. It's difficult. That's the stuff that shows whether or not you're a Christian, right? That's where you see whether you're obeying God or whether you just happen to have a God-like, godly-ish morality because you're made in the image of God.

We obey his precepts exactly, primarily, and ultimately because they are his; not because they necessarily make independent sense to us or because we ourselves happen to like them. Of course, the way to salvation is not perfectly obeying the law. In terms of our salvation, the law leads us to Christ. If you want to know more about that, look at Galatians 3:23-29. The law is meant to drive us to Christ.

Some of you have read John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. You recall that very early on, Bunyan describes an encounter with Mr. Legality. When the protagonist, Christian, is fleeing from the City of Destruction that's about to be destroyed, Mr. Legality tells him, "Oh, this is the way to the Celestial City." He goes over here and finds this hill, and Mr. Legality tells him to go up this hill; it's called Mount Sinai. Christian begins to go up this hill, but as he goes up it, he finds that with each step it gets harder, until finally this hill becomes a mound that's curving back over on top of him. He can't go this way at all. After an attempt or two, he backs up and realizes he has to go another way: he has to go through the Wicket Gate through Christ, through faith in Christ. That's the only way to the Celestial City.

In your own lives, have you found that morality alone will not get you to God? That's the truth we find. The psalmist imagines that last day as a day not of being put to shame, because God has enabled him to steadfastly keep his statutes. But that keeping has only come because a love is there which ultimately relies on God and all that he has said, including his promises. This is the same pattern we see with earlier men like Noah and Abram, who were blameless but not sinless. Who, in striking ways, were not ashamed to believe God's promises, even when those promises were weird. Noah built an ark; Abram was an old, childless man who was told he was going to have a big family—and by the way, he had to get up and move to a place he had never even heard of. But in both cases, Noah and Abram believed God's promises. They had faith, and therefore they lived as they did. It's that kind of faith which will finally bring us to diligently keeping God's laws and not being put to shame. That is an excellent result: not being put to shame.

If verse six states the answer to the prayer in verse five negatively—"not be put to shame"—verse seven then puts it positively: "I will praise you with an upright heart / as I learn your righteous laws." "As I learn your righteous laws" means "I will learn in the future." He already has God's laws. He is talking about something he's going to learn in the future, and this word for laws—mishpat—is often rendered "ruling" or "verdict."

Verse seven, then, is another way of saying what he said in verse six. Verse seven is looking to that future moment when the psalmist learns of his vindication before the Lord. He's not looking forward to the time when he will learn the Lord's rules; he already knows them. Rather, he is looking forward to that time when he hears the Lord's ruling: his acquittal of him, his acceptance of him. Then he says he will "praise you with an upright heart."

In the final verse, we read of his resolve and his request: "I will obey your decrees; / do not utterly forsake me." Here is joined together, in conclusion, the psalmist's resolve to obey and his prayer for God's continued acceptance and fellowship. He recognizes his dependence on God. We need the Lord, so we pray. Really, this prayer in verse eight is the other side of the prayer in verse five. Verse five is the human side of it: I'm going to keep these commands. Verse eight is, You won't forsake me, you'll keep me in your presence. Those two go together. You can't have that prayer in verse five answered without the prayer in verse eight being answered. That prayer in verse eight can't be answered without the prayer in verse five. There will be no fellowship with God apart from holiness; there will be no real holiness apart from fellowship with God. The two things go together: they're obverse and reverse sides of the same coin. God will help him to keep his law, and he will make him holy. God will bring him into his presence forever; he will not forsake him. It's joined together.

Fellowship with God both creates holiness and is on the basis of holiness. How can a good God fellowship with people like us? Only by the actions of a substitute in our place and on our behalf who gives us his holiness. There is one who has perfectly kept the law, who has been blameless in every sense, and he has died on the cross as a substitute for all of us who would ever repent of our sins and trust in him. God raised Jesus from the dead, showing he accepted that sacrifice, and he calls us now to follow him: to repent of our sins, to trust him, to rely on his righteousness alone.

If you are here and you are not a Christian and you have not done that, you should. You should repent of your sins and trust in him. You should repent of your sins if people thought you did so 10 years ago, and you haven't really. You should trust in this God. This prayer to God—that he not utterly forsake one of his people—is a prayer that God would certainly answer. He had said this in Deuteronomy 31: that he would never leave his people or forsake them.


What does this mean for you? Let's say you're a Christian: in your job this week, what does this mean for you? Are you pressed in a bad direction by your peers? Remember that the men of Sodom acted in a pack. It's not hard for people to do bad things in a group when they get the approval of others. It's like fuel to the fire. Pray that God help you to keep this last day in mind: the one the psalmist has in mind in verses six through eight. Pray God will help you to keep this last day in mind, so that when you're going through less-than-successful days, you won't be tempted to forsake the Lord and his ways for some short-term approval or other trifling benefits. If we would continue to keep the Lord's statues these days, we have to have an eye to that last day.

This world will confuse us with its changing morals and bad examples and plentiful gray, complicated areas. We can so easily become conformed to this passing age, but we need to keep our eyes on the Lord, on desiring his presence, and his approval, so that we give attention to his Word. We don't do this to make it fit our world or our desires—how can we change the Bible to fit today?—but to make us fit what God has revealed. There is an amazing stability to those things God has approved and disapproved of for thousands of years.

Brothers and sisters, are you tempted to pick and choose which of God's commands you'll obey? Call temptation's bluff. Tell it that it is not a part of a multiple choice option about how you can follow God, but that temptation is part of a deliberate attempt to deceive you about the very nature of following God. To only follow God partly is not to follow him at all. Tell temptation that you know that, you realize that, and you recognize that. Obedience to God—walking in his ways—is part of being near to him, like it says in Hebrews 12. There is a holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

In so many ways, God reminds us that he wants us to know him: from making us in his image, to calling us his people, to Deuteronomy 6 calling us to love him. In the Lord's Supper, we are reminded how he has literally given himself for us, and he calls us to come and participate in it. Even in this very sermon, he is giving himself to us in his Word, and he calls us to take him. Even as we read and I preach and we hear God's Word, God uses it to bring us to himself. God gives himself to us.

That's Psalm 119's beginning. You may have thought with a psalm like this, you'd come to the psalm expecting to hear about God's law, and we do. But as we stare at it, we see God's gift of wisdom, and ultimately his giving himself to us in Immanuel, "God with us." It makes me think of Psalm 16:11: "You make known to me the path of life; / you will fill me with joy in your presence, / with eternal pleasures at your right hand." That's the kind of joy we should want, not those cheap lying joys that sin sells to us.

How do we get this joy? How do people like us get into God's presence forever? God gives. God, through Christ, reconciled us to himself. For our sake, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). The psalmist prays, "Do not utterly forsake us." We as Christians know that finally, we will always be with the Lord. As John wrote, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:10).

Jesus Christ was treated by this world like he was a fool, when he was, in fact, the wisdom of God. Jesus Christ was hated by those he came to save, when he was, in fact, the greatest expression of God's love for us. Jesus Christ was utterly forsaken by his Father on the Cross so that we might never be. Praise God for all of his good gifts to us.

Mark Dever is the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and president of 9Marks.

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Sermon Outline:


I. An acrostic opportunity

II. The gift of wisdom

III. The gift of love

IV. The gift of God himself