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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
 frckelmscott.org
 
Title:God demands a pure heart
Text:LD 44 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Added:2013-03-06
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


YOU SHALL NOT COVET

Ps. 42: 1, 3

Ps. 130: 4

Hymn 47: 7 – 9

Ps. 119: 6, 13, 14, 15

Ps. 119: 42, 49

 

Scripture reading:       Gen. 3: 1 – 6; 1 Kings 21: 1 – 16 

Text:                            LD 44

 

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

 

You shall not covet your neighbour’s house.   

Your neighbour’s house includes everything that belongs to him: his wife, his servants, his cattle, and anything else that’s your neighbours’.

 

Now, when we look at this commandment it may seem at first glance as if this commandment is only an addendum to the eighth commandment, which says: You shall not steal.

That commandment – you shall not steal – already forbid any desire to gain what belongs to your neighbour.

Is the tenth commandment then simply an expansion of the eighth commandment forbidding us to desire what belongs to others?  

Or, if you take the reference to your neighbour’s wife as a separate issue – was any desire for your neighbour’s wife not already forbidden in the seventh commandment?

That commandment – you shall not commit adultery – already forbid any desire for your neighbour’s wife.

Is the tenth commandment then only an expansion of the seventh and the eighth commandments?

 

No, the tenth commandment, “You shall not covet”, is not only linked to the seventh and the eighth commandments – your neighbour’s wife and your neighbour’s belongings.   Rather, the tenth commandment makes clear that God requires not only outward obedience, but first of all, demands of us in His law a pure heart, that we may obey all God’s commandments  with all our heart and soul and mind.

 

You will note that where this commandment is quoted in the New Testament, it does not repeat the words that refer to your neighbour’s belongings or to your neighbour’s wife, but simply says: “You shall not covet.”

 

The apostle Paul says:

 

            “…I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet.’

But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire…” - Rom. 7: 7, 8

 

There he summarises the tenth commandment saying, “You shall not covet”, and then he explains it as referring to all manner of evil desire.

 

Again he says in Rom. 13: 9:

 

“…the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery’, ‘You shall not murder’, You shall not steal’, ‘You shall not bear false witness’, ‘You shall not covet’, and whatever other commandment, are all summed up in this saying: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’”

 

There again he refers to the tenth commandment with the words: “You shall not covet”.

 

Our neighbour’s belongings and his wife are mentioned in the Ten Commandments as examples of the things which we may not covet, but the commandment itself – you shall not covet – relates to all God’s commandments.

 

Yes, the tenth commandment tells us something about the spiritual nature of God’s law.  

Among the Ten Commandments it is the only commandment that deals exclusively with the heart and mind and soul of man apart from any outward actions.

Obedience to this commandment remains hidden from the eyes of men.  

Only God can see in the heart.

And God, in the first place, demands of us a pure heart; a heart in which there is no desire contrary to any of His commandments.

 

In other words: you may not desire anything that is contrary to God's law.   

You shall not desire other gods.

You shall not desire any image of God besides the image which He revealed to us in His Word.

You shall not desire any blasphemy against God's holy Name.

You shall not desire to continue your own labour on the day of rest.    

You shall not desire to harm or kill your neighbour.

Yes, you shall not covet anything contrary to God’s commandments.

 

And thus we confess here in LD 44 that God requires of us in the tenth commandment:

 

“That not even the slightest thought or desire contrary to any of God’s commandments should ever arise in our heart.  

Rather, with all our heart we should always hate all sin and delight in all righteousness.”

 

Clear words!

The tenth commandment forbids any thought or desire contrary to any of God’s commandments.

 

Now, that is perfection!

God requires of us a heart which is perfectly holy and pure; a new heart, a heart without sin!

 

And so I proclaim God’s Word to you with the theme:

God demands a pure heart

 

We will note...

1.      The complete obedience that is required

2.      The small beginning of our obedience

3.      The goal of perfection


In the first place we note...

The complete obedience that is required

 

Brothers and sisters, our deepest emotions and desires and thoughts – God wants to sanctify that also!

We need to be holy because He is holy.

We need to love what He loves, and to hate what He hates.

We need to be conformed to His image in order that we may enjoy that perfect covenant communion with Him for which we were created.

Our whole heart, soul and mind needs to be sanctified.  

The Lord does not ask in His law in the first place for the external fulfilment of duties, but perfect obedience from the deepest of our being.

Our hidden emotions and thoughts – there where no one is able to see – that is what determines who you are.

Scripture calls our heart the well-spring of our life.   Our heart is the fountain of our life from which all our actions flow, as we read for example in Prov. 4: 23:

 

            “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.”

 

We have to set God’s law as a fence around our hearts, and the requirements of His law shall be written in our hearts.

 

And as the Catechism puts it, there is a positive and a negative side to this commandment.

The prohibition is that we shall have no thought or desire contrary to God’s law.

But positively we are then commanded to find all our delight and joy in God’s law.

 

Someone may ask: “Are we really commanded to find all our joy and delight in God’s law?   Should we not rather find our joy and delight in God Himself?”

 

Well, why would you try to make a distinction between God and His law?  

God’s law is the very revelation of His will, of His holiness and His righteousness.

When LD 44 formulates it here that God commands that we with all our heart delight ourselves in all righteousness, then it simply means that we have to find complete joy and delight in God’s law, and in obeying His law.

Yes, if you delight yourself in God, you delight yourself in His law; and if you find your joy and delight in His law, then God Himself has become your delight.  

Then you delight yourself in His holiness and righteousness, and hate all that is contrary to His holy image.

 

We hear much in these days about the fact that we have to experience joy, but then the experience of joy is often portrayed as if it is something different from obeying God’s commandments.  

Well then, note our confession: the tenth commandment commands you that with all your heart you shall find complete joy and delight in all that God commands you in His law.

 

In short: the tenth commandment demands that with all your heart you find your delight in obeying all God’s commandments, and that you hate everything that is contrary to God’s law.

 

It is then not lawful to say that we must not put too much emphasis on obedience to God’s law, but rather emphasise our joy and delight in the Lord, because: our obedience to the Lord and our delight in the Lord is pretty much the same thing.

 

Anyone who tries to put joy and obedience over against each other is twisting the Scriptures.  

 

This is exactly what the tenth commandment is about: with all your heart you shall find your delight in God’s righteousness as spelled out in all His commandments.

If you love God with all your heart and soul and mind and with all your strength, then not the slightest thought or desire contrary to any of God’s commandments shall ever arise in your heart.

 

The tenth commandment, then, is about our heart.

Do you truly find all your delight in the Lord and in all that He commands?

Is the Lord and His righteousness all your love and delight?

Or do you desire a different God with a different law?

 

Dear congregation, you see then how this commandment searches the deepest root of all our desires.   If God Himself is not all our desire and all our delight, then we will be burning for other things.   Then we will try to find our joy in other things than what He commands.

 

While each of the commandments demands a new heart, a pure heart, this becomes even clearer when we turn to the tenth commandment.   We need a heart that covets nothing contrary to God’s commandments, a heart that only covets holiness and righteousness, a heart that delights itself in the law of God.  

Yes, ultimately this commandment demands of us a holy and pure heart without any inclination to sin!  

This commandment demands that we in our inmost being be completely conformed to the very image of God!   

 

And so, when the Catechism in its exposition of this commandment says that “not even the slightest thought or desire contrary to any of God’s commandments should ever arise in our heart”, we stand ashamed.  

How far are we from this perfection!

How often do we catch ourselves with thoughts and desires contrary to God’s commandments!

 

How do our lives look in reality?

Is it possible to avoid a fleeting desire within us?

 

You may find yourself on the train to Perth.  Opposite you there may be sitting a young lady with clothes that are not chaste, to say the least.   You look the other way, and keep looking the other way.  

As you climb off the train and walk through the mall, you pass a shop with postcards.   You are shocked to see some of the pictures, and so you turn around and walk away.  

In another shop you see something beautiful, something that you always wanted, but you realise that it is only a luxury, and your money may be short.   Shall you buy it, or be content without it?   You decide to be sober, and leave the shop without buying.

 

After such a trip to the city the hypocrite may feel pleased with himself.   He did all the right things.   He resisted every temptation!

But he who knows God, and who knows the spiritual character of His law, will yet feel polluted.   

Whenever you are exposed to all sorts of temptations, these temptations will not leave you totally unaffected, because we still have a sinful nature.   And we live in a world which can rightly be called our enemy – a dangerous world.  

The lust of this world wars against the Spirit.

 

But the enemy is also within.   And that is why the lusts of this world, and the world itself with all its glitter, pride and covetousness, finds a partner in our own sinful flesh.   Even the imaginations of our heart are inclined to go against the commandments of God.    Even when we reject those fleeting desires that enter our mind, the very fact that they did enter our mind is still a transgression of this commandment.

 

This afternoon we read two passages from Scripture: one where Eve was tempted in the garden; and another passage where king Ahab coveted the vineyard of Naboth.

Eve’s disobedience and transgression did not start when she ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, but already when she looked at it with longing eyes.   When the tree became in her eyes “desirable to make one wise”, she already fell.  

 

King Ahab’s disobedience and transgression did not start when he went and took Naboth’s vineyard for himself; it started when the first desire or thought entered his heart and mind to have that vineyard for himself.

 

When David walked on the roof of his palace and saw a woman taking a bath – Scripture says that the woman was very beautiful to look at – was it David’s fault that at that sight a desire caught fire within him?

When you walk into a shopping mall and you walk past the magazine section and your eye catches the photo of a half naked woman that is displayed on the shelf, is it your fault if a desire is ignited within you – even if you immediately look the other way and walk past?

If a smart sports motor stops next to you at the traffic light, a brand new model that’s a pleasure to the eye, and smoothly takes off again – is it then your fault if you look at it with a desire – even if it is just for a moment?

If you are a house wife, and you visit your friend and see her beautiful new kitchen, is it then your fault if you covet such a kitchen for yourself, even if it is just a passing thought?

Or, if you drive through the street and an advertisement of the lottery on a placard says that $ 20 million can be won; and you dream, only for a moment, how nice it would be to have such money?

 

The question is not whether you will buy that pornographic magazine on the shelf.

The question is not whether you are going to devise a scheme to steal that luxurious sport motor that you saw at the traffic light.

The question is not whether you will ask your husband to get such a kitchen for you.

And the question is not whether you are going to buy that lottery ticket.

No, the question is this: Is it your fault that the thought or the slightest desire suddenly comes up within you?

You will never buy the magazine, and you will never steal the car, but was the minute desire for it indeed a transgression of the tenth commandment?

 

And the answer is: Yes!

 

You may say: “But, I can’t help it!  It just happens!”  

Yes, after the Fall all wrong desires and thoughts just happens because we have a sinful nature.   All kinds of desires, contrary to the law of God, well up within us by nature – like polluted water naturally flows from a poisonous well.  

We are sinful in our deepest being.   And the tenth commandment demands that we be holy in our deepest being, in our heart and soul.  

The law does not allow any room for our sinful nature!  

The law demands of us a sinless nature!   

Nothing less!

 

Brothers and sisters, we see how impossible it is to stand before God with our own righteousness.   We see in this commandment the immeasurable heights and depths of God’s perfect righteousness.  

But by the grace of God this commandment does something else also.   It reveals to us the perfection to which we are called, not that we may despair, but that we may rejoice in the fullness of our salvation.   For: we were saved unto such glory!   For: there will come a day when we will be such as the law demands of us.   For that purpose Christ died for us, and unto that perfection He will surely restore us.  

 

There will come a day when this perfect righteousness which the law demands, will be our own, when we will be filled with it in our deepest being.  

When Christ returns on the clouds of heaven, He will change us in a moment.   Then no desire contrary to God’s law will ever again enter our mind!  

 

Yes, we are sinful in the deepest of our being, and the tenth commandment demands that we be holy in our deepest being; in heart and soul.

 

The law does not allow any room for our sinful nature.

The law demands nothing less than a perfectly holy and sinless nature.

God demands a total new heart, a new soul, a new mind, a new creation in Christ.

Nothing less!

 

“But, I am not able to change my own nature!”, you may say.

Yes, and therefore there is no hope for us outside of Christ.

We are not only guilty because of our sinful deeds; we are also fully responsible for who we are.   We are responsible for our own sinful nature.

That is why we are by nature born under the wrath of God – Eph. 2: 3.  

 

But, brothers and sisters, the Lord comes and grants us complete salvation.

He gives us a new heart and the will and the power to crucify and to put to death our old nature.

It does not mean that we will ever be perfect in this life.  

In this life even the holiest of men have only a small beginning of this obedience.   Nevertheless, by the grace of God, we do begin to live not only according to some but to all the commandments of God.

 

We note this small beginning in the second place…

The small beginning of our obedience

 

This brings us to the second question of LD 44:

 

            “But can those converted to God keep these commandments perfectly?”

 

No, the commandment is not given to people who are already perfect, but to us who were called to pursue holiness and to grow in it.  We have not yet arrived.   And for as long as we remain in this body we still have a sinful nature against which we have a daily struggle.   As Hebrews puts it: we are fighting a fierce battle against sin, striving against sin and resisting sin to bloodshed (Hebr. 12: 4)!   At least: that is what we should be doing.

 

We often stumble and we receive many scars in this battle.  

Yes, we make in this life only a small beginning of the obedience that God demands of us in His law.   Over and again we discover anew how true it is what the apostle Paul wrote:

 

"...the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice" – Rom. 7: 19.

 

Yet, brothers and sisters, being united to Christ by a true faith, we do start a new life of obedience already now in this life.   Being united to Christ we also died with Him and were also raised with Him.  

Through our communion with Him we grow in obedience; obedience not only to some of God's commandments, but to all His commandments.

Yes, we grow also in obedience to the tenth commandment that cuts so deep into our hearts.

In our deepest being the seed of God's Word germinates.  It grows and bears even now much fruit, as Christ says:

 

"...He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit..."

 

Yet, in comparison to the perfect and blinding glory of God's holiness, it is but a small beginning.

 

What then is the message this afternoon?

Is it that we must now pull ourselves up on our own boot strings and see to it that we make a good start?

 

No, God has started the good work in us.

He called us through the preaching of His Word.   He gave us faith.  He joined us to His Son, and through Him He also works our sanctification.

He writes His law on the table of our heart, and restores us unto a new life of obedience.  

He works in us both to will and to do according to His good pleasure.  

Dear congregation, this sanctification is part of our salvation in and through Christ.  

 

The thankfulness that God demands of us, is not something that we should add to His salvation. No, our thankful and joyful obedience is part of the salvation that God gives us.

 

And even though it is but a small beginning in this life, God will complete it on the day of Christ's coming.  On that day we will be perfect.   And His Spirit who dwells in us is the guarantee that God will bring our salvation to completion.

 

Yes, it is all God’s grace and God’s work of salvation.

 

At the same time we remain 100 % responsible to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling; not in spite of God’s grace, but exactly because it is He who works it all in us – Phil. 2: 12, 13.

 

We note that in the third place... 

The goal of perfection

 

It brings us to the third question of LD 44:

 

“If in this life no one can keep the Ten Commandments perfectly, why does God have them preached so strictly?”

 

The catechism asks this question after an exposition of the Ten Commandments has been given from LD 34 through to LD 44.   Having heard what God requires of us in each commandment, we stand ashamed of our sins.   The law has cut deep into our hearts, and revealed to us the greatness of our filth and quilt.  

And it was necessary that the law should be preached to us so strictly.   It had to be preached to us in such a way that it exposes our sins and forces us to flee to Christ and to cling to Him alone for salvation.  

Yes, it is necessary that God’s law be preached to us so strictly – not only once a year, or now and then, but constantly.  

 

It is often said that the preaching of God’s Word is the preaching of the gospel, and that the gospel is good news and glad tidings, and therefore that all preaching must be glad tidings.

Yes, brothers and sisters, that simplified statement may be correct – it all depends what you mean with glad tidings.   If you mean to say that all preaching must send you home with a happy feeling, then you will need a different Bible.  

For the gospel, as it is revealed to us in all of Scripture, comes to us with much exhortations, and admonitions and threats.   The purpose of the preaching is not to give us a happy feeling right on the spot; it may even send you home in shame and very much troubled.   It may sometimes even be a painful experience to listen to the true preaching of God’s Word, but in the end it will yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

 

Yes, it is necessary that God’s law be preached to us so strictly; and that not only once a year, or now and then, but as often as we listen to the true preaching of the gospel.   

It is necessary:

         

"First, so that throughout our life we may more and more become aware of our sinful nature, and therefore seek more eagerly the forgiveness of sins and righteousness in Christ.   

Second, so that, while praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, we may never stop striving to be renewed more and more after God’s image, until after this life we reach the goal of perfection.”  

 

When we look into the mirror of God's perfect law, then we see the immense weight of our sin and misery.   When we hear the warnings and threats of God's law, the curse that the law pronounces on the transgressor, and see the blinding light of God's holiness exposing our filthiness, then we cannot but flee to Christ.   Only in Him are we righteous.

 

But the Catechism mentions also another reason why the law has to be preached to us so strictly; because: without the instruction of the law, yes, without the strict instruction of the law, we will not reach the goal of perfection.    

Without the instruction and admonitions and threats of the law we will not be saved.   God works His salvation in us, but not without the preaching of His law, and also not without the strict preaching of His law.

 

Thus we also confess in the Canons of Dort:

 

“Just as it has pleased God to begin this work of grace in us by the preaching of the gospel, so He maintains, continues, and perfects it by the hearing and reading of His Word, by meditation on it, by its exhortations, threats, and promises, and by the use of the sacraments” – CD chapter 5, art. 14.

 

There you have a summary of the means of grace by which God works His work of grace in us.   He maintains, continues and perfects His work of grace in us, not only by the promises of His Word, but also by means of its exhortations and threats.

 

He who has become deaf to the warnings and threats of the law, is on a dangerous path and will not reach the goal of perfection.  The perfection unto which we are predestined is granted us only on this road.

He who doesn't want to listen to warnings or admonitions, he who hates and despises the discipline of God's Word, shall not be saved.

He who does not take the warnings to heart, or prefers not to be admonished at all, has deceived himself with a false gospel.

Preaching in which the strict instruction and even the treats of God's law is left out is not the gospel of Christ.

 

Brothers and sisters, do you still tremble at God's Word?  

The Lord speaks through the prophet Isaiah and says:

 

"...on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word" (Isaiah 66: 2)

 

Do you still fear God?  Do His warnings still pierce your heart?  Do you still allow yourself to be chastened by the Lord?  Do you still listen to the awesome and holy God who speaks to you in His law?

Is it your highest desire and delight to live with Him as He prescribes in His law?

May it not happen that anyone invents for himself another law or another God or another gospel.

 

Dear congregation, you have now listened to a series in which the Ten Commandments have been preached to you.   And you have to know that this is the life that the Father has given us in Christ – a new life in communion with Him; a life in holy fellowship with Him and our neighbour.

He did not give us His law to keep us in slavery, but to instruct us in the way of life.   This is the life unto which we are called.   This is the perfection unto which God saves us.

This is good news, because there is no greater glory or higher perfection that we can desire: such a life of perfect holiness in communion with God and our neighbour.

 

Let us pray to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit to sanctify us more and more – our heart, soul and mind – through the instruction of this law, until after this life we reach the goal of perfection.      

This is the life that the Father gives us in Christ, and unto which He saves us.

Yes, through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, this commandment becomes gospel to us.

Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Mendel Retief

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