(Including thoughts from “Humility” by Andrew Murray)
Lord Jesus, Father of love, fill us with You! Teach us how to live in Your Presence constantly, rejoicing in the scraps that fall from Your table, anticipating always the true bliss of living with You in Heaven. May You lead us more and more into Your joy, and may You fill us with the enjoyment and delight of You. In Jesus’ glorious name, Amen.
We’re going to try a little exercise: Everyone, please love God. Right now, silently in your chair, fall dramatically and life-changingly in love with God. Adore Him with everything that you are. Go ahead. Just decide to activate your love and do it.
Now, that didn’t work, right? You probably moved a few little muscles inside your chest, or thought about some cute puppies and felt some warm and wet fuzzy things in your heart, or something. But whatever you pooped out, it wasn’t love. At best, it was a little half-hearted, manufactured joy.
We aren’t able to just decide to love something. We can’t alter ourselves on the fundamental level--as humans, our inner man isn’t a car sitting on blocks in the mechanic’s garage, we can’t just replace our old engine with a new one if we decide to. And what this shows is that we’re all sinners.
Tracking with me now? Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind (Deut 6:5, Matt 22:35-40), but you can’t, so you break the commandment just by being human. We are born spiritually dead to God with no way to reach to Him at all--and therefore, from the moment of our birth, we violate God’s law.
Now, there are some folks who believe that they can choose to love, that they can create love in their hearts for whatever they choose. If you believe that, I don’t want to get into the nitty gritty why you can’t willingly change your love today because I’m trying to keep these teachings short. But consider this, specifically with regards to our love for God:
If God isn’t first revealed to you, if He doesn’t first come down and show Himself to you, then you can’t even possibly conceive of His true, literal nature at all, so the very best you can do is force yourself to love the idea of Him--a little fake ‘god’ that you’ve built for yourself in your head. I’ll say that another way: Since a man can’t understand What God truly is without God showing him, man can’t truly love God without God first enabling him. The best man can do on his own is build a tiny little replica of God in his head and try to love that. But guys, listen to me, that’s not God. That’s a substitute you’ve fashioned for yourself out of clay, or sex, or money, or the approval of man. That’s not the holy Creator of the universe.
No one who loves only the idea of God is going to Heaven. No one. The apostle John made it real clear: We must love God in truth. We must love the true, literal, actual God. That’s the true evidence of salvation, not welcoming some false notion of who ‘god’ may be, or feeling warm and fuzzy feelings when you think of what you believe ‘god’ to be like.
So even if we could choose to love God, we can’t choose to love the true God, because we can’t possibly conceive of Who He is unless He shows us. Therefore all of humanity stands condemned even if love is a choice.
But before we are redeemed what we love really isn’t a choice, guys. What you love actually constitutes the very essence of your being. What you love, what you desire, what you like, what you approve of, is actually the very most basic building block of your nature. This is why the most important commandment is to love God--it’s because love lies at the very center of God’s nature, and, consequently, of our nature, because we were made in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). Jesus came to die for us to turn our love back towards God and away from sin.
This is what it means to be a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). You have to become an entirely new creation before you can love God. God has to cause you to love Him by making you entirely new in your desires, your wants, your delights, your affections. It isn’t something that we choose, it isn’t something that we make by effort, it isn’t something that we achieve through a long spiritual journey. No, God does it in us according to His power and His will despite our power and our will (Philippians 1:6, 2:12-13).
I’m gonna say that another way, because the flesh always pulls us toward self-justification and I want you to be aware of pride where it may exist in your heart, you with me there? The flesh always tries to convince us that we’re the center of the universe, that we cause goodness to happen to us, that we bring about our successes and our value by our own strength, even though the Bible clearly and loudly proclaims that we don’t. We have to watch where we allow ourselves to be arrogant, where we let ourselves glory in our own strength rather than God’s. So I’ll say it like this:
You can’t Bible study your way into loving God. You can’t pray enough to cause yourself to love God. You can’t resist temptation so much that you love God. You can’t evangelize so much that you earn loving God. You can’t go to church enough to love God. You can’t worship enough to love God. You can’t make enough good life decisions to love God. You can’t be wise or smart or funny or popular or liked enough to love God. Your faith didn’t come from discipline, and it doesn’t come from discipline now. Your love didn’t come from how hard you worked or how good you were, and it doesn’t come from those things now. All of these are good things, but they are not the Holy Spirit, right? None of these good things change our hearts, but God changing our hearts brings these good things. Only the sovereign, powerful working of God makes us new people.
And, Church, God is so eager to do this for us, you with me? God is waiting and excited to draw His children to Himself! He is delighted in our love for Him, He loves it when we are at peace in our souls in His Presence, His love for us rejoices when we love Him in truth.
Praise God for His infinite, incomprehensible mercies to us! Praise God! That the God of the universe, the Lord of all, would clothe Himself in flesh and willingly torture Himself to set us free! You are incredibly loved, child of God. You are adored by our Father. Remember the gift of Jesus to you today. This is the kind of stuff that makes the angels of Heaven declare His praises anew, when God reaches down to our sinking souls and breathes new life into us.
So, to get back on track, I’ve given you some reasons why we are completely incapable of loving God--but wait. We’re commanded to love God by the Bible, aren’t we? I just said this is a biblical commandment. And this isn’t just some little ‘don’t boil young goats in their mother’s milk’ commandment that you can bury in the Old Testament and laugh about every February when your Bible reading plan takes you through Leviticus. This is the big kahuna, folks. This is the most important commandment, according to Jesus. Clearly, He was commanding people to do something He knew full well they couldn’t do.
That’s weird. Like, really weird. Who does that? What’s the point?
I have two answers to this, and here’s the first: Isn’t this what God has been doing from the beginning, giving His people commands they can’t follow?
So what was the point of the Old Testament law? Was the point that the Israelites would follow it perfectly and they’d all go to Heaven? No, God knew that wasn’t gonna happen. One main point of the law was to show the people their bondage to the evil desires commanding them to sin in their hearts, that they might love God’s deliverance in Jesus when He came, that they might understand their inability to follow the law and rejoice when God caused them to obey through the Spirit (Galatians 3:19-27, Jeremiah 31:31-33).
Viewed in that light, Church, the entire Old Testament is full of God commanding people to do things He knows they can’t do. And why? Because they need to know that they can’t do them. They need to figure out once and for all that their strength, their will, their determination, their kindness, their goodness, their love, their energy, is totally insufficient, and it needs to be replaced with God’s power instead of their own.
And what’s interesting is that the Old Testament deals a lot with external commands, you know? Like, tear a couple pigeons in two and sacrifice them on an altar type stuff. Things you do. But the New Testament deals a lot with internal commands, things like pray continually, love God, love your neighbor, do not lust. Things you feel, things inside you. And, Church, are we capable of following the internal commands of God?
No. I mean, maybe for a time, right? Maybe I can go a day without lusting. But eventually, that sin is going to rise up in my heart, expose my nature, expose the rebellion I have against God’s law, and it’s going to command me to lust. If I do it even once in my lifetime, I am condemned to eternal punishment because of God’s holiness. So come on, aside from Jesus there’s no one on Earth that can go a lifetime without submitting to sin’s commands in our hearts in some way, right? Realistically, it can’t be done. Your flesh commands you to lie, to cheat sometimes, to steal sometimes, to envy sometimes, to get angry sometimes, to get self-righteous sometimes, to pity yourself sometimes instead of giving thanks. And the greatest lie is that all of those ‘sometimes’ words that I put at the end of those phrases make us righteous.
You with me now? Listen to this: The flesh lies to us and tells us that, because we only sin sometimes, we’re righteous. We’re good enough on our own, we can do this, we can only sin a little bit. I know I just blew up on my kids, but I didn’t blow up on them yesterday, so I’m good enough. I know I just lied, but I didn’t lie yesterday or I gave some food to a homeless dude last week, so I’m good enough. I know I spent way too much money shopping, but I won’t spend any more this month, so I’m still okay without Jesus.
Church, no sin is tolerable in God’s sight. The standard is perfection, nothing less. Your tiniest sins are despicable, disgusting, revolting in the sight of God. All of us, every moment of every day, need the Holy Spirit to fill us and change us continually to keep us holy and to keep our desires towards Him and away from the things of the world. Don’t brush your tiny little sins of thought, or sins in secret, or sins where you didn’t get caught under the rug, don’t hide them from God and pretend that you’re okay. Take them to Jesus and beg to be renewed (1 John 1:9). Set your mind on God and be brainwashed in Him continually, all day every day, to walk in the light with Him--fill your life with the Bible and prayer and focus on Him (Romans 12:2, Colossians 3:1-17).
Any sin, no matter how small, is poison to you because it splits your love for God and it keeps you from God’s Presence--and without God, there is nothing good in your life. You hear me? There is nothing good in this world except God, nothing at all. Take all your little sins to Him and beg to be changed (Romans 6:15-19).
No, it just isn’t possible, it can’t be done that someone could live sinlessly while clothed in sinful flesh--not unless the power of God is constantly working through him the way it was in Jesus. But, I’ll say it again: If you set your mind on the Spirit and keep walking that path, you can win against temptation. Sin will have no dominion over you. Let’s walk that way, Church--fix your eyes on God.
So the Old Testament shows us that we can’t follow the external commands of God, and the New Testament shows us that we can’t follow the internal commands of God. I’ll say that another way: The Old Testament shows us we can’t do good, and the New Testament shows us that we can’t be good. And now you see that this is actually one of the most central points of all of the Bible: To expose our nothingness. To show us how desperately we need God to help us live, every moment of every day. We are nothing without Him--nothing good lives in us in any way, shape, or form. But everything good is in God, Who freely gives us of His Spirit that we may enjoy Him and delight in His love. Thanks be to God that Jesus traded our sin for His righteousness—the righteousness of God Himself, 2 Corinthians 5:21!
But I want to dwell here for just a hot minute. Do you really believe that nothing good lives in you? Do you really believe that you are evil without God? Is that reality for you, or do you still think you have some nice things that God would like to use? When you evangelize, is God happy that you’re out there in the field, because you’re giving Him something valuable, or your work has a greater chance of converting an unbeliever than some other Christian’s? When you pray, do you stand on the basis of the righteousness of your life because you’re in good with God and y’all are homies, or do you stand on the basis of Jesus’ death on the cross? Is there a part of your joy that comes from your good position with God because you haven’t sinned recently?
Why we do what we do is more important than what we do in God’s sight. Don’t get me wrong--what we do is important. But our hearts are more important. Child of God, pray with me for a clean heart, a heart that understands our weakness, that knows we offer nothing to God. This is wisdom that must come from above and cut through our pride like a knife--no human bit of head knowledge can touch it.
If you feel you need a moment with God, pause the recording now and pray for God to create true humility and dependence in you.
So the first reason God commands us to do things we can’t do is so that we will see that we can’t follow God’s law, and understand that we need Him living through us in order to live. And here’s the second reason: Because the commandment produces obedience to the commandment. Think about that, this is a little mind-bending. God’s commands, God’s words, actually produce obedience in us through the Holy Spirit--and therefore He commands us to walk in His ways, so that we will be able to.
Let’s take a look at this. Now, it’s clear that God’s word creates. By the word all things were made, John 1; in the beginning, God spoke the heavens and earth into being, Genesis 1; and there are other examples as well. So when the Holy Spirit enters our hearts to turn our likes, our wants, our delights, and our desires away from sin and towards God, He creates willing, delightful obedience to the commandments of God because it is commanded that we obey willingly and with delight.
That was nuts, right? That’s exactly how a sentence should not be in a sermon--long, complicated, and hard to follow. But here it comes again, every bit as confusing: The Holy Spirit causes us to be joyful when we obey God’s commands because God commanded us to be joyful when we obey God’s commands. The Spirit produces obedience to the commandments in our hearts through the commandments themselves, because the word of God carries the power of God. You with me there? Amen to that? No, nobody has any idea what I just said. I barely know what I just said. This is a problem--I may need to call God about this later. I think if you held up a mirror to this paragraph it would say exactly the same thing as before.
Okay, here are some real-world examples, this’ll help us: Because the Bible commands us to love God, the Spirit produces love for God in us through the commandment, through the word. Because the Bible tells us not to be drunk on wine but to be filled with the Spirit, the Spirit produces love for sobriety in us through the commandment. Because the Bible commands us to love our neighbor, the Spirit causes us to love our neighbor because it has been created for us by the word of God.
That’s a little easier to get, right? So when you’re reading the Bible, Church, and you see something that you know you can’t do, like ‘pray unceasingly’, or ‘love your enemies’, or whatever, don’t shrink back from it. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t think God is condemning you because of your failures. He isn’t.
Instead, be confident in your heart as you ask the Lord to enable you to obey, because God, through that commandment in the Scripture, has provided you with the means to obey that commandment. The Holy Spirit will cause you to obey the Scriptures because the word of God will create obedience in you. Isn’t that awesome?
And there’s a really critical case I want to hit on this topic, and that’s fear. God commands us not to be afraid over and over and over again in the Bible. I’ll tell you a quick story: This morning, my wife woke up and told me that she’d had a dream that she had breast cancer.
You know what? That’s scary. That’s too scary. We have kids, man. Taking care of them alone would be hard--would I be able to love them the way they need, when I’m taking care of the house alone and my time is split between everything I do and everything she does every day? How would I handle losing her? What if I let a seed of bitterness sprout in my heart, and that took me away from God? My mind started running through all these scenarios of her death, her burial, what that would be like, explaining to our youngest why Momma isn’t gonna come home again--
And I just had to stop myself, and cut that thought out of my head clean and clear like I was snapping a thread of yarn. You know why? Because fear has no dominion in my life. God has commanded me not to fear, and therefore, if I set my mind on the Spirit and soak myself in His word, the Spirit will cause my fear to melt away. He will cut the fear out of my life and replace it with thanksgiving.
You know what happened? I forced myself to stop thinking those thoughts, I took out my Bible, and I read Mark. After a while, I had control over my mind, and the only direction my thoughts were wandering was towards praise. The only thing in my heart was peace and thankfulness for God’s provision over me and His promise to look after me no matter what comes. There was absolutely no fear. Zero. I was thankful and joyful and content in the wonders of Christ. This is how we battle sin, Church--use the word of God to snap it out of your head like a tiny little thread of yarn.
Now let me ask you this, what more perfect system of salvation exists? What could be more beautiful, more unburdened, than joyful obedience to a law that springs up like a river within us, rather than depending on our own efforts? What could possibly be more wonderful than the Spirit living in us and guiding us in the way we should go? Praise God and hallelujah, that He would come to us and care for us in this way! That He would take all our cares and all our worries on His shoulders! We don’t need to fear anything because of the beauty of our God!
So what should we say to these things, Church? We should beg God to rule over us, to turn all our desires and thoughts and wants towards Himself and leave nothing to us. This is the only way to peace--to have all our desires for our lives spring from one desire, the desire for God. Beg God, plead with God, that He may do this in you and in the rest of His global Church.
May the love of Jesus fill you every day and may you walk joyfully with Him.