God's Word - Life Transforming

August 28, 2011 Series: Psalm 119 Scripture: Psalm 119:161-168 by Chris Strevel

161    Princes have persecuted me without a cause: but my heart standeth in awe of thy word. 
162    I rejoice at thy word, as one that findeth great spoil. 
163    I hate and abhor lying: but thy law do I love. 
164    Seven times a day do I praise thee because of thy righteous judgments. 
165    Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.
166    LORD, I have hoped for thy salvation, and done thy commandments. 
167    My soul hath kept thy testimonies; and I love them exceedingly. 
168    I have kept thy precepts and thy testimonies: for all my ways are before thee.

Awe of God Rather than Fear of Man (v. 161)

The very soul of true religion is to love and fear God, to glorify and delight in him. Yet, when men afflict and persecute us unjustly, especially when civil and religious leaders dog and harass us – which they often do simply by their gross public neglect of God’s authority and arrogant assumption of their own sufficiency – nothing is more common than for us to conclude that the Lord is not helping us as he has promised. We feel far from him, overwhelmed by our circumstances, and settle into fretful resignation rather than patient waiting upon the Lord and crying to him for deliverance and to vindicate his own honor. Then, our faith not being exercised to cast ourselves upon him by the troubles which he sends for this very purpose, we wilt under our afflictions, lose assurance of our Father’s love, and slacken our seeking of him. Our faithfulness and zeal languish; the joy and peace our Savior promises to us wither. Lacking faith in his promises and endurance under hardship, we grow to fear men more than we do God, thinking that we must take our defense into our own hands. These are the poison roots from which despair and frustration grow, maturing finally into hardened suspicion of men that prevents our doing good to our enemies and suffering with patience, coldness toward God, vindictiveness, finally, personal vengeance. As we have seen throughout this Psalm, the Lord sends trouble and affliction even to his godliest servants, as David was. There are times when we shall feel small and despised, without human help or comfort. But we are always to remember that at his fiercest and wiliest, Satan and all his thugs, celestial and earthly, are so many gnats and grasshoppers before the Lord. They can do nothing apart from his bidding and direction. Though they are many and malicious, far stronger than we are and more tenacious in pursuing evil and the overthrow of Christ’s kingdom than we are in clinging to the good and seeking its growth and advance, we have nothing to fear from them. Christ our Savior has conquered Satan, destroyed his works and his dominion, and is spoiling his house (Rev. 12:10; 1 John 3:8; Heb. 2:14; Matt. 12:28-29). Our victory is assured in his victory, for he is our Head, our Mighty Captain, our Faithful Deliverer.

How may we maintain this hope in the midst of the world’s indifference to God’s word, the reproach we sometimes feel because we trust God’s promises, and even more persecution for his sake,  which we should expect if we will live godly in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:12)? We must tremble before God’s word (Isa. 66:2). There is only one way to stand fast when the devil roars and men rage. We must fear God and tremble before his majesty. David specifically relates this to our heart attitude before God’s word, for we come to know and revere his glory and power chiefly when we yield ourselves to his word. If we stand in awe of his word – sincerely rejoicing when we read his promises, trembling when we read his threats and warnings, amazed before his wisdom and the deliverances he has so often effected for his faithful servants – then we shall be fearless before men. We shall still feel their torments deeply and sometimes be so harried by their schemes that it seems the whole world is turned upside down by their evil and malice against God. But we shall not fear them, forsake God’s truth in the eye of their rebellious storms, or despair of God’s help. If God is for us, many may be against us, but it will not matter. We may only know, however, that God is for us if we are committed to his word: not to our fallible reading of men and events, our own wisdom to determine what we should say or do, or our previous experiences of handling adversity. We must cling to God’s word and stand in awe before his majesty revealed therein. We must give ourselves to the humble, adoring, persevering study of his glorious word! We see this transforming power of God’s word in many of God’s saints, most notably in Peter. Before he was possessed of the holy fear of God and trust in his promises as he should have been, his faith and profession were blown away by silly servant girls and unnamed loafers (Matt. 26:69-75). Later, after our Savior poured forth his Spirit and sealed his word to Peter’s heart, he and the other apostles unflinchingly confessed: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 4:19-20). Whence this change, this new-found courage? Peter had been taught by God’s Spirit to trust God’s promises, however horribly men were attacking the eternal truth of God. He feared God. Nothing would prevent him from sticking to God’s word, even the wrath of ungodly men. The same will be true in us, for this is the work of our Savior in all those in whom he implants and seals his word by his indwelling presence. To have such hope and courage in the midst of adversity, our very hearts must stand in continual awe of God’s word, which will transform us from useless cowards into bold, faithful servants of the Lord of hosts.

Joy in Truth, Hating Lies (vv. 162-163)

The living God by his Spirit must make our hearts amazed before his word. Due to sin, and its attendant ills of unbelief and a sense of alienation from our Father’s love and goodwill, we are far more afraid of men than of God. When his word should be an impregnable fortress to our hearts, we run from it. Even after being in his church for many years and hearing many sermons, how few of us are devoted, painstaking students of God’s holy word? It is no wonder that the stench of fear and compromise pervade the modern church. For our souls to tremble before his word, and thus for the church to recover her bold witness and defense of God’s gospel, we have work before us. This is the reason David compares the joy we should have in God’s word with the “spoils of war.” An army must fight valiantly before obtaining the victory and enjoying the fruits of its suffering and pain. Can we have joy in God’s word unless we think of it as a precious prize worth the contest? And what is the contest? It is the personal discipline necessary to reserve sufficient time to study God’s word each day. This is far more challenging than a twenty-mile forced march with an enemy waiting to fight at its end. It is the discipline of our hearts and minds so that we both desire to meditate upon God’s word and exercise ourselves to the same. This will mean putting vain distractions away from us. Yes, there are many necessary things related to our callings and families about which we must give serious and constant thought. But was not David an active man? He was no cloistered monk or an inwardly turned pietist. Loving God’s word, he trained himself to meditate upon it in the midst of many responsibilities. In quiet, unoccupied moments, while traveling or walking, sitting or lying down before sleep, where do our thoughts turn? Is God’s word the spoil at the day’s end? Do we think of a few precious moments meditating upon God’s word as the privilege of the morning and the reward of the night?  We must, else we shall not delight in it. This is the deep-down reason for our fear before men and our lack of confidence in the Lord. We are not exulting in his word, glad at every line, joyful in every precious morsel from our Father’s mouth. He offers to feed us. He has preserved his word for us in the face of Satan’s wrath, man’s schemes, and our own neglect. The sweetness is before us, as are the strength, joy, and boldness that comes from a life saturated with God’s word. Unless you consider God’s word your very life, the treasure and reward of your life, the pearl of great price, you will never labor for it. You may make the effort for a while, but his word will not enter deeply into you as the controlling, sustaining, transforming power of God. But if you will give yourself habitually to God’s word, it will give you joy and boldness, hope and peace, courage and victory.

Now, that we might be motivated to do this, David contrasts the boldness and joy our Father gives us through his word with lies. All that ever came from the mind of man is a lie. At best, it is a half-truth. This applies to all our feelings and desires that are not shaped by God’s word and held in careful submission to him. Unless we are guided solely by God’s word in every area of our life, we cannot but be ensnared by our own deceitful, blind, and self-centered thinking. We must hate and abhor all thinking and willing, feeling and doing that are not governed by God’s word alone. This will require effort, for we are very accustomed and comfortable with thinking, responding, and planning by our own wisdom. Yet, is this not what prompted Abraham to lie rather than trust God; Moses to kill the Egyptian rather than wait upon the Lord’s way of deliverance; Peter to betray Christ rather than humbly, boldly suffer with him? There is nothing but weakness in us unless we turn from all the lies of our own heart and utterly reject the lies of the world. Unbelieving men in all walks of life – and this is very troubling to consider – lie. They are governed by their passions, ruled by their blindness, and controlled by their hatred of God. They will not recognize this, for this would be to admit the lie. This deep-seated animosity to God expresses itself in varying ways and degrees: some worship the lie of power, some money, some pleasure, some simply that “I am sufficient to live my life with no reference to anyone else.” They are found in high places and low, government and media, science and education, the highest ruler in the land and the humblest man in the street. If God’s word is not man’s glory and treasure, he will believe, practice, and cling to a lie (2 Thess. 2:11), with the most fatal lie of all being “worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25). Rejecting this lie forces us to examine far more critically who informs and governs our self-understanding, to whom we yield ourselves to be led from everything to medicine to finances, for not a single fact in the universe is self-interpreting. They are God-interpreted, or they are misinterpreted. Our only protection from man’s lies and the lies of our own heart is to hate and abhor all that is opposed to God’s truth. We must love his law. It is our only safe guide in the world. We must love it personally, familially, congregationally, and culturally. God alone must shape the way we think, live, and feel, for he alone is the truth, and there is no darkness in him (Ps. 119:142; 1 John 1:5). In a world of lies, only one way of security, peace, and wisdom is open to us: loving God’s word. And loving it, we must be shaped by it: how and what to think, how to interpret ourselves and the world, govern our lives in every detail, and live for God in a “crooked and perverse generation.” Do not think that something more is needed to protect you and bring you safely through this evil age to God’s everlasting kingdom. Give yourself to God’s word, it will transform and deliver you from self-deception and fear of man’s lies and schemes. This glorious work God’s word performs in us as we are searched by its blinding truth, humbled before our Father’s glory revealed therein, and raised up to love the God who tells us the truth about himself, ourselves, and the world in which we live.

Continual Praise (v. 164)

Persecuted wrongly, weary in his afflictions, and surrounded by the lies and deception of evil men, it would seem to our weak faith that David had little reason to praise God. That God’s word is life-transforming is seen again by the fact that in the midst of such hardships, David praises God “seven times a day because of thy righteous judgments.” “Seven” does not indicate set times of devotion but continual praise to God. This was spontaneous as well as habitual. How? He was taught by the Holy Spirit that God’s word was sufficient to bring him through the labyrinth of man’s lies and uphold him as he partook of the “sufferings of Christ” (1 Pet. 4:13). Even in a fallen, sin-cursed world, driven mad as it is with blindness and rebellion, God’s word is able to guide us safely through the dangers and trials we face. Modern examples abound. Seeing through the lies of secularist education, many believing families have separated from it and provided Christian education for their children, thus delivering untold millions from the soul-destroying consequences of being taught from childhood that man is the measure of all things, there is no creed but man, no sovereign but man’s will and understanding. Our culture goes merrily on its fornicating way, confident that unborn babies are nothing but “fetal tissue;” believers reject this death-lie and walk by the sure word of God, having, loving, and raising children as God’s precious blessing, thus giving us confidence that “one generation shall praise thy name to the next” (Ps. 145:4). Our culture is addicted to sports and gaming, with the Sabbath being a chief day of the week wholly given over to this idol; work without satisfaction, labor without rest, and struggle without peace have been the bitter fruits of this desecration. Guided by God’s word, believers worship the Lord, do not spend the day in idleness and self-focused pleasure, and thus go from “strength to strength” (Ps. 84:7). And would we not have been more prosperous and able to give to others, to take an example where we have failed to heed God’s word as we should have done, even as this economy based upon man’s lies crumbles all around us, had we followed God’s principles of “just weight and balance,” avoiding debt except in utter extremity, and building our lives upon contentment and godliness rather than covetousness and possessions? In each of these, we see how much cause we have to rejoice all the day long, for God’s word, in great ways and small, is our sure foundation and protection from the wrath of God that falls upon those who walk contrary to his revealed will. We should give more thought to the protection and guidance the Lord’s word has given to us and will give to us if we make all our delight to be in it.

All things seem topsy-turvy in the world, and they are, for “there is no peace to the wicked” (Isa. 48:22; 57:21). We cannot wholly avoid our share of these temporal miseries, for we need chastening for our unwillingness to separate from the current world system that is based upon unapologetic rebellion against God and his word. Even so, God’s word will lead us through; it has been leading and preserving us. It will sift and humble us; it will also raise us up. Should we not praise God continually for his righteous judgments, for such a full and sufficient revelation of his will as he has given us in his word? And should not our praise be truly God-directed: for his goodness in giving us his word; with great humility for not abandoning us to the lies of our age and renewed resolve to live as his peculiar people; with full assurance of the sufficiency of his righteous judgment to sustain us as we seek to live godly in this world? Even in the worst circumstances, God’s word is our sure guide. We may suffer, endure injustice, and go without many things, but it is far, far better to have the Lord himself for our guide and teacher. If we do not, if we try to live without praising him for his righteous judgments and submitting to them, we are like thieves stealing all they can from a house that is burning down or a store that is flooded. This is the way all ungodly men live in God’s world: creating havoc by their unbelief but still desperate to preserve themselves against his judgments and take all they can before the judgment is final. But Hallelujah, our Savior has come and brought in everlasting righteousness by his sufferings, death, and resurrection. He has delivered us from the wrath to come, satisfying all God’s righteous judgments against us by his blood (1 Thess. 1:10). He has now entered his glory, showing that God’s word is able to preserve us from Satan’s most violent attacks, proving that God is true, and there is no unrighteousness in him (Ps. 92:15). If we give ourselves to obeying God’s word, as our Lord did, we shall find ourselves being led in his triumphal procession (2 Cor. 2:14), Jesus Christ himself our Head and Captain, our Shepherd and Guide. “O, that men would praise the Lord for his goodness” (Ps. 107:8)!

Great Peace (v. 165)

All our vexation in this world, all the disturbances of body and soul we experience, all the unrest we feel in our consciences, comes from sin. The world does not agree with this. Poor education, too much or too little government regulation, too loose or too inhibited moral and intellectual license, too great or too small pursuit of science and technology: these are the causes of our discontent and misery. We see here a chilling instance of the world’s blindness. Unbelieving men will look everywhere and anywhere for causes and solutions to the “human problem” except the one place where that answer is found. The world has one idea in its collective head, but that idea is not God. It is to run from God, from the truth, from peace. Now, it purports to want peace, but all its lies and schemes, unjust wars and genocides, suicidal economic policies, and political haranguing belie that profession, as do all the harsh words, selfishness, destructive personal decisions, and immoralities of the common man, who may appear to have less hubris than the great ones but in reality exercises the same but in a more limited sphere. No, our disquiet is the fruit of our alienation from God. Unrest hounds us day and night, in every relationship and decision. If we are not at peace with the God who made us, who of right and of love ought to rule our every desire, we shall know no peace. There may be seasons of distraction, indulgence, even of relative calm, but these are not peace. Peace is knowing that God is reconciled to us poor sinners through the death of his Son, looks upon us with love and favor by his grace and mercy, and is open to our prayers. Peace is assurance of his love, submission to his providence, and fellowship with him. Peace does not require more vacations, less work, a fatter wallet, a better figure, a more loving husband, more obedient children, more understanding parents. It is not the absence of external conflict, testing, or persecution. Peace is the fruit of loving God’s law. This leads in the first place to the cross, for how can the law’s just threatenings against us be silenced except through the blood of the Lamb of God, who alone takes away our sins? Then in life, it leads us to walk in obedience to that same law, not out of slavish fear but filial love, the offerings of our thankful hearts to our Father who has delivered us in his great love. Peace is obedience to God, for God’s word shows us the way to live at peace with the God who made all things and controls all things. Obedience puts us in unity with the purposes of God, which are to unite all things into one under Christ the Head, the Righteous One, the Son who was a perfect peace because he was in perfect obedience (Eph. 4:15).

Thus, the more we are held in the grip of love for God’s law, the more peace we shall have, so much so that “nothing shall offend us.” Most importantly, Christ Jesus having satisfied God’s justice, no one can lay a charge against us (Rom. 8:33). Yes, we have many sins, but the “blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Then, by loving and obeying God’s law, we shall be preserved from many of the embarrassing mistakes and harmful decisions that offend the holy God, our consciences, and our brothers and sisters in Christ. Obedience helps, though none is ever perfect in this life, avoid the bitterness of “suffering for our faults” (1 Pet. 2:20), for which we can blame no one but ourselves. Above all, since God judges the world for its sins, not only on the final day but also on many lesser days leading up to that day, are we not preserved from judgment only by obedience, weeping over our sins, and walking in humble, submissive fellowship with him? Apart from loving God’s law, life is nothing but a stumbling, an embarrassment, an unending series of failures, evil, and heartache leading up to the great day of stumbling, at which the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ will be the great dividing line between the entire human race. God’s word transforms us at this fundamental level: by bringing us in repentance before the Son of God now, to whom we confess all our miseries, sins, weakness, and failings, we are healed, raised up, and empowered with new life, his life, to walk at peace with God through him (Rom. 8:1). He took all our stumbling, offense, and deserved embarrassment upon himself, suffering for our sins in his own body upon the cursed tree (1 Pet. 2:24). By coming to him, our pride, curse, and misery are crushed on that stumbling stone, and we are evermore preserved from condemnation. Then, whatever happens to us in life, we can be cheerful, calm, and confident, knowing that we are in him, have an inheritance reserved for us in heaven, and an open stream of mercy flowing from the throne of God.

Hope and Obedience (v. 166)

Our Father does not give us peace by removing all troubles but by leading us to hope more firmly in his promised salvation. Princes will persecute us wrongfully; lies will abound; stumbling blocks will present themselves. The lives of all godly men show this to be the case. It is “through many tribulations that we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Some of this is chastening for our sins; some is the consequence of living a fallen world. All come from the hand of our Father to humble us, cause our Savior’s power to rest upon us, break the world’s stranglehold upon our affections, and inspire us to seek first God’s kingdom. And what shall be our confession? One thinks of old Jacob, feebly propped up on his bed, confessing almost with his dying breath: “Lord, I have waited for thy salvation” (Gen. 49:18). Abraham “hoped against hope that he might be the father of many nations” (Rom. 4:18). Then, our Savior professed: “Thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breast” (Ps. 22:9). Hope is confident expectation that our Father will fulfill his promises to us. Hope produces patience, endurance, and love (Rom. 5:5; 1 Thess. 1:3). And in what do we hope? God’s word dashes all the vain hopes of unbelieving men; one civilization upon another has collapsed upon the false hopes of men to build lives, empires, and lasting prosperity and peace upon a foundation of revolt against God. Against all these delusions, we hope in God’s salvation, his promise to deliver us from all evil. Salvation is more than personal deliverance from hell, though, all praise to the Lord, it certainly includes this. Salvation is the state of perfect righteousness and peace with God, blessedness in him, when he is all our reward and joy, when we feel ourselves reconciled to him and carefully guarded by him. This is the great hope laid up for us in heaven, where Jesus Christ has entered as the forerunner and anchor of our souls (Col. 1:5; Heb. 6:18-20). We yet hope for it because we do not yet see it, and by this hope we are saved (Rom. 8:24). And when this hope fills our hearts, we “do God’s commands.” Hope is empowering unto faithfulness, “knowing that our labors are not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). Hope is not alone but fruitful, enlivening, quickening. When we hope in God’s salvation – both our full and glorious salvation in heaven and our enjoyment of it now by faith and our Savior’s indwelling presence – we obey God’s commandments, even in the midst of our trials and afflictions. When salvation, the hope of heaven, roots its glories in our soul, obedience is its first fruit.

Inward Obedience before God (vv. 167-168)

And it is exactly here that the life-transforming power of God’s word is marvelously revealed. The obedience hope produces does not lie in trifling, outward acts of religiosity or sentimentality without substance and solid piety. God’s word teaches us that it is worthless to “draw near to God with our lips while our hearts are far from him” (Isa. 29:13). By our Father’s goodness to us, he works in us through his word what is pleasing to him, beginning with an inner conformity to his precepts and testimonies. Here is the glory of our faith, of our Savior’s work, of the indwelling power and glory of the Holy Spirit. Heaven-born faith and hope effect an inner transformation of life. It gives us a new heart, prompted by new motives, aimed at new goals, led by a new standard, God’s law written upon our hearts. It is “no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us” (Gal. 2:20). By the renewing, illumining work of the Holy Spirit, the old lies fall away; we “delight in God’s law in our inner man” (Rom. 7:22). Our hearts love and yearn for God’s law in such a way that we become diligent, vigorous, and cheerful in service to God. The world loses its hold upon us, for self has been dethroned. Old things have passed away (2 Cor. 5:17).We long to obey God more fervently, our inmost thoughts and desires reflecting his purity. This is prompted by a saving sense that “all my ways are before thee.” He is walking with us; we have too many proofs of his presence to doubt it: the witness of the Spirit with our spirits, wholehearted movement toward holiness that we did not feel before, a growing delight in worship and prayer, more willingness to labor for him without complaining, an esteem for godliness with contentment that pushes the old materialism into the dark corners, where our old man, his dominion broken, sulks in the corner, filled with splinters from the cross testifying that he, like the world’s forms and fashions, has been rendered obsolete, ineffectual, by the victory of Jesus Christ over sin and death. Yet, like Satan who still lurks, he will torment us unless we live consciously as those whose ways are ever before God. He sees all, to be sure, and nothing can be hidden from him. But David does not here express this so much to torment us that all our secrets will be exposed on the final day as to confess his joyful sense of walking with God, of God walking with him. Biblical religion, we must understand, is not at its essence creeds and catechisms to be memorized, a system to be defended, or outward observances to perform. It is the restoration of peace and fellowship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. It is him walking with us and dwelling with us, according to his promise. It is obedience given to him not out of fear or guilt but out of delight and desire for our Father, who is rich in mercy to us, and for his Son, our Savior, who loved us and gave himself for us. Though we await heaven for the full enjoyment of walking and talking with God in the restored Garden of Paradise, we taste of his mercy and goodness sufficiently now to give ourselves to him. Are there enemies to face, obstacles to overcome, afflictions to endure? Certainly, but since our God walks with us, since he “knows the way of the righteous” (Ps. 1:6), even these are sweetened by his life-giving presence and turned to our good by his power and love.

Such a complete and thorough transformation by God’s word seems beyond all hope, especially today, in which fear and despair reign supreme. The old ways of fervent praying for revival and the spirit of supplication and repentance, patiently waiting upon the Lord to fulfill his promises, and diligently working at our callings and families have given way to trying to salvage a decaying and dying world system, equating the Christian faith with social crusading and political activism, and plain, old giddiness. Indeed, more than anything else, fear is at the root of the seeker-friendly, “church is whatever you want it to be,” heaven is a rock-concert mentality that substitutes for the old paths of righteousness and truth so fervently and constantly held out for us in Scripture, by precept and example. Many fear it is too late; our culture is too far gone to hear the old appeals; “continuing steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, the breaking of bread and of prayer” (Acts 2:42) is too passé and irrelevant. But God is the same, and his word abides forever. One thousand years passed between David and Jesus, yet our Savior came inculcating the same piety, the same law, and the same old faith in God’s promises. The defense that “changes in a modern society demand new methods” is simply a smokescreen for our unbelief, our low and carnal aims, our impatience. God has a glorious work yet to perform on the earth, and he will perform it. How will he perform it? This seems to be the question of the hour. Laying new paths; forging new visions; pursuing new methods? Since our Savior is the “same yesterday, today, and forever,” this applies as much as to his methods as to his person, the means by which he will reap the inheritance promised to him by his Father as much as to his faithfulness in accomplishing this work. And his word alone shows us the way men, families, and entire nations will be transformed: by the power of his word. O, let us stand in awe before it again! Put away everything that distracts you from walking in these glorious fields with the living God. Let us labor in them, looking for the rich spoil that God does not share with any but those who are meek and teachable before him. His word still exposes lies, still gives joy, still gives abundant reason to spend our lives in vibrant praise to him for his righteous judgments. Yes, we have our share of the cross to carry, our afflictions to endure, our chastening to receive. But do these diminish one whit the pleasure of finding yourself delighting in God’s law in your inner man, of having all your ways before him, knowing that he walks with you by the Holy Spirit? Not one bit. God’s word will transform us if we give ourselves wholly to it, hating and turning from our sins, and seeking our good and happiness in God alone.