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The Word in Our Hearts (Deut 30:14)

13 January, 2010

Deuteronomy is such an important book of the Bible. It’s all about the Lord’s faithfulness and his people’s failures, and that ultimately in response to his people’s failures the Lord himself yet remains faithful, in providing for his people what they cannot provide for themselves. His people must look to the Lord himself for ‘life and length of days’ (Deut 30:20), for he alone is able to circumcise their hearts and their children’s hearts so that they will be able to love and obey him as they ought (v. 6).

Often, however, this faithfulness – the circumcised hearts and obedience — the Lord provides for us is taken as the entire content and fulfilment of the Lord’s own faithfulness to us. In other words, Deuteronomy confronts us with God’s righteous requirements of his people, and our sin and unfaithfulness toward God in response. We take the answer to this to be that Deuteronomy therefore calls us to look to the Lord, who in his grace must give what he requires of us in order for us to be faithful to him.

But there is a subtle danger here, in mistaking God’s gift of faithfulness in us, for God’s own faithfulness toward us and on our behalf. To put it as simply as possible, it’s so easy for us to misunderstand that what God does in us is itself the gospel. Deuteronomy 30 is key in this way, particularly as Paul quotes it in its truly radical gospel meaning, in Romans 10.

There seems to be no mistaking the intention of God’s words to his people through Moses at the end of Deuteronomy. In light of all that has gone before, God calls his people to make a stark choice: life or death, faithfulness to God or rebellion from him. In reading this passage, nothing could be more clear that what is at stake here is the question of our own faithfulness or unfaithfulness:

“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deut 30:11-20)

It seems the meaning of this passage couldn’t be clearer: God requires us to be faithful in response to his grace; though we are prone to fail, the good news is that God will give us new hearts that are able to obey him. And that’s what the passage in fact says – but…

What about Jesus?

If this passage is simply about God graciously enabling us to be faithful to his requirements, how is it about Jesus? Jesus says the whole Bible is about him. Is it really only the case that this passage is very indirectly about Jesus, since through the work of Christ we receive new hearts to enable us to obey? Paul felt differently. Read the following passage carefully in light of the previous quote:

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for [the Jewish people] is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

What a truly remarkable way to employ Deuteronomy 30! My whole point is simply this: the gospel radically reinterprets what we think we know about righteousness and faithfulness before God. To us, it naturally makes sense that God requires faithfulness from us in response to his faithfulness to us (and he does require it). It can even make sense that in his grace he enables us to be faithful to him (and he does, and this is truly gracious). But it makes no natural sense to us that God himself will be our faithfulness, that Christ is himself our own faithfulness and righteousness before God. Paul explains that there are two fundamentally different kinds of righteousness being described in Deuteronomy 30 – or rather, there is true righteousness and faithfulness being described, and the true response to it is “Lord, I hold fast to you as my life and blessedness!” (v. 20).

The loving obedience that God commands, God does not first and foremost enable in us, but first and foremost he provides in Christ for us, ‘who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’ (1 Cor 1:29-31). Can any of us who really know ourselves put any confidence in our own changed yet still deeply sinful hearts or our own meager obedience? No, the gospel is not about us, even us-with-new-hearts-and-attempted-faithfulness — it’s about Jesus and his spotless heart and blameless life, his cursed death, and his victorious resurrection, all for our sakes. The good news that God enables us to walk with him is not good news, if it is understood outside the context of the truly good news that God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21).

It’s so important, then, that we embrace the work of God in us without confusing this with the good news of God’s work outside us, for us. We live through his life, not our own; we walk in the splendor of his holiness, not our own. The Holy Spirit who dwells in us seeks to exalt Christ, not us; he shows us more of the true depths of our sin as we live the Christian life through him, not less. We bear Spiritual fruits in keeping with repentance by looking to Jesus, not by looking at our fruits. We take up our crosses and follow Jesus, all the while looking to his cross-bearing, not our own. That’s why his burden is easy and his yoke is light, why ‘this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you’ (Deut 30:11) – because ‘the righteousness that is based on faith’ looks wholly away from itself, and wholly to God in Christ for all our blessedness.

The gospel is radical, and radically gracious. May the Lord grant that this word of good news that has been accomplished for us and announced to us (Rom 10:8) may lodge deeply in our hearts by faith, so that in this way we would truly ‘choose life, that you and your children may live’ (Deut 30:19).

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6 Comments
  1. 13 January, 2010 5:21 pm

    That Paul is a rascal.

    • 14 January, 2010 9:21 pm

      Stephy~

      Indeed. By the way, it’s amazing to me how many atheists and ex-believers read your blog, and completely miss the irony of Christian self-criticism.

      ~B

      • 14 January, 2010 9:42 pm

        I know, it’s really interesting. And it makes the issue of religion/belief seem less polarizing. (for me, anyway)

  2. Donna Ellis Burrell permalink
    16 January, 2010 10:50 pm

    Great post, Brannan…thanks. I have been reading Michael Horton’s, “Too Good to be True” and your explanation clarifies some of his topics.

    • 20 January, 2010 11:27 am

      It’s a privilege (and a surprise!) to be able to clarify Mike’s work.

      ~B

  3. habasar permalink
    20 January, 2010 8:21 pm

    Our fellowship is with the Father and the Son. The scriptures (the old Testament) is the conversation of the Father by His Spirit (which moved holy men of God) and the Son. The word spoke by the Father to the Son. Such as it is written, “God said, let there be light”, and there was light. The word is not spoken into the air, but to the Son. The Father says to the Son, Let there be light. And the Son the creator of all things creates light, and the Spirit of the Father says “there was light” and “it is good”. “The same was in the beginning with God. All things through Him were made, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” Yohan 1 The understanding of the apostolos from the scriptures of the prophets is that Yeshua ha Mashiach is the creator of all things.

    Daniel

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