Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Psalm 32:9 - The Results of Repentance

Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding,
Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check,
Otherwise they will not come near to you.

In verse 8, God promises to personally teach and train the repentant sinner. Now He gives us the details of this training, and the intended results of repentance, including a contrasting example of what our training does NOT involve. This path leads us to a change which affects our entire person - mind, will, and affections.

Before we examine this, let's remind ourselves of one clear fact drawn from verses 1, 2, and 5: the person in this training program is already forgiven. He does not embark on this path to obtain clemency - he follows the divine teaching because he has already received mercy and now trusts his Teacher to steer him right. He is a HASID - a person whose identity is grounded in divine mercy.

Repentance brings a lasting change of mind with new thinking.

God's teaching moves us from folly to wisdom. The horse and mule have no wisdom or understanding. They act according to their nature and instincts, not a reasoned course of intelligent reflection. The animal's life is a continual quest for survival and is aimed at preserving independence. But Christ calls His followers to death and surrender.

Matthew 16:24-25 Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it."

Luke 14:33 "So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions."

For the Christian, life is paradoxically found only through dying with Christ, and freedom is attained only by surrendering to the sovereign God. And the only way to arrive at this enlightened view of things is by divinely imparted wisdom. Fallen human nature cannot comprehend the things of God, and will instead rise up in pride, independence, self-reliance and the perpetual pursuit of easy pleasure. Our sinful flesh despises the hard road of discipleship.

Animals can be tamed and domesticated so that they will outwardly conform to the demands of their masters, but they will never voluntarily surrender themselves. Amazing tricks can be achieved by channeling an animal's instincts, but this is not the result of any wisdom they have gained. It is nothing more than the same old animal thinking brought into a new set of circumstances which are carefully manipulated by the master. God's ways are higher than this. He does not "break" us like a horse is broken. He aims for inward transformation. He does not employ threat and manipulation to force us into behavioral change. Rather, He invests us with His Own Spirit and renews our minds through His Word to bring about an entirely new nature - one that loves Him and receives His teaching with delight.

Psalm 51:6 Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.

Psalm 51:12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit.

God teaches our hearts so that we become willing to do His will.

Repentance brings us beyond mere external motivation through a transformed will.

There is hardly a more stubborn animal than a mule. These creatures are uncommonly recalcitrant. Yet with the use of a painful bit and bridle, even this beast will become obedient - at least on the outside. When repentance is external and fear-driven, our obedience is all on the surface. But when repentance reaches our hearts, we become obedient from within (Romans 6:17). Our will changes. The desire for sin decreases, the choice to sin becomes less appealing, and the love for sin gets broken. We grieve over our sin, not because it wreaks havoc on our happiness, but because it breaks God's heart. We cannot conceive of any happiness apart from Him. Sins like pride and envy become abhorrently abominable to us, even though they do not seem to affect our outward lives in dramatic ways. We plead with God to help us overcome these sins. We hate our sin because we look at the cross and see what it did to Jesus Christ. We loathe our sin because it works death in us, leaving us with a tormenting sense of separation from God. Only the Gospel can cure this.

At the same time, we begin to love God because we find Him to be pure and untainted and utterly innocent. We delight in His Word because it is completely holy. We are captivated by an incarnate Christ Who walked spotlessly through our fallen world. The temptations that have so easily capsized us didn't even draw his interest.

Has curiosity taken us into sin? He limited His knowledge and yet did not succumb to sin through curiosity. Has pleasure carried us to sinful excess? He experienced daily suffering and never turned to sinful pleasure for relief. Have bodily drives and hungers driven us into wickedness? He had all of them, too, yet He never made provision for the flesh. Have riches become a snare to us? He became entirely poor, and never once complained or worshipped the Mammon idol of money that makes the world "go 'round." Has loneliness opened a door for evil in our lives? After half a lifetime filled with rejection, the God-Man Jesus Christ hung on the cross by Himself and endured the ferocious and hellish alienation brought about through rejection by both God and man - without ever having a stray thought, word or deed. His is a perfect and intrinsic and inherent and irresistible holiness.

When we see the destructiveness of sin, and when we see the pure magnificence of Christ, our will changes. Not because we are threatened, but because we are captivated. We do not hate sin because it "hurts" us in this life (though it certainly does). We hate sin because sin is Christ's enemy, and we have become His friends. This changes our will, so that we are transformed from the inside out.

Repentance brings us near to God with new affections.

God points our attention to a specific characteristic of horses and mules: of their own accord, they will not come near you. A wild horse can only run wild. A wild mule will only resist. Fear drives these animals and causes them to keep their distance from us.

In the same way, all fallen human beings are averse to God. We naturally despise, hate and turn from Him. We naturally view ourselves as His mortal enemies. But for a repentant sinner there is one important difference: grace. By grace, we have the ability to draw near to God. By grace, the dividing wall of hostility is removed. By grace, He forgives us. By grace, He draws us. By grace, He accepts us. By grace, He makes us His own children. We are not His pets, or work animals, or slaves, or prisoners. We are beloved sons!

And when we realize just how loved and forgiven we are, we willingly submit to our Father and offer ourselves as His slaves. We WANT to be kept in the boundaries of His will. We LOVE to be His.

What sweet joys fill our hearts as we walk with Him. It is not under the restraints of bit and bridle that we walk, but in the light and easy yoke of Christ. In this yoke, He walks next to us all the way, lending the strength we lack and encouraging our weary hearts to keep on. There can be absolutely no freedom for man, except in being bound to Christ by the eternal bonds of love and mercy. In these blessed bonds, we are freed from the slavish drudgery of sin and secured forever by grace.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to respond to anything written in the posts, or to the comments left by others. All comments are reviewed before they are published.

Please be charitable. If you disagree, do so with grace. Keep your words positive, focused, and on-topic. We don't expect everyone to agree, but we do expect everyone to treat everyone else with respect and grace, speaking the truth in love.