"Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." James 1:22 (NKJV)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Week 18: Think About Such Things

"Whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." ~ Phil. 4:8

Over the last eighteen weeks, I've realized something rather shocking about the New Testament---shocking to me, at least. The New Testament commands are no less demanding than the law of the Old Testament.

By the time Paul was writing his New Testament epistles, the Jews had summed up all of the Old Testament law into 613 commands. On top of that, the rabbis added their own regulations. It was impossible to keep all of the law and attempting to do so was a burdensome way of life. It's a mistake, though, to think that God requires less of us through the New Testament.

God still commands every part of our lives. He commands our feelings, thoughts, speech and actions. He commands how we relate to Him, to our families, to our Christian brothers and sisters, and to the world. He has a plan and purpose for every moment of our days. For a Christian, there is strictly speaking no free time. There is time to rest and time to play, but only because God has appointed such times.

Our failure to live up to God's standard is inevitable. We can't achieve righteousness through commandment keeping. So, what is the purpose of God's commands? To convict us. Paul said, "I would not have known what sin was except through the law." Romans 7:7. That's no mere abstract theological point. It's concrete and personal. God commands you and I because He loves us and His commands are good for us, but He also commands us in order to convict us of our sinfulness.

I've never felt God's conviction so acutely as in the last eighteen weeks. I don't think we fully feel God's conviction about our sinfulness until we get serious about His commands. We don't completely appreciate our inadequacy and inability to live up to God's standard until we've diligently tried to do so. It's not our obedience that draws us closer to God. All of our efforts can't get us one bit closer to God---only by God's grace can we approach Him with confidence. It's our failure that brings us to a place of Christ dependent faith, which is the channel through which God's grace flows to us. Ultimately, it's God's grace that brings us closer to Him.

I don't mean to suggest that God is setting us up for failure or that the only purpose for God's commands is to cause us to fail. When we sometimes succeed in clumsily, reluctantly, imperfectly obeying God, we find that God, also by His grace, rewards us. God doesn't guarantee that obedience will produce an easy life. No doubt, however, it is better to obey.

What I'm getting around to saying is that God truly succeeded at using my failure this last week to convict me of my total dependence on Jesus. For week eighteen of The James 1:22 Project, I was supposed to think about certain things---things that are right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. God cares what we think about. He has, of course, every right to command our thoughts, and many of His commands involve our thoughts. He doesn't want our minds cluttered with sinful thoughts, and thus He commands us to fill our minds with good things.

For the most part, I failed miserably at this one. My brain was as cluttered as usual with unholy thoughts---thoughts of worry, dissatisfaction, anger, and lust. I take away two small insights about this command.

  • First, it's a positive commandment. Sometimes, God tells us what not to think about, but here we're commanded to think about certain things. I find that very helpful. Have you ever tried to not think about something? Right now, try hard not to think about a pink elephant! It's far easier to clean your mind up by filling it with something good, than by merely attempting to flush out bad thoughts.

  • Second, the command is not limited to spiritual things or holy things. We're commanded to think about whatever is good or admirable or excellent, and so on and so forth. So, I think we can fulfill the command by prayer or meditation on scripture, but also by taking a walk, or watching a favorite wholesome movie, or listening to a favorite song, or reading a good book. The one thing that I found very helpful this week was reading two of my favorite novels---Airman by Eoin Colfer and Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Heinlein. There's nothing spiritual or holy about either book, but they're good, clean, fun books that I really enjoyed reading. I find that reading any book that I enjoy (whether or not it has any spiritual content) puts my mind into a state that is more receptive to God and less receptive to the enemy.