I was watching an episode of What Would You Do? tonight. For those who haven’t seen the show it features actors and a reporter that set up a morally compromising or wrongful situation in a public place. They secretly record the actions of those who witness what happens. What will they do? Will they run to the rescue or ignore the wrong they see before them? As you might guess, with every episode the overwhelming majority of people turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the injustices around them. Many of the people interviewed afterward note that they don’t get involved because they think something isn’t their business, or they feel uncomfortable. It’s the minority of people who take it upon themselves to proactively do the right thing and come to someone’s rescue.
This got me thinking about some recent reading I’ve been doing about the biblical concept of God’s law written upon our hearts. The concept comes from God’s promise to Israel in Jeremiah 31:33 that a day was coming in which God’s law would not merely be written upon tablets of stone as it was in Moses’ day, but “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
As I was contemplating this idea I thought of the same thing that you might be thinking of now—the Ten Commandments, as one example, burned into our consciences. While I was contemplating this I ran across another passage in the book of Jeremiah that gave me a new insight. This passage also talks about something being written on our hearts, but it’s not God’s law.
“The sin of Judah is written down with an iron stylus; with a diamond point it is engraved upon the tablet of their heart” (Jeremiah 17:1).
Sin is written upon the heart of the sinner, but certainly there are no “sinner’s commandments.” In other words, we can’t go to a written revelation and find, “Thou shalt not be faithful,” as we find in the opposite command of scripture, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” In fact, when it comes to sin, sin is always encouraged in the positive as if we say to ourselves, “I will fornicate,” or “I shall steal,” or “I am going to lie.” But we always look at something like the Ten Commandments from the negative standpoint (in which it was mostly written), “I will not fornicate,” or “I shall not steal,” or “I’m not going to lie.” That’s when the difference between something written upon the heart and something written on tablets (or paper) struck me. A law written down tells us not to do something, but a law written upon the heart encourages us to do something proactively.
Imagine for a moment that instead of saying to ourselves the written command, “You shall not commit adultery,” we instead say, “I shall be faithful.” Isn’t there a world of difference between the command to not perform a negative and the command to perform a positive? In fact, I think that may be the point of God’s promise to us to write the law upon our hearts.
Look carefully at how Jesus approached his teaching on the law. He said, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit murder’” (Matthew 5:21). But a few verses later he turns this on its head and encourages us to take proactive steps to “be reconciled to your brother,” and to “make friends quickly” (Matthew 5:24,25). When addressing the commandment against adultery Jesus says, “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out” (Matthew 5:29). Jesus’ point was not self-mutilation, rather it was about taking a proactive step toward a positive; and the examples go on.
It may be that having the law written upon our hearts is more than simply, “You shall not lie,” but rather, “You shall tell the truth.” The kind of righteousness which imitates Christ is not the kind that simply avoids sins, rather it is the kind that proactively seeks to do the right thing.
In the book, The Christ of the Covenants, O. Palmer Robertson writes,”The Christian does not live under an externalized ministration of law engraved in stone tablets. Instead, he lives with the law written in his heart. While the Christian always stands obligated to reflect the holiness and righteousness required in God’s law, he no longer relates to that law as an impersonal code standing outside of himself. Instead, the Spirit of God constantly ministers the law within the heart of the believer.”
What is written on your heart? How do you deal with temptation and sin, or perhaps injustice that you may witness around you? Do you simply try to avoid sin or do you take proactive steps to perform an act of righteousness? I’m convinced that the latter is an organic, natural outflow of God’s law written upon our hearts.
1.) The Christ of the Covenants, O. Palmer Robertson, “Moses: The Covenant of Law,” pages 182-183.