“This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, says the Lord:
I will put My laws upon their heart,
and on their mind I will write them.”
(Jeremiah 31:33, Hebrews 8:10, Hebrews 10:16)
As mentioned in previous devotional thoughts from Hebrews chapter 8, one big contrast between the old covenant and the new covenant is in where we find God’s law written. Under the terms of the old covenant, God law, as summed in the Ten Commandments, was found written on tablets of stone and then elaborated on by Moses and the prophets in the ancient manuscripts and scrolls kept in the Temple and protected by the priesthood. But, speaking of the Law of Moses, including the Ten Commandments, the Apostle Paul said, “…having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). The Law of Moses, which can only convict us, has been taken out of the way. The Ten Commandments, which can only condemn us, have been nailed to the cross!
Furthermore, according to the writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews, who is quoting a prophecy from way back in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, under the terms of the new covenant in Christ, and in stark contrast to the old covenant, God puts His law not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts. God writes His laws not on parchment scrolls, but on our minds.
Please understand, I am a Bible believer. I believe the writings of the New Testament are “inspired” by God because Matthew, being an apostle, was directly inspired by the Holy Spirit and John, too, was directly inspired by the Holy Spirit, and both Peter and Paul, being apostles, were also directly inspired by the Holy Spirit. The other New Testament writers, who I believe to be prophets, were indirectly inspired by the Holy Spirit through the laying on of the apostles’ hands (Acts 8:17-18). These men wrote down, as the Apostle Paul says, “the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (I Corinthians 2:12-13).
However, from the pages of both the Old Testament and the New Testament, and the books of Jeremiah and Hebrews in particular, we learn that these writings which have been accumulated and preserved down through the annals of history, and that we refer to today as the New Testament, are NOT, in and of themselves, God’s law; despite an overwhelming tendency for people today to want to use them that way.
While I’m sure that God uses the writings of these four inspired apostles—Matthew, John, Peter, and Paul—as well as the writings and histories recorded by other men like Mark, Luke, James, Jude, and even the anonymous writer of the book of Hebrews, to inculcate or instill His law upon our hearts, still, His Law is written upon our hearts and in our minds, not on the parchments and manuscripts of the Biblical writers or any other religious text.
People may disagree with that Biblical concept and say, “No, the written history, letters, prophecies contain the law of God and to whatever extent one reads, understands, and can even memorize scripture, to that extent God’s law becomes written in their hearts and minds.” However, I disagree with that idea on the basis of the very contrast between the old covenant and the new covenant, which the prophet Jeremiah and the writer of the book of Hebrews is herein setting forth. If having God’s law written in one’s heart was only a matter of reading and learning to apply the written word, then most new covenant children of God would have nothing over the old covenant scholars who said things like, “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2).
The fact of the matter is, people may study the Bible for years, they may know it forward and backward, they may even memorize tons of scripture, and still not have God’s law written in their hearts. Have you ever wondered how someone who is very religious and who claims to the love the Lord, and who typically behaves as if they love the Lord—at least outwardly—and who can even quote the Bible left and right can still be a Calvinist and be far more committed to the ideas set forth by John Calvin in the 16th century than they are to the teachings of the apostles and prophets of the 1st century? It’s because, while they use the writings of the New Testament as a tool to help bolster their religious doctrine and prove their points, ultimately their hearts are not surrendered to the will of God. So, they pick and choose the scripture references that please them and that seem to bolster their arguments, at least when taken out of context, while ignoring, excusing, or explaining away those passages of scripture that contradict their beloved Calvinist doctrine. They are not unlike the devil himself when he tempted Jesus by taking Him up to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, saying, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone’” (Matthew 4:5-6). The devil can quote scripture; he knows it very well. But that is a far cry from having God’s law written in your heart.
Some folks will protest this beautiful Biblical concept saying, “Well, what about passages of scripture that say things like, ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?’” (Jeremiah 17:9). This is a popular sentiment among people who are constantly seeking book, chapter, and verse in order to establish what they think of as Biblical authority for the things they believe and practice. But the first thing to point out concerning this passage in the Jeremiah is that it is an Old Testament passage addressing, initially, people who lived under the old covenant. The very point that the Hebrew writer is making in our text today is that the new covenant is not like the old covenant. This is one of the ways in which the new covenant differs from the old. No where in any of the writings from the old covenant dispensation are we told that God puts His law on people’s hearts or writes it in their minds. That’s new covenant theology. Likewise, nowhere in any of the new covenant writings is it said that one cannot trust his or her heart. On the contrary, our passage in Hebrews teaches us that THAT is EXACTLY where God chooses to write His law. Furthermore, people who turn to the Jeremiah chapter 17 passage to prove that one cannot trust his or her heart seem to be overlooking the fact that it was also Jeremiah who, just a little further on in chapter 31, gave us this beautiful prophecy concerning the new covenant distinction to begin with.
The fact that God’s law is written not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts, and not in material manuscripts, but in our minds, keeps you and me accountable to God. I may, at times, be tempted to act like the Calvinist and use the scriptures legalistically, simply to prove my point, or even negate the plain teaching of scripture in order to hold to my doctrinal positions. However, if my heart is surrendered to Christ, it won’t let me get away with that nonsense for very long. Likewise, if I’m engaging in selfish and sinful behavior and walking in rebellion to God, my heart will convict me soon enough. The Apostle John speaks to this truth when he says, “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God” (I John 3:18-21). Because God’s law is written in my heart, my heart is assured before the Lord when I act in love and in accordance with His will for my life. However, because God’s law is written in my heart, my heart may also condemn me at times when I don’t act in love and walk in rebellion to God’s will for my life. In either case, God is still greater than my heart, He knows all things, and stands ready to forgive us even when the law, written in our hearts, condemns us.
The fact that God puts His law in my heart and writes His law on my mind, and not on tablets of stone or in written manuscripts, also protects every child of God from the gainsayers who would seek to take us captive and enslave us to their own personal interpretations and applications of the written text. Ultimately, I am not accountable to any man, or group of men—no preacher, no teacher, no pastor, no priest, no elder or eldership, no council, no synod, no church, no denominational doctrine, dogma, or decree—for the faith in my heart, for the things that I believe, or for the decisions that make as to how I choose to conduct my life. Now, I am admonished by the Hebrew writer to “πείθω [peithō]—trust, place my confidence in, listen to and rely on—your leaders and ὑπείκω [hypeikō]—yield, give way, be submissive toward—them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who must give an account” (Hebrews 13:17). So, I’m to be humble and cooperative toward those who shepherd me and watch over my soul. However, this passage of scripture does not teach that I am to surrender my heart, my mind, my beliefs, my practices, or my decisions over to another person, or group of people; regardless of some title or position of influence that they may hold. Jesus said, “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ” (Matthew 23:8-10). The Lord wants me to be accountable to Him; and to Him alone. “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12).
And the Apostle Paul writes, “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves” (Romans 14:22). I am not to turn my belief system over to anyone else who may try to seduce me and take me captive to their own particular brand of teaching, or who may seek to judge and criticize me because I do not happen to agree with them or manage to live up to their expectations of me. However, at the same time, this passage also informs me that I am still accountable to God’s law written in my heart; and that, if I want to be happy, I should be careful not to condone, approve, or participate in those things which I know in my heart God disapproves of. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law” (I Corinthians 9:20-21). While Paul knew that he was free to operate outside of and beyond the Law of Moses, he was also well aware of the fact that he was still under the law of Christ.
In closing today’s devotional thoughts, I think it is important to note that, if I really love the Lord, and if I’m truly seeking His will for my life, I will not only find my heart in complete agreement with the teachings of the apostles and prophets of the New Testament, but I will also walk in the counsel of my Lord; seeking to please Him by doing those things that I know He approve of, while avoiding those things that I know He definitely does not. However, the apostles and prophets of the New Testament did not seek to answer every question or provide me with explicit direction in every decision that I must make in my life. That simply was not their purpose or goal. In fact, they didn’t even share everything that they knew about and had experienced in their physical walk with Jesus while He was here on the earth. The Apostle John says, “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31).
So, there are a great many issues and areas of my life wherein I will not be able to find book, chapter, and verse from the Bible to give me the specific answers I’m looking for. But even in those matters, the writings of the 1st century apostles and prophets, who were inspired by the Holy Spirit, still provide me with the spiritual foundation and eternal principles that I need to guide me. And, as I mentioned earlier, God still uses the writings of those men—preserved, collected, and now known to us as the New Testament—to inculcate His law upon our hearts so that, when truly surrendered to the will of God, I know that I can trust my heart to guide me in those sometimes vague and difficult areas of my life.
Lord God, I surrender my heart to You praying that You fill my heart and my mind with knowledge of Your will for my life. I turn to the writings of Your apostles and prophets, who spoke and wrote with a heavenly wisdom poured out within them through the empowering of Your Holy Spirit, for understanding, for insight, for wisdom, for guidance. May my heart be in lockstep with theirs and with Yours. In matters wherein my understanding, or my life, is in agreement with Your law, may my heart assure me before You. In those matters wherein my understanding, or my life, is outside scope of what Your law approves, may my heart condemn me and drive me back to truth. I’m grateful, Lord, that I need not turn to the teachings of men for guidance, knowledge, and wisdom but that I need only ask of You and that You give to all generously and without reproach. In all things, Oh Lord, I ask that Your Holy Spirit work mightily within me so that I am not conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of my mind so that I may prove what Your will is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect, not only by the things that I believe and the stands that I take, but by the way I live my life. To You, Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow, be all my love, devotion, adoration, and praise. By the authority and permission of Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior, Your only begotten Son, I submit these requests unto You this day, Oh God… amen, and amen!
Copyright © 2023 Philip R. Stroud
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