Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Irascible Blackberies and the Human Heart

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
–Hebrews 3:12-13

“The heart is a maze that only God can solve (Jeremiah 17:9-10). Computers cannot decipher its floor plan. We modestly admit we don’t know someone else’s heart, but the truth is we can’t even know our own.”
- Kris Lundgaard, The Enemy Within, p. 36

“This is the subject, the seat, this dwelling-place of this law of sin, - the heart; as it is the entire principle of moral operations, of doing good or evil, as out of it proceed good or evil. Here dwells our enemy; this is the fort, the citadel of this tyrant, where it maintains a rebellion against God all our days. Sometimes it hath more strength, and consequently more success; sometimes less of the one and of the other; but it is always in rebellion whilst we live.”
- John Owen, Temptation and Sin, p. 171

Over the last week or so I’ve made an all-out assault on the blackberries at our place. I sprayed them on Wednesday evening and on Saturday afternoon and yesterday I’ve continued to take back the areas overtaken by the nasty vines. I am amazed by their tenacity. You can mow them to the ground and in no time at all they are back with a vengeance. You can spray them with herbicide and they suffer only a temporary set-back. I have bloody scratches and scars from battling them. I’m determined to exercise my Adamic prerogative by gaining the upper hand.

As I was waging war upon the blackberry vines I was thinking about the reality of indwelling sin and the predicament we find ourselves in. Contrary to Scripture much of contemporary evangelicalism would say that man can choose good and that man ultimately decides either in favor of God or against God. For some reason, natural man likes the comfort of being a functional Pelagian. Pelagius was a 5th century monk that taught that the human will can, by itself, choose good or evil, and that God is not needed for moral decisions, especially regarding salvation. According to Pelagian, man can easily choose the good and he ultimately decides either in favor of God or against God. Not only in Pelagius, but there is a universal belief in the inherent goodness and/or moral neutrality of man. Thankfully, the Scriptures give us an accurate picture. The issue is the heart. Man’s heart- the seat of all moral determinations has been effected by the Fall. For fallen man every decision bears the permeating effect of a nature at odds with God. The Apostle Paul says it this way in Romans 8:7, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot.” The unbeliever cannot please God. There is no commonality. The foundation is misplaced, in fact, it is hostile. The ground of all affections is not found in God Himself, it is opposed to God.

The problem with the blackberries is that I’ve yet to get at the roots. That’s ultimately what I’m after, but I’ve not gotten there yet. Unless the roots are adequately dealt with, the same tenacious and thorny vine will spring up again and again. Contrary to the Pelagian view, the Christian finds himself in a predicament. He is in conflict with himself. By the Cross and through the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit a death blow has been dealt to the inherent rebellion of his heart. However, it’s only at that final day his heart will finally and completely be subdued, and then only will he give unalloyed obeisance to God forever. Like the blackberries, for now, the nasty vines keep cropping up. While the death-blow has been dealt we still wrestle with an unkind word, a suspicion of motive, an uncharitable thought, an unforgiving grudge, a lusting glance, a half-truth, a desire to get our own way, a sharp tongue, a lack of trust in God’s goodness, and a host of other sins. Last year I found the passage I quoted above from Hebrews 3 come home with great force. The writer of Hebrews warns believers of an evil, unbelieving heart, and I found myself struggling with an evil, unbelieving heart. The root had been dealt a death-blow, but I was still struggling. As Christians, every day of our lives will be waged in warfare against a heart that, in Owen’s words, “…is always in rebellion whilst we live.”

Our great comfort is that God has graciously provided a more-than-adequate remedy in the gospel. The power of the gospel in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ are the effective tools of warfare in this battle. However, we must avail ourselves of it. We mustn’t think this is a battle we can wage or win on our own. We need the means of grace that God provides. We need the power of the gospel through His Word, His people, and His grace. And this is a battle we fight by the Word of God and arm in arm with one another. We should become familiar with being suspicious of our motives. We should become wary when we have thoughts of removing ourselves from hearing the Word of God preached, or associating ourselves with other believers. This is surely the wrong path. The most effective way of subduing the evil, unbelieving heart is to make God’s Word and God’s people a priority. These are the gospel means He has given. This will get to the heart of the matter.

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