What We Really Need Is Internal, Not External.
“And He (Jesus) said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” Mark 7: 20-22
It has been said that the moral integrity of a society is directly proportional to its freedoms and overall prosperity. In other words, the higher the moral integrity in a society, the more freedoms and prosperity it will experience, and conversely, the lower the morals, the less freedom and prosperity it will experience. I don’t see how anyone can dispute this truth. Consider how free market capitalism would function in a society where everyone was dishonest. Obviously, it could not. It is also obvious that societies that have a high percentage of evils such as theft or murder would be forced to implement laws and regulations to protect their citizens that would have a negative impact on the freedoms of all, and would cost its citizens to implement and enforce.
Dishonesty and theft come in many forms, some hidden to us. A poor work ethic results in employees stealing from employers by not giving a full day of work for a day’s wage. Or members of society who are abusing government “entitlements” to steal from the rest of the tax payers.
The United States is facing this dilemma right now. As the moral fiber of our society is declining we are seeing a push for more laws and regulations. It seems that a government will take advantage of any opportunity to increase its control over its people, and while it may resolve some problems, it usually creates a whole new set of problems, including the loss of freedoms and prosperity for the masses.
Some would say that these governmental laws and regulations don’t accomplish what they are intended to do. The law or regulation does not change the evil that resides in the perpetrators, and they simply find a way around them. Others would say that without the laws and regulations in place there can be no justice. Perpetrators cannot be punished by the governmental authorities if they have not broken some established law. Of course, we also know that when the governmental authorities become morally corrupted, then laws are not enforced, bribes are taken, the innocent are falsely accused, and power is abused; when this occurs there is a risk that the society will collapse.
It would appear that immoral societies have a choice of either suffering from the abuses of the evil perpetrators, or to suffer from the abuses of an imperfect government authority that can over regulate, misapply laws, and has the potential for corruption that results in a systemic collapse. Either way, freedom and prosperity suffer.
It is not my purpose here to get caught up in this debate of how a secular society should be managed. As a Christian, I understand that this world is cursed and under the strong influence of satanic forces, and therefore the only true freedom and prosperity that our world will experience will occur when the Lord Jesus returns and establishes His kingdom.
My purpose in mentioning the above situation regarding immoral societies is to emphasize the fact that the source of the problem is an internal one that external laws and regulations cannot correct, but can only partially restrain (if at all). What is true for societies is also true for individuals. Christians need to be careful not to look for external remedies to this internal problem.
The Scriptures clearly explain that the old covenant that was based on laws and regulations was not able to bring about the needed internal change in individual believers. When comparing the usage of the old covenant laws and commandments to the faith and hope of the new covenant in the book of Hebrews, it says this:
“For on the one hand, there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, for the law made nothing perfect (or complete); on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.” Heb. 7:18-19
The law was not capable of bringing about the internal changes that were needed. J. B. Phillips translation of verse 18 supports this also:
“Quite plainly, then, there is a definite cancellation of the previous commandment because of its ineffectiveness and uselessness – the Law was incapable of bringing anyone to real maturity”
The point being made here was that the old covenant, with its laws and regulations, was insufficient. But the new covenant is able to bring about the needed internal change to “perfect” or “complete” the believer.
This is what is important to understand: the new covenant does not remove the need for its participants to be holy and righteous (i.e. to have high moral integrity), but rather, it recognizes the need for an internal change to bring about this high moral integrity, and it offers this means through faith and a “better hope” that produces spiritual maturity. The list of laws and regulations from the old covenant were beneficial in exposing the moral deficiencies of the people, but were not able to correct them.
The new covenant addresses two critical areas of the believer’s life that allows them to mature spiritually:
First, all questions and doubts are removed regarding a believer’s acceptance into the family of God due to past sins or actions that their conscience knows have offended God. Since guilt and doubt can hinder a person’s relationship with God, making it impossible to trust Him and walk in the Spirit, this hindrance is removed by means of the blood of Jesus that paid the penalty on our behalf:
“how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14)
We can now confidently enter into a relationship with God and “draw near” to Him, knowing that we are truly His child and that He loves us.
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,..” (Romans 8:16-17)
The second is related to the first in that we now realize as God’s children that we have the assurance of an eternal inheritance that was established by the death and resurrection of Jesus. This assurance allows us to shift the focus of our hope from the things of this world to this promised hope, and this shift of hope frees us from the bondage of this world system.
“And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” Hebrews 10:15
The writer of Hebrews wraps up the discussion about the new covenant by confirming the importance of these 2 items and the ultimate goal of an internal change that leads to love and good works:
“Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest (presence of God the Father) by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God (Jesus), let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.” Hebrews 10:19-24
The Scriptures also explain more specifically the results of this internal change that will occur in the believer, stating that the Lord will “put His laws in their mind and write them on their hearts” meaning that believers will do by nature what the law requires, not needing the external written commandments and requirements because they will be present internally.
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Heb. 8:10
Paul the apostle also spoke of Gentile Christian believers who were not raised with the commandments and regulations of the law like the Jews had been, but were able to naturally do what was required.
“For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them.” Romans 2: 14-15
We must realize also that doing by nature what the law requires is the equivalent to walking in love, for love fulfills the law, as Paul makes clear later in Romans:
“Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Romans 13:8-10
Walking in love is a fruit of the spirit, and we must therefore be spiritual to walk in love and to fulfill the law. Here are some key Scriptures from Galatians chapter 5 that explains this:
“But you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the law is fulfilled in one word, even this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by on another! I say then, walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Gal. 5:13-18
“For we know that the law is spiritual,….” Romans 7:14
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” Gal. 5:22-25
The new covenant emphasizes a direct relationship with God through faith that causes us to be transformed from being carnally minded, or focused on this physical world, to being spiritually minded, or focused on the spiritual world, i.e. heaven or the kingdom of God. This transformation is the internal change that is required for us to walk in love and fulfill the law.
There are two critical areas that are affected by this transformation from being carnally minded to spiritually minded. First, we realize that we are a child of the living God who is in control of our lives. We learn to trust Him in every situation, understanding that He is involved intimately with our lives and knows exactly what we need. This understanding eliminates our anxiety and stress as we cast our cares upon Him and completely trust Him to meet our needs. We learn to see His purpose in all of our circumstances, even the trials and sufferings.
“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard you hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
The second important area is the focus of our future hope. We realize that as children of the living God, we have an inheritance in heaven, and also, have inherited eternal life with an immortal new resurrected body. This is the “better hope” that was mentioned in Hebrews 7, that is based on “better promises.” Jesus conquered death and removed us from the curse of this world, making a way for us to be accepted by God as His child, with an eternal inheritance. Walking in the spirit requires that we shift our hope from the things in this world to the promised hope in Christ. We must set our minds and hearts on this heavenly hope rather than the false hopes that this world has to offer, and we must store up our riches in heaven rather than on earth.
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” Romans 8: 5-6
“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3: 1-4
The result of these changes is the recognition that this world holds little value for us. All of the things that we placed our confidence upon or built our reputation upon are reduced to worthlessness compared to the new eternal, spiritual things that have immortal value. These changes also free us from the bondage of our strong desires that were focused on earthly things. This bondage kept us from being able to freely love others and to please God. When we functioned in this world’s system with our minds set on the things of this world we couldn’t please God because we were focused on pleasing other men and ourselves. We were focused on and feeding on (finding happiness in) the earthly things that we had set our minds on and hoped for.
The Scriptures tell us that when we have our minds focused on the things of this world and our flesh (carnally minded) that it leads to “death,” meaning that we are trapped in a cycle of sin. When we set our minds on carnal things (when we treasure them) we feed our strong worldly desires which results in producing the works of the flesh.
Here’s an example to illustrate this. Let’s say that I allow my heart to be set on having a beautiful home in a good neighborhood. I treasure this thought and work hard to make it happen. I have set my mind and heart on this and my emotional attachment to fulfilling this dream is very strong. When I think about obtaining this goal it brings me happiness and pleasure that I feed upon; it motivates me when I wake up and go through my day. Anything that hinders the fulfillment of this “earthly hope” will cause my flesh to react. The fruit of this fleshly reaction will be some form of sin.
The book of James explains it this way:
“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full grown, brings forth death.” James 1:13-15
With regards to the verse from James you may be thinking that it applies more to sexual desires, murder, stealing, or envy, and although it does apply to them, I believe that it applies to any desire that is focused on an earthly thing that we allow to “conceive” or take root in our heart.
You may also be thinking, “Can’t I have a desire for a nice home for my family?” Let me make this very clear: it is not wrong to have desires for things on this earth, within the known guidelines of not coveting other people’s things or desiring things that we know are evil. The problem is when we begin to “set our minds and hearts” on these “good” things and allow them to become a focal point and main hope in our lives. It’s a problem when we treasure them and begin to feed off of them, or when we base our happiness on them, looking forward with pleasure for when we will obtain them. It is this type of strong longing for earthly things that causes the bondage.
When we have a desire for an earthly thing, we can pray and ask God to give us this thing, but then we must leave the fulfillment totally in God’s hands. Some things that we think are good for us, the Lord knows are not good for us. Or possibly, the Lord will test us by withholding some desire. We are instructed by the Lord to be content in our circumstances; this means that we must not covet or “set our mind and hearts on” or “treasure” any earthly things beyond what we have been given. Even the things that we have been given are not to be the focus of our affections because we could lose them all (consider Job’s life).
The point is that we need to guard our hearts and not allow any earthly thing to take the focus of our lives by becoming the hope that drives us, feeds us and brings happiness. When we die with Christ on the cross, all of these hopes and dreams must die also, and we must continue to keep them dead. Don’t be fooled into thinking since an earthly thing is “good” that you can set your mind/heart/hope upon it.
“Keep (or guard) your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23
Here is my main point (finally): The church, like secular governments and organizations, has a tendency to think that external remedies will work to bring about the needed changes in people, but what is needed is an internal change that only the Gospel of Jesus Christ (the cross) and the Holy Spirit can accomplish. The church needs to focus on the things that contribute to the spiritual maturity of Christians, encouraging one another to walk in the spirit, walk in love and fulfill the law. Learning to place our trust completely in the Lord, and learning to shift our hope totally towards the promise of our eternal inheritance are the key to this spiritual maturity.
External remedies are easier because they don’t require faith. This is how dead religious rituals have developed over the years – they are external attempts to solve an internal problem – that can’t work. Today we have the same tendencies, from Christians attempting to change the political system in our country, to thinking that getting people to show up every Sunday and be involved in a church organization will make them spiritually mature.
We need to focus on the internal change that can truly cause us to walk in the Spirit and walk in love. It starts with ourselves, and then we should encourage others to do the same. Draw close to Jesus and He will draw close to you. Set your mind and heart fully on the hope that is in Christ Jesus, and do so until He returns or takes you home. Put to death any earthly desire that challenges your hope in heaven.
My desire is the same as Pauls:
“…the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints (to us). To them God willed to make known what are the riches of glory of this mystery among Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” Colossians 1:26-28