How Can I Love God More? (Mark Sermon 65)
October 22, 2023 | Andy Davis
Sanctification, Righteousness of God, Heaven
Jesus came to heal our sin-sick hearts. The essence of our salvation is perfect righteousness and, ultimately, perfect obedience to the two great commandments.
- SERMON TRANSCRIPT -
As we make our way through the Gospel of Mark, we've seen again and again the evidence for His greatness, His person as the son of God. The primary evidence given, if we've been alive, as recorded in the pages of the Scripture, are his miracles of healing, the incredible healing power of Jesus Christ. He healed a leper with a touch, restoring his diseased and destroyed flesh instantly. He instantly and effortlessly healed a paralyzed man with just a word, and that man got up and walked and carried out his mat in full view of them all. He healed a man that was possessed by 6,000 demons with a word. The demons left that man and fled. He healed a blind man with a touch, with a small measure of his saliva. He healed a deaf man by putting His fingers in the man's ears and by breathing and saying, “Ephphatha", and instantly, his capacity for hearing was restored. There was no disease He could not cure. At that point there in Mark 7, they said He's done everything well. There was nothing He couldn't do. Every diseased human organ, Jesus understood and drove away the disease instantly, effectively, powerfully with a word-restoring health. In that word, “health", we're looking at the original purpose of the organ of the eyes to see, not to be blind, of the ears to hear and not to be deaf, of the legs that they would walk and not be paralyzed.
I. The Greatest Disease Diagnosed and Healed
The greatest organ of all, if we could use that word, is the inner self captivated in the words of this first and greatest commandment. The heart, soul, mind, strength, that inner self is the greatest organ. Therefore, also we would say the greatest disease of all is the inability of that organ to do what it was designed to do, to love God. Sin is defined as lawlessness, a violation of God's law.
We have before us as we've had for two weeks now, this is the third week, the first and greatest commandment. This text tells us what God demands of us. What He demands is to love Him with all of our hearts, with all of our souls, with all of our minds, with all of our strength. And we don't. We don't. Jesus, the great physician of the human condition has ultimately come to heal that disease as well. Luke 5:31-32, “It's not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I've not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” This is the healing, the ultimate healing work Jesus came to do. But unlike those physical cures, this cure will not be instantaneous in this world. God has willed to heal us from our greatest disease gradually, to heal us from our failure to love Him, to heal us gradually over a lifetime. Now if that healing has begun in you, if you are a Christian today, you already do love Christ, though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him [1 Peter 1:8], so that healing has begun. You do love God and you do love Christ, but you also know you don't love Him as you should, not yet. You want, you yearn for that healing to continue. That's what this sermon is all about.
"God has willed to heal us from our greatest disease gradually, to heal us from our failure to love Him, to heal us gradually over a lifetime. Now if that healing has begun in you, if you are a Christian today, you already do love Christ, though you have not seen Him, you love Him."
Back on April 15th, 2022, I began a long and, for me, arduous journey, the journey of memorizing the book of Ezekiel, probably the hardest book I've ever tried to memorize. Those who know me well and are close to me know that, in many ways, it eluded me. Don't ask how much it eluded me, but it did. It was hard work. Today, October 22nd, I complete that journey. I won't recite Ezekiel anymore after today. As I have immersed myself in this complex book, friends have asked, "In these 48 chapters, what has made the greatest impact on you?" There are many possible answers.
Right away, in Ezekiel 1, we have a vision of the mysterious majesty and glory of God, really of the pre-incarnate Christ. We have cherubim, wheels within wheels, big huge wheels with eyes all around and just lightning moving back and forth among these holy creatures. They're almost indescribable. High above them, an expanse like ice, separating them from the throne of fire that's high above that expanse, and on that, a man as if on fire, the pre-incarnate Christ. That could be an answer. to this question. Ezekiel 1, a manifestation of the image of the likeness of the glory of God, that almost defies language. Or I could speak of Ezekiel 10, the moment when that glory rose up symbolically and departed the temple because of all the wickedness of the people there, moving out of the temple and out of the city of Jerusalem, making way for the Babylonians to come and destroy it.
Or perhaps Ezekiel 37, the valley of dry bones in which the nation of Israel is depicted as long dead, very dry bones. Suddenly, by the ministry of the Word, by the ministry of the power of the Word in the Spirit, the bones start to assemble, and then flesh and skin comes on them, and they're up on their feet, but they're not alive yet. Then Ezekiel prophesizes again to the wind and the wind comes, and the breath comes by the Spirit and the pieces come alive, a vast army. It’s an incredible picture of resurrection. I could say all of that.
But for me, I would say again and again, the most impactful experience I had in these 48 chapters of Ezekiel was in chapter 16. There’s some danger in me relating because it's just such at the core of my heart as I went over those verses. For 100 consecutive days, I went over Ezekiel 16; I was marinating in it. In that chapter, almighty God speaks of his marriage to Jerusalem and that the city represents his people. Ezekiel was in exile with the Jews in Babylon because of the nation's idolatries, the grievous idolatries. God gave Ezekiel a powerful word picture of His love relationship with the city of Jerusalem, representing the Jews, representing His people really in all time I think. God says that He found her a forsaken waif out in the field kicking about in her blood. As He walked by, He looked on her and said to her, "Live," and she came alive. She stayed alive and she began to grow. Later, He passed by and saw that she was of an age to be married. She was ready for love. God says, “I spread the corner of my garment over you and I entered into a covenant with you and you became mine.”
Now what does that mean? You became mine. I married you, loved you. Then God lavished gifts on her. He gave her a beautiful robe, beautiful sandals for her feet, jewelry for her neck and for her wrists and her fingers, a beautiful crown on her head, and He fed her with the best of wheat and most delicious of honey and oil and all of the best things. She rose to become a radiant and a beautiful queen, but she trusted in her beauty and she used her beauty to become a prostitute. She was totally unfaithful to God, her husband, the lover of her soul. She plied her favors with anyone who passed by, anyone at all.Her fame spread far and wide as this beautiful queen, and people came and ravished her and used her. This went on and on. As her beauty was degraded, she eventually had to begin paying her lovers to come to her. Unlike any other prostitute, she didn't receive wages, but she had to pay out for them to come. God spoke to her in Ezekiel 16:32, "You adulterous wife, you prefer strangers to your own husband." God spoke judgment on her. He said He would bring those nations back to her, the ones that had ravished her, the ones she had whored with, and they would hack her to pieces and burn her to the ground. So as I was reciting that chapter day after day for 100 days, a basic principle that I take to the scripture that I would commend to you is this: whenever there's any revelation of the wickedness of any people in any passage of scripture ever, you should assume God is talking first to you. You should not say, "I thank you God. I'm not like those people." Don't do that ever. Instead say, "God, how am I like that?" Imagine going over that for three months, day after day after day. "How am I like that?" I believe that God was saying those words, not just over Jerusalem or over the Jews, but over all his people for all time.
God is a jealous God. He tells us that again and again. He's a jealous husband who yearns after the affections of his wife. I have the same corrupt and wandering heart that that princess wife had in Ezekiel 16. I also realize, above all of that, what God wants out of this universe. What is the big picture? What do you want, God? "I want you to love me." That's what He's saying. "I want your love. I want your heart. With all of your heart and all of your soul and all of your mind and all your strength. That's what I want. That's what I'll have. I want you to love me above all of my good gifts and all of the pleasures of this world. I want you to love me above anything."
Now, as heavy as that is, the incredible good news of the gospel is someday He will have what He wants. He'll have what He wants in me and all of you who are His children. We will be pure and faithful to Him in our affections. We will have a perfect marriage to God, to Christ forever. That's the good news. Despite the fact that we have not loved God, but have lusted after idols and we have given ourselves to them again and again, God has chosen to work salvation for us in Christ. He has chosen by our simple faith in Christ to pay for all of the idolatries of our entire lives, all of the corruption, and by simple faith in Christ to credit us with Jesus's perfect obedience to these two commandments. Justification by faith alone apart from works, complete forgiveness of sins just by believing in Jesus to give me that, and then to work in me progressively that I would more and more and more love Him with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength and sanctification. That's what this sermon is hoping to do for you. I said that the transformation, the healing of our hearts is not instantaneous. That's not entirely true, at some point, it will be. At glorification, He will do in an instant what we couldn't do in a lifetime, and He will make us pure and we will love Him. I'm looking forward to that. In the meantime, we have sermons like this one.
We have the opportunity for God to work a healing work in us, a progressive healing work in us so that we will love Him. This tendency in Ezekiel 16 is not alone there in that chapter. You see it in Job as well. What was the accusation that Satan made against, frankly, both Job and God? "Does Job fear God for nothing? Haven't You put a hedge around him in all his possessions? Doesn't Job basically love You for his prosperity and his good gifts and not for You? If you take away all that, he'll curse You to Your face.” Isn't that the same message in Hosea where he had to marry a prostitute, Gomer, representing God's relationship to unfaithful Israel? At some point, Hosea had to buy Gomer's time, and God said, "That's what you, oh, faithless Israel are like. I have to block you in with thorns so you have no other option but to come back to me, your husband.”
What was God saying there? Our hearts are consistently idolatrous. We're consistently going after and worshiping and serving the created thing rather than the creator who's forever praised [Romans 1:25]. That's what we go after. Augustine put it this way in his Confessions, confessions are written to God. This is what Augustine said, "He loves you too little who loves any created thing along with you, which he does not love for your sake." In other words, putting it in simpler terms, if we love any created thing more than we love God, we do not love God enough and we love that created thing too much. The problem is the Bible says this is what we do all the time. This is what the nature of idolatry is.
Our hearts are prone to wander. Having been converted by the sovereign power of the spirit and to faith in Jesus Christ into a genuine love for Him, or you're not converted, we then continually regress from that love assaulted by the world, we go after other things and we don't love Him like we should. We repent and we come back into a healthy relationship with Him, and then off we go again. This is the regular pattern. Our hearts wax and wane in and out of love for Christ. In the hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”, the hymn writer said, "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love. Here's my heart, Lord, take and seal it. Seal it for Thy courts above." The central doctrinal concept here, this sermon, is that God alone has the power through Jesus Christ to heal our wandering loveless hearts. God alone has the power through Jesus Christ to heal our wandering and loveless hearts.
Another hymn writer put it this way, "Spirit of God, descend upon my heart, wean it from earth, through all its pulses move. Stoop to my weakness. Mighty as Thou art and make me love Thee as I ought to love. Teach me to love Thee as Thine angel's love, one holy passion filling all my frame. The kindling of the heaven-descended dove, my heart and altar and Thy love the flame." Augustine, again, in Confessions, put it this way, "Give what you command, then command whatever you will." God, if You impart to me the thing You're commanding, then You can command me to do anything. If you just give by Your sovereign grace and power the thing You command, then command whatever You will.” In other words, “God, if You would work in my heart the ability to love You as you're commanding here with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, then You can command that. Give what You command. But I see that apart from Your sovereign working in me, I cannot obey this command. I will not obey it. So would You please work this in me?”
God has the power to do it. There are numerous examples of God commanding something that can't be done, and then giving supernatural power to his servant to do it. Certainly commanding Peter to walk on water would be a good example of this. The clearest example for me is the apostle, John, on the island of Patmos. His feet are there on that rocky island, that tiny island of exile off the coast of modern-day Turkey. In Revelation 4, it says, "After this, I looked and there before me was a door standing open in heaven and a voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, 'Come up here and I'll show you what must take place after that.'" How are you going to obey that command? I mean, God, You could as easily command me to fly. Wait a minute, you are. "Come up here." “At once, I was in the spirit and there before me was a throne with someone seated on it". Wow. Do you not see the rhythm of that? Impossible command, power of the spirit, fulfillment.
This sermon is not about some legalistic list of dos and don'ts. You do this and don't do that, you will have a love relationship with God. It's not that at all. It is, “I see the command, I understand what you're asking, but I can't do it. Would you please work this in me by Your sovereign grace?” That's what we're talking about. Ezekiel 36:26-27 says, "I will give you a new heart and I'll put a new spirit in you. I'll remove from you your heart of stone and I'll give you a heart of flesh and I'll put my spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws," which Jesus says are summed up in these two commandments. "I'll take out that dead unresponsive heart of yours and I'll give you a living heart. And then by my spirit, I will move you to obey these two great commandments." Oh, God, do that, so these two Great Commandments are clear.
Of all the commandments [Mark 12] which is the most important one? Jesus answers, "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God. The Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength." The second is this, "Love your neighbors yourself." There is no commandment greater than these.” When we're converted to faith in Jesus Christ, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit along with that new nature. The Holy Spirit works together with our new nature to fulfill the commands of God, to begin to fulfill those commands, and so we do love God.
But what's the problem then? What's the problem? The problem is Romans 7. Are you familiar with that? You don't need to even know the words. You're living it every day. Romans 7:14 and following, we know the law is spiritual. The two great commandments are spiritual, Paul says. But I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. “I do not understand what I do for what I want to do, I do not do. And what I hate, I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength,’ the law is good as it is. It is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.” So Paul is speaking as a converted person. “It's not me that does it. I have a new nature, but I still have this problem. For I know that nothing good dwells in me that is in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do, this is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” That is the healing that we need. That's the problem. That wretchedness that we need deliverance from, Jesus has come to give it to us. That is the healing that the physician of the soul must do. The essence of our salvation is perfect righteousness, total conformity of the laws of God, and Jesus came to work that healing in us.
Now, for me, I cannot do this heavy work today, this convicting work, this therapeutic work without thinking again and again about our hope in heaven. What is it going to be like when, at last, our hearts will do what they were designed by God to do? What will that be like? Heaven will be as Jonathan Edwards said, “a world of love”. This is what he wrote, "There in heaven, this infinite fountain of love, this eternal three-in-one is set open without any obstacle to hinder access to it as it flows forever. There this glorious God is manifested, shines forth in full glory in beams of love. And there this glorious fountain forever flows forth in streams, ye even in rivers of love and delight. And those rivers swell as it were to an ocean of love in which the souls of the ransom may bathe with the sweetest enjoyment in their hearts as it were be deluged in love." That's where you're heading. You're heading to an ocean of love and you'll be immersed in it and that's what you'll be and do forever. What that means is every bit that you can fight lovelessness and disobedience to this first and greatest commandment will be successful and rewarded. Don't give up, don't get discouraged, but just keep fighting for delight and for joy.
Last week, I defined love... That has basically been three sermons on this first Greatest Commandment. The first is just tracing out how it relates to justification, sanctification, glorification, first week. Second week, what does it mean to love God? This week is therapeutic. What do I do if I don't love God enough? How do I love God more? It's a therapeutic sermon. Last week, leaning on Edwards’ Religious Affections, it said the soul has two great capacities. One is the ability to comprehend or understand something that it sets its attention to, to understand the world, spiritual and physical. Secondly, to be inclined or disinclined to everything it studies such as liking or loving or hating or disliking and hating. I saw it in terms of magnetic attraction, the heart is magnetically attracted or repulsed from things to a greater less degree. I laid it out in my mind and it's a number line of affection. That was last week. I ended briefly with five applications, all of them began with A: awareness is just seeing God's nature, seeing Him in creation, seeing Him in the word awareness, could just say knowledge, but it didn't begin with A. So I went with awareness. Secondly, approval. Unlike the demons who are aware, we approve of God, we are attracted to God. That would be another word we could use. Approval. Thirdly, worship and delight is amazement. There's a sense of wonder and amazement at the greatness and the majesty of God, a response. Fourth is ardor. A sense of burning, a passion, a fire. Then the fifth is action or obedience to God's word. So that was last week.
II. Ardor: Fainting and Feasting: Psalm 63 insights
Now what I want to do is I want to zero in on ardor. Turn to Psalm 63, and I want to look at that psalm and talk about ardor. We see two aspects of our pilgrimage in terms of loving God. This is mostly diagnosis at this point. Look at Psalm 63, which I mentioned briefly last week, but I want to dig into a little bit more now. Psalm 63:1-5, "Oh God, You are my God. Earnestly I seek You. My soul thirsts for You. My flesh faints for You as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen You in the sanctuary and beheld Your power and Your glory because Your love is better than life. My lips will glorify You. I'll praise You as long as I live and in Your name, I'll lift up my hands, my soul be fully satisfied. As with the richest of foods with singing lips, my mouth will praise You."
David presents himself as if in the desert; David had many desert experiences, literally physically in the desert. Here it seems to be more like a spiritual desert for him. He's in a spiritual desert situation. He's struggling in his relationship with God. He feels distant from him as a physical person is in a desert where there is no water. He's getting parched spiritually. It may well be many of you are feeling the same thing. You are in a spiritual desert right now. You feel distant from God, you feel dry. It's been a long time since you felt any sense of elevation or joy or delight in your relationship with God, and you're in a spiritual desert. Maybe you're going through a trial, maybe a medical trial, maybe a financial trial. I don't know. It could be a relational trial, and you feel like you're in a desert. You're wondering, "Where is God?"
We have the word “fainting”. There's a fainting in the soul here. He says, "My flesh faints for you as in a dry and weary land." You've got a faintness to your relationship with God. You feel dry, you feel distant, but then you've got, also in the same psalm, a feasting aspect. Look at verse 5. He says, "My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food." Some translations even use the word “feast”. When God draws near and pours his love into David's heart and gives him a sense of his glory and a sense of his greatness, he feels like he's feasting at a banquet.
How is God both water in a desert and rich and fair, as in a feast? David says in verse 3, "Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You." “I have a sense that your love, God, feeling Your love, that you love me, and that you're pouring that love into my heart is better than anything else in the world. I'd rather have that than anything else, even than life itself. Your love is better than life.” What that means is, according to Augustine and to the things we've been saying, God is better than his gifts. He's better than the good stuff He gives you that satisfy your five senses. Those are good gifts. Every good and perfect gift comes from God, but God is better than all of them. Even if we were to take them all away, if God would pour his love into your heart, that would be enough for you.
David has had, in his old covenant way, a spiritual vision of the greatness and the glory of God. Verse 2 says, "I've seen You in the sanctuary and beheld Your power and Your glory." So much of this is a spiritual vision to have a sense of the greatness of God. And so he said, "I've seen that and that is deeply satisfying to me." Then in Psalm 63, we have fainting to feasting, then back to fainting again and feasting. You're going to be that way the rest of your life and be like... I just want you to know that's normal. That's what we're talking about here. When you feel faint and weak, go after him like in Psalm 63, say, "I yearn for you. I'm hungry and thirsting for You. I want You, oh, God." That’s Psalm 63.
III. Diagnosing Versions of Our Heart Disease
There are various versions of our heart disease, and I want to talk about those different versions because you're going to be different in different places as you struggle in your walk with the Lord. The fundamental issue I've been asserting this morning is idolatry. The fundamental issue here is idolatry. John Calvin said the human heart is an idol factory. What does that mean? All of the problems that we're having in our relationship with God, our sinful tendency to stop loving God is not because your heart has stopped loving. Period. That's not why. This magnificent internal organ, your heart, soul, mind, strength inside of you is going to keep functioning in some way. But if you're not loving God, you're going to be loving some created thing. You're going to go after some creature. That's the essence of idolatry. When you love that created thing and not God as the giver of that created thing, that's idolatry. That's where the problem tends to come from. When we go after self or money or sex or pleasure or achievement or anything earthly, that's when the problem starts coming in our relationship with God. We have to see like, "Where is that happening for me? Where is the idolatry occurring?" It will then have an impact on you in different ways. It'll be different spiritual phenomenons that you can see.
"That's the essence of idolatry. When you love that created thing and not God as the giver of that created thing, that's idolatry."
The first I want to mention is drifting. You will drift in your relationship with God. This is Hebrews 2:1, "We must pay more careful attention therefore to what we have heard so that we do not drift away.” What is drifting? It's a gradual process whereby your heart is less and less in love with Christ. Your heart is less and less drawn after spiritual things, you're drifting. It's not immediate. It's not over across a weekend, but little by little by little through bad habits and the failure to do good habits through that, you are in a much worse place now than you were spiritually, a much worse place than you were a year ago. Little by little we love Christ less and less. Sometimes it's imperceptible, but it's always because of the same thing. The next chapter, Hebrews 3, tells the reason why. Hebrews 3:12-13, which says, "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God, but encourage one another daily as long as it is called today so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.”
Putting all that together, the drifting happens when we are slowly hardened by sin's deceitfulness resulting in a heart state that's gradually turning away from the living God. All right. What's the remedy? Hebrews 2:1-4 says, "The remedy is we must pay more careful attention to what we have heard so that we do not drift away." That's getting back into the Word, specifically the Gospel. Pay more careful attention to Matthew or Mark or Luke or John. Pay more careful attention to who Jesus is. Pay more careful attention to Romans 1 through 8. The power of the gospel is the power of God for salvation. Look at how Romans 3 diagnoses sin. Look at Romans 3:21-26, which is the glowing heart of the gospel. How Jesus died under the wrath of God to take away His wrath and that we can tap into that only by faith. Justification by faith alone. Walk through that. Pay more careful attention to the doctrine of your salvation so that you do not drift away. Remedy one is draw close to God in the word. Pay more careful attention to what he's heard.
Remedy two is the church. "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God." We're surrounded by people. Without looking, you can use your peripheral vision and know that there are people near you. You're surrounded by people. This is the benefit of a local church. This is what the local church is for. In a good, healthy local church, we will notice changes that are happening in each other. We'll notice that people are behaving differently than they were three months, six months, nine months, a year ago. We will see to it that we don't let that happen. This is what it means in our church covenant. We'll watch over one another in brotherly love. We will go after people that we haven't seen in a little while. I mean, tonight, God willing, you're going to have home fellowship. This would be a good chance for you to say, "How are things with you? How are things in your walk with God? How are your quiet times? How's your heart? Do you feel like you're closer to Jesus now than you were a year ago? Are you growing closer? Do you feel like you're drifting away? What's going on?" "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart." How is sin's deceitfulness hardening each other's hearts? It's very hard to see. You got to know each other. That's knowing and being known in the local church. We get to know each other. It's like, "What is going on with you?" We should care enough. That's the remedy.
The third remedy is in the next passage, Revelation 2. Revelation 2 and 3 are Christ’s letters to the seven churches, as He's moving through the seven golden lampstands. Whenever you see the plural word, churches, you're talking about local church. He doesn't have many brides. There's one bride, the church. But they have churches and those are local churches. Jesus is moving through the seven lampstands representing local churches. The first is the church at Ephesus and He says good things about them, they’re doctrinally strong, they’re active, energetic. They're discerning. They're able to discern false doctrine. They have been persecuted and they haven't given up. “All that's good. But I hold this against you. You have forsaken your first love,” and then He gives the remedy right away. In the next verse, Revelation 2:5, "Remember the height from which you have fallen. Repent from the sins that cause you to fall from that height of affection and renew the things you used to do."
Remember, repent and renew. What was it like for you when you first started walking with Christ? What was your heart like then? That's your first love. What was it like when you first started walking with Jesus, when you first realized His death for you, and you trusted in Him? What was that like? That was a height of affection that you're at, a height of emotion. Remember how that used to be? That height? Now look at you. You've backslidden. You're in a colder, more distant place. Remember how it used to be. Repent because He uses the word “forsake”, you have forsaken your first love. This wasn't an accident. I don't know how it happened. You forsook Him. You chose something else. So repent of that and do the things you used to do. How did you used to show affection for Christ back in those days?
Then the distance and formalism, the coldness in Mark 7, quoting Isaiah, "Jesus said, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain.'" What is that? That's just going through the motions. It's going to church because you go to church. It's what you do on Sunday morning. You're here, you're going through the motions, you're going through the patterns, but your heart is far from God. "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." He's looking at your heart. It's not just a lip thing, it's not a whitewashed tomb thing. It's what's really going on in you. We can get into that machine, can't we? We're just going through the motions week after week. What is actually happening? Part of it is we begin to think of the things of religion. Daily quiet times, weekly church attendance, Bible studies, different things we did to express our relationship with God as a burden. They start to be annoying. Malachi 1:13, it says, "You say, what a burden and you bring me injured and diseased animals, and offer them as sacrifices." It's the animal sacrificial system, but what do we learn? You don't bring me your best anymore and you think the whole thing's annoying. So you start cutting corners in your quiet time. You start finding a reason, maybe not to go to church from time to time. What's going on? You know what's going on, your heart is drifting. There's a dying aspect of your relationship with God. Those are three. Drifting, that forsaking the first love, and then there's that cold formalism where you're going through the machinery.
IV. Fight for Joy in the Lord
Finally, as we finish, I want to walk through probably the most clearly applicational passage you'll ever find on this topic. Turn to James 4, and I'm going to give you step-by-step on how to renew your heart affection for Christ. Again, keep in mind, you're going to see it in the verses themselves. This is not 7 steps or 10 steps to a right heart. That's not what's going on here. It's a deeply spiritual process in which you understand only Christ can heal your heart and give you love. Let's walk through it, James 4:4-10. It begins right away with this statement, "You adulterous people." That image is from Ezekiel 16. We're spiritually adulterous if we're going after the world, going after the things of the world. He says, "You adulterous people. Don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think that the scripture says without reason that the spirit that He caused to live in us envies intensely, but He gives us more grace?" That is why scripture says God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves then to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up."
Let's walk through these as we finish. Step one, admit that love for the world is the reason why you've stopped loving Christ ardently. Something in the world has captivated you instead of Jesus. Admit that. Step two, understand God's burning jealousy over your wandering heart. God is a jealous God, the spirit He caused to live in you envies intensely." He's jealous over it. He wants it. It is what He sent Jesus into the world to save us so that we would love Him with our hearts. That's what He's going after is the heart, and He's jealous over it. Understand God's jealousy [Ezekiel 16].
Step three, seek more grace for your hearts. He gives us more grace. If you're a Christian, you have already received saving grace, but you need more grace. The language here is very clear. He gives us more grace. So you had grace for justification, but now you need more grace to stay in Christ. So seek. Say, "God, my drifting, wandering, hard heart needs more grace. Would you give me more grace?" I really believe this is why Paul uses his formula in all his epistles. “Grace to you” at the beginning of the epistle and “may grace be with you” as you leave the epistle. You're entering the grace zone in Paul's epistle and you're going to have grace with you as you leave the grace zone. You need more grace through the Word of God, especially.
Step four, humble yourselves before God to seek that grace. This is humbling. It's humbling for me to tell you that in 48 chapters, the most impactful was Ezekiel 16, and 16:63 ends with “you ought to be ashamed." It's like, "I need shame like I need pain. I won't need it in heaven, but I need it. I need to be ashamed in the way that my heart is wandering and drifting in idolatries, and it's powerful for me to feel that." This is humbling. Humble yourself before God concerning this, to seek that more grace. Step five, submit yourself fully to God. Submit yourself to Christ's kingship. Say, "This has not just been an optional thing that I've gone after idol. It's not any big deal. It's been rebellion." We've rebelled in our idolatry, so we should submit ourselves to God and to Christ. I have found, I don't know if you have, but I think you have, idols die hard. If your heart is wrapped up in some idol, it will not go easily. The only way you're going to kill it is if you submit to the kingship of Christ and grab the sword of the spirit and go kill it. These idols die hard.
Step six, resist the devil and he will flee from you. Now, that's an image. How powerful is that? Say no to him. Tell him no with his temptations. His allurements, resist him. Put on the armor of God [Ephesians 6] and stand in the day of testing and resist and send him to flight. He's not fleeing from you. He's fleeing from the spirit of God in you, but he's going to flee from you. If you'll resist the devil, he will flee from you.
Step seven, draw near to God in humble faith. The moment that Jesus died, the curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. Jesus has opened a new and living way into the presence of God. Hebrews 10:22 says, "Let us draw near to God in full assurance with a sincere heart and with full assurance of faith, having a heart sprinkled that cleanses from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water." Draw near to God, draw near to him, or again, Hebrews 4:15-16, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way just as we are yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Step eight. This may be the least applied verse in American evangelicalism— Grieve, mourn, and wail. “Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” Nobody wants to do that. But you understand the moment you sin, the Holy Spirit is grieved by it. If you're not, you're out of step with the spirit. Galatians says we should keep in step with the Spirit. If He's grieved over your idolatries, you should be grieved too. It should hurt you. It should make you sad. You should grieve over it. You can't repent without grief. There is a grief for sin. Step nine, humble yourself before the Lord, again, He says it twice. Grieve and come back to God in humility. Step 10, the good news, He will lift you up. What does that mean? He will lift you up into a healthy love relationship with Christ. He'll restore you. He'll feel your heart with joy and peace. That's the process.
Close with me in prayer. Father, we thank you for the remedies that you give us in scripture. We thank you that Jesus is the physician of the soul. We thank you that He looks at us honestly and tells us truthfully what we really are. He tells us what we have been, what we are, and what we will be. Lord, I pray that you would help my brothers and sisters here. Help us at home fellowship tonight, ask real questions and have that genuine fellowship that is so rich and powerful and needed. Help us, all of us, who have been drifting to get back into the word in ways that we haven't been recently. Help us to find ways that idols have crept into our hearts. Help us to repent from them and turn away. And above all, Lord Jesus, present yourself to the soul as a lover of our souls, the one who shed his blood for us and who loves us in ways that no one else can. In your name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.