How can a young man keep his way pure? How can I overcome sin? How can conscience be cleansed? How can sin be got rid of? Can I make a fresh start? Can I be clean?
The Pharisees thought that they could be clean by external rules and Jesus rebuked that. The reality is that what drives our behaviour isn't our genetics, our upbringing or a million other external influences upon us. The real issue is our heart. What comes from the heart tells us who we are. And it tells us why we do the things we do. Putting in rules isn't going to change the heart. We need a fresh honesty about the state of our hearts and an answer that fits. Namely, God's gospel by which we gain new hearts and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit - albeit sin remains for now.
Too easy to think that I'm not as bad as I am. Too easy to think that a few rules will fix things, or a few New Years Resolutions. They fail because they can't deal with the source, and they only make things worse - feeding my sinful nature all the more. They feed my addiction to the sweet taste of self-righteousness and simply replace one sin with another. Confusion about my heart will lead to confusion in dealing with my sin - if I think it's circumstantial or genetic I'll not take responsibility for it, I'll seek remedies other than repentance and I'll end up badly confused.
Some years ago I was exposed to some teaching from John Sandford and others that said my 'sin' was down to the failings of my parents or other family - roots of sin passed on in generational curses. I was uncomfortable with this at the time though not immediately able to work out why. It's baptised in biblical language and some Old Testament ideas but otherwise so far removed from reality. Rather than leading me to repent of my sin as a new creation it directed me to search my family history for problems that might explain my problems... No doubt family influences us, but the real issue is my sinful heart and the Holy God - and I need to look to Him and to The Saviour who can deal with me rather than introspectionally looking for some other cause. What I was being fed was christianised-pop-psychology rather than Biblical help.
This morning I ran with Mark Mullery as he preached Mark 7v1-23, a very helpful sermon about the state of our hearts and how Jesus responds to them. Mullery is building on another source of Christian counselling from the CCEF (David Powlison etc) which seems to be Biblical driven with a clear doctrine of sin. The conclusions drawn about the heart are rooted in scripture, in context and applied with the cross in view. This is what I need to hear, even if I don't really like hearing it all that often. I need the light of the gospel of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, revealed in the word of God by the Spirit of God, to shine into my heart and re-make me. The struggle with sin continues for the rest of my life but at least it can be fought with the gospel of grace and by the power of the Holy Spirit. How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word.
Mark Mullery - Jesus on Dirt at Sovereign Grace Church, Fairfax.