Once again we will continue looking at the difference between being religious and being spiritual as we did in our last three studies; look into a little more in depth so that we can be clear in our own minds on this very important matter.
Most of us are aware of the Ten Commandments that God gave Moses. You may not know all of them. It is good to know all of them. I want to point something out to you in those Ten Commandments which you may have not noticed up until now. If we understand that, we will see a little bit of the reason why God gave The Law, even though He knew that The Law could never lead anyone to becoming spiritual or to live a godly life. In fact, in Hebrews 8:7, you will see very clearly that the Old Covenant was faulty. That is the word used there that the old covenant, The Law was faulty.
Did God give something faulty? Did He make a mistake? – He certainly didn’t; He knows the end from the beginning. He gave it with a purpose, for our help; for us to see our need. The Law was given to expose sins. We could also say that The Law was given by God to test man – to see how many people would be satisfied with an external righteousness that brought the honour of men, and how many would seek God for that inner purity which alone pleases God.
You remember when Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees, He told them, “You are people, who just clean the outside of the cup, but God sees your hearts and He wants the inside of the cup cleansed. You people will do all the right things externally so that people are impressed, but God sees deep within; He is looking for inner purity of motive.’’ We can say that the Pharisees were like Adam covered with fig leaves, and you know, from the previous study, that there is curse upon it. That is why you find that Jesus was in constant conflict with the Pharisees.
The Pharisees, who kept the letter of the law down to the last detail, whose doctrines were so correct that we read that Jesus told even His disciples to follow the teachings of the Pharisees (Mt. 23:2-3). Have you noticed that? He said that because whatever they say is right. The only thing, He said, is that they don’t do like they teach; don’t follow their example in your life, because they teach things they don’t practice. So, there was nothing wrong with the doctrine of the Pharisees.
There was another group in Jesus’ time called the Sadducees who had wrong doctrines. Jesus never told His disciples to follow their teachings, because they didn’t believe in angels or Spirit or resurrection. In fact, they were very earthly minded. They didn’t think much about future life at all. Their doctrine was wrong. But the Pharisees were the people whose doctrines were right. A person can have all his doctrines right – his doctrines may be thoroughly evangelical and yet he may be religious; He may be only having a doctrine which is external.
Now think of the Ten Commandments; God said, “You shouldn’t have any other gods, you mustn’t make idols, you must not take My name in vain, you must keep the Sabbath day holy. You must honour your father and mother, you must not murder, you must not commit adultery, you must not steal, you must not bear false witness.’’ Now these are nine of the Ten Commandments. It is possible for any person, without the help of the Holy Spirit, to keep those nine commandments. The proof of it is that many people in the Old Testament kept those nine commandments without the help of the Holy Spirit.
They did not have the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament times and yet, Paul could say, ‘‘I have lived with a good conscience before God from my childhood up until this day’’ (Acts 23:1). The rich young ruler, when Jesus pointed out these commandments to him, said, ‘‘I have kept all of these from my childhood’’ (Mk. 10:20). It was possible for a God-fearing person to keep all these commandments without the help of the Holy Spirit, just by his own strength. It is possible for any man of any religion to keep these nine commandments without any help from God, because man has certain strength to lead an externally moral life. If you don’t lead an externally moral life, nobody is going to accept your religion. People expect religious people to be, at least, moral externally!
But, when we come to the tenth commandment, the tenth commandment did not deal with the external; it dealt with something inward. The commandment was, ‘You shall not lust or covet or strongly desire’- all these three words mean the same. Unfortunately lust has got an evil connotation in people’s minds. But all it means is strong desire, like it says in Galatians 5:17, ‘‘The Holy Spirit lusts against the flesh.’’ What does that mean? The Holy Spirit doesn’t do any evil. He has got a strong desire against (as opposed to) the flesh. And the flesh has got a strong desire against the Holy Spirit.
It is the same word used in Exodus 20: 17 in the tenth Commandment – ‘‘You shall not covet your neighbour’s house or your neighbour’s wife.’’ This means the same as, ‘You shall not lust for your neighbour’s house or lust for your neighbour’s wife.’ It means the same as, ‘You shall not have a strong desire for your neighbour’s house or for your neighbour’s wife or you shall not have a strong desire to get your neighbour’s servant and wish that that servant who works in your neighbour’s house could be your servant, because may be she is such a faithful servant. You shall not desire your neighbour’s business, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbour’s. The tenth commandment was inward. The thing is there is no way by which anybody could find out whether you kept it or not. It was impossible.
Now Paul was a very, very honest person. He tells us that, ‘According to the righteousness which is in The Law, he was blameless’ (Phil. 3:6). He had kept the law blamelessly. What does it mean? Does it mean he kept all Ten Commandments? – He certainly didn’t; He kept only nine. But that is all that was required. Nobody could keep the tenth commandment. Nobody could say I have never lusted after anything; I have never lusted out for my neighbour’s wife or my neighbour’s daughter and remember every woman in the world is either your neighbour’s wife or your neighbour’s daughter, everyone in the world. You can never say that you have never desired what belongs to somebody else.
There is not a soul in this world who can say that, not even the apostle Paul. And He tells us that very honestly, ‘‘What shall we say then, is The Law sin, may it never be.’’ He continued, ‘‘I would not have known sin except for The Law’’ (Rom. 7:7). Then he mentions the tenth commandments, not the first nine, because he kept the first nine. He says, when it came to the tenth Commandment, which said, ‘You shall not covet, you shall not lust, you shall not have a strong desire for anything that is yours neighbour’s,’ ‘‘I discovered every type of lust in my heart’’ (Rom. 7:8). He was honest. He said, ‘I thought I was pleasing God till this commandment showed me the corruption of sin in my life. I saw that I was dead spiritually in God’s eyes, because I found every kind of lust in me.’ He says, ‘Every kind of coveting, every kind of strong desire’ (Rom. 7:8).
Why did God give such a commandment if He knew that nobody could keep it without the help of the Holy Spirit? Now here is the answer: God gave it to see how many people would be honest in admitting that they come short in this area. Do you know friends; the first step to being spiritual is honesty. God doesn’t ask you to be holy first; none of us can be holy. Again, He doesn’t ask us to be loving or humble or anything, because all these things take time.
There is one thing you can be today, that is the first step to true spirituality, and that is honesty. Paul was honest. He said, ‘It is true, I find every type of covetousness in my heart. I am a sinner.’ He admits, ‘Such a sinner that I thought I was alive, but I am actually dead, I am dead in sin.’ A man who kept every single external commandment acknowledges that he is thoroughly dead in sin, because he discovered every type of lust in his heart.
How do you find it in your heart? You just got to be honest. If you are honest, God will lead you further. But if you are dishonest and pretend that you don’t have any such desires and that you are so clean and upright like the Pharisees pretended, then Jesus will say to you, sarcastically, like He said to the Pharisees, ‘‘I did not come for the righteous people, I came for the sinners. I came to call sinners to repentance,’’ and he will pass by you altogether. And you will miss the Lord completely, like the Pharisees missed him.
Why did they miss the Lord? Why did the Lord leave them alone? He says, ‘‘You people are healthy. I came for sick people; only sick people need a doctor. Why do you healthy people need me?’’ You think they were healthy? – Far from healthy. Pharisees were the sickest people in Israel. Why did Jesus say, “You people are healthy?’’ He was being sarcastic. He was trying to show them their hypocrisy. He was showing them that He would not go to help those who are not honest.
You see, how easy it is to come to the Lord. You just got to be honest about the sin in your heart and say, ‘Lord, there is every type of lust in me.’ Because Paul was honest, you know what happened? He discovered how the Holy Spirit’s power could help him keep even the tenth commandment; How the Holy Spirit’s power could deliver him from lusting within his heart.
The blood of Jesus would cleanse his past failure and the Holy Spirit’s power would set him free. He says, ‘‘The Law of the Spirit of life has set me free from The Law of sin and death’’ (Rom. 8:2). Do you want that experience? Do you want to come into a life where the Law of the Spirit sets you free from this slavery to lust in your heart? Be honest. Tell the Lord that you have come short, that you have failed, that you have sinned in your heart, and ask Him to forgive you and cleanse you in His blood and say, ‘Lord, I never want to be dishonest again.’ Ask Him to fill you with His Holy Spirit and give you power within and you can be pure.
This is part of the Basic Christian Teachings Series, a set of 72 short messages presented by Zac Poonen. You can download the audio mp3 files or listen to Basic Christian Teachings by clicking here.