“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,’ declares the LORD.
‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people'” (Jer. 31:33).
What does it mean to have the law put into the mind and written on the heart? This is the mark of the New Covenant, but what does it accomplish? Is it just for show? Is God just doing some unusual exercise in calligraphy?
All indications are that the law is written on the mind and in the heart for a purpose. The divine intention is that the law would be perfectly fulfilled in each individual life. The purpose is that God’s people should be lovers of the law and doers of the law. In James 1:22 we read, “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Clearly those who only hear are self-deceived.
God wills that our lives should be lawful, law-abiding and not lawless. However, we are living in an exceedingly lawless age. Today, Christians without knowing it, are being swept along with this age, and are becoming more and more lawless. Let us consider what it means to have the law written on the heart.
MEDITATING IN THE LAW
We see first of all that the mark of the righteous man is that he meditates constantly on God’s law. The Bible says, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psa. 1:1-2). Today the devil has almost stolen meditation from the believer. Meditation is so much a part of the New Age and Occult movements that believers tend to shun it, not realizing that it is the heritage of the righteous that has been stolen away and perverted.
One of the words for meditation in Hebrew is ha-gah, which means “to mutter.” God desires that we literally talk to ourselves about his things. This helps establish them and makes them clearer in our minds. It is common to hear Jewish people muttering and chanting to themselves as they ride buses or walk along the streets reading God’s Word. It’s OK to talk to ourselves about God’s things. The other word for meditate is si-ach, to muse, or to ponder, brood and reflect on God’s law.
Our father Isaac was one given to meditation. We see in Genesis 24:63 that he went out into the field to meditate in the evening. In Psalm 77:12, the Psalmist says, “I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.” Paul even instructed young Timothy to meditate on God’s things in order that his spiritual progress would become evident to all (1 Tim. 4:13-15).
LOVING THE LAW
The longest passage in the whole Bible is Psalm 119. In that Psalm, the writer extols the law of the Lord in several ways, and at the same time sheds light on what it means to love the law. He says, “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.” (v. 97); “I hate double-minded men, but I love your law” (v. 113); “I hate and abhor falsehood but I love your law” (v. 163).
In many other places in Scripture the love of the law and obedience to it are extolled. In Psalm 37:30-31 we read, “The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just. The law of his God is in his heart; his feet do not slip.” In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus tells us that a man who puts the Master’s words into practice is like a wise man who built his house on a rock. It was not threatened by the rains, floods and winds.
Jesus is the living Torah, the Law or word of God made flesh. We cannot love him without loving his law. Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” This is speaking about the commands of the New Testament however the implications go deeper, and even include the Old Testament or Tanakh. According to my count there are at least one thousand commands in the New Testament alone and they are mostly ignored by Christians.
KEEPING THE LAW
However, after 3500 years of dismal failure, we must conclude that we cannot keep the law. The law of the Lord is perfect (Psa. 19:7) and we are imperfect. Thus, we cannot gain righteousness by keeping the law, because the simple fact is that we cannot keep it. Even the great Psalmist of Psalm 119, after extolling the law and boasting of how he loved it for 176 verses, ends with the sad words, “I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands” (Psa. 119:176).
When Jesus came to this earth he brought an end to law for righteousness as seen in Romans. 10:4. He did not, however, bring an “end of the law” as some would interpret this verse. He came as the absolute and complete fulfillment of the law (Matt. 5:17). As the promised “servant of God,” he totally pleased God with his life (Matt. 3:17;12:18).
By his life, his death, and his glorious resurrection, he gave believers the dynamic power to keep his law. Paul says in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” In Philippians 2:13 he says, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” So Jesus now lives in the believer and he will keep the law in us if we will only let him. Also, it should be pointed out that we are no longer trying to keep the law to gain God’s approval. Those who believe in Jesus have his approval and are already “justified” so far as the law is concerned (Rom. 8:30).
Like anything else in life, there must be a working out of the ideal on a day to day basis for it to become a reality. If we spurn God’s efforts to fulfill the law in our hearts and minds, we will become lawless and accursed. During the Holocaust of World War II, millions of so called “Christians” utterly failed to be doers of the law. The law commands God’s people not only to love their neighbors as they love themselves, but to love even the stranger (Deut. 10:19).
In Nazi occupied lands, six million Jews were mercilessly killed, often in the very streets of the cities, and most Christians just closed their blinds. It was a testimony that the love of God’s law had utterly slipped away from what was called Christianity. There are examples in our own day. Although God hates and despises divorce, today in US Christianity the divorce rate has now exceeded that of the pagans. This is lawlessness. We need to fall on our faces, repent, and ask God to lead us once more in the paths of righteousness.
TRIUMPH OF THE LAW
If there is one thing clear in Scripture, it is that the law of God will triumph in the end. We finally see Jerusalem as a place from which the law emanates. In the last days, it seems that humanity will cry out for God’s law: “Many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.’ The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem” (Isa. 2:3).
As earth’s struggle comes to a consummation, the Book of Revelation indicates that there will be two kinds of people left, the overcomers and the overcome. It is interesting that the thing distinguishing the overcomers is their devotion to the law, as well as their devotion to Jesus. These two things have always seemed mutually exclusive to the church, but we have been so sadly mistaken. In Revelation 12:17, the overcomers are pictured: “Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring—those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” Also in Revelation 14:12 we read, “This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.” Obviously, these have learned what “the obedience of faith” in Romans 16:26 is all about.
The Jewish tradition is a very practical one. That tradition seems to affirm: “if it does not work, what good is it?” What good is it to have Jesus writing the law on our hearts if it never expresses itself through our mouths, our hands and our feet? We are like the man in James who looked into the mirror of the law and then walked away without doing anything about what he saw (Jas. 1:23-25). He never let God clean off the smudges that he clearly saw on his face.
God has now written his law in our hearts through his New Covenant, but have we really heeded the precious, life saving words he has written there?
– Jim Gerrish
This updated article is presented courtesy of Bridges For Peace, Jerusalem (original publication date, 1997).