Heart Obeys

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. Blessed be the LORD God of our fathers, which hath put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem: I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ;
~ Romans 1:8, Ezra 7:27, 1 Corinthians 1:4

At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight.
~ Matthew 11:25-26

As soon as they hear of me, they shall obey me: the strangers shall submit themselves unto me. By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.
Psalm 18:44, Hebrews 11:8

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:
~ 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Ephesians 2:5-10, Romans 1:5

Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:
~ Romans 16:25-26

And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.
~ Hebrews 5:9, 1 Peter 1:22, 2 Timothy 1:13

Mind, Heart and Will, by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The following is from his series on “Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure”. The above old recording was partially restored.

But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.
~ Romans 6:17

That is the statement as it is to be found in the Authorised Version. In the Revised Version you will find that instead of ‘form of doctrine’ you have ‘standard of teaching’. But obviously, as we shall see, that means the same thing, and I call your attention to this verse because I want, by means of it, to continue our consideration of the cause and cure of ‘spiritual depression’.

As we do so, we must be impressed by the fact that the forms which this particular condition may take seem to be almost endless. It comes in such different forms and guises that some people stumble at that very fact. They are amazed that there can be so many symptoms or manifestations of this one disease, this spiritual condition; and, of course, their ignorance of the problem in and of itself may lead to the very condition we are considering. The kind of person who thinks that once you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ all your problems are left behind and that the rest of the story will be ‘they all lived happily ever after’ is certain sooner or later to suffer from this spiritual depression. We are brought into this marvellous life, this spiritual condition by the grace of God. But we must never forget that over and against us is another power. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God, but the Bible tells us that we are opposed by another kingdom, which is also a spiritual kingdom, and that all along we are being attacked and besieged. We are in ‘the fight of faith’ and ‘we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places’. And while that is so, we must be prepared for the occurrence of this condition that we are considering, and we must be prepared for its manifestation in all types of people and in all kinds of ways.

There is nothing that so characterises all the activities of Satan as his subtlety. He is not only able and powerful, he is subtle; indeed the Apostle Paul tells us that he can ‘transform himself into an angel of light’ if necessary. The one thing he desires to do is to ruin and destroy the work of God; and there is no work of God which he is more anxious to destroy than the work of grace in and through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Therefore, from the moment we become Christian we become the special object of Satan’s attention. That is why James says: ‘My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations’. We are to rejoice because it is a proof of our faith. The moment we become Christian the devil is particularly concerned to get us down, and he has no more successful way of doing that than to make us miserable, or to make us suffer from what Charles Lamb has described as ‘the mumps and measles of the soul’. Such Christians are like children, not growing, not manifesting health and vigour; and any Christian in that condition is more or less a denial of his own faith, and Satan is pleased. For that reason he is particularly concerned to produce this condition in us and there is no end to the ways in which it may affect us, and in which it may show itself in us—we must expect the manifestations of the condition to be protean.

I call your attention now to another general cause of this condition. It is the one which is described in the verse that we are looking at. Now this verse is a positive description of the Christian but we can use it in a negative way. The absence of conformity to the description which we have in the verse is one of the common causes of all spiritual depression. Here we have an absolute description of the Christian. Paul says: ‘You were the servants of Satan, you were under the dominion of Satan. That is where you were, but you are no longer there’. He thanks God that he can say this about them, that though they were once in that position, now, he says, they are no longer there. Why not ? For this reason: ‘You have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered to you’,, or, ‘unto which you were delivered’. Now that is the Apostle’s description of a Christian.

You notice that the point he is concerned to emphasise is the wholeness of the Christian life, the balance of the Christian life. It is a life in which one has ‘obeyed’—there is the will—‘from the heart’-—there is the emotion, the sensibility—‘the form of doctrine’ which came to the mind and to the understanding. So that, in describing the Christian the thing he is emphasising is that there is a wholeness about his life. The whole man is involved, the mind, the heart and the will, and a common cause of spiritual depression is the failure to realize that the Christian life is a whole life, a balanced life. Lack of balance is one of the most fruitful causes of trouble and discord and disquietude in the life of the Christian man.

Once more I have to indicate that the cause of this lack of balance can be laid, I fear too often, to the charge of the preacher or the evangelist. Lop-sided Christians are generally produced by preachers or evangelists whose doctrine lacks balance, or rotundity, or wholeness. More and more as we proceed with our studies we shall see how vitally important are the circumstances of the birth of the Christian. I sometimes think that someone should take this up as a matter of research and should investigate the relationship between the subsequent course of Christians and the particular means or methods employed in their conversion. It would, I am sure, be both significant and interesting. Children generally partake of the characteristics of their parents, and converts tend to take on certain characteristics of the ones who were used of God in their conversion. But not only that, the type and kind of meeting in which people come into the light, indeed all the circumstances of the new birth, tend to influence the subsequent history of these converts more than we often realise. We noticed it in a previous chapter and it is certainly very important with respect to the matter which we are considering now. It is this which explains the existence of different types of Christians showing certain characteristics. All the members of any one group are very much alike and have a certain stamp upon them; while others are different. Now the extent to which this is true, the extent to which we have these peculiar characteristics associated with a particular type of ministry, is the extent to which we are likely to be the victims of this lack of balance which ultimately will manifest itself in unhappiness and in misery.

The Apostle Paul takes this up because it always raises a practical problem. He was writing to the Christians at Rome. We cannot be sure whether he imagined this position in order to refute it, or whether it did actually obtain in Rome. It may be that there were people who were actually saying: ‘Shall we then continue in sin that grace may abound?’ or it may be the case that the Apostle, having established his doctrine of justification by faith only, suddenly says to himself: ‘Now there is a danger in leaving it like that: some people may say: ‘Very well, shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?”’ for he has been saying that ‘where sin abounded grace did much more abound’. There were people in the early Church that did argue like that, and there are still many who tend to do the same thing. Their attitude is: ‘Very well, in the light of that doctrine it does not matter what a man does, the more he sins the more God will be glorified in forgiving him. Being a Christian, it doesn’t matter what I do,

I shall be covered by grace.’ What does the Apostle say to that? His answer is, that you can only say a thing like that if you do not understand the teaching. If you understood the teaching you would never draw deductions like that; it would be impossible. He answers at once: ‘God forbid. You that are dead to sin (that is what I have been preaching) can no longer live therein.’ The Christian is now ‘in Christ’, therefore he has not only died with Him, but has also risen with Him. It is only a man who has never really grasped the teaching who can ask such terrible questions as ‘shall we then continue in sin that grace may abound?’ The Apostle’s whole object in this chapter is to show the importance of grasping the balance of truth, the importance of taking hold of the whole gospel, and of seeing that if one but grasps it truly it leads inevitably to certain consequences.

Let me try to divide up the subject briefly. There are certain principles enunciated here. The first is that spiritual depression or unhappiness in the Christian life is very often due to our failure to realise the greatness of the gospel. The apostle talks about ‘the form of doctrine delivered to you’, he refers to the ‘standard of teaching’. Now people are often unhappy in the Christian life because they have thought of Christianity, and the whole message of the gospel, in inadequate terms. Some think that it is merely a message of forgiveness. You ask them to tell you what Christianity is and they will reply: ‘If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ your sins are forgiven’, and they stop at that. That is all. They are unhappy about certain things in their past and they hear that God in Christ will forgive them. They take their forgiveness and there they stop—that is all their Christianity. There are others who conceive of it as morality only. Their view of themselves is that they do not need forgiveness, but they desire an exalted way of life. They want to do good in this world, and Christianity to them is an ethical, moral program. Such people are bound to be unhappy. Certain problems will inevitably arise in their lives which are strictly outside morality—someone’s death, some personal relationship. Morality and ethics will not help at that point, and what they regard as the gospel is useless to them in that situation. They are unhappy when the blow comes because they have never had an adequate view of the gospel. It has been but a partial view; they have simply seen one aspect. There are others who are interested in it simply as something good and beautiful. It makes a great aesthetic appeal to them. That is their way of describing the gospel and the entire message is to them just something very beautiful and wonderful which makes them feel better when they hear it.

I am putting all these incomplete and partial views over against what the Apostle here refers to as ‘the form of doctrine’, ‘the standard of teaching’, the great truth which he elaborates in this Epistle to the Romans with its mighty arguments and propositions and its flights of spiritual imagination. That is the gospel, all the (if I may borrow a phrase from Thomas Carlyle) ‘infinities and immensities’ of this Epistle, and of the Epistles to the Ephesians and to the Colossians—that is the gospel. We must have an accurate view of these things. But someone may say: ‘When you talk about the Epistle to the Ephesians or the Epistle to the Colossians, surely you are not talking about “the gospel message”. In the gospel message you just tell people about forgiveness of sins.’ In a sense that is right, but in another sense it is wrong. I had a letter from a man who had been here on a Sunday night and he said that he made a discovery. The discovery he had made was that in a service which was obviously evangelistic there was something for believers. He said, ‘I had never under-stood that that could happen. I never knew that it was possible that in one and the same service an evangelistic message could be preached to unbelievers and yet there could also be a message for believers which would disturb them. Now that man was making a great confession. He was telling me what his view had been hitherto of the evangel. It was this partial, incomplete view, just selecting one or two things. No, the way to evangelise is to give ‘the whole counsel of God’. But people say that they are too busy, or, that they cannot follow all that. I would remind you that the Apostle Paul preached that sort of thing to slaves. ‘Not many mighty, not many noble are called’. That is what he gave them—this tremendous presentation of truth. The gospel is not something partial or piecemeal: it takes in the whole life, the whole of history, the whole world. It tells us about the creation and the final judgment and everything in between. It is a complete, whole view of life, and many are unhappy in the Christian life because they have never realised that this way of life caters for the whole of man’s life and covers every eventuality in his experience. There is no aspect of life but that the gospel has something to say about it. The whole of life must come under its influence because it is all-inclusive; the gospel is meant to control and govern everything in our lives. If we do not realise that, we are certain sooner or later to find ourselves in an unhappy condition. So many, because they indulge in these harmful and unscriptural dichotomies and only apply their Christianity to certain aspects of their lives, are But there are others in whose case the gospel seems to affect the heart only. This is commoner today. These are the people who feel that they have had an emotional release; they have passed through an emotional crisis. I do not want to disparage this, but there is a real danger in having a purely emotional experience only. These are people who may have some problem in their lives. They may have committed some particular sin. 

They have tried to forget it but they cannot get away from it. At last they hear a message which seems to give them deliverance from that one thing, and they accept it, and all is well. But they stop at that. They wanted this particular release and they have had it. That can be obtained from an incomplete presentation of the gospel, and it leads to a partial and incomplete experience. Such people, because they desire that primarily, have had an emotional experience and nothing else.

Or it may be that they were naturally interested in mysticism and the mystical phenomena. Some people are born natural mystics; there is something rather other-worldly about them, and they are interested in the mystical. There is great interest in this at the present time, in psychic phenomena, in this extra-sensory experience. There have always been people who have been interested in that kind of thing. They are natural mystics and they are drawn to something which seems to be offering a mystical experience. They come to the Scriptures because they feel that in them they are going to find satisfaction for this longing and desire for mystical experience. They seek for that and they get that. And they get nothing else.

Or it may be that certain people are in this position simply because they are moved aesthetically by the presentation of the gospel, by the atmosphere of the church, the painted windows, the monuments, the ritual, the hymns sung, the music, the sermon —any one or all of these things. Life has been hard and cruel to them and they have been embittered by circumstances. But they go to a particular service and somehow they find themselves comforted and soothed, and they feel happy and contented. That is all they wanted. They have it, and they want nothing more. They feel happy and away they go. But as certainly as they do so they will find themselves in a predicament and in a position where that will not help them. One day they will have to face some crisis and to see it through; but they have never learned to think things through. They have been content to live on their feelings.

Others again are in this one-sided position because they have responded to an appeal in a meeting. I remember a number of ministers telling me of how they worked in the enquiry room of a famous evangelist who once visited this country and who is now an old man and retired from the ministry. They would ask the people who came to the enquiry room why they had come.

Very often they got the reply that the person did not know. ‘But’, they said, ‘you have come to the enquiry room. Why did you do so ?’ And the reply was: ‘I have come because the preacher told us to come’. That preacher had a marvellous and exceptional gift for telling a story. He could dramatise, and he often ended his address with a moving story. Then he appealed to people to come forward and almost in a kind of trance they walked down the aisle and went to the enquiry room, they did not know why. They had been moved, they had been fascinated, but there seemed to be no conception of Truth, there was no relationship at all to ‘the form of doctrine delivered’. Moved emotionally but by nothing else, they had arrived in the enquiry room. Now it is quite inevitable that such people should at some time or other find themselves in trouble. They will be unhappy and miserable; they will get depressed. These are people who have something in the heart but their head is not engaged at all, and oftentimes, unfortunately, neither is the will. They are content to go on enjoying themselves emotionally and to experience feelings, and are not at all concerned about the application of Truth to the mind and to the will.

Then, finally, you have the same thing in those whose will is alone involved. It is possible, and it has happened unfortunately, for people to be persuaded to take up Christianity. They say that they believe that it is a good life and they solemnly decide to take it up. I think we should abolish this word decision. I do not like it. It seems to me that to talk about deciding for Christ is a denial of the text that we are considering, as I will show you. This ‘making a decision’, again, has often happened as the result of an appeal. If a great bombardment is made upon the wills of men there are certain wills that are sure to respond. They will decide because they have been called upon to decide, because they have been pressed to decide. Pressure has been put on the will. They have been told that they must decide, and they do decide: but they do not always know why they do so. And later on they will begin to ask questions, the devil will see to it that questions are raised in their minds. And they will find that they do not have an answer.

Let me sum up this point by putting it like this. These are the people who decide to take up Christianity instead of being taken up by Christianity. They have never known this feeling of constraint, this feeling of, ‘I can do no other, so help me, God’, that they must, that everything else has to be excluded, that the truth has so come to them that they must accept it. That is what Paul is saying in this chapter. ‘God forbid’, he says. ‘What are you talking about ? Do you not realize what the truth is ? How can you say, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” It means that you do not know what grace is.’ It is only people who have understood the truth who desire to do it. The tragedy of the others is that they have never seen it.

That, then, is the cause of the condition. But let me emphasise this. Sometimes, as I have been showing, you will find people who have one part of their personality engaged only—head only, heart only, will only. We will agree that they must be wrong. Yes, but let us be clear about this, it is equally wrong to have any two only. It is equally wrong to have the head and the heart only without the will, or the head and the will without the heart, or the heart and the will without the head. That is the thing I think the Apostle is impressing upon us. The Christian position is threefold ; it is the three together, and the three at the same time, and the three always. A great gospel like this takes up the whole man, and if the whole man is not taken up, think again as to where you stand. ‘You have obeyed from the heart the form of doctrine delivered unto you.’ What a gospel! What a glorious message! It can satisfy man’s mind completely, it can move his heart entirely, and it can lead to wholehearted obedience in the realm of the will. That is the gospel. Christ has died that we might be complete men, not merely that parts of us may be saved; not that we might be lop-sided Christians, but that there may be a balanced finality about us.

But not only that, if we lack this proportion, we shall be in trouble later on, because man has been made by God in this balanced way. Have you ever thought of that? It is an interesting matter in psychology to notice how God has put these three powers within us—the mind, the heart and the will. And what tremendous powers they are. You would have thought that it would be impossible for the three to co-exist in one person; but God made man perfect. You see it all perfectly in the Lord Jesus Christ; and the object of salvation is to bring us to that perfection, to be so conformed to His image that the effects and traces of sin shall be removed and destroyed.

Let me say a final word about this balance. These things must always come in the right order. There is a definite order about this verse, and the order is obviously this. These people were servants held by sin: they are no longer that. Why not? The Apostle says the form of doctrine came to them—‘you have obeyed from the heart the form of doctrine delivered unto you’. There they were in slavery. What has brought them out? The truth has been presented to them! They were not simply moved emotionally in the realm of the heart; it was not merely an appeal to the will. No, the Truth was presented. We must always put these things in the right order, and it is Truth first. It is doctrine first, it is the standard of teaching first, it is the message of the gospel first. We are not concerned simply to attract people emotionally or in the realm of the will, we are concerned to ‘preach the Word’. The Apostles were not sent out simply to produce results and to change people. They were sent ‘to preach the gospel’, to ‘preach the truth’, to preach and declare ‘Jesus and the resurrection’—this message, this form of doctrine, the deposit! Those are the terms used in the New Testament and the Church is certain to produce these spiritual monstrosities when she fails to put that first.

The Christian should know why he is a Christian. The Christian is not a man who simply says that something marvellous has happened to him. Not at all; he is able and ready ‘to give a reason for the hope that is in him’. If he cannot, he had better make sure of his position. The Christian knows why he is what he is, and where he stands. He has had doctrine presented to him, he has received the truth. This ‘form of sound teaching’ has come to him. It came to his mind, and it must ever start with his mind. Truth comes to the mind and to the understanding enlightened by the Holy Spirit. Then having seen the truth the Christian loves it. It moves his heart. He sees what he was, he sees the life he was living, and he hates it. If you see the truth about yourself as a slave of sin you will hate yourself. Then as you see the glorious truth about the love of Christ you will want it, you will desire it. So the heart is engaged. Truly to see the truth means that you are moved by it and that you love it. You cannot help it. If you see truth clearly, you must feel it. Then that in turn leads to this, that your greatest desire will be to practice it and to live it.

That is Paul’s whole argument. He says: Your talk about continuing in sin is unthinkable. If you only realised your unity with Christ, that you have been planted together in the likeness of His death and have therefore risen with Him, you could never speak like that. You cannot be joined to Christ and be one with Him, and at the same time ask ‘shall we continue in sin?’ Does this great truth give me license to go on doing those things which formerly appealed to me? Of course not. It is inconceivable. A man who knows and believes that he is ‘risen with Christ’ will inevitably desire to walk in newness of life with Him.

So Paul puts his mighty argument and demonstration and from this I draw my final conclusion, that in this realm we must always realise, when we talk to others, that the heart is never to be approached directly. I go further, the will is never to be approached directly either. This is a most important principle to bear in mind both in personal dealings and in preaching. The heart is always to be influenced through the understanding— the mind, then the heart, then the will. We have no right to make a direct attack upon the heart either in ourselves or anybody else. I have known evil-living men to find false comfort, to their own damnation, in the fact that they could still weep and be moved emotionally in a religious meeting. ‘I cannot be all bad or else I would not respond like this’, they have argued. But it is a false deduction—their emotional response was produced by themselves. Had it been a response to Truth their lives would have been changed. We must never approach the heart or the will directly. Truth is received through God’s greatest gift to man, the mind, the understanding. God made man in His own image and there is no question but that the greatest part of this image is the mind with its capacity for apprehending truth. God has endowed us with that, and God sends truth to us in that way.

But God forbid that anyone should think that it ends with the intellect. It starts there, but it goes on. It then moves the heart and finally the man yields his will. He obeys, not grudgingly or unwillingly, but with the whole heart. The Christian life is a glorious perfect life that takes up and captivates the entire personality. O may God make us balanced Christians, men and women of whom it can be said that we are obviously, patently obeying from the heart the form of doctrine which has been delivered unto us.