WILDERNESS: Why the Heart of the Law Is the Law of the Heart


May 9, 2020

Exodus 20:13-17 (NIV)

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”


Why aren’t these five laws enough?

I remember early in my law school days, one of my professors made this sage comment. He said, “We can assess the morality of a nation by the number of laws it has recorded in its books.” 

13 “You shall not murder. 14 “You shall not commit adultery. 15 “You shall not steal. 16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. 17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” 

Why can’t those be enough? They are sufficiently broad. What is it about people that we assume if the law is not written down the activity must not be illegal? What is it about people that we always look for the loophole to get around the law? Every loophole requires another law to close it. 

Jesus takes another approach to the law; on at least two levels. First, he articulates the great positive law of the comprehensive love of God, neighbor and self. Where there is love there is no need for law. In fact, the breaking of the law is the failure of love. Law is not about us but others. Second, he moves us to understand the law at the level of the heart rather than at the level of behavior. 

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Matthew 5:21-22

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28. 

The law is not about behavior but about the heart. Far before the law is broken the heart is broken. It raises the final point about the law. 

Some years ago I had the privilege of meeting and getting to know a bit the preacher to the Papal Household (under John Paul II and beyond)—Father Raniero Cantalamessa. He surprisingly accepted our invitation to come to Wilmore, Kentucky, to minister among us when I served as Dean of the Chapel at Asbury Seminary. He said many things on many subjects. He is one of my favorite teachers in the Kingdom on the Holy Spirit. In a lecture on Pentecost he spoke this striking word,

“The Law was given so the Spirit may be desired. The Spirit was given so the Law might be obeyed.” 

Let’s give Ezekiel the last word today. He will bring us full circle. Here is a word of fulfilled prophecy for you and me today: 

I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. 20 Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God. Ezekiel 11:19-20


Father, thank you that by your Spirit you give us an undivided heart, you remove from us our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh. We have your Spirit, Lord, and yet we must have more of your Spirit; or rather your Spirit must have more of us. Work on me at the level of my heart. Renovate my heart Lord. In Jesus name, Amen. 


Have you entered into the heart level discipleship of the Spirit? Are you ready to get beneath the behavioral level of life and into the matters of brokenness and becoming? 

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt

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