We can easily find ourselves slipping into the trap of viewing God’s commandments as a mere list of restrictions we have to obey. The goal becomes not sinning, and we feel overwhelmed—and sometimes discouraged—by all we have to do and not do. Sure, we recognize we are saved by Christ alone, but we equate pleasing God with our own perfect obedience.
While this sounds noble and godly, the belief has a fatal flaw—it doesn’t work. We cannot achieve perfection, and just focusing on outward conformity to a list of rules does nothing to change the heart. Paul makes this clear in the transition between Colossians Chapters 2 and 3. Rather than heaping on more regulations and turning to ascetic practices, we are to “keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1). Outward adherence does not change us, and it is not what God is after. He wants our hearts.
As we return to Psalm 119 this week, we see this element brought out in the second stanza. Quick Hebrew trivia—this Psalm is a giant acrostic of 22 stanzas of 8 verses each (there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet). The fact doesn’t impact our interpretation much, but if I refer to a set of verses as a stanza, that’s why. But back to the point at hand. God is after our hearts—that is primary. His commands—law, statutes, precepts, etc.—are there to guide in our relationship with Him. Let’s see how these verses teach this truth.
Verses 9 and 11 are pretty familiar—we know we must learn to “keep” our ways according to God’s Word, and we need to treasure the Scripture so we don’t sin. But let’s take a closer look at verse 11:
“Your Word I have treasured in my heart,
That I may not sin against You.”
Notice the last two words of the verse: “against You.” The Psalmist’s end goal was not sinless perfection for the sake of not sinning itself. Rather, his goal was to please the Lord. It’s like how Paul says, “We also have as our ambition…to be pleasing to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:9). The goal is to please Jesus. Yes, that involves following, guarding, and keeping the commands and instruction of Scripture. If the commands were of no significance, why would God have put them in there? They are important, but they are guides to a heart relationship with the Lord.
And that heart relationship is also brought out in this verse. The Psalmist treasures—not just memorizes—God’s Word in his “heart” (v. 11). He doesn’t just give mental ascent or treat Scripture as an academic text. He treasures the Word in order to draw closer to the Lord. In verse 10, he says, “With all my heart I have sought You.”
Seeking the Lord from the heart was his highest ambition, and it should be ours as well. We seek the Lord through His Word, learning the ways that do please Him. We need to pay attention and learn the way we ought to live (v. 9). God does care about our “behavior” (1 Peter 1:15). But keeping the commands of Scripture cannot be an end of itself. Rather, the Bible is our guide as we grow in our knowledge of God. Not just a head knowledge, but a deep, committed, personal relationship. That is what God is after, and that is what we must give Him.
So do we just throw out the commands, ordinances, and prohibitions in Scripture? Absolutely not. But we must not equate pleasing God with perfectly obeying every command. We cannot earn our own righteousness—we stand perfectly forgiven in Christ. Rather, we seek to keep and obey the commands as a way to please the Lord. That must be our goal in our relationship as we yield our hearts ever more to Him.