God’s Word for You
Psalm 119:30 What we choose and do not choose
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Sunday, May 14, 2023
30 I have chosen the way of truth;
I accept your judgments.
Is the poet talking about the moment when he came to faith, or some other, later event? He was brought into Israel through the covenant of circumcision as a week-old child (Leviticus 12:3), so he is not talking about coming to faith. In fact, the relationship of the Old and New Testament sacraments is another discussion, but there is no denying that God changed the outward signs of the Old Testament sacraments with others in the New Testament, “in keeping with God’s ever-brightening revelation of grace” (Chemnitz).
In either case, faith does not come on account of any choice in man. We do not choose to be Christians or choose to be saved. “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5). This is why we confess in the Catechism (in the Third Article): “I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”
To be fair and objective, we must admit that the poet does not say here whether he thinks he made a human choice to become a believer in God, or whether God chose him—and that any choice he has made since coming to faith has been in response to God’s sovereign choice. But doctrinally speaking, we must let the rest of Scripture instruct us about how one comes to faith.
Man in his fallen state (the state of all mankind since the Fall) cannot come to faith on his own. “Since before his conversion man is dead in sins (Ephesians 2:5), there can be in him no power to work anything good.”
1, Every inclination of man’s heart is evil from birth (Genesis 8:21; Job 5:7) and even from conception (Psalm 51:5).
2, All man’s desires are towards evil before conversion (Ephesians 2:2-3, 4:22). One who is thoroughly evil and lost cannot decide for anything good (see number 4 below).
3, Man’s mind is set on carnal things. “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires” (Romans 8:5).
4, The unconverted natural heart does not want to come to God. He is afraid of God; he flees from him and hates him. He is not merely a spiritual cripple, but an enemy of God and dead in sin (Romans 8:7).
5, Faith comes only through the working of the Holy Spirit through the word of God (1 Corinthians 12:3) or through baptism, which is also a proclamation of the word of God together with the washing of the water for salvation (1 Peter 3:21). God is the one who turns us to him (Jeremiah 31:18), and believers are not born from their own will, but from the will of God (John 1:12-13). Therefore it is not a cooperation that beings us into God’s family, but God’s compassion and grace (Ephesians 2:8-9).
6, The steps of conversion are logical and able to be grasped by Christians. First, through the Law, God sets the knowledge of sin and contrition in the heart. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Matthew 9:12). The law shows us this sickness and the depth of our sins (Romans 3:20). Second, the Holy Spirit calls us by the gospel. “Come to me, that your soul may live” (Isaiah 55:3). Third, the Holy Spirit works faith (trust) in man’s heart. “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ… to believe in him” (Philippians 1:29).
Conversion, then, is not what our poet is describing, for Scripture cannot contradict Scripture. Jesus said, “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Choices that believers make, then, follow conversion. So the gradual and daily desire to know God better, to explore his word, and to apply his word to our lives, is one of the effects of conversion. It follows faith. The believer wants to seek Christ the Savior (Isaiah 55:6; Amos 5:4). We seek him out eagerly; some writers use the word “thirst” or the phrase “pant after him” (Psalm 42:2-3; Song of Solomon 2:3; Isaiah 26:8-9, 55;1; Matthew 5:6). This verse, Psalm 119:30, falls under that category. The believer wants to understand God better (Romans 9:30), to embrace God with the heart and mind (1 Timothy 1:15).
Understanding God more and more should never be pursued apart from faith, which is trust. For the pursuit of God’s will and God’s word without faith or separate from faith will be a barren endeavor, it can only lead to unbelief, for “everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). When the heart of any believer wants to understand God apart from faith, he has returned to the very moment in the Garden when our mother looked at the fruit and set aside obedience and faith and was led by Satan into new thoughts. “The fruit of the tree was good for food,” she thought, even though God had forbidden them from eating it for another reason, and eating it meant death (Genesis 2:17). “The fruit was pleasing to the eye,” she thought, which is always true of every temptation that beguiles us, but they are just gilded pathways to eternal damnation. And finally, “the fruit was desirable for gaining wisdom,” she thought, (Genesis 3:6). This was a lie, for any wisdom that veers away from the path to eternal life in heaven is the highway that descends forever into torment and agony. How could such a course of study ever be considered intelligent? God promises: “The intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate” (1 Corinthians 1:19).
Our poet is willing to lay his life, and his sin, before God: “I accept your judgments,” or more literally, “I have set (my heart) on your judgments.” This is the heart of a believer who confesses his sin and does not defend his actions but asks for God’s mercy. This is trust, the essence of faith. “I believe in Jesus as my Savior, but it is God who creates and preserves this spiritual life in my heart.” God condemns my sin, but God sent Jesus his Son to be the sacrifice that atoned for that sin (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10).
This is the believer who, knowing God’s will and God’s forgiveness, chooses the way of truth. We trust, we rely, we pray, we believe; and these things shape how we live. The result is that we will want to live for Jesus.
Pastor Timothy Smith