“9Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word.
10With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments.
11Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. ” ~ Psalm 119:9-11
In Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible and a beautiful acrostic poem dedicated to the Word of God, we have been provided with three simple steps to freedom from the power of sin in our lives.
Acceptance, by God’s grace and through faith, of Jesus as Lord and Saviour by means of His death and resurrection instantaneously yields the gift of salvation: the redemption from the ultimate penalty for sin: eternal damnation in Hell. However, after salvation God directs Believers through a process of spiritual maturation called sanctification, by which we overcome the power of sin in our lives. Jesus in praying for His disciples, after acknowledging their salvation (John 17:9, 14, 16), prayed:
- “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” ~ John 17:17
The necessity and method of sanctification is further amplified in the letter to the Ephesians:
- “…Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” ~ Ephesians 5:25-27
Together these passages define sanctification (the process of removing imperfections/defects arising from sin) and its purpose (Holiness, set apart for God) and the method (the word of God).
Our text gives us further insight/detail on how the Word is to be employed to get us through the sanctification process. The psalm outlines three steps to freedom from the power of sin: Submission to the Word, Dedication to the Word and Incorporation of the Word.
Submission to the Word
The psalmist opens this passage by asking “How shall a young man cleanse his way?” which we might paraphrase as “How can my life be purified/sanctified?” He answers this question first by identifying the essential first step in the sanctification process: “Taking heed thereto according to” God’s word. In other words, he would ‘attend to’ or ‘take charge of’ his life according to God’s word: he would submit the running of his life to what he found in Scripture. This is the first step of sanctification, the first step to freedom.
It is submission to God’s Word that initiates the process of sanctification. When believers submit their lives to God’s Word it means that Scripture replaces all the influences (opinions, personal views cultural preferences, idiosyncrasies, prejudices and deductive reasoning) that had previously informed our mindset/attitude and our decision-making. Submission to God’s Word, therefore, radically transforms our outlook and brings us into the position where we can begin to see life through God’s eyes.
Submission to God’s Word demands a change in our value-system. It forces us to re-examine what is important, because importance is no longer driven by the desires of our flesh. Rather importance is determined solely by the divine principles of God outlined in His Word. Therefore, instead of making decisions with a “What do I think?” OR a “What do the experts say?” approach, our approach changes to, “What does God’s Word say?”
Now, clearly, God’s Word does not tell us what color car we should buy. But it does give us principles for managing our finances AND ordering our priorities. Both of which have a far greater impact on our lives than the color of a car.
Dedication to the Word
The second step in the process of sanctification by the Word is Dedication to the Word of God. Verse 10 tells us “With my whole heart have I sought thee…”. To be clear, we find God, we discover God’s character in the Scriptures. Therefore, the psalmist was declaring his total dedication to God’s Word. He had put everything he had into knowing God. Moreover, he identifies this effort as key to staying within God’s will for his life (“O let me not wander from thy commandments”).
Submission to God’s Word is the crucial first step, but that step must quickly be followed by an all-consuming Dedication to the Word of God. Dedication to God’s Word means committing to know it, to know it thoroughly. In verse 105 of this psalm we are told
- “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” ~ Psalm 119:105
Hence, we can readily conclude that the more of God’s Word a Believer knows, the more light that Believer has. Indeed, many of us stumble around in our Christian walk because we have so little light available to us: we don’t know God’s Word enough.
Stumbling from sin to sin, stumbling repeatedly off the path God has willed for us impedes the sanctification process for a believer. Conversely, dedication to knowing God and knowing God’s will through knowledge of His word, propels us to freedom, because we will have the light we need to walk in, able to avoid stumbling into the traps of the devil.
Incorporation of the Word
The third step to freedom is the Incorporation of God’s Word into the very essence of a Believer: where we hide God’s Word in our hearts. We approach his step having already submitted the governance of our lives to God’s Word and after dedicating ourselves to knowing God’s character and will though study of His Word. In this final step to freedom, God’s Word becomes a part of us.
To understand this transition, consider the experience many missionaries have when going to live (for an extended period) in a foreign land with a different language from their own. Initially, the missionaries speak the new country’s language but they think (and dream) in their own native tongue; and conversation involves constant translation from their native language to the language of the foreign land. However, after a few years they slowly find themselves thinking (an even dreaming!) in the language of the foreign land. At this point, the missionaries don’t just know the foreign language, it has now become a part of them.
When God’s Word becomes a part of us our orientation towards life changes in the most fundamental way. We not only have light for the way, we KNOW the way.
- “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” ~ Romans 12:2
- “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” ~ Colossians 1:9
A Believer becomes a new creation at the point of salvation, but that new man does not automatically have control over the old, but still present, sin-nature. Sanctification is the process of putting to death that old sin nature so that Christ can reign in us.
The incorporation of the Word of God in a Believer’s heart signifies that it has become the driving force in that Believer’s life. To be clear, the old sin nature is an ever-present problem, but rather than being a flesh-driven carnal Christian, a Believer with God’s Word incorporated in his/her heart is now Word-driven and Spiritually centered, free from the power of sin.
- “And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” ~ Acts 20:32