A.N. Martin

B. Childress
Sep 17 2010 08:00 A.M.

We have looked at the roots and the climate of a life of principled obedience.  What now is the actual process involved
in living this kind of life.  What is the process that goes on in the mind and heart, will and spirit?  The answer to this
question is set before us in the remaining verses of our text:

    I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies.  I made haste, and delayed not, to observe thy

First, the actual process of principled, conscientious obedience
begins with honest self-examination.  'I thought on my
ways.'  These words express the reality of honest self-reflection on the part of the psalmist.  He affirms that he
consciously and deliberately exercised his mind with reference to his 'ways,' that is, the patterns of his behavior.  Our
'ways' are the patterns of our lives - for example, how we spend our time and resources, how we respond to our spouses
and children, how we relate to our fellow workmen and neighbors, how we think and speak and act - everything that
constitutes the fabric of our lives.

The actual process of a life of principled obedience involves a sober, realistic assessment of where we are.  Many years
ago a missionary friend was going to a preaching assignment in rural South Carolina and eventually became hopelessly
lost.  He didn't have any idea where he was, he couldn't find any signs pointing to his destination, and his map was of no
help.  He was all turned around backwards and didn't have a clue where he was.  He concluded, however, that if he
could find out where he was, he would be able to find his way to his destination.  As he was driving along, he saw a little
boy on the side of the road.  He pulled over and said, 'Sonny, I'm lost!  But if I knew where I was, I think I could get to
where I have to go.  Can you tell me where I am?'  The little boy looked at him with amazement and said, 'Mister, you is
right here!  That's where you is, right here.  You is nowhere else.'  God has brought that little boy's words back to me
time after time to remind me of the truth that 'right here' is exactly where I am spiritually.  What I really am is what I really
am and where I really am is where I really am!  

Dear reader, do you know where you are?  Do you even stop to think?  The psalmist apparently wanted to know exactly
where he was.  He thought on his ways - he reflected on the patterns of his life; and it is evident that he didn't do so in
an abstract or superficial fashion, but with the Word of God before him, for he says, 'and I turned my feet unto thy
testimonies.'   You will never know a pattern of principled obedience unless you are ready habitually to examine where
you are with the map of the Word of God open before you.  Does that sound like work?  You bet it's work.  'Pastor, do
you mean that I must do this even when I don't feel like it?'  Yes, even when you don't feel like it.  'Do you mean even if I
know that I won't be able to avoid the miserable feeling of facing my sin?'  Yes, even when the process is painful.

Honest self-reflection is the light of the Word of God, however, is not enough.  Self-examination alone will not produce a
life of principled obedience.  It must be joined to
conscious alteration of one's patterns of thought and behavior.  When
you think on your ways in the light of the Word of God and discover sin that needs to be dealt with, does the pain of
discovery and the prospect of the spiritual warfare necessary to mortify that sin cause you to turn away from the field of
battle?  Do you turn on the television or pick up the newspaper or cut the grass, or seek some other diversion so that
you won't have to deal with the situation?  That's not what the psalmist did.  When he discovered a pattern in his life
contrary to the Word, a wrinkle that didn't line up right, an abnormality that didn't match God's standard of morality, he
set himself to alter his attitudes and conduct.  Honest self-reflection led him to
conscious alteration: 'I turned my feet
unto thy testimonies.'

Notice that the psalmist said that he did it;
he turned his feet into the way of conformity to God's Word.  He didn't say that
he thought on his ways and then prayed, 'Oh Lord, turn my feet.'  He said, 'I turned my feet.'   In other places in Psalm
119, he prayed that God would turn him.  And in our text he has told us that he entreated God's favor with his whole
heart.  He was a praying man.  He lived in the climate of dependence on God's power; but he didn't expect the grace of
God to bypass the conscious action of his own will.

What does the example of the psalmist signify for us?  It means, for example, that when you've prayed, 'God, help me to
keep a pure mind,' and a television program comes on that has scenes that are borderline pornography, you turn the
program off!  And it means that if you don't have the Christian maturity and will to turn such programs off, you have to
get rid of the TV in order to keep a good conscience before God.  It means that when you have prayed, 'Oh Lord, help
me with my over-eating,' you set clear limits on what goes into your refrigerator and into your mouth, and you start
getting on the scales every day and get honest with God.  The determination to live a life of principled obedience means
that there must be a commitment to conscious alteration of the patterns of one's life; steps must actually be taken to see
that the dictates of a biblically informed conscience are implemented at the level of our actual attitudes and behavior.

There isn't a word in our text about feeling - not a word that says altering patterns of sin won't be hard.  The psalmist
knew the altering ingrained patterns of sin is painful, grueling work.  But he also knew that the painful prospect of having
to kill sin must not cause the Christian to disregard his duty or to put off his duty to another time.  He knew that
cowardice and procrastination are the enemies of conscientious obedience to God.  This is why he adds, 'I made haste
and delayed not to observe thy commandments.'   When his conscience was convinced that his behavior was contrary to
God's will, he altered his conduct immediately.

When we read the affirmation, 'I made haste and delayed not to observe thy commandments,' we learn that the psalmist
was committed to universal and
immediate obedience.  He didn't pick and choose in God's Word as if it were a cafeteria
line.  He didn't say, 'That looks like an easy thing to do so I'll change that; but that looks too hard, that will mean undoing
the patterns of a life-time, that will be like pulling out my own teeth, that will be like plucking out my own eyes.'  No!  His
concern was God's 'commandments' (note the plural) - all of them!

Jesus said that if your eye causes you to stumble into sin, pluck it out, because it is better to enter heaven maimed than
having two eyes to go into hell.  The bottom line with some of you is that you really don't believe that this kind of radical
mortification of sin is necessary.  You aren't merciless in altering sinful patterns immediately and universally because
somehow you have been deceived into thinking that you can live a loose and shoddy life and still have real confidence
that you are a child of God on your way to heaven at last.  In spite of all the passages that teach that God's people are
an obedient people, you continue in this deception.

Beware delaying to alter any pattern of behavior that comes under the convicting pressure of conscience and the Word
of God
.  The usual result of such delay is hardness of heart.  The Bible warns, 'Today, if ye shall hear his [i.e. God's]
voice, harden not your hearts' (
Hebrews 3:15).  What is the connection between the urgency of dealing with sin 'today'
and the danger of hardening one's heart?  First, ignoring the dictates of our consciences has a deadening effect on our
ability to hear the testimony of conscience.  City dwellers, long accustomed to ignoring the sounds of city life, no longer
hear the noise of traffic.  Likewise, men who accustom themselves to ignoring the voice of conscience eventually
become deaf to its voice.  Second, ignoring the dictates of conscience erodes the force with which our consciences
speak.  Children who habitually discover that their parents don't listen cease to speak to their parents.  Likewise,
consciences which are habitually ignored cease to protest with any real vigor against the sins of their owners.  Turning a
deaf ear to our consciences causes them to exert less and less pressure until the heart becomes hardened to the claims
of God's Word.

What a beautiful example we see in David's life of a man who, under the pressure of a tender conscience, made haste
and delayed not to deal with sin.  King Saul was seeking to kill David.  Providence, however, put Saul in a place where
David easily could kill him; but David spares Saul's life.  Apparently in order later to prove to Saul how easily he could
have killed him, David secretly cuts off a little part of Saul's garment.  But no sooner has he done this than 'David's heart
smote him' that he had acted with disrespect toward God's anointed (
I Samuel 24:5-6).  David's immediate response to
the smiting of his conscience is to confess his sin to his own men and then to Saul, even though confessing to Saul
means making Saul aware of his presence and exposing himself to extreme danger.  David made haste and delayed not
to have a good conscience toward God and man.

There is nothing in the account of David's confession about David waiting until he felt like doing what was right - not a
word about his feelings.  David acted on the basis of principle.  Dear reader, you are never going to run the Christian
race with any strength and consistency until the chains of your feelings are broken.  Are you waiting for a wave of lovely
emotion to break upon your shore so that you can go riding in behind that wave of beautiful feelings?  Are you like the
surfer out there waiting, waiting, waiting for the perfect wave?  If you are, you will never live a life of principled obedience
to God's Word.

A life of principled obedience requires that the perspectives displayed in our text become part of the warp and woof of
our character.  Some of you grew up thinking that if it didn't feel good, then you didn't have to do it.  You were over-
indulged by your parents.  You weren't made to do anything you didn't like to do.  Everything was handed to you on a
silver platter.  You never had to live with difficulty and hardship like earlier generations.  In one sense, you are to be
pitied and not blamed that you live by feelings and not by principle.  You were short-changed by your parents.  In
another sense, however, given the light and truth that you now possess, if you continue to live this way, you clearly are
culpable and God Almighty will hold you accountable if your feelings-oriented patterns of behavior don't change.  Living
by biblical perspectives must become a spiritual habit.  And if you don't live this way presently, you must start doing so
today - right here and right now.  If there are matters which need to be made right, don't say 'Lord, tomorrow.'  Deal with
your sin today.  Start living a life of principled obedience now!


A LIFE OF PRINCIPLED OBEDIENCE, by A.N. Martin, Copyright 1992, The Banner of Truth Trust.