Every man, woman and child in the whole world is inescapably religious. Because God made us in his image, we really cannot be anything else. We are religious by nature, and everything we think and do is an expression of our religion.
On the other hand, if you do not put your full trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, you should not take any comfort in the fact that you are religious. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of religions in this world. Some worship a deity, while others do not. Most have a code of ethics, although there are some that think law is unnecessary. The idea of an afterlife is common to many of them, but not all of them. Therefore, it is not good enough to be religious. For a religion to have any value, it must be the religion, indeed the only religion, of which God himself approves. Jesus identified this religion when he said, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me (John 14:6). True religion requires that you put our faith and trust in him alone.
As you can see, this means that there are only two choices for religion. Either a man worships and serves the God of the Bible, or a god of his own making (an idol). Even the silly notion that there is no God is an idol of the atheist.
The Psalmist’s Question
Once a person becomes embraces the true religion of the gospel, he has another question to answer, viz., he’ll want to know how to worship and serve God through the Lord Jesus Christ? He has heard the Word of God and obeyed the summons to believe. Now, what should he do? This is the question with which our text, the second section of Psalm 119, is concerned. Verse 9 asks, Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is not as simple as it might seem at first. Cleansing our way is not really a matter of rearranging our priorities, making amends for a few minor lapses in judgment or catching up on old resolutions and commitments. Rather, it requires a complete and thorough overhaul of everything. It demands a total restructuring of everything in our lives. Why? Because the way of man is completely out of sync with God’s holy law. Proverbs 16:25 says, There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
A lot of people think that it’s good enough to keep God’s commandments most of the time, as long as they avoid destructive sins like murder and adultery. A little lying isn’t that big of a deal, nor is the abuse of God’s holy name. If they try their best, they assume God will ignore their minor infractions of his law and let them into heaven. But it just isn’t so. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that a person keeps the law 90 percent of the time. That would be like taking an airplane from Los Angeles to New York, only to have it take a nosedive into downtown Scranton. There are not too many people who, being in this situation, would commend the pilot for a 90-percent successful flight.
Unfortunately, the real picture is not even this good. T0 use the same illustration, the plane crashes before it even takes off. Now, why would I say that? It’s because the greatest commandment, according to our Lord Jesus Christ, requires us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:37–38). Who here today has kept this commandment perfectly throughout your entire life? For that matter, who has kept it for a month, a day or an hour? How many of you have kept it for even a single second without polluting it with your own desires, opinions and motives? I don’t see any hands in the air, and that is as it should be. Psalm 53:3 says, Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. The prophet Isaiah, addressing God’s covenant people, said that all our righteousness is are as filthy rags (Isa. 64:6).
The writer of Psalm 119 made the same point but in a different way. The word translated way (אָרְחוֹ) in verse 9 signifies a track or a rut, such as might be made by the wheels of the cart traveling across soft soil. It envisions a young sinner, also very impressionable, who has already begun developing sinful habits and becoming set in his ungodly ways. The purpose of the question in our text is to remind us that this process must be both reversed and undone in the life of a believer. Why? Because a young man who despises the truth of God and the righteousness of his standards will very quickly become an old man who continues to despise the truth of God and the righteousness of his standards. Toward the end of his life King Solomon realized this very thing when he wrote, Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them (Eccles. 12:1).
How, then, can a young man escape this? How can he maintain a pure way when he is predisposed to evil? There is no more important question for young men to ask themselves, especially since young men by nature tend to be proud and self-confident, believing that they can do absolutely anything.
The answer given by the writer of Ecclesiastes is that young people should remember their creator in the days of their youth before they establish these horrible, sinful ruts. Psalm 119 says that young men must cleanse their way by taking heed thereto according to thy word. That is, they must keep, guard, and give their undivided attention to those God-glorifying doctrines set forth in the Bible. They must heartily embrace what God says about their sin and misery, how they have been redeemed from their sin and how they must show their thankfulness to God for such a wonderful redemption.
Because the Bible sets forth these truths with unmistakable clarity, it is the principal means of our sanctification. Before Jesus was arrested he prayed, Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth (John 17:17). Whether young or old, you can only undo the sinful ruts that you have established by submitting your life entirely to the Word of God.
I cannot emphasize enough that the Bible is the only place where God speaks to men. He does not whisper directions in people’s ears anymore or appear to them in visions and dreams. He does not give signs on earth or in heaven that tell you how to live or what he thinks of you. You will hear his voice only in Scripture. Psalm 147:19–20 is very clear about this. It says, He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for his judgments, they have not known them. Praise ye the LORD.
Therefore, you must count the Bible as one of God’s greatest gifts.
The Psalmist’s Example
In verses 10 and 11, the psalmist draws our attention to his own example. He described his life as follows: With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.
In these words we see that the psalmist’s life stands in sharp contrast to the way that most young men live, as suggested by the previous verse. The psalmist has followed the way of the Lord. If David was the writer, then he no doubt prayed for God to show him the right way. He wrote, Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths (Ps. 25:4), and, Teach me thy way, O LORD, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies (Ps. 27:11). Later in the Psalm that we are looking at today, he expressed his firm resolve to follow in that way. Verse 33 says, Teach me, O LORD, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end.
But what accounts for the difference? Was the psalmist a better person than most young men? After all, he wrote in verse 10 that he had sought the Lord with his whole heart. Does this, then, mean that the psalmist was a step or two above ordinary men, perhaps some kind of a super saint?
No, that’s not the point here at all. The fact that the psalmist sought the Lord with his whole heart identifies his purpose. Like the rest of us he sometimes stumbled and fell. David’s sins — his adultery with Bathsheba, the murder of her husband, and his shameless counting of the people at the end of his life — have been written in large letters across the pages of his inspired biography. They are there for every one of us to read. David was not immune to sin.
To the contrary, the emphasis of these two verses is on the word heart. According to Proverbs 4:23, all the issues of life flow out of the heart. Therefore, Solomon exhorts you to keep your heart with all diligence.
The natural heart is the source of all our sin. Jesus said, For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies (Matt. 15:19). But we know that the world does not want to blame the sinner for his sin. Our modern prison system is based on the Quaker idea that people are basically good but society as a whole is basically evil. Therefore, if we separate our good-hearted criminals from the evil society that forced them into a life of crime, they will think about what they have done and improve themselves. But we all know how well this works. Our prisons are universities of crime, educating felons on how to commit worse crimes more effectively. That’s because we cannot separate sin from the sinner. Sin is the heart of the problem and the problem of the heart is sin.
If sin is a heart-issue, then so is goodness. Again, Jesus said, A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things (Matt. 12:35).
Of course, we cannot change our own hearts or the hearts of others. The prophet Jeremiah once asked, Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? The obvious answer to these rhetorical questions is no: a black man cannot make his skin white or red, nor can a leopard exchange his spots for stripes. Then Jeremiah, speaking sarcastically, said, Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil (Jer. 13:23). Right! Such a profound change of heart can only be accounted for by divine grace. Thus, God himself promises us in Ezekiel 36:26, A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
The psalmist not only sought the Lord with his whole heart, he also wanted to express his thankfulness to him by keeping his commandments.
Anyone who has been a Christian for more than an hour knows how tempting it is to wander from the God of our salvation. In one of our hymns, Robert Robinson expressed his frustration with his own battle against sin as follows:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
In fact, our weakness is so great that, were it not for God’s persevering grace, we would immediately plunge ourselves headlong into intolerable wickedness. Knowing this to be so, the psalmist begged God not to let him stray.
On the other hand, note that the psalmist’s prayer in verse 10 contrasts with another statement in verse 19. In the latter verse he recognized that he was a stranger in the earth, i.e., this world was not his proper home, but in the former he shows that he did not drift around as if he had no purpose or direction. As Christians living in a hostile world, we are always unwelcome strangers, but we must never be aimless wanderers.
And yet that is exactly what we see in so many who go by the name Christian today. Some are obsessed with an over emphasis on patriarchalism, others are enamored with the home church movement, but most people just drift in and out of churches as if they were shopping at the mall. There’s nothing solid in their lives. They have no foundation that they can build upon and cling to. It is as if each new generation, each family and each individual has to reinvent Christianity anew.
According to verse 11, the antidote to purposeless wandering is hiding the Word of God in your heart, i.e., memorizing it. That’s where it all begins. Once you have that foundation, then you have something solid that you can build upon. Afterwards, you will develop an appreciation for such things as the institutional church and its ministry, the history of the church (God building his kingdom in time), and the great confessions that the church has produced. But it all begins with the Bible. The communion of the saints is simply the Bible in practice.
Memorizing the Bible must be of paramount importance to you. It will protect you from all kinds of sin. When you put the Word of God in your heart, God’s promises, which is really what the word translated word (אִמְרָתֶךָ) in verse 11 means, will defend you from the surprise attacks of the devil. You will find then, as the psalmist wrote later in this very psalm, that God’s Word will be a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path (v. 105).
The Psalmist’s Desire
In the last few verses of today’s text, the psalmist expressed one more thought: his tremendous desire for the Word of God. He started by blessing God for giving his Word to his people in verse 12: Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.
But just having the Bible is not enough. There are countless homes all across the United States that have Bibles. Some are used to record genealogical information. Others are used to decorate coffee tables. Many just sit on a bookshelf gathering dust. Bibles that are never read cannot fill our minds with godly thoughts, change our hearts or our behavior. Therefore, the psalmist not only praised God for his Word, but also begged God to give him an understanding of it. He prayed in verse 18, Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.
Consider just how profound a thought this is. The psalmist was a penman used by the Holy Spirit to write inerrant and infallible truth. He was moved by the special operation of the third person of the Trinity to communicate God’s Word to others. Yet, he realized that he needed heavenly discernment in order to understand the very words that he was appointed to write. Now, if the psalmist needed God’s instruction, then how much more do we? Like the Bereans in Acts 17 we must search the Scriptures daily, but we must always do so with the understanding that any gold we mine from its treasures is a heaven-sent gift.
At this point, the psalmist could no longer restrain himself. His excitement for what God had given to him immediately spilled over into evangelism. Verse 13 says, With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth. Evangelism is, and always should be, the response of everyone who really appreciates the great salvation of our God. We have examples of this in the first chapter of John’s gospel. As soon as Andrew heard that the Messiah had come, he went out and found his brother Simon and told him the good news. Likewise, Philip, upon hearing about the Lord, made a beeline for Nathanael and said to him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph (cf. John 1:40–51). In the book of Acts, the same evangelistic fervor characterized each of the apostles as well as those who heard the gospel through them.
It’s often true that evangelism is a barometer of a believer’s appreciation for the Word of God. The more one loves the Bible, the more that person will want to communicate its precious truths to others so that they can love it, too. As you reflect on Psalm 119, what is your barometer telling you? Do you have such a love for God’s Word that you cannot help sharing it with others? When was the last time that you told someone about the Lord or invited a neighbor to church?
The psalmist’s increased understanding of the Bible and his enthusiasm for proclaiming it, according to verse 14, made him rejoice in it even more. In fact, he eventually came to the place where he desired the Word more than he desired the wealth of the whole world. It had become his most prized possession. You might remember that Job went even further. He said, I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food (Job 23:12).
I realize that saying something like this is easy, especially if it isn’t true. But to say something like this and really mean it takes a tremendous amount of sanctification. We can be so very thankful, therefore, that our gracious God gave us not only David and Job, but the best example of all. The Lord Jesus Christ, whose holiness was impeccable, refused to turn rocks into bread to satisfy his hunger because he knew that doing so would have compromised his messianic mission and undermined the truthfulness of the Word of God. When the devil tempted him, he simply quoted Scripture: It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4; cf. Deut. 8:3). Our Savior’s desire to submit himself heart and soul to the Word of God took precedence over his physical needs.
In light of these truths, the psalmist pledges in verses 15 and 16 to continue meditating on Scripture, to delight himself in it, and not to forget it. In other words, God’s revelation had become part of his internal fabric, if you will. We know that a young man, a young woman, an old man, an old woman, or even a small child, has cleansed his way when this has happened.
Has the Word of God taken hold of your heart today? Is it part of your inner fabric? Do you keep God’s commandments because you love them or because you have some other reason to keep them? If you keep them for some other reason, then you’ll find that there are even more reasons to break them. In the end, only reason for keeping God’s law really matters: Thus saith the Lord. The mere fact that God has spoken should satisfy all our needs.
If the Bible is not internalized, if it has not taken hold of our hearts, it cannot minister its sanctifying grace to us. We must, like the psalmist, memorize it, delight in it and not forget it. The Bible must occupy our thinking and regulate our behavior. It must be our joy and delight. It must be so captivate our thinking that we would never even consider doing what it forbids or not doing what it commands.
This is what it means for young man, whom the Spirit of God has brought to faith in Jesus Christ, cleanses his way, so that his life is entirely devoted to the worship and service of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is what a young man needs in order to climb out of the ruts of his sinful habits and make his life a testimony to the inexhaustible grace of God.
Our twenty-first century is filled with addictions. Drunkards are addicted to wine. Drug addicts cannot make it through the day without their crack cocaine and methamphetamines. Pedophiles won’t leave children alone. Others are addicted to pornography, violence, gambling, video games, and just about anything that you can think of. These kinds of addictions are all evil and they are all destructive.
But there is one addiction that you never hear about. It’s a good addiction — addiction to the Word of God. Those who are addicted to the Bible soon become addicted to other things, too, viz., evangelism and good works. In fact, God sent his Son into this world for this very purpose: that those who believe in him might give themselves entirely to his service. He came so that we might be addicted to him. Jesus said, I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly (John 10:10). This is the kind of life (i.e. the religion) that pleases him. This is how you, as the people of God, must glorify God and enjoy him forever. Amen.