The Heart of True Religion Deuteronomy 10:12-22
Moses had an advantage that most preachers don’t have. When he preached this time to the church in the wilderness, he knew it would be his last sermon before they entered into the Promised Land and he into glory. Since Deuteronomy was his last sermon, the message is sobering. What could be so important that this unique preacher would make them his dying words? His dying desire was that the people he had poured his life into would know God spiritually, inwardly, externally, and eternally. Moses was concerned that these people who were so immersed in religion might not substitute their rituals and routines for true heart devotion to the Lord. Significantly, this is a theme that the prophets following Moses reiterated over and again, and none less than Christ, the Ideal Prophet, who denounced those in His day who had perverted Moses by ignoring the spirit of the law. True religion is internal and experiential. Not in the days of Moses or of Christ or today has God ever been satisfied with the perfunctory performance of religion without heart. This point from Moses’ last sermon is the point of this section from Deuteronomy 10. It is a classic exposition of true religion that can be summed up under three heads: the basis, beginning, and business of true religion.
The basis is the person of God
Knowing God and establishing a relationship with Him is what true religion is all about. The text suggests two significant propositions about God. First, His person is worth knowing. Verse 17 highlights three truths that explain Moses’ conclusion that God is the praise of His people (v. 21). He is supreme: God of gods and Lord of lords. The titles of God are always important, and here so is the grammatical structure. The title “God” refers to His creative power, transcendence, and majesty, whereas “Lord” refers to His ownership and sovereignty over all His creation. The linking of the word with its own plural is a means of expressing a superlative idea. Moses thus identifies God as the infinitely unique and supreme One who exercises absolute dominion and power over the entire universe. He is awesome: a great God, a mighty, and a terrible (fearful or awe-inspiring). These descriptions, heaped one on the other, put in bold the fact that God is worthy of all praise and deserves our worship and service. He is consistent: no respecter of persons. Literally, He is not “a lifter up of face,” an idiom meaning to show partiality. God deals with all men the same way in terms of what is required for knowing and experiencing fellowship with Him. Knowing God is on His terms, and His terms are expressed in the gospel.
Christ said, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ” John 17:3
Knowing Christ is knowing God; there is no other way. That was as true in Moses’ day as it is now.
Second, His grace makes knowing Him possible. In verse 17 Moses refers to the LORD their God. LORD is Jehovah, the personal name of God that is directly associated with His covenant grace and salvation. Verses 14-15 explain the wonder of this covenant grace. All the earth belongs to the Lord by virtue of His being the Creator, but He has a restrictive delight for His people based in His gracious choice. In loving their fathers, He loved what was unlovely. In choosing their seed, He chose what had no merit. But herein is the mystery of grace: God who is so infinitely high delights in a people so low. Were it not for gracious electing love flowing from covenant promise, there would be no possibility of knowing Him in truth. True religion recognizes and relies on God’s grace.
The beginning is inward
True religion is a matter of the heart, and verse 16 expresses the heart of the matter: circumcise the heart. Although circumcision as the sign of the covenant had not been practiced during the wilderness wanderings, Moses in his last sermon says nothing about the circumcision of the flesh. As important as it was, there was something of greater concern. With emphatic language, he commanded, “You must circumcise the foreskin of the heart.” To circumcise means to cut off. In the theology of circumcision, the foreskin represented the filth of the flesh, the defilement, depravity, and impurity of man from his birth. Since sin separates from God, sin must be addressed if there is to be any hope of fellowship with God. In our flesh dwells no good thing. True religion requires the removing of that obstacle; biblical religion is the only religion that offers and provides the full pardon and forgiveness of sin. That is amazing.
Significantly, this circumcision must take place in the heart. The heart represents the entirety of the inner man: the mind, emotions, and will. Something that is uncircumcised does not function properly. “Uncircumcised lips” refers to some sort of speech impediment; “uncircumcised ears” refers to deafness. An uncircumcised heart is a heart that spiritually malfunctions. It does not think right, feel right, or do right in terms of God. Therefore, to circumcise the heart involves a change of thought, feeling, and decisions; it involves a new nature. Christ expressed this necessity in terms of a new birth. Moses said, “You must circumcise the heart;” Christ said, “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7). With different imagery, they said the same thing. Just as Christ explained to Nicodemus that He was talking about a spiritual birth, so Moses is talking about a spiritual circumcision. Paul referred to this heart circumcision this way:
“In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.” Colossians 2:11
This is where true religion begins, not with a reformation of behavior but with a transformation on the inside.
The business is pervasive
True religion starts on the inside, but it lets loose in life. Ultimately, there is no part of life not affected by biblical religion. Moses begins this section by informing Israel about what God requires or more literally asks of them (vv. 12-13). A series of five infinitives, arranged in a chiastic (X) pattern, delineate God’s expectations of those with whom He has entered into covenant, putting loving Him at the center focus. Interestingly, the list begins with fearing God and ends with keeping His commandments, which according to Ecclesiastes 12:13 is “the whole duty of man.” But let’s consider them in order.
To fear God is to know Him as He reveals Himself. Fearing God quite simply is living in the awareness of God, factoring Him into every circumstance and situation of life. The fear of God will affect worship and ethics in reverence for Him and dread to displease Him. Fearing God is the essence of piety. To walk in His ways is to adhere to a manner of life that imitates Him. We are to be holy because He is holy; we are to walk in the light as He is in the light. Moses illustrates by linking God’s care for orphans, widows, and strangers to the command for God’s people to love strangers as well (vv. 18-19). This parallels James’s definition of pure, undefiled religion as visiting the orphans and widows (James 1:27), the keeping of the second great commandment. To love God is evidence of being loved by God since we love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Genuine, heart love for God is a mark of saving grace and fulfillment of the greatest of all the commandments, to love Him totally (Deut. 6:5). To serve Him diligently is a labor of love that directs and dedicates all activity whether secular or sacred to His glory. Whatever our hands find to do, we are to do it heartily unto the Lord (see Col. 3:23). All of life should be with a view to Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. To keep His commandments is to guard, to pay close attention to and to give diligent care to obey Him. His law should be the delight of the life and obeying His commands is a manifestation of love. Christ Himself linked loving Him to keeping His commandments (John 14:15).
Together, these infinitives make it clear that true religion, Christianity, is more than rituals or creeds. It is a way of life that flows from a regenerated or circumcised heart that knows the Person of God personally.