You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings.
Now that you have made me listen, I finally understand –
you don’t require burnt offerings or sin offerings.
Then I said, ‘Look, I have come.
As is written about me in the Scriptures:
I take joy in doing your will, my God,
for your instructions are written on my heart.’
Psalm 40:6-8 (New Living Translation)
This Psalm became important to me after my first healing breakthrough in the autumn of 2010 and I’ve spent time since then meditating on it and pondering what it means. These verses were a bit of a puzzle for a while, but the meaning is becoming clearer. So I’m going to share here where I’m at with my thoughts on obedience and sacrifice and who has God’s instructions written on their hearts.
Why doesn’t God delight in sacrifices and offerings? Whole chunks of the Old Testament are dedicated to exactly how sacrifices were to be made. The Israelites would have been in big trouble had they neglected to make sacrifices and bring offerings to God. But even in the Old Testament, God is more concerned with what’s going on in people’s hearts than what we show outwardly. Anyone can make sacrifices. Obedience is harder because it can cost more. We can make sacrifices and look good, but still be doing what we want and going our own way. Obedience requires that we put someone else first (in this instance, God) and yield to what they want. Israel’s first king, Saul, was given specific instructions by God through the prophet Samuel to destroy the Amalekite people and their animals because of their sin. But Saul kept the Amalekite king alive along with the best of the cows, sheep and goats. When confronted about it, Saul said he’d kept the animals to make sacrifices and offerings to God. He didn’t realise until Samuel pointed it out, that: ‘obedience is better than sacrifice’ (1 Samuel 15). God wanted obedience, not sacrifice. Sacrifice can be a cop out.
Obedience is much more important to God because when we obey Him, we show Him we love Him. Jesus explained this to His disciples a few hours before He was arrested and executed (John 14). Being a Christian isn’t about keeping a list of rules – that’s legalism – but about a relationship with God. Jesus had an incredibly close and intimate relationship with His Father and He delighted to obey His Dad because God’s instructions were written on His heart. And, if you know God, He has done the same thing for you.
This is the covenant I will establish with the house of Israel after that time, declares the LORD. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people… they will all know me, from the least to the greatest (Hebrews 8).
Do you love Jesus? Then just love Him. You don’t have to do anything to earn His love and grace – He’s done it all, even to the point of putting His law in your heart. Aim to please Him because you love Him. Obeying Him is a joyful thing. Jesus didn’t walk around miserable, He was full of joy (I know Isaiah described Him as a ‘man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’ but that was when He was on the cross carrying your grief and sorrows and sin). Jesus was an attractive person to be around – look at the crowds He drew. I love being around joyful people who are radiant with their love for Jesus, and I want to be like that. I’m not so fussed on being around people who are full of woe with a daunting list of do’s and don’ts! Christians aren’t meant to be weighed down with rules; we joyfully obey God because we love Him.