Searching the Soul

Searching the Soul

Psalm 139:23-24
by Bob Burridge ©2022

Security has increased since the terrorist attacks of 2001. It’s not uncommon to be searched when going about your normal business. For safety people are searched before boarding an airplane, sometimes before entering a sports area, or a government facility.

Sometimes they might find something you thought was completely innocent, but it could be used as a weapon in the hands of a dangerous person. I remember being searched before we entered NASA’s facility at Kennedy Space Center. My wife had a little pair of collapsible scissors in her purse. It was taken away and not given back.

We balance the need for security with constitutional protections against illegal searches. No one can come into your home to go through your things unless there’s evidence that you’re hiding something that’s illegal, or that you are suspected of intending to do something that’s illegal. The courts need to review requests like that so law enforcement doesn’t abuse its authority.

Sometimes, deep in the soul, we harbor thoughts and desires that shouldn’t be there. We might not even admit them to ourselves. Every human society since Eden has accepted certain sins as normal and innocent. They’re part of regular entertainment, activities, and conversations. People often ridicule the keeping of God’s law as if it’s “old fashioned” and “out of touch”, not “woke”.

Growing up and living in the world around us can deceive and mislead our yet imperfect souls. So the Psalmist cried out for God to examine his heart to expose anything that shouldn’t be there. Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! ”

Our yet imperfect souls can hide sinful things that are there disguised in our hearts. Even if you see them they are often camouflaged to blend in with what’s acceptable.

When the military sets up camp in the enemy’s territory or within their sights, they try to hide their facilities, equipment, and combatants. They put on camouflaged clothes, and nets over tents to blend into the environment. Tanks and other vehicles are colored to look like what’s naturally there so they’re not easily seen.

Sin does that in our hearts. It tries to make wrong things appear innocent and benign. The aim of Satan and our own sinful hearts is to make us not see it, even when we’re looking directly at it.

This is why we need God’s help to search out such things and expose them. So the Psalmist here teaches us to pray for God to expose the hidden sins. He asks God to put him to the test, even his own inner thoughts. He asks him to strip away the camouflage to expose the wicked ways that might be there.

We know what the wicked ways are by knowing God’s word. That’s what spells out what the dangers are, what offends God, even things we assume are innocent. God’s law isn’t just a set of general rules to live by. They tell what’s right and good. The moral principles there explain what pleases God, and what shows disrespect for him.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7:7 that it’s by the law that we know what constitutes sin. “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ ”

This goes against the view of the law in many popular and prospering churches. Some teach that what the Bible calls “law” was just for the Jewish people in the Old Testament. In Romans 7:12 Paul said, “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” God’s law was evidently still in effect when Paul wrote this after Christ’s resurrection.

The ceremonial laws of the Old Testament prefigured Christ’s sacrifice until he came. They showed how our Savior would suffer in our place for what we deserve as fallen sinners. Now that Jesus fulfilled what was promised we don’t do those sacrifices and offerings anymore. But the moral laws of God are an expression of God’s moral principles that have applied since Eden. Jesus and the New Testament writers used these laws to identify and expose sin.

The Ten Commandments are a summary of these moral laws. Jesus confirmed them in his teachings. Matthew 5:17-19, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

God is never honored if we put others before him, or try to imagine his physical appearance. God’s name, all his holy attributes, should never be spoken in vain (carelessly or thoughtlessly). The Creation Sabbath Day is always a day to cease our labors and not to pay others to labor for us. It’s a day of corporate worship and of showing mercy. On that day we worship and specially honor the God who made all things for his own Glory. Parents and those in authority should never to be disrespected. We’re never to murder or disrespect human life. It’s never acceptable to be unfaithful in marriage, or to be intimate outside its bond. We’re never to steal, lie, or covet what God by his mercies gives to others.

These moral principles predate Sinai. They predate Israel. They have always shown us what’s right and good. All that doesn’t honor these principles the way the Scriptures apply them is sinful and shouldn’t be excused or allowed a place in our hearts. Their camouflage needs to be torn off, and the sin exposed for what it is.

But knowing what’s sin, isn’t all that the Psalmist prayed for. He wanted to be able to recognize it in his own soul.

It’s the Holy Spirit that enables believers to recognize these spiritual dangers in their heart. The Spirit of God works through the revealed word in Scripture. He brings us under conviction and helps God’s people recognize and deal with their sins.

As the Lord enables us, we’re to prayerfully examine ourselves. The Psalmist didn’t just want God to be aware of his sins. He wanted God to show it to him and help him overcome it, to root it out.

In 1 Corinthians 11:28 it makes this part or our preparation for the Lord’s Supper: “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”

Prayer and the study of the Bible are the means God ordains for this work. He also uses our Christian friends and God’s word in worship and our personal Bible studies. These can alert us to dangers we might not see ourselves.

When sin’s exposed, God can lead us in the right way, the way of everlasting glory and blessing. His word and Spirit guide the believer along the right way. The words of that great hymn, Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah reflect this prayer of the believer.

This is the consistent advice of Scripture: to ask for God to guide us into grateful obedience:
Psalm 31:2, “For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;”
Psalm 32:8, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.”
Psalm 73:24, “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.”
Isaiah 58:11, “And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”

Jesus said and promised us this in John 16:13, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” In Psalm 51 David humbly confessed his sins, and prayed to be changed for God’s glory. Psalm 51:1-2, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!”

We need to regularly pray for God to search our hearts to expose any sin that hides there. Ask him to strip away the camouflage, and replace what doesn’t honor God with what does.

Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

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