“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11
Seeing this verse, one I’ve heard many times before, it strikes me that sin is the focus. The driving force behind this writer’s pursuit and treasuring up of Scripture is the desire that he wouldn’t sin against a Holy God. It got me to thinking—is sin that big of a deal to us? It seems like the word has lost a lot of its power. The connotation with “sin” isn’t as negative as it once was. It seems to have been painted over, lightened in intensity, so that we can brush past it without much impact. I don’t know that we sense its depth of wickedness, the seriousness of it.
But it was a big enough deal for the writer of this psalm to make it the basis for this statement. His main reasoning for storing up the Word of God in his heart, for treasuring it, meditating on it, memorizing it, was to keep from sinning and instead pursue holiness and righteousness.
Our aim in studying Scripture can look different than this. For example, if our focus is to see the faithfulness and promises of God, His steadfastness and sacrifice for us, we come away feeling good. We may come away feeling unworthy as He reveals to us darkness in our hearts, but I think it’s easy for us to make that good feeling our goal.
Seeing His faithfulness and goodness isn’t a bad thing. Please don’t misunderstand. Our God is good and He loves us with a depth and perfection that we can’t fathom. We should allow that truth to penetrate our heart. Paul prayed that Christ’s church would know the breadth and length and height and depth of His love (Ephesians 3:17-19). And whatever our aim is, storing up God’s Word in our heart may ultimately lead us to the same end—a closer relationship with Christ and a life lived seeking to honor Him and turn away from sin. I just wonder, reading this verse in Psalm 119, if having only the aim of remembering His promises could keep us from focusing on verses that challenge us and go against our preferences. We may begin to study only those passages that are easy to swallow and pass over the ones that stir up questions and defiance in our spirit. We may find ourselves basing our faith and our love for Christ on the verses we understand and can wrap our minds around rather than fully trusting that God is faithful, true and wise, and He knows what He’s doing even if we can’t reason it out.
If we make it our aim in studying Scripture to not sin against our Lord, perhaps we will take more seriously His command to live a holy life, one worthy of His calling. We may give more consideration to His most difficult commands and seek to obey Him regardless of how we feel in a given moment. Because isn’t that the true test of our faith? To hold fast to good, hold fast to Christ, in the face of situations we don’t understand?
I’m not going for a Pharisee-like focus here. It’s never right to take our focus off of Christ for the sake of following a list of rules. When we cease to see the character of God exhibited in our lives, it’s a sure sign that we’ve gotten off-track. Our heart is still involved here. We are still, above everything, to love the LORD our God with everything we are and to love others as ourselves. “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law…Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:8,10). But I think the goal of not sinning may help us keep the importance and beauty of our relationship with God in perspective. We will better recognize that sin—all sin—is evil. It creates a barrier between us and the One who loves us more than we can comprehend. A great chasm we can never cross. An offense has been committed that no good works can ever make up for. We are hopeless in our darkness.
But God. God entered in. And He gave us hope, because He gave us Christ. The One who spans that chasm and reconciles us with this God of justice and holiness. So in realizing the dangers and darkness of sin, perhaps we gain more than a sense of the importance in our avoiding it. We also develop a greater thankfulness for the magnificent grace of God shown to us in Jesus Christ. We praise His great power as it was displayed in raising Jesus from the dead. We wonder all the more at His love and faithfulness toward us, and rejoice that His grace not only saves us, it also sustains us daily and equips us to “Go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11).
Psalm 119:11 calls for a realization that knowing Christ is far greater than anything and everything else. Sin is not remotely worth the hurt it does to our relationship with the God of Heaven. So we choose to treasure His Word sent to us. We think on it, we study it, we store it in our heart so that our lives are characterized by our faithfulness to and focus on our glorious Lord. We strive to be found faithful in Christ and rely on His grace to empower us, on His Spirit to continue the great work of transforming us into Christ-likeness. Because this is of greatest importance and greatest value. He is the source of our greatest joy. So we store up His Word in our heart, that we might not sin against Him.