David confessed, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). This sin problem is not David’s dilemma alone. Every one of us shares this sad testimony. We are all sinners – by nature, birth, inclination, choice, and conduct.
Paul indicts us all: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). Consequently, we do not need anyone to teach us how to sin. If you don’t believe that, have some children. You don’t have to train a child to lie, cheat, or steal. At birth, they are automatically wired to do wrong. So is every one of us.
I repeat: We do not need anyone to teach us how to do wrong. We definitely need someone to teach us how to do right. The freedom of the will permits us to do as we wish. The bondage of the will does not permit us to do as we ought. Jeremiah asks: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil” (Jeremiah 13:23).
We need someone to teach us how to do what is right. But, who? Only God can teach you how to live right. In Psalm 119:33, the psalmist prays:
“Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will keep it to the end.”
This verse tells four truths about God’s seminary for right living.
The enrollment process. The anonymous author of Psalm 119 was devoted to the word of God. The content of this psalm makes it obvious that he read, studied, meditated on, memorized, believed, delighted in, obeyed, proclaimed, and even suffered for it. But the greatest evidence of this was not what he knew, but his acknowledgment of what he did not know. This is an essential qualification for admission into God’s school: you must recognize you have a lot to learn. God never accepts foolish people, who do not know that they do not know. God only accepts those who recognize their need for instruction. Education is the process of going from unconscious ignorance to conscious ignorance. The enrollment process into God’s school requires you to recognize your spiritual ignorance and cry out, “Teach me.”
The Master Instructor. It has been well said that the one who has himself as a pupil has a fool for a teacher. This is all the more true when it comes to knowing and living in the righteousness of God. You cannot teach yourself to live right. Other people cannot teach you how to live right. And the world cannot teach you how to live right. God alone is the master teacher, tenured professor, and resident scholar. Only God can teach you how to live as you should. You must submit to God’s instruction to be a righteous person. To live right, you must trust and obey the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Let the word of God teach, rebuke, correct, and train you in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).
The subject matter. The psalmist asked the Lord to teach him the way of his statutes. It is a prayer to know the way, road, or path of life that is pleasing to the Lord. The word of God did is the way of God. The psalmist did not want to merely know a body of truth. He wanted to know a way of life. Jesus exhorts: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14). The psalmist found the straight and narrow way that leads to life in the word of God. He prayed that the Lord would teach him the way of his statutes.
The teaching aim. The psalmist added a pledge to his plea: if God would teach him the way of his statutes, he would keep it to the end. God has not given us his word merely to increase our knowledge, but to change our lives. The goal of spiritual instruction is an obedient life. James declares: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1;22). You are only fooling yourself if you think you are right with God by hearing the word. Faith must be expressed in obedience. Not only must there be active obedience; there must be persistent obedience. True obedience is not occasional, period, or sporadic. It must be “to the end.” Keep at it until you receive your final reward.