Learning How to Want: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 44


  1. What does the tenth commandment require?

That not even the least inclination or thought against any commandment of God ever enter our heart, but that with our whole heart we continually hate all sin and take pleasure in all righteousness.1

[1] Rom. 7:7–8; *Prov. 4:23; *Jas. 1:14–15; *Matt. 15:11, 19–20.

  1. Can those who are converted to God keep these commandments perfectly?

No, but even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of such obedience,1 yet so that with earnest purpose they begin to live not only according to some, but according to all the commandments of God.2

[1] 1 Jn. 1:8–10; Rom. 7:14–15; Eccl. 7:20. [2] Rom. 7:22; Jas. 2:10–11; *Job 9:2–3; *Ps. 19:13.

  1. Why then does God so strictly enjoin the Ten Commandments upon us, since in this life no one can keep them?

First, that as long as we live we may learn more and more to know our sinful nature,1 and so the more earnestly seek forgiveness of sins and righteousness in Christ;2 second, that without ceasing we diligently ask God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we be renewed more and more after the image of God, until we attain the goal of perfection after this life.3

[1] 1 Jn. 1:9; Ps. 32:5. [2] Rom. 7:24–25. [3] 1 Cor. 9:24–25; Phil. 3:12–14; *Matt. 5:6; *Ps. 51:12.


Learning How to Want

A great deal could be said on the subject of covetousness.  The Catechism focuses on the internalization of the Law, that the commandment requires internal as well as external obedience.  What is left to some degree unsaid, though perhaps implied, is that the commandment specifically addresses desire; not merely the desire to break God’s law, but specifically the desire for my neighbor’s things.  What does it mean to “covet”?  Does it have the meaning of inordinate desire?  The word chamad often is used in a positive sense, of desiring good things, like in Psalm 19:10 when it refers to desiring the judgments of God more than gold or honey.

Then is desire itself bad?  Should we be like Buddhists who strive to empty themselves of desire as the source of all suffering?  The commandment doesn’t say that either.  It says specifically that I am not to desire my neighbor’s things; his house (speaking broadly of office, status, place in life, not merely the building he lives in), wife, servants, or in fact anything that belongs to him.

The desire for what others have is a source of great and endless misery.  It is one thing to want a better car because the one I have now is unreliable or not big enough for my family.  It is another thing when I want another car because I see the car my neighbor is driving and how much nicer it is than mine.  The perception of how a neighbor’s husband provides for his family and treats his wife has fueled a great deal of discontent in marriages, as has comparisons between the way your neighbor’s wife looks when she has her makeup on and the way your own wife looks when she first gets out of bed.  Advertisers are expert at this, at creating desire based on dissatisfaction and covetousness, by teaching me not only what to want but how to want.  People covet a great many things- someone else’s appearance, popularity, reputation, job, family, or really anything at all in which people find joy, safety, and significance.

James says that this lust that wars within us is the source of wars and fights (James 4).  I covet the wife my neighbor has, so it makes me angry at my own wife for not being that way.  Or I covet the promotion that someone else got at work, which makes me angry at him, at the unfair boss, at the coworker whose incompetence is holding me back, or my kids whose disobedience at home meant I wasn’t at full performance at work.  I will look anywhere for the source of my discontent and anger except inside myself, for it is a humiliating thing to recognize that it is my own covetousness which causes me the problem.  If I had the house or the car or the spouse I have right now, and nobody I knew had one that appeared to be better, then I would have no discontent over it, which means that my actual discontent has nothing to do with what I have, but with my desires for what others have, fuel all sorts of sin against others- murder, adultery, theft, and slander.

But if instead we recognize that God is good, and God will take care of us and bless us immensely in the future life, then we can put away this pointless agitation about people’s different stations and situations in this life.  These differences will always exist, and no amount of effort on my part or social engineering by the government is ever going to make them go away.  People’s relative stations and gifts in this life have nothing at all to do with their worth or value in God’s eyes.  He puts people where He puts them for His own mysterious plans.  He delights to raise up and cast down, always to glorify Himself.  But we can trust our good and benevolent God, who has a reason for all He does in this life, giving one a great deal and another only a little.  God knows what we need and what He wills to accomplish in this life through us, so we should trust where God has put us, be faithful with what He has given us, take advantage when opportunities come to improve our lot in life but not be driven by it.  We should be driven instead by our desire for Christ, to seek first the kingdom of God, knowing that every good thing will certainly come with it.

When we understand how deep-rooted our sin problem is, then we will understand the true need we have for a Savior (questions 114, 115).  No amount of willpower is ever going to give us the ability to change the very way we desire.  The law shows us how dependent we are for forgiveness.  It will secondarily drive us to recognize our need for the Spirit of God to work on us, to change the way we think and the way we want, to open our eyes to the vanity of this world and its temptations and instead to show us the solid reality of our very blessed state in Christ.  We can then begin to learn to rest content with what the Lord has given us, seek to be faithful where we are right now, and trust Him to give us every good thing in His time.  No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11).

All are welcome at Christ Reformed Church!  We worship at 10 AM Sunday morning at 600 W. 21st St, in College Heights Baptist’s old sanctuary.