Audio Worship 10/29/2023, "Spiritual Formation: Transforming the Soul: Deuteronomy 4.1-14

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1611

October 29, 2023

Deuteronomy 4.1-14          Click here for audio worship.

Dr. Ed Pettus


"Spiritual Formation: Transforming the Soul"


And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. 2You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you. 3Your eyes have seen what the Lord did at Baal-peor, for the Lord your God destroyed from among you all the men who followed the Baal of Peor. 4But you who held fast to the Lord your God are all alive today. 5See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 6Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ 7For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? 8And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?

9“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children's children— 10how on the day that you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, the Lord said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’ 11And you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, while the mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven, wrapped in darkness, cloud, and gloom. 12Then the Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice. 13And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone. 14And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and rules, that you might do them in the land that you are going over to possess.



  • Defining the Soul


Today I want us to focus on the soul. This is something of a difficulty because the soul is something of a mystery to us. The soul does not lend itself to definitions. The soul leans more toward our imagination, more toward the depth of being or what it means to be genuine. The soul deals with things that “touch” our lives in ways we can hardly describe and yet we fully know that we have been deeply touched. The soul cannot be articulated through science; it is not something we can see and put our finger on. Soul goes beyond comprehension much like other things we cannot fully comprehend. Think biblically of the peace that surpasses our understanding (Philippians 4.7) or the love that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3.19). And yet Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3 is that we might know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge”. How can we know the unknowable? Reminds me of the Jeopardy game show joke, “I’ll take Things Nobody Knows for 200, Alex!” Well, the soul is like that. We know the soul, we know we have a soul, and yet we do not fully know. The soul is not definable. It is more about the mystery and depth of being. It is at center, the core of our being, and those who do seek to have a better understanding of the soul say that the soul “correlates, integrates, and enlivens everything going on in the various dimensions of the self” (Willard pg 199). Dallas Willard uses a term, “life-center”. Life-center is a good beginning to understanding the soul. The soul is that at the depth of life. Soul gives meaning, relatedness, satisfaction, life giving. It is why people call things soulful like food or music. The soul is that which brings comfort in those kinds of things.

At our greatest depth is the soul that is right with God. The soul, when rightly related to God, gives us life in ways we also cannot completely comprehend. It does something within us that goes beyond conscious awareness. When that relationship is solid, we have the rest within that Jesus refers to as we take His yoke and find rest for our souls (Matthew 11.28). When that relationship has a good orientation, our life has proper orientation. We can more readily discern right from wrong. We are capable of properly responding to all that life sends our way. I would argue that this right relationship goes back to Genesis 2.7 when God breathed into Adams nostrils, “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” We might interpret that breath of life as more than just the capacity for breathing in our lungs, but that God breathed into human beings a soul, the life-center, even the image of God who also has a soul. No other creatures formed from the dust are said to have had God breath life into them. The human soul is the “deepest level of life and power in the human being” and in any being God has created. (Willard, 205)


Thomas Moore – “Soul is the font of who we are, and yet it is far beyond our capacity to devise and control. We can cultivate, tend, enjoy, and participate in the things of the soul, but we cannot outwit it or manage it or shape it to the designs of a willful ego.” (xvii, Care of the Soul)



  • Soul in the Bible


In our reading for today I want us to focus on verse nine:

9“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children's children—


Keep your soul diligently. The soul in this verse is connected to memory, “lest you forget”. Lest you forget the commandments, statues, rules God has given and lest you forget the mighty acts of God like that at Baal-peor. What happened at Baal-peor is recorded in Numbers 25 when the people of Israel pursued other gods. Baal is the false god and the place is Peor. It did not go well for those who worshiped Baal (Numbers 25.3-9; Psalm 106.28-29). Suffice it to say many people died because of their idolatry. Keep your soul so that you do not forget your God and His commandments. Keep your soul may mean to keep your life, keep your bearings for faith and righteousness. Keep your soul meaning to keep your life oriented toward God and His Words.


The picture of a well oriented soul is found in Psalm 1.


Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. 4The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. 5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.


In this Psalm we find the well oriented person of God. There is wisdom to not associate with the wicked and wisdom to delight in the Word of God. To delight in the Word is to love it, be thrilled in it, keep one’s mind on it, and be enthralled by it. The Word is seen as beautiful, powerful, life changing, and a great gift. Keeping the soul means dwelling on the law of the Lord, thinking about it, meditating on it day and night. The result is a prosperous life, perhaps we might say, a soulful life. Prosperous may not be financial, may not be in any other way than flourishing with God, and that is all that is truly necessary.

But with all things good in human beings, sin has stained us even in the soul. Sin is destructive to the soul and thus to our connection to God. 1 Peter 2.11 speaks of the passions of the flesh that pull us away from God, depriving the soul. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” When acting by our passions we think can do things without God and the end result – no true life. Those passions govern our lives at the expense and detriment of God’s will. So, for instance, we flip Psalm 1 on its side and do what the Psalmist does not do, hanging on the ways of wickedness and worldly passions, and do not do what the Psalmist does, spend a lot of our time in God’s Word. The inner life remains stunted, stained, and unwilling or unable to break out of the destructive patterns of ungodliness. This leads to doing the things we do not want to do, becoming addicted to things we wish we could change, and living outside the bounds of the kingdom of God. We live outside the “city limits” of the kingdom of God. It is in the soul that all our aspects of being are integrated and when the soul is out of whack because of sin, then our lives are disjointed and fragmented. It is like when Israel is seen as a valley of dry bones in the book of Ezekiel, nothing properly connected with sinews and ligaments. We can be what some might call, “just a bag of dry bones”. No life, no vitality, no truth, no generative self. Those who live in sin have no rest for their soul. Just look at the people who are constantly complaining about every perceived injustice, those who are protesting Israel, those who offended if they are misgendered, those who seek for everyone to be as miserable as they are! No rest, no peace, for they do not believe in the Savior.


The soul, properly nourished and fed in God’s Word and in the memory of what God has done, according to Deuteronomy 4, becomes the center of harmony and tranquility for the person of God. Hear that again, the soul is properly nourished in God’s Word and in the memory of what God has done. ----

One force working against us is modern thought and the modern life that does not give much, if any, attention to the soul. Everything is superficial in that we only need to feed our passions, appetites, and egos. Sometimes the church has been described as a mile wide and one inch deep. We might say that of our being as well, a mile wide with no depth. We have opinions on everything but no real knowledge about anything. We might have, at one time or another, succumbed to the temptation to respond to something out of a shallow emotion rather than discerning wisdom given over time. We see this in social media as people cannot wait to get their uninformed opinions out into the world wide web before they know anything. I believe that speaks to a shallow depth of soul, certainly a shallow depth of intelligence. How many people have to retract what they have said on X, formerly Twitter? Of course, most just double down on what they posted and hope people will forget what they said when the next idiotic statement takes the baton! When people do or say stupid things we will sometimes shoot back, “get a life”. What we probably really mean is “get a soul”. Get some depth in one’s life. Stop hanging out at the corner of wicked and scoffer street. Stop hanging out at the knee jerk sinner’s bar. Stop ignoring the depth of Scripture and wisdom in God’s path to life.

Our goal is to get to the place of Psalm 1, delighting and meditating on the law of God so that our soul is nourished and rightly related to God in obedience and faith. The goal of the world is to collect as much stuff as we can possibly get into our homes or bank accounts. It is the classic story of selling one’s soul for riches. Luke relates this story:


Luke 12.13-21 13Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”



  • Transforming the Soul


How might we think about transforming the soul? One analogy is to see the soul like a stream of water flowing throughout our being tying all things together and especially uniting us with God. It is in this connected soul that we receive the life that God, and only God, gives. I want to outline three ways, and there may be more, but three ways we transform the soul.

The first is rest and in particular the rest associated with Sabbath keeping. One of the ways we might look at the rest of Sabbath is getting some soul back. We expend our souls for six days and then on the seventh we get that soul back. The Hebrew word is nephesh and it is the word that is used when God rested after creating everything. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed’” (Exodus 31.17). The word refreshed is nephesh. God was refreshed. It is an amazing thought. It is an amazing thing to think about God resting and even more that God was refreshed. How much more do we need this rest and refreshment? What sets us apart from all other creatures God created, may be the soul. The nephesh is that which is most in God’s image, for God has a soul. We know that from several verses like Matthew 12.18 where God speaks of Jesus whom He has chosen and with whom His soul is well pleased.

Another place where the word nephesh is used is with King David, And the king, and all the people who were with him, arrived weary at the Jordan. And there he refreshed himself” (2 Samuel 16.14). There is a transformation of our soul in rest. There is a transformation in refreshment.


The second transformation of the soul is in God’s Word. We have such a tremendous gift in God’s Word. There is this beautiful connection between the Law of God and the soul. The Word gives life, gives soul, empowers the depth of soulful living toward God and those around us. The soul can lead us to discern God’s will, to avoid temptations, to life giving ways, to nourishment and rest. Spend some time thumbing through Psalm 119 and see all the verses that speak of the Word giving life. It transforms us with that life.

We seek to feed and nurture and guard the soul in the Word of God. Rest to our soul is rest in God and in God’s Word. Psalm 19.7 “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul...” We often tell people to go to the Bible if they are having problems in life. We have these guides that give various passages for a multitude of concerns, but the Word is not just a pill to be taken to rid ourselves of a proverbial headache, but the Word is a transformative force, perfect in its power and discernment to revive the soul, to give life to the soul, to renew us to a deeper soulful living.

In the New Testament James speaks of the implanted Word saving the soul. James 1.21, Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. This is probably “saved” in the sense of transforming and nourishing the soul in the same way that Psalm 19 speaks of reviving the soul. Peter writes a similar thought, 1 Peter 1.22-23, Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.


The third is transformation is in Jesus! Jesus bids us to come to Him to find rest for our souls, Matthew 11.28-30 28Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Resting in God is a humble activity, waiting for God, yielding to God, not relying on ourselves or on any outcome outside of God’s will. We come to Jesus in repentance and faith. We come engulfed in the gospel message of salvation and the kingdom of heaven. We come as we are but we do not remain as we are. We are transformed by keeping commandments like Sabbath keeping, in integrating the Word of God into our lives, and by coming to Jesus. There is no greater transformation, no greater life, no greater refreshment than these things. So, come. Come rest. Come to God’s Word. Come to Jesus. And you will find rest for your soul. Amen.



* Sermon series based on readings from Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard.