As we discussed in the last post, the problems of an unclean heart are major – and we cannot solve them ourselves. That doesn’t mean our situation is hopeless, however. There is one (and only one) cure for unclean hearts: God’s love. Only God is able to transform our selfish hearts into selfless hearts, hearts filled with love for Him and for others.
This week we’ll look at the effects of that transformation.
Some of the effects of this transformation are visible. When we have God’s love in our hearts, we can see a difference in the way we treat others:
Through [Jesus] you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:21-23)
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Peter 3:15-16)
The verses above show that our clean hearts are often evident in our actions. We obey God’s truth and show active love for others. We are prepared to talk to others about our faith – but we do so with gentleness and respect.
In the last post, we discussed the close relationship also between the condition of our hearts and our words – but mostly with a focus on the negative. In contrast, we see the positive aspects of this relationship when we have God’s love in our heart. When His love is in our hearts, our words reflect that:
I have set the LORD always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices (Psalm 16:8-9a)
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. (Romans 15:5-7)
And, as these verses, suggest, while we are dependent on God’s grace in all of this, He does not intend for either our hearts or our mouths to be passive in this process. The Bible regularly encourages its readers to actively employ their hearts and mouths – and all they are – in service to God:
Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:19b-20)
In fact, the Bible teaches that both our hearts and our mouths play a part in our salvation. Paul writes (referring to a passage from Deuteronomy),
But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,”that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. (Romans 10:8-10)
And while (as Paul reminds us elsewhere) salvation is a gift from God that we can never earn, we must decide how to respond to God’s gift. The response God calls us to begins in our hearts – but it cannot end there. It isn’t just a feeling we get one day, and it’s not a matter of completing a church ritual. A true belief will affect the way we live. (As Paul also said, “‘I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds’” (Acts 26:20).) A heart that truly accepts the love of God will respond with loving words and actions.
Again, please don’t get caught up in rituals here, which vary from culture to culture. What matters is that our response to God’s gift of salvation changes us inside AND outside.
And of course, the most important part of having God’s love in our hearts is the effect it has on our relationship with Him. When we have God’s love in our hearts, we are closer to God:
LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary?
Who may live on your holy hill?
He whose walk is blameless
and who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from his heart
and has no slander on his tongue,
who does his neighbor no wrong
and casts no slur on his fellowman,
who despises a vile man
but honors those who fear the LORD,
who keeps his oath
even when it hurts,
who lends his money without usury
and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things
will never be shaken. (Psalm 15)
As the passage above says, we can dwell with God when our hearts are right with Him. And it is this relationship with God that provides us with assurance of our status as His beloved children:
Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)
Furthermore, it is in this loving relationship with God that we find His joy and peace:
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts.
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
Look to the LORD and his strength;
seek his face always. (1 Chronicles 16:9-11)
But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:26-27)
Clean hearts – hearts transformed by God’s amazing love – are wonderful things. However, as the last verse suggests, clean hearts can be hard to maintain. So many things that can dirty our hearts beg for our attention. Next week we’ll look at the problems our clean hearts face – and the resources God has provided for us in our struggle to keep our hearts clean.
Next Week: a heart that devises wicked schemes, part 4
Last Week: a heart that devises wicked schemes, part 2
Start of the Series: (becoming) closer to God through Proverbs 6
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Start of the wisdom series: (becoming) wise, part one
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The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10)
As we discussed last week, the first part of this verse tells us how to start becoming wise.
The second part of this verse: “and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding,” is at once more exciting and more terrifying than the first part. Lots of people can fear God and have a start at wisdom. In fact, even the demons shuddered in Jesus’s presence because they knew who He was. But to gain full understanding, we have to have “knowledge of the Holy One.” And how do we gain this knowledge of God? He hasn’t left us in the dark about this. He’s given us an entire book in which He reveals Himself. And He’s given us His Holy Spirit — an actual indwelling of God Himself! God wants us to have this knowledge. He wants to reveal Himself to us and continue to grow closer to us.
While we’ll never grasp the fullness of God (we’re simply not capable as humans), we can know God, and know Him in a personal and life-changing way. And I mean really know Him. Not go to church. Not serve at church. Not say memorized prayers. Not “try to be good.” Not just pray when we need something. Not read a devotional occasionally. I mean really know God. To know Him as fully as we can. And this is hard. There is no easy way to do this. That’s just the truth. But it’s worth it, friends; it really is.
And, more important than being worth it, God tells us it’s required: “Rend your hearts, not your garments” (Joel 2:13). God is asking for an inward change. He wants to change our hearts; He doesn’t just want to see us go through the motions. The motions don’t mean a thing without the right heart. People might only see the rending of our garments – the outward appearance of being a Christian. But God sees what’s inside. He knows the condition of our hearts. And it’s our hearts He wants changed.
There are three things I firmly believe will help people get their hearts right with God and gain “knowledge of the Holy One.” And, again, it’s not a matter of doing these things to cross them off some list. The goal of each of these things is to get to know God, to become closer to God – all the time.
1. Daily Bible reading. This cannot be replaced by devotionals or church classes where things are “explained” to you. Devotionals and church classes are fine (and it’s important to be in fellowship with other believers), but they are not a time alone with God. I don’t know how to stress this part enough. But I promise you it will make a difference. While I “knew” God in a very “churchy” sense for years, I didn’t really have “knowledge of the Holy One” until I started spending time with just God. This is something you have to do yourself. You can’t get it from sitting in church. (Though sitting in church can, of course, help grow your relationship with God.) You can’t share someone else’s knowledge of God. You have to seek this yourself.
2. Daily Prayer. For-real prayer. Not rote prayer. Not prayer that tries to sound “holy.” Prayer that adores the very real goodness God, confesses our very real sin, gives real thanks for His real gifts, makes real petitions for real needs, and truly seeks after God’s heart. He has promised us, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
3. Daily listening. I think the reason this is so hard and so important is that we can most clearly hear God speak to us when we’re attuned to Him and nothing else. I think daily listening is something Satan fights mightily against. He knows how important it is, and he tries to prevent it from happening. Be ready for that.
I’ll talk more in later posts about specific methods I use for my quiet time, but for now, my challenge to you, if you don’t have a current quiet time with God, is to just start. Just go before Him with an open heart, faith in His word, and a hunger to hear from Him. See what He does!
If you already have a daily time with God, then your challenge is to ramp it up in some way. Has He been working on you to expand it, deepen it, make it more authentic, or otherwise change part of it? Has He been asking you to do something in your quiet time that you have been resisting? Perhaps giving up a pet sin, forgiving someone, encouraging someone else in his/her walk? Remember that your quiet time can’t be all it should be, and cannot progress, until you’re obedient to what He’s already told you.
“‘Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say? I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.’” – Luke 6:46-49
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.” – James 1:22-25
Let me know how it goes!
Want to read more?
Start of the role model series: (becoming) a role model, part one
Start of the wife series: (becoming) a godly wife
Start the fully submitted series: (becoming) fully submitted
Have trouble saying no? Try: (becoming) a good volunteer: the necessity of “no”
Struggle with worry? Try: (becoming) less of a worrier