As we discussed last week, all of us have some issues with maintaining a clean heart. So today we’re going to look at our hearts: where they start, the problems they face (and cause), and what God does (and wants) for our hearts.
Our hearts are naturally wicked. They are naturally drawn to sin (selfishness), and, apart from God, they will remain in this state.
The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
As it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)
This problem with our hearts has consequences:
King Rehoboam established himself firmly in Jerusalem and continued as king. He was forty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem, the city the LORD had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel in which to put his Name. His mother’s name was Naamah; she was an Ammonite. He did evil because he had not set his heart on seeking the LORD. (2 Chronicles 12:13-14)
King Rehoboam’s heart was not set on seeking God – because of this, he did evil. We simply cannot be good on our own. Our goodness comes from setting our hearts on the One who is good.
Having selfish, unclean hearts causes a variety of problems for us and for those around us. One way we can detect this problem is by recognizing the fruit our unclean hearts produce.
One type of fruit we produce is our words. Our hearts and our words have a very close relationship. When our hearts are unclean, our words often reflect that.
Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:44-45)
The verse above reminds us that we can often tell by our words if our hearts are unclean. I’m not talking here about specific “bad words.” I’m speaking, instead, about whether or not our speech is full of love and directed towards God’s purposes. We can use lots of very nice-sounding words and be directly opposed to God’s Will. Likewise, some people whose speech is “rougher” are directly aligned with God’s Will. I’m talking about motive, tone, purpose, and being aligned with God’s will – not about specific words –because nearly any word can be used to accomplish or oppose God’s purposes, and can come from a selfish or a God-serving heart. Language is cultural; love and selfishness are not. Are your words coming from the overflow of good or the overflow of evil in your heart?
While our words can indicate if our heart is clean or unclean, so can our actions. The verse below reminds us what types of actions spring from an unclean heart. (For specifics on some of these “fruits,” click on one of the underlined words in the verse.
He went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’” (Mark 7:20-23)
While many times our words and actions indicate the condition of our heart, Scripture also reminds us that not all the fruit of an unclean heart can be seen from the outside. In fact, some people are able to hide their unclean hearts from the people around them for years. [“The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them.” (1 Timothy 5:24)] Most of us know these people. They seem like such “good” people, but are later revealed not to be. We’re surprised because they seemed “good” on the outside. If you suspect you’re one of these people (that is, if you know you harbor envy, deceit, malice, hatred, etc., in your heart, and you aren’t allowing God to work on you in that area), remember the following:
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. (James 3:13-15)
Continuing to deny the truth about your heart will only lead to destruction. Do not be proud that you have others fooled. Turn to God in repentance and allow Him to begin His redemptive work. Remember, even if you’ve fooled those around you, God is not fooled by people who pretend to love Him, but actually have unclean hearts:
The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. (1 Samuel16:7b)
We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. (1 Thessalonians 2:4b)
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12-13)
In addition to leading to problematic words, actions, thoughts, and attitudes towards others, an unclean heart separates us from God – especially unclean hearts that we are not repentant about:
The Lord says:
“These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
is made up only of rules taught by men. (Isaiah 29:13)
Again: God isn’t fooled by empty rituals or a strict following of church rules. He sees through our attempts to whitewash our wicked hearts. And He isn’t impressed by the fact that we say the “right” words in front of the “right” people. And He certainly isn’t impressed when we try to earn our salvation by following church rules.
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.
Next week we’ll look more at this transformation.
Next Week: a heart that devises wicked schemes, part 3
Last Week: a heart that devises wicked schemes, part 1
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