28 February 2018

“…But God knows my heart.”

The way I share Jesus is pretty basic: I talk with people. They ask what I’m doing. My answer is nearly always Christianity-related… ’cause that is what I’m doing. Sometimes they have hangups about religion, in which case I change the subject. But far more often they’ll talk about it. Frequently it turns out they’re Christian.

But there are Christians, and there are Christians. Some of ’em are devout. Some of ’em only think they’re Christian. Most often they’re just irreligious: They don’t pray. Don’t go to church. Never read their bibles; wouldn’t know were to begin. (Somehow they found out the bible doesn’t have to be started at the beginning—and ever since, they’ve used this as an excuse for why they never started. Sounds like the options simply stymie them. Maybe we’d better stop telling people they don’t have to start at Genesis, and tell ’em they totally do. But I digress.)

One of my shortcuts for finding out how religious they are, or aren’t: I ask where they go to church. And even though they should totally go, and know they should totally go, a lot of ’em just don’t. “Oh, I went to [big local church] all the time. I admit I don’t now; not as often as I ought to.” Seldom do they ever try to give the rubbish argument Christians don’t need to go. They kinda know that’s heresy.

But recently I bumped into someone who gave this excuse for skipping church.

ME. “So you’ve not gone recently?”
SHE. “No, I admit it’s been a while. But it’s okay; it’s a relationship, not a religion. And God knows my heart.”

It’s far from the first time I’ve heard the “But God knows my heart” argument. It’s really popular in the Bible Belt. “Yeah, I fully admit I [insert heinous sin] on the regular. But God knows my heart.”

Yes, God knows we have good intentions! Buried in us somewhere, deep down… ’cause they’re clearly not visible for anybody to see, or even deduce. But they’re in there, and that counts for something, right?

Yeah, you just keep telling yourself that. It’s how people eventually find themselves in this predicament:

Matthew 7.21-23 KWL
21 “Not everyone who calls me, ‘Master, master!’ will enter the heavenly kingdom.
Just the one who does my heavenly Father’s will.
22 At that time, many will tell me, ‘Master, master! Didn’t we prophesy in your name?
Didn’t we throw out demons in your name? Didn’t we do many powerful things in your name?’
23 And I’ll explain to them, ‘I never knew you.
Get away from me, all you Law-breakers.’

Except it’s even worse than Jesus describes it.

Yeah, worse. Read it again. Jesus is chiding people who prophesy in his name, throw out demons, do miracles. In other words, they do stuff. They minister to others—or try to. Problem is they’re “Law-breakers”—they don’t do what Jesus tells us to when it comes to loving God and our neighbors. They presume they have a relationship ’cause they’re ministers. They don’t, ’cause they’re not at all religious about their relationship.

Now these folks who figure God knows their hearts? Not even ministers. They don’t do miracles. Might not even believe miracles happen any more, or imagine God only grants such power to the super-devout, which they’re not. They got any evidence of any relationship with Jesus at all? Super nope.

God knows your heart? Yes indeed he does. And he knows it’s full of crap. Same as most of the Christians around you. You’re not really fooling anyone.

We’re saved by grace. Not good intentions.

Does this assessment sound harsh and ungracious of me?

I’ve been accused of that. It sounds harsh to people because they’ve deceived themselves into thinking they don’t actually have a problem.

They figure because God does all the work of saving us, and we do nothing to save ourselves, it’s okay to continue doing nothing now that God’s saved us. This new abundant life he’s offering us, this fruit of the Spirit, this closer walk with him that he greatly wants? Totally unnecessary, so let’s just stay the same ol’ pagans we’ve always been. It’s okay if we continue doing things which offend and outrage God; we’re saved by grace! And God knows our hearts. He knows deep down we’re really rooting for him… even as we treat him as irrelevant in every other segment of our lives.

In other words, they’re being inconsiderate jerks towards God, and I’m the bad guy for calling them on it.

It’s not ungracious to tell people there’s a better than average chance they’re not really Christian. ’Cause they don’t act Christian. Remember, fruit of the Spirit tends to happen because the Holy Spirit is actually within us, and his character is overflowing into the rest of our lives. But if we’re producing no fruit at all, what proof do we have the Spirit is in us? We actually have more proof he’s not. If that’s the case, we need to wake up and do something about it! Call to him. Apologize to him. Invite him in. Not live in denial, and pretend a bunch of other things are actually fruit.

It’s not harsh tell people, “Wake up!” Feels harsh when they’d rather sleep, or think they have every right to sleep—“I don’t have to be up till 8; why’re you waking me at 5?” But when there’s a wildfire on its way, you don’t tell ’em, “Fine; I’ll come back at 8.” You keep shouting fire.

Yes, God knows your heart. God knows everybody’s heart. He also knows our hearts lie to us. They’re desperately wicked and untrustworthy. They don’t sync up with our actions; we do things for all sorts of hypocritical reasons. That’s why he looks at our hearts: He’s looking at our true motives.

Jeremiah 17.9-10 KWL
9 “The heart is more fraudulent than anything.
It’s so human. Who understands it?—
10 I, the LORD, can search a heart. I examine kidneys.
It’s to reward people for their ways, for the fruit of their works.”

Now here’s the problem: If you have no ways, if you have no works (and therefore have no fruit), exactly what good are our motives? What’s the point of good intentions when they never, ever lead to good deeds?

I mean, a person can intend to buy lottery tickets, play certain numbers, and win a million dollars. But if they never do, and never play the right numbers, they’re not winning squat. You think if you called the lottery office and explained, “I totally meant to play these numbers,” they’d give you a million dollars? Nah; you’d just have some nonplussed lottery officials who’d think you’re stoned, and wonder whether legalizing marijuana hasn’t just made their jobs way harder.

Same deal if we’ve got a hardened sinner who always meant to repent and turn to Jesus… but never did. Okay, God knows her heart. But God also knows she never acted on it, was never gonna act on it, and that’s why she never did, no matter what she told herself. Is he gonna give her a free pass to his kingdom anyway? Nah. And it doesn’t surprise him at all. He’s been dealing for millennia with humans who think their good intentions count as good karma. And we’re not saved by karma!

God knows your heart. But you don’t.

Modern-day people keep making the mistake of thinking “heart” in the bible implies our emotions. It does not. Kidneys meant emotions—and you notice in that Jeremiah verse, God also said he examines kidneys. Jr 17.10 He doesn’t miss a trick. But the ancients believed the heart was what humans think with. And our minds play tricks on us all the time.

The heart is more עָקֹב/aqóv, “fraudulent,” than anything. Jacob’s name יַעֲקֹב/Yaaqóv is based on that word-root, as Jacob’s brother Esau brought up after Jacob disguised himself as Esau and defrauded their blind dad into giving him a ritual blessing:

Genesis 21.36 KWL
Esau said, “Isn’t he called Jacob by name?—and he’s defrauded me twice!
He takes my birthright, and look, now he takes my blessing!”
Esau said, “Can’t you spare any blessing for me?”

Their dad suspected something was up, Ge 27.22 but fell for it anyway. Maybe he was too hungry, too much in a hurry, too fixated on his plan to bless his favorite kid. People fall for deceptions all the time because we want so badly to believe these things to be true. Our minds are the same way.

So naturally we wanna believe our good intentions count for something. Especially when we have nothing which counts for something: No good deeds, no good fruit, no miracles, no wisdom and knowledge, no self-discipline. Really and truly nothing. That’s precisely why people try to cling to something as insubstantial as happy thoughts. Our hearts have convinced us they do mean something. And our hearts are totally lying to us.

Jesus once told a story of a kid who intended to do some yardwork. (Jesus never actually signified the kids’ gender ’cause the nouns are neutral, so I went with “she,” just ’cause I could. What? Girls worked vineyards too back then.)

Matthew 21.28-31 KWL
28 “What do you think? A person had two children.
Coming to the first, he said, ‘Child, go work in the vineyard today.’
29 In reply she said, ‘I won’t.’ But feeling bad later, she went.
30 Coming to the other child, the person said likewise.
In reply she said, ‘Yes sir’—but didn’t go.
31 Which of the two did their father’s will?” They said, “The first.”
Jesus told them, “Amen, I promise you the taxmen and whores go off to the kingdom before you will.”

The kid who responded, “I will” and didn’t bother: That’d be the good-intentioned Christian, who was in the very same bind as the good-intentioned Sadducees and Pharisees to whom Jesus was speaking. They presumed they’d inherit God’s kingdom because they were in Judean leadership. But they didn’t do anything. Always intended to, but just didn’t. What good were they? Whereas the taxmen and whores, all the sinners whom they looked down upon, were repenting and turning to God and obeying him. And like Jesus said, that’s who go into his kingdom.

Have all the intentions you like. Nothing wrong with making plans. But act on them. Don’t figure, “God knows I always meant to follow him,” as if that counts for anything. It does not. Your heart is deceiving you. Don’t follow it; follow Jesus.

And go to church, wouldya?