The Heart of the Matter

“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 (NIV)

Jesus quotes the passage above in Mark chapter 7, and I find it so striking the imagery it inspires. I picture a person in a temple getting ready to worship as they regularly do. Their thoughts at the alter are racing, trying to hard to remember the law and not forget each practice, as they say words to God they have been taught to say. Behind the constant chatter of thoughts in their mind, God sees that their heart, what He cares about the most, and finds it is actually far from Him. The person was so focused on doing things right, saying the right thing, abiding by the correct law, that they forgot the most important part. They kept the practice, but lost the meaning. All the laws and practices that God gave His people were instructions on how to live their lives to the fullest.

Church Portrait

He is our Creator, He loves us beyond our imagination, and He gives us good gifts, including His law, because He knows that we need it. He wants these practices and this way of life to draw our hearts close, in order to glorify Him. That’s what we were created for, not to complete a list of commands and practices, but to draw close to the heart of God.

Jesus explains further in the context of Mark 7:15 (NIV),

“Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean,”

He was talking to His disciples and the Pharisees in reference to their criticism of Jesus and His disciples for not washing their hands before eating according to the Jewish practice. Jesus quotes the passage in Isaiah, a sacred Jewish text, to convict the Pharisees of their hearts about the matter. The Pharisees didn’t seem so much concerned with the disciples being close to the heart of God, they just wanted to catch them doing something wrong. But the truth is that they were the ones who had it all wrong.

My small group and I have been studying repentance this week, and I have been discovering that in this area, I often get it all wrong just like the Pharisees. We began discussing the idea of false repentance in reference to the passage in 2 Corinthians 7, where Paul expresses his thankfulness for how the church responded to a harsh letter with sorrow and true repentance.

Our tendency towards false repentance can be seen in the way we participate in what the author called a pattern of remorse and resolution. We feel bad about something we did, so we are quick to apologize and promise to do better next time. If we are just apologizing for something we did wrong to make ourselves feel better, we too are missing the point.

I had never thought of it that way, but I can see it in myself when Drew and I are in a fight, and frustrated with one another, it is so much easier just to say, “Oops, sorry, that’s not who I really am, I promise I will do better next time,” rather than coming face to face with the fact that I am a sinful human and my sinful actions hurt God, other people, and the world around me. On my own, I cannot do better. Through God’s grace and His sinless Son who took care of my sins on the cross, He will create in me a new heart and allow me to live the obedient and loving life He and His law intended me to live.

The author of the article describes what our repentance should actually look like in light of our sin,

“Sin is a condition, not just a behavior, so true repentance is a lifestyle not just and occasional practice. Repentance is not something we do only once (when we are converted), or only periodically (when we feel really guilty). Repentance is ongoing, and conviction is a mark of God’s fatherly love for us.” –The Gospel Centered Life, pg 24

We can’t just come to God and say we are sorry for the ways we have lived that are opposite to the way He has called us to live, we have to come face to face with our condition and allow God access to our hearts. It’s not about how well we follow the rules.

Although many of the rules the Pharisees were following stemmed from the law of God, human hands crafted many of rules they held close. Even so much as pushing a chair out from a table would be considered breaking the Sabbath because it was too close to work like plowing as the chair drew a line in the dirt floor. Many people were following the law not to be close to God, but to make sure they didn’t break the law and looked good in they eyes of those around them.

God doesn’t necessarily care about how we look to others, in fact Jesus looked like a criminal while He hung on the cross, but He does care about the condition of our hearts. May we be women who long to draw our hearts close to God, and may we repent, not to feel better about our sin, but to crawl into the arms of our Creator and ask Him to save us from the sin that draws us away from His presence.