“You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34 ESV)
“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”
(Matthew 15:18–19 ESV)
Tim Keller says that “the key difference between a Christian and a Pharisee is motivation. One obeys to get God’s stuff, the other obeys just to get God.” This is true and we see it cover to cover in the bible. God is not after any kind of obedience, God is after our JOYFUL obedience.
We are leaky people – what is on the inside leaks out of us. If we are angry people, it has a way of leaking out on others; if we are anxious, then it leaks out; if we are discontent then it leaks out; whatever is on the inside leaks out of our heart in the form of our feelings, words and behaviors. This is why simply trying to manage our sinful behaviors never works. We might try to buckle down and be extra disciplined to guard our tongues against gossip, our eyes from pornography or our quick whit from injuring others, but we ultimately fail. The reason we fail is because we are fighting a losing battle because we have not destroyed the supply lines that keep the battle raging.
Should we not be concerned with our sinful words and actions? Of course! We should work with all of our might to align them with the words of scripture. But, ultimately, just managing behavior will never make you free and it’s for freedom that you have been set free (Galatians 5:1). Our real problem is the heart. It is the GPS for our entire life (see Matthew 12:34, 15:18-19). The heart is much harder to manage than our actions. It seems to have a mind of its own! It is easily distracted by random thoughts, emotions and desires. We don’t really know what to do with it, so we tend to ignore it.
Our heart’s problem is a treasure problem – “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21 ESV). Trying to manage its thoughts, emotions and desires will never lead to freedom. What we need is a better view of what is really worthy of captivating our hearts. We far too easily believe that worldly wealth, good relationships, success, acclaim, Christian service or comfort will provide us with what we are longing for. Until you come to a point to which you see that these things, as good as some of them are, will never sustain you, you will never be free. The “perfect” marriage will not set you free, the “perfect” job will not set you free, “perfect” relationships of love and acceptance will never set you free.
Until we see that chasing good things, believing that they will satisfy us, is like running a marathon on a treadmill, we will never be free. Jesus said that “the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44 ESV). Don’t miss the fact that the man JOYFULLY WENT AND SOLD EVERYTHING THAT HE HAD TO ACQUIRE THE FIELD. Is there a cost to following Christ? Absolutely! But when you view it at 20,000 feet, like the man in this parable, you will see that the cost is infinitely small as compared with the infinite joy that you receive.
How do we do this? Paul tells us that “if then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:1–3 ESV). What are you seeking? What are you telling yourself will make you happy, content or complete? Start there and beg God to change your heart to see Him as the greatest treasure and to cause you to long for Him more than you long for the things that He can give you.