November 05, 2011

The Heart of the Matter

I know I opened a can of worms in my previous post titled Freedom of Worship and Lifestyle but I'd really like to get to the heart of the matter.  I talked about how I now realize that I was in a cult... but there is so much more I wish to share about this topic.  Please bear with me as I unload my emotions, thoughts, and experiences here and try to make sense of it all.  Try to understand that I am not knocking my FAITH or my belief in GOD, just the practices and procedures I was convinced to believe and follow all my life, and tried to force on others also.

You see, there is a very special word called GRACE.  It is hard to explain, other than a dictionary definition, but it is much easier to point out in action (or lack of grace [ungrace, if you will] in action).  I have experienced a lot of grace in my life, and I have experienced a lot of ungrace too!  I will talk more about grace and its definition and examples in another post, but suffice it to say that God shows us grace like no one else can.  This is because He cares about our hearts!

God's primary concern is our heart of hearts.  He cares about our dreams and goals, our fears and failures, our laughter and tears, our hopes, ambitions, hurts, longings-- the essence of all that we are!  Unlike any one or any thing in this life.... God wants us for our heart, our truest self.  Sure He wants our obedience, sacrifice, morality,  praise, worship, contentment, thanks, self-esteem, etc, etc.  All these are good, important even, but NOT the heart of what God is after!  God wants our hearts--our true being, our innermost secret self.  THIS is God's primary concern and reason for all He has done and is doing.   It really seems too good to be true!  It's so hard to allow ourselves to believe it... to trust Him.

No amount of rules or structure will yield our hearts to God.  The most severe religious regulations, the greatest personal sacrifices, the best appearance of spirituality does not ensure our hearts are God's.  In the Bible (Isaiah 29:13) God says about His chosen nation, Israel, "their hearts are far from me."  This is the Creator's lament--even though His people were rigidly and intentionally following the laws and performing their duties, their hearts were not in what they were doing.  Their innermost self did not belong to God.  It was just a legalistic adherence to the practices that were expected.  They performed faithfully, but without heart.  If God gets our hearts and we are madly, deeply, truly, trustingly in love with HIM, then all the other things will fall into place.  Who else could care for us and our deepest needs and desires like the One who made us?

Here is where the legalism, abuse and cults come in... grabbing the deep need and desire of our hearts to be at one with our Creator/Savior, to be accepted.  If we just get more involved in church, give more money (or time), sacrifice more of the personal pleasures from our life, dress more simply and modestly, drink less alcohol (or none at all), evangelize more, keep our kids out of the public schools.... on and on the list goes.... then, maybe we will find favor with God and He will love us and accept us and bless us.  It becomes a matter of outward conformity instead of the inward transformation of the heart.

God wants the heart first!  He knows that when my heart is bound with His and I am secure in His love and grace, my outward life will reflect my innermost being.  Cults, religious groups, legalistic organizations focus on the outward appearance and use it to judge what is in my heart.
  • God says "do not get drunk" (Ephesians 5:18), focusing on the need for moderation and the dangers of excess (Proverbs 20:1, 23:20, Isaiah 5:11).  However, legalists and certain religious cults will say "Don't drink alcohol at all!  Any alcohol is sin!"  Their focus is on the idea that it can lead to sin, so just avoid it completely.  
  • God's Word says "let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another" (Hebrews 10:25).  The religious cult will say this means to never miss a church service or meeting, as that is a sign of ungodliness and means you are a weak Christian. 
  • God's Word says "it is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name" (Psalm 92:1), "praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre" (Psalm 33:2), also "let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp" (Psalm 149:3) and again "praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals" (Psalm 150:3-5).  Actually, all through the Psalms God's people are encouraged to praise with voice, instruments, dance.  Yet the conservative religious groups will say that "only the good old hymns of the faith are acceptable and if the music styling does not follow the "proper biblical rules of music" then it is wrong! Dancing is always erotic and sinful, so no dancing is ever acceptable!"  Also they hold that certain instruments (like drums and bass guitars) are worldly and of the devil and cannot bring God glory.
There are so many more examples that can be given, but I think you see what I'm getting at.  Yes, God does have rules!  His rules are for our good, and He has our heart and its relationship with Him at the core of every rule.  The cults and abusers have our outward performance and conformity at the core of all their rules and enforcements.  I will touch more on this subject, in more detail, when I post about grace in the future.

I just want to share with you that I now understand the difference between God wanting my heart and seeking an intensely personal relationship with me at the core of my being; and man wanting my adherence, submission and conformity to a set of standards (rules) in order to possibly receive the "gift" they are offering, if I achieve well enough to merit it. 

This is the heart of the matter!  God offers to me freely and generously what no one else (or no thing) can ever give me.... it's up to me to reach for it and take it.  Do I trust Him with my heart?

3 comments:

  1. Galatians 2
    16 “We know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.
    19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.
    20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
    21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!"

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  2. I agree that God does want our hearts. However, a heart completely yielded to God SHOULD exhibit itself in a lifestyle pleasing to a holy, just, and righteous God and Saviour! Just because some churches and Christians appear to emphasize externals over the heart does not mean those standards are wrong or unbiblical or not what God wants from a Christian (like alcohol and music as you mention in your post).

    A focus on externals is not wrong (Luke 6:45; Titus 2, Eph. 4:22-32... etc) The New Testament is literally FULL of instruction about our externals: behaviour, appearance, conduct, conversation etc.
    Grace is what saves us, but grace also teaches us how to live. Titus 2:11-12 "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;"

    Everything we do or don't do should be done out of a heart for God (Col 3:23). I have a question for you. Does drinking alcohol make you a better Christian? Does skipping a church service make you a better Christian? Does listening to music make you a better Christian? These are honest questions and not meant to be antagonistic. Personally, I base my external conduct on these types of questions. Would Jesus be pleased by me drinking alcohol... etc.? I think many Christians today have forgotten that God is holy! Not only does He want our hearts, but He wants our bodies as a living sacrifice as well! (Rom. 12:1-2).

    I believe it is unhealthy to over-emphasize externals without teaching that God first wants our hearts. I believe it is equally unhealthy to go the other way and over-emphasize the heart aspect without teaching that God expects standards of external behaviour. Because, the Bible teaches BOTH.

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    Replies
    1. Quote: Does drinking alcohol make you a better Christian? Does skipping a church service make you a better Christian? Does listening to music make you a better Christian?

      Let me ask you the question reversed. Does drinking alcohol make you a bad Christian? Does skipping church make you a bad Christian? Does listening to music make you a bad Christian? On the premise that salvation is by GRACE through FAITH in the FINISHED WORK of Jesus Christ, is there anything I do or don't do that can gain me further merit or rejection of my salvation?

      Obviously if one's RELATIONSHIP with Jesus is growing deeper and more lovely every day, then the externals take care of themselves. "Out of the HEART are the issues of life." If one lives their life out of a heart of love for Jesus and appreciation for what He has done, then that one's lifestyle WILL portray a "better Christian". So the focus need NEVER be on the external, but ALWAYS on the internal.

      We have the Holy Spirit living IN us as our guide, comforter, and convicter. Therefore, the internal is what we should emphasize and it will be evident on the external.

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