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.
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?