And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Mar 7:6
Now the context of this verse is that the Pharisees were teaching their traditions on par with the word of God. They were wrapped up in attempted worship of God, not in spirit or truth, but in self-regulating candor.
At a casual glance, this episode teaches me two things. First, doctrine does matter. Second, the heart matters just as much. Often we forget this. Jesus made this point explicitly clear when he instructed the woman at the well of Sychar, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:23)
In the past, I have regrettably leaned too heavily on doctrine, grazing at times in legalism. It becomes prudent to remember the grace of God as part and parcel to application of Truth from Scripture. The Pharisees were driven toward a form of holiness by doctrine, and we can learn from that, but they forgot grace. Doing so aborts the heart context of living out the gospel.
Grace is what takes Christianity from a mere religion of ethics to the glorious salvation that it is. It is never based upon our works, but upon the nature of Almighty God. If God has saved us, our hearts have been changed. Our new nature is to be ambassadors of that same grace. Christ changes the motives and passions of believers
These days, by this Scripture, I find myself looking at my heart. You see, we can be morally correct, as many of the Pharisees were. Yet, our heart can be so full of pride that we are not living for Christ but our own self-righteousness. We become more concerned with outward appearances and common standards that we fail to take Scripture to the point of sanctification. The danger is we can fall back to living so much on our own strength (the legalism of accomplishment) that we quickly forget the need to abide in Him. (Living by the Spirit, Romans 8) I believe we all need to be greatly concerned with where our heart affections lie when it comes to God.
Grace does not ignore doctrine, it embraces it. But, by the very nature of grace, one has affections of the heart for Christ, His church, and a lost world. If we are not a people of grace, we are not a people of Christ. Therefore, a battle rages, where is my heart?
As I look at my own life, I fear the failure to embrace grace. To go through the motions of the Sunday service unmoved, uninspired, and uncaring is a serious condemnation. When Jesus pointed out the departed heart of the Pharisees, he brought forth an indictment worthy of us all.
A heart that is set toward Christ is desperate and relieved all at the same time. We are desperate for Him to be pleased by our lives, desperate to abide in Him, and desperate to live by the Spirit, not the flesh. At the same time, we are relieved, for we know the grace of God is upon us, we embrace the promises of His word, and we have reason to have hope despite a fallen world. Together, these affections of the heart motivate us to abide in Him and make every aspect of living an act of doing all to the glory of God.
Thus, as Christians, our lives are Christ-centered because our heart is motivated by the work of the cross. As we live out our daily lives in ordinary experiences such as traffic, the trials of dealing with people, our own temptations to sin, and all the rigors of life, we are motivated to do all things for His glory, for our affections are upon Him, not the stuff of wood, hay, and stubble.
So please, think of it this way; Christianity is about a changed heart; not just grinding through a morality or set of beliefs regarding right and wrong. (2 Corinthians 5:17) It longs for a renewing of our mind. (Romans 12:2) Daily, we seek the putting off the old man and putting on the new, and it incorporates the sanctifying work of keeping works with repentance. Therefore, the key to all these standards is not the outward appearance, but the inner condition of the heart.
Let us therefore consider, as James 4 teaches, the raging war within our hearts. May we become steadfast to be satisfied in Jesus and place our worshipful affections upon Him. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and yet loses his soul.