So much emphasis is placed on our actions, in Christianity and in the world. I just finished a series on virtues and it dealt mostly with appropriate actions. Most other religions are based almost solely on actions, a works-based faith. Even the Old Testament seems to point that direction. But what is the most important to God?
Matthew 5:27-28 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Matthew 15:17-19 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
“Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.”
Outward obedience without inward transformation is hypocrisy. Our actions are based on what is in our hearts, so if our hearts are not humble our actions will be prideful. If our hearts are lustful we will act out adultery in some form (even if it is only in your mind it still counts.) Yes obedience requires outward actions, but if we are not obedient in our hearts we are still rebellious and God knows the difference even if no one else does. That is why the two greatest commandments can be summed up this way:
Matthew 22:37-40 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
This was Jesus speaking, and when He said that the whole Law and Prophets depended on those two commandments, He was referring to the fact that in Jewish tradition there are 613 laws. Those laws are separated into ten categories, the Ten Commandments. But the Ten Commandments are also separated into two categories, which He just quoted. In summary, all laws are based on either loving God or loving others. Our obedience is based on love.
Love comes from heart. Yes sometimes loving someone requires doing something we don’t want to do, but if love was not in our hearts we wouldn’t do it. That choice is still based on our hearts. Note that I am not saying that we need to “follow our hearts” or do what we feel. That is not Biblical in any way. Instead, we need to mold our hearts to be like God. Our godliness stems from God and flows through our hearts. Again, outward obedience without a heart to match is meaningless and unloving.
Matthew 15:8 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
“This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me.”
Matthew 9:13 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
God wants us to obey Him, but more than that He wants us to love Him, to want to obey Him. Obedience without love is dead and empty. It is refusing to yield or submit to our Lord and Savior. That is where legalism comes from. God created us to have a relationship with Him that is why we were created in His image. Relationships are not built on dry obedience but on love. We need to focus on loving God. The beautiful thing is, that the more we seek God and seek His heart, the more we will be like Him and the easier obedience will be.
More than focusing on our actions we need to focus on our hearts. Of course we still need to flee from sin, but that should not be our only focus. If we are truly intent on abiding in God, immersing ourselves in Him, then we will not want to sin and will be all the more aware of sin when we are tempted. True godliness comes from a heart saturated by God.
Matthew 6:33 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.