God’s work in the life of a believer is an internal work. At the moment of salvation, God sends his Holy Spirit to dwell inside the unworthy sinner. From that time forth, God begins the life-long process of making that man more and more like Jesus Christ. This increasing Christ-likeness begins on the inside but overflows into outward evidences. Over time, affections, attitudes and actions are transformed by the Holy Spirit of God. Whereas many religions of the world demand good works in order to earn salvation, genuine salvation (found only within Christianity) results in good works as the evidence of salvation. The changed life of the believer is the outward evidence of the internal transformation wrought by the Holy Spirit.
The religions of this world offer salvation based upon the external performance or good works of their adherents. The Christian however, does not inherit Heaven as a reward for his good works (Titus 3:5, Eph 2:8-9). On the contrary, he obtains salvation by declaring his utter inability to earn it by his own merits. He expresses faith in Jesus Christ and His righteousness as the only basis from which to enter Heaven (Matt 18:4, Rom 4:4-5, 2 Cor 5:21).
Christianity is unique in that its veracity is entirely dependent upon the supernatural, transforming work which God does in the heart of His followers (1 John 2:5, 1 John 3:14).
Man is naturally prone to self-righteousness. He is content to invent religions which smile upon his efforts to earn salvation. Because salvation by grace alone excludes the works of men and exposes man as sinfully unable to save himself, it has always been met with opposition from this self-exalting world. This is true today, just as it was true in Jesus’ day.
Matthew 23:23-28 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! 25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. 27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
The Jewish leaders in Christ’s day were meticulous in observing the outward ceremony of the law. In addition to the law as explicitly taught within the Torah, they also observed a multitude of other rules which tradition had added to their religion. They would go through great pains to obey rules that they had invented themselves, like giving precisely ten percent of even their smallest spices (even though God’s law did not require it). The most damning thing about their religious zeal is that while they staked their reputations on how well they kept their own rules, they completely neglected the matters of greatest importance. They missed the fact that God was most concerned with matters of the heart. (See also Isa 1:11-17)
During Jesus’ earthly ministry he continually rebuked the Jews for their religious hypocrisy. He reserved his harshest words for the religious crowd because they celebrated external legalism above a heart-felt devotion to God (Matt 23:13-33). The Pharisees felt that keeping rules lead to righteousness. In reality, such legalism does nothing but build men up in pride.
God’s desire has always been that those who worship Him would do so, not with a mere external show of righteousness, but with genuine, heart-driven righteousness. God hates hypocrisy (Job 13:16; Job 27:8).
Matthew 15:7-9 You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: 8 “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'”
The Jews religion had become so corrupt that they had begun to value and teach their tradition above God’s explicitly revealed word. They became so enamored with rules and commandments that they replaced faith with works and lost the heartfelt motivation that was intended to drive their obedience. Jesus repeatedly confronted this gross corruption of worship, and as a result, incurred the wrath of the self-righteous Jews (Matt 15:12).
Always a Matter of the Heart
Jesus was not teaching anything new. God has always been after the heart. Nevertheless, the Jews of Christ’s day had so corrupted their religion, that by the time He arrived, they were so steeped in their own tradition and self-righteousness that they rejected the teachings of their messiah. What they missed was that his message was entirely consistent with what God had already revealed throughout the Old Testament concerning worship – a relationship with Him begins in the heart.
In Deuteronomy 6 we find what is commonly called the Shema. This portion of scripture is the centerpiece of Jewish morning and evening prayer services. The Shema is often spoken as a Jew’s last words and is diligently taught to Jewish children.
Deuteronomy 6:4-6 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
Joshua 22:5 Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
In this chapter Joshua is dismissing the eastern tribes to their homeland after assisting in battle. Joshua gives them a charge before they leave. In it he quotes Deuteronomy 13. Notice that he encouraged them love the Lord their God and to serve him with all their hearts.
God has always sought men and women who would wholeheartedly worship Him in love. This is a consistent theme throughout all of scripture. (John 4:24-25)
A New Heart Needed
There is however a problem with this command to love God with all of our heart, soul and might.
Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
Matthew 15:18-20 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”
The fact is, man cannot truly and fully worship God in the sincerity of his heart while his heart is in bondage to sin (Rom 8:7-8). Man’s mind, emotions and will have all been tainted by sin (Rom 8:20-23). Consequently, his sinful heart naturally tends toward sin, self-righteousness and legalism. What is needed to bring men into fellowship with a holy God is not more commandments or stricter rules, but a renewed heart.
This is the main truth that the guardian of the law was meant to teach us. Specifically, that man cannot please God in and of himself (Gal 3:24; Rom 8:8). He must be given a new heart (John 3:3). Man’s need for a renewed heart is the driving force behind God’s redemptive plan. Jesus Christ lived, died and rose again all so that man could be made new, from the inside out.
Ezekiel 11:19 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh,
Jeremiah 24:7 I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.
Jeremiah 31:31-34 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
God promised that he would make a covenant with his people unlike the covenant which he made with the patriarchs. This new covenant would involve, not just the giving of the law, but the writing of the law on the heart of man. He would take out the stony (corrupt, sinful) heart and give man a renewed heart. This is the divine solution for man’s heart problem and the only way that men could worship God in heartfelt sincerity.