Matthew 15:8 records that people in the olden days often did lip service to God. Further down in that chapter Jesus said to his hearers on the question of external purification and external righteousness, “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man unclean”. In religious and spiritual matters Jesus’ appeal was to the heart, the inner being or inner-man. His emphasis was not only the action, but on the motive behind an action. He made religion as matter of the heart, its intent. We are reminded of what Jeremiah foretold about the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. He prophesied: “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts” (31:33). Thus through the prophet Isaiah he said, “These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they worship me in vain; their teaching are rules taught by men.” God wants to dwell in our hearts.
Deuteronomy 6:5-9: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts . . . write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates”. No greater emphasis can be on this question of heart being taken as the shrine of all religiosity of the then chosen people of God.Through prophet Jeremiah God said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” and “The LORD search the heart and examine the mind” (Jeremiah 17: 9-10). Concerning each and everything concerning man the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart in God’s judgment.
According Biblical teaching a right heart is a heart moved by the Spirit of God. It is not the natural heart we have it from our natural birth. This is because of man’s inherent sin-nature. Our natural hearts needs to be transformed or made new by the Holy Spirit. Through the prophet Ezekiel God said that people who come back to him in repentance for sin he would create a new heart in them (Ezekiel 36:26). Our natural hearts are called “stony hearts” where the fine fruits of godliness, integrity, sincerity, thoughts and desires that are good and pure cannot grow. A stony heart is where there is hardness of mind, stubbornness, pride and jealousy, envy, lust, ungodliness reign supreme. On the other hand a contrite heart, characterized by genuine humility and responsive to the holy will of God and not a stubborn or proud heart prevail. King David had such a heart. He prayed to God for such a heart in his famous penitential Psalm: “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (Psalm 51: 16-17). A man with a right heart is one that has the right attitude of love and respect for God and his creation. It is a clean, pure and honest heart and is a prayerful one. He has loyalty to God and love for the good of others.
Most people in any religious system live life of external righteousness giving mere lip service to their faiths. The Bible heavily criticises this kind of life. This is hypocritical and sham. God hates, shuns this. He looks into our hearts in all that we do. Mark records in his gospel and extended list of the evils that come out of an evil heart vis-a-vis Matthew’s list: “What comes out of a man is what makes him unclean. For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man unclean” (Mark 7: 20-23).
The heart of man is of greatest significance in Biblical faiths. It is the root of the tree of our faith-system. The Bible speaks of a new heart for an authentically religious man. If we do not give our hearts to God all our doctrines and religious rituals or festivals will tantamount to nothing. We become like the people that are described in the book of Ezekiel, the exilic prophet: “My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouth they express their devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.” Friends, there is no alternative to giving our hearts to our God. If we can give him our hearts we can give him everything for other people, for his creation that will eventually glorify and magnify his holy name. Therein are our true peace and happiness.
The writer is a Christian Theology teacher and a Church leader