Imagine: there is a guy at a bar who has been drinking, definitely too much to be driving. Instead of catching a ride with someone, he ventures into his car and onto the road, a little after 1am. The outcome is extremely fast driving and major swerving. He is pulled over by the first policeman who sees him, for obvious reasons. The police officer walks up to the driver’s side window and says, “Good evening, sir. I am really sorry to stop you but something is wrong with your car. It is swerving all over the road, and it isn’t obeying the speed limit. Please allow me some time to assess the situation. Just sit tight.” The policeman proceeds to walk around the car checking the tires, the alignment, and the body of the vehicle. He also pops open the hood and checks around in there for a while. Then, the officer starts to yell at the car, “Stop swerving! Obey the speed limit!” He comes back around to the driver’s window and apologizes again for any inconvenience and lets him go on his way.
Is that not the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard?? You would scream at that police officer that what the vehicle was doing on the road had absolutely nothing to do with the car itself–it was the DRUNK person driving it!! That vehicle was only doing what the person controlling it, told it to do. You would most likely be quite satisfied if that policeman was removed from his position–and quickly, please!
Then, my question is this: why do we allow that same type of thinking to infiltrate our churches? Unfortunately, this kind of “behavior modification” is what we find in the majority of churches in America. An example would be, “Lying is a sin. You are lying. Stop lying.” It is observing actions (like the speeding, swerving car) and just saying “stop doing that.” It doesn’t account for WHY the person is lying and address what is going on in the heart of the person. Moralism says, “external behavior matters more than internal disposition.” However, just as we know that it’s the driver who drives the car, it is the HEART that drives the person.
Most church leaders and pastors are preaching moralism, not the Gospel. Let’s go back to our lying example. What might be going on in the heart of someone who is lying? Wanting to present themselves as better than they are (pride)? Protecting their reputation (pride)? Simply having a lack of love for the Truth (idolatry)? Wanting to hurt another person (anger or lack of forgiveness)? Scared of what people think of them (cowardice and fear of man)? There are plenty of other possibilities that it could be, but if the action of lying is the only thing that is addressed, the pride, idolatry, anger, malice, unforgiveness, and fear go undiscovered and untouched. I submit to you that these sins WILL happen again if the root is not pulled out. Removing the lying and thinking that the person is now “holy” would be like picking all the apples off of an apple tree and saying, “it’s not an apple tree anymore” simply because the apples are gone. Ridiculous. Eventually, the tree will produce more apples because you haven’t killed the tree. You haven’t killed what is producing the apples. Likewise, the lying may stop (and that’s a big “may”) but pride will find another way to rear its ugly head. Anger will come out in another way. Unforgiveness will continue to root and become deeper bitterness. The person still hasn’t learned how to love Jesus above all else. The person will continue to fear people and will never become secure in their relationship with the Lord.
All throughout Scripture, we see that God is concerned with the heart.
“For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34b
“What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7: 20-23
Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah in Matthew 15:8, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”
“You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” Luke 16:15
If moralism was what the Lord had intended for us as believers, then the Pharisees would be our role models. They were the most holy, most religious people of Christ’s day, keeping all 600+ laws of Judaism. Instead, we know that Christ rebuked them time and time again. He called them “white-washed tombs” and “a brood of vipers.” The Pharisees thought they were righteous because of their behavior…how deceived they were.
The Gospel is about “heart-change.” Jesus died so we can become new creations. God’s design is and always has been to give us NEW hearts, not just to tell our OLD hearts to “stop swerving!”
“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.” Ezekiel 11:19
“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” John 7:38
“For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Romans 10:10
“[You were taught] to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:22-24
If you are a believer in Christ Jesus, then you have a regenerated heart. You now have the capability to become more like Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit. He wants to root out all sin in your heart, not simply remove its fruit from your life. Get into Scripture–rooting out sin is one of its purposes.
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
Whenever you sin, I beg you to not just deal with the apple, ask Jesus to tear out the tree! Ask the Holy Spirit if there are any apples you’ve been trying to remove from the tree that keep coming back. Look at your life and see patterns of sin, then ask the Holy Spirit what is the root…what is going on in your heart. Anger, pride, unforgiveness, jealousy, envy, lust, greed? Mind you, the root doesn’t have to be a sin. It could be hurt, loneliness, grief, confusion. You will have freedom and true righteousness when you deal with the heart.
Jesus will never tell you to “stop swerving.” He will say “let Me drive.”