PERFECTING HOLINESS IN THE FEAR OF GOD
2 CORINTHIANS 6:14-7:1
THE HEART – THE FOCUS OF HOLINESS
Almost invariably when issues of separation are discussed between parties that have differing views the issue of the heart is raised. It is a legitimate issue and one that is rightfully raised. I am concerned with the context in which it is often raised. There are two areas of concern.
For those who take a more conservative (and I would contend Biblical) view concerning dress, hair-styles, language, etc. there can be a problem. The issues can be addressed in such a way that it seems as though the heart does not matter. It must also be admitted that there are probably some who are concerned about the outside to the exclusion of the inside. As long as they “look good” then they are satisfied. They do not tend to be to concerned that they are “not good”. This is certainly the source of an arrogant, critical spirit.
Luke 11:39,40 - And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness. Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also?
Then there are others, when challenged about areas of separation, usually the manner of dress being the most contentious area, want to diminish the importance of what is on the outside by taking up the proposition that it is the heart that matters. I do not personally know anyone who would take the position that the heart does not matter. I suppose the troubling aspect of this proposition is that these people seem to believe there is a disconnect between the inside and the outside, that the outside is not an expression of the inside. This is a view, if held, that would be unsustainable in the Scripture. This position too, is the source of an arrogant, self-righteous spirit.
The truth of the matter is that one can be separate on the outside or lacking separation and have problems on the inside, problems of the heart. In fact I would suggest that we all have heart problems, if you don’t think so then you just have bigger heart problems.
I believe the Bible teaches us that it all begins and ends with the heart. A heart that is not holy belongs to a person that is not separated no matter the outward conformity to that which is modest and the lack of conformity to the world. There can be numerous motives for the outward display beside a love for holiness.
Maybe I should also explain what I mean by a “holy heart”. By a holy heart I do not mean a heart that is holy to the degree that God is holy, that is without blot, stain, sin, or imperfection. I do mean a heart that loves, pursues, rejoices in, and cultivates holiness. A holy heart is a heart that understands its own tendency toward worldliness and despises the tendency.
We must have hearts that are holy. If not, nothing else matters and our efforts will be burned up as wood, hay, and stubble on the Day of Judgment!
People can have genuinely holy hearts and not be as separated as they ought to be. There are several reasons for this. It could be a lack of instruction or understanding. They could be in the infancy of their spiritual development. It could be a lack of knowledge. Possibly even some other issues might give rise to this phenomena.
It is important that we examine what the Bible tells us about the heart of man and the important role it plays.
Our text verse serves as an excellent springboard to achieve that objective. At the conclusion of our introduction let us take a few minutes and consider the principles laid out for us in the text.
Proverbs 4:23 - Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.
The heart – Out of it are the issues of life.
Heart - The heart; also used (figuratively) very widely for the feelings, the will and even the intellect; likewise for the centre of anything.
Issues – Exit. AV-goings out 11, outgoings 7, going forth 2, issues 2, borders 1; 23
Everything comes from the heart. We cannot act contrary to our hearts. It is a complex interaction that takes place between the inside and the outside, but it is in place and it is unalterable. The lives we live are a reflection of the kind of heart we have. If we want to change anything we have to change the heart first. Behaviour cannot be changed without changing the heart. This is the very reason why Biblical Christianity is such a powerful force for change, because it changes the heart. In fact it takes away the stony heart and puts a living heart of flesh in its place.
This being true what is our responsibility toward the heart? It is to dress right, talk right, live right. No….a thousand times no! It is to be right!! Outward conformity without inward conformity is hypocrisy! This is why I believe we should always be dealing with the heart of people, heart issues. Change is best effected on the outside by bringing the inside into conformity to the Word of God. Once people bow their heart to the authority of the Word of God the rest tends to fall into place.
What are we to do? We are to “keep” our heart!
Keep – To guard, protect, maintain.
Because our hearts will determine the nature and character of our lives we must be protecting our hearts. I think two things will be helpful to remember here.
1. Constant exposure to the Word!
2. Diligent shielding from the world!
If we are unwilling to do these two easy to remember, difficult to apply steps then we are basically saying we have no interest in keeping our hearts. Christians fail to realize what is at stake when they believe minimal exposure to the Word is acceptable and coziness with the world is appropriate. The fact is you can examine the life of an individual and discern their relationship to the Word and the world. Why, because these two relationships will characterize their hearts and consequently will manifest itself in the issues of life.
But, not only are we told to keep our hearts, we are also exhorted with reference to the zeal we should use to that end.
The word is diligence - a guard.
This is interesting. We are being told to guard our heart with a guard. The point is that we dare not leave it to chance. Guarding our heart is not something that we can afford to do in a haphazard manner. Those who do so are setting the stage for failure.
Matt. 5:8 - Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
The Hypocrite's Only CareThomas Brooks, A Cabinet of Choice Jewels 1669
"The hypocrite's only care is to keep his outward life from defilement. But the sincere Christian's care is mainly to keep his heart from defilement; for he very well knows, that if he can but keep his heart clean--he shall with more ease keep his life clean. If the fountain is kept pure—the streams will run pure. The heart is the spring of all actions, and therefore every action is as the spring is, from whence it flows; if the spring is good--the action is good which flows from it; if the spring is evil, the action is evil which flows from it.
Hypocrites are all for the outside; they wash the platters and the cups, and beautify the tombs--like an adulteress whose care is to paint a fair face upon a foul heart.
But a sincere Christian, though he has a great concern for the well-ordering of his outward life--yet his main business and work is about his heart--
Oh that this ignorant heart were but more enlightened!
Oh that this proud heart were but more humble!
Oh that this profane heart were but more holy!
Oh that this earthly heart were but more heavenly!
Oh that this unbelieving heart were but more believing!
Oh that this passionate heart were but more meek!
Oh that this carnal heart were but more spiritual!
Oh that this vain heart were but more serious!
Oh that this dull heart were but more quickened!
Oh that this dead heart were but more enlivened!
Oh that this lukewarm heart were but more zealous for God, and Christ, and the gospel, and the great concerns of eternity!"
I trust the introduction has put our hearts in the right frame of reference to soberly consider the things that are before us.
What Is The Heart?
Defining the heart.
The term "heart" is used (figuratively) very widely for the feelings, the will and even the intellect; likewise for the centre of anything. The following are some of the ways that the word is used in the King James Bible:
inner man, mind, will, heart, understanding.
inner part, midst
midst (of things)
heart (of man)
soul, heart (of man)
mind, knowledge, thinking, reflection, memory
inclination, resolution, determination (of will)
heart (of moral character)
as seat of appetites
as seat of emotions and passions, as seat of courage
The word "soul" is from the Hebrew word nephesh (neh’- fesh). And it means a breathing creature, i.e. animal of (abstractly) vitality; used very widely in a literal, accommodated or figurative sense (bodily or mental).
In the King James bible the Hebrew word is translated soul, 475, life 117, person 29, mind 15, heart 15, creature 9, body 8, himself 8, yourselves 6, dead 5, will 4, desire 4, man 3, themselves 3, any 3, appetite 2, misc 47.
Suffice it to say that when you compare the words, heart, soul, and mind and all of the words from which they are translated you will find a consensus of similarity. They have reference to the innermost part of man. The man himself, not the vessel in which he resides, his body, it is the real him. The heart is the seat of the will, intellect, and emotions.
What does this mean when we say the heart is the seat of the will, intellect, and emotions? The will is where we decide, determine. The intellect is where we think, ponder, consider, and discern. The emotions are where we feel, are stirred, and moved. Everything that determines the kind of people we are is determined in the heart.
Understanding The Heart
The heart is, in fact, easier to define that it is to understand. The heart being the center of our being its complexities are enormous. The will, intellect, and emotions are not three distinct, isolated functions but are in fact in a continuous state of interaction and movement. It is this interaction between the three that constitutes the heart.
The heart is the collective process whereby these three areas influence and relate to one another. At this point it would be helpful to consider what we are not.
We are not simply intellectual creatures. We do think and ponder, reflect and consider. All of these are made possible because of intellect. But we often think the way we do because of what we have decided (exercise of the will) to do and because of what we fee (exercise of the emotions). We are not simply emotional creatures. We do feel certain things. We are moved and compelled. Yet, we are often moved and compelled by what we think (exercise of intellect) and because of the decisions (exercise of will) we have made. We are not simply willful creatures. We do determine and decide. Yet we often determine and decide based upon what moves (exercise of emotions) us and what we have thought (exercise of intellect) about. We are the result of all three of these capacities working upon one another. It is because of these complexities that we need a manual to give us information about how we function and what our needs are.
The Bible is that manual. It is written by the creator. It is sufficient to unfold the mysteries of our existence. The nature of the heart of man is the very reason why the problems of man can be so bewildering and perplexing. It is only through the Word of God that we can hope to make any sense of it all. The Scripture warns us against being able to trust our own hearts.
Proverbs 28:26 - He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered.
Jeremiah 10:23 - O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.
An Honest Assessment Of The Heart
The Natural State Of The Heart
Jeremiah 17:9 - The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
It is important that we consider how faulty our hearts are. The implication here is that we cannot even know our own heart. This should keep us humbly seeking God's face and leadership in our lives. We are warned in the Scripture not to lean to our own understanding.
Proverbs 22:15 - Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.
I always think about what Matthew Henry said concerning this verse. As to the heart of the child "foolishness is not only found there it is bound there." Think about it for a minute. Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child. That sweet little angel has foolishness bound in his/her heart. The admonition is that the rod of correction shall drive it, that is foolishness, far from him. The rod effects the heart. The rod impart wisdom. The rod dispels foolishness. Having been on both ends of the rod I know this to be true from experience. Unless foolishness is driven from the child it will remain there through adolescence and adulthood right into old age. If the truth were to be known we probably all have more foolishness in our hearts than we would be pleased to admit.
Problems Of The Heart
1 Gen. 6:5 – Every thought of the heart evil continually.
2 Ex. 7:14 – A hardened heart.
3 Num. 32:9 – Discouraged heart.
4 Deut. 2:30 – An obstinate heart.
5 Deut. 11:16 – Deceived heart.
6 Ps. 12:2 – Double heart.
7 Ps. 53:1 – Foolish heart.
8 Ps. 58:2 – Wicked heart.
9 Ps. 61:2 – Overwhelmed heart.
10 Ps. 66:18 – Iniquitous heart.
11 Ps. 78:37 – A heart that is not right.
12 Ps. 95:10 – Erring heart.
13 Ps. 101:5 – Proud heart.
14 Ps. 131:1 – Haughty heart.
15 Ps. 140:2 – Mischevious heart.
16 Pro. 6:25 – Lustful heart.
17 Pro. 12:8 – Perverse heart.
18 Pro. 12:20 – Deceitful heart.
19 Pro. 14:14 – Backsliding heart.
20 Pro. 19:3 – Fretting heart.
21 Pro. 23:17 – Envious heart.
22 Is. 9:9 – Stout heart.
23 Is. 35:4 – Fearful heart.
24 Jer. 5:23 – Rebellious heart.
25 Jer. 22:17 – Coveteous heart.
This is actually just a sampling of the kinds of heart problems people can have. And what we must realize is that there is no prescription you can pick up at the local pharmacy to correct these kinds of heart problems. The only thing that will do it is repentance! Repentance is the cure for all that ails our heart. The complexity of our problems is that our hearts can be under the influence of any number of these different problems. When you consider the potential for problems in the heart we should not wonder at the complexity of problems people have in their lives. The fact is, if we are not careful, if we do not guard our hearts, we can get really messed up.
Potential Of The Heart
1 Ex. 35:5 – Willing heart.
2 Ps. 7:10 – Upright heart.
3 Ps. 15:2 – Truthful heart.
4 Ps. 24:4 – Pure heart.
5 Ps. 27:14 – Strengthened heart.
6 Ps. 28:7 – Trusting heart.
7 Ps. 51:10 – Clean heart.
8 Ps. 57:7 – Fixed heart.
9 Ps. 78:27 – Integrity of heart.
10 Ps. 101:2 – Perfect heart.
11 Ps. 112:8 – Established heart.
12 Ps. 119:32 – Enlarged heart.
13 Ps. 119:80 – Sound heart.
14 Pr. 2:3 – Understanding heart.
15 Pr. 2:10 – Wise heart.
16 Pr. 15:13 – Merry heart.
17 Pr. 15:28 – Righteous heart.
18 Pro. 18:15 – Prudent heart.
19 Pr. 22:17 – Knowledegable heart.
20 Pr. 23:12 – Instructed heart.
21 Pr. 23:19 – Guided heart.
22 Pr. 23:26 – Observant heart.
Again, this is only a sampling. Nevertheless, in these 22 verses we find that not only is the heart subject to various and sundry problems but it also has the capacity for great potential. The potential problems and the great possibilities only serve to make the problems of heart more complex. There can be things that are right and things that are wrong in the same heart. In fact I would be so bold as to say that there are things that are right and things that are wrong in every heart. The Christian life is heart work. It is dealing with issues of the heart. Our desire should be to cultivate its potential while minimizing its problems. This is not accomplished without close oversight and brutal honesty.
God Sees And Looks At The Heart
1 Sam. 16:17 – But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.
Samuel just knew that the Lord's anointed was before him when Jesse's oldest son came before him. He just had that kingly look about him. He was just majestic and regal. He had a commanding presence. The problem is that Samuel was looking on his countenance and the height of his stature. The Lord was looking at his heart. The Lord knew he was not kingly material. In fact it would be the youngest son who was out in the field tending the sheep that would be God's choice for the next king of Israel. Although he was but a lad he had a king's heart. He had a heart that was after God. He had a courageous heart as would be vividly displayed in the encounter with Goliath. God could see all of this because he could see the heart.
Pro. 24:12 – If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?
God ponders our behaviour but he goes even deeper than that and ponders our heart. There is nothing hidden from him. Every motive, attitude, and thought are fully exposed before he all seeing eye. With this in mind there are no secret sins.
Jer. 17:10 – I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.
It is the Lord that searches the heart. He does so, so that he can give to every man according to his ways. The Lord not only knows what we do but why we do it. He fully knows the attitude with which we do what we do. A good work can be marred by a bad motive or attitude. God sees and God knows.
Ps. 44:21 – Shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart.
Here again, we learn that in relation to God there are no secrets not even in the heart of man. There is no corner where he cannot see, there is no secret chamber where he does not peer, there is no hidden place where he does not look!
Jer. 20:12 – But, O LORD of hosts, that triest the righteous, and seest the reins and the heart, let me see thy vengeance on them: for unto thee have I opened my cause.
Ps. 7:9 – Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just: for the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins.
Pro. 17:3 – The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the LORD trieth the hearts.
Again, we are reminded over and over again that God sees and tries the heart!
Heb. 4:12,13 – For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.
Even the word of God is described as being a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. This passage lays bare the truth that there is no creature that is not manifest in his sight. There is nothing he does not see. All things, not some things, not most things, but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. In other words we are fully exposed. There is no cover to be had. We decieve ourselves if we think that sins of the heart are going undetected. Such is not the case!
Ps. 26:2 – Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my reins and my heart.
If God can and does see the innermost places of our heart it is in our interest to embrace this reality and willingly submit to his examinations of our heart.
Ps. 139:23,24 – Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
No only should we embrace the reality we should invite the reality. We should desire that God would thoroughly search us and that he would make known his discoveries to us. We should desire to see what God sees, to know ourselves like God know us.
Ps. 139:1 – O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me.
We are only asking the Lord to do what he has already done. What is important is that we have the right spirit about his searching our hearts. We do not bemoan the fact that he can see but we rejoice in his ability and want his insight to be at our disposal so that we might root out evil and establish righteousenss, holiness, and godliness.
Job 13:23 – How many are mine iniquities and sins? make me to know my transgression and my sin.
Typically we see sin in others long before we see it in ourselves. We should always humbly recognize that whatever our virtues our vices are many. Some we see others we don't. Our desire should be for the God who knows our hearts better then we ever could to make us to know our sin and transgression. Wanting to know our shortcomings and inadequacies is one of the first steps in the pursuit of holiness and separation.
Proverbs 23:7 - For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.
We are clearly informed that as goes the heart so goes the person. You can take this premise and work it backwards as well. As the person is you know what his heart is like. The "he is" is the expression of the "thinketh in his heart". This should put to rest the argument that it is what is in the heart that matters no matter what is manifested on the outside. The disconnect that some people want to make between these inside and outside is shameful!
Psalms 19:14 - Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.
Here again we strike at the heart of the matter. It is not just the words we speak that matters but it is also the meditation of our heart that matters. The point is that we should want both the inside and the outside to be acceptable in the Lord's sight. Most are willing to settle for far less than this. As long as it is acceptable with their friends, contemporaries, society, the culture then it is acceptable to them. Unfortunately there can be a lot of things that are acceptable to our friends, contemporaries, society, and the culture that is not acceptable to the Lord. Most people opt for the lower standard. Why? Because they are only concerned about being acceptable in the sight of others instead of a thrice holy God who also happens to be our strength and redeemer!
Pursuing Purity Of Heart
James 4:8 – Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.
There can be no mistaking the message. Clean hands (outside) and a pure heart (inside). Both are important and God is concerned about both. Our hands must be clean and our hearts must be pure!
Ps. 51:6-10 – Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
It is important that we recognize what God expects. Truth in the inward parts. Wisdom in the hidden part. Washed and cleaned and whiter than snow. A clean heart. A right spirit. Of course David is seeking all of this because of what he had done in his body (adultery and murder). David understood the connection between the two. He had committed adultery and murder because he was unclean on the inside. The outside had been a reflection of what was the predominate spirit on the inside at the time. David knew if the inside was right the outside would take care of itself. How is it that some people seem to think that the inside is what it ought to be when the outside is reflecting a conformity to the world and manifest little if any desire to come out from among them and be ye separate!
Matt. 23:26 – Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
This verse is helpful in emphasising the principle I am seeking to drive home. Clean first the inside. Why? That the outside of them may be clean also! The inside is addressed so that the outside will be what it ought to be. Jesus himself makes the clear connection here. If we miss it, or deny it, or reject it we do so at our own peril!
Matt. 15:17-20 – Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.
It does not get any clearer! The outside is a reflection of the inside!
James 1:13-15 - Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
The heart is influenced by the desires of the flesh instead of the presence of the Spirit. Where is he drawn away if not in the heart? Lust conceived is a process of the heart. Lust brought forth into sin is what effects the behaviour.
Matt. 5:6 – Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
What do we hunger and thirst after? The world and its fashion is a poor substitute for righteousness. We should want to be more and more righteous. Something is wrong when we want to live with as much worldliness as we think we can get away with.
Ps. 17:15 – As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.
We have no room for being satisfied until we awake with his righteousness. Of course what this means is that in this life we will always be striving for the image of Christ. He who was holy and separate from sinners! For it will only be in that eternal day when we finally awake with his likeness in all of its fulness. As the Scripture says, "We shall be like him for we shall see him as he is."
God give us grace to understand the importance of having a pure heart, a holy heart, that we might live holy lives. Give us hearts that have no love for the world and the things in the world that we might live a life of non-conformity to the world.