This week, Pastor John hands over the TAGD keyboard to Scott Williams, Northpoint’s Pastor of Adults and Families.
A few years ago, I heard a message that changed my perspective on sin and the struggle with sin. Dr. John Henderson gave a talk here at Northpoint to many of our churches leaders, and he started off his remarks with this: “Whatever rules your heart rules your life.” He went on to explain that in Scripture, the heart is seen as the home base for all our meaningful thoughts, feelings, and actions, and that ever since the Fall, our sinful nature is rooted in the heart. Often times, when we discuss sin, we define it too narrowly by only thinking of it in terms of specific actions. Sin is not just specific actions that we do, but it also involves our deeper motives and desires behind those actions.
For instance, look at what Jesus says in Matthew 15:17-20: “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” One of the things that Jesus is emphasizing here is the location from which all sorts of sin flows: our actions flow out of the desires of our heart. So, in order to truly deal with our sinful actions like slander, theft, or sexual immorality, for example, we must look for change at the heart level.
This can only truly begin, of course, when we become a Christian. Upon trusting in Christ, the Scripture says that our heart of stone is taken away and we are given a new heart. Upon salvation, one of the things that happen is that our motives and desires are renewed. However, on this side of heaven, we will still battle with our old sinful ways. Paul says in Galatians 5:16-17: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other.” According to Paul, the believer now lives in the very real struggle of either gratifying the desires of flesh or gratifying the desires of the Spirit. This, then, brings us back to Dr. Henderson’s astute observation that whatever rules your heart rules your life. In other words, if we live gratifying, or being motivated, by selfish motives, then it is sin that is ruling us. But if we live gratifying the desires of the Spirit, then it is Christ who is on the throne of our heart.
What are some of those sinful desires that can rule our hearts? There are many, but here are a few: we can be ruled by lust, which, broadly speaking, is the desire, or craving, for something that is outside our grasp. Lust can be seen as a craving for approval through money, sex, status, possessions, and the list can go on and on. We can also be ruled by a sense of fear of losing whatever we do have. In that case, our lives are ruled by a fear of poverty, suffering, disapproval, disrespect, or loneliness, for example. Yet another selfish desire that can fight for the rule of our heart is the desire for pleasure, or comfort, where we seek out only those things that satisfy that need.
While each of these desires at some point fight for the rule of my heart, the one that resonates most is pleasure. And not just not just in a physical sense, but in the sense that I can tend to evaluate the things in my life through the grid of, “Is this pleasing to me?”
Employing Dr. Henderson’s observation opened my eyes to a whole host of ways that my heart is motivated and ruled by a sinful desire to be pleased. I am pleased to be proven right. I am pleased to be liked and respected at church. I am pleased when I can come home to a quiet home, which with three small kids, rarely happens. I am pleased by music that speaks to me. I am pleased when a sermon points out the sin in others but not my own. I am pleased to be in control when I want to be, and not in control when I don’t want to be. I am pleased when my wife wants to watch “Suits” instead of “Call the Midwife.” The list of things where I seek comfort and pleasure can truly go on and on.
How often do many of us evaluate our marriage, our friendships, our work, and maybe even the church, through the sinfully selfish grid of, “Is this pleasing to me?”
BUT HE GIVES MORE GRACE. What beautiful hope-giving words those really are. It is so encouraging to know that God not only forgives our wretched self-seeking and self-pleasing ways, but he also supplies us with that which will be truly satisfying and pleasing through Christ. In fact, it was Christ who promised to give us living water so that we might never thirst again. It is only when Christ is on the throne of our heart that our motives will be driven by him, and when we will find our satisfaction in him.