Embracing God’s Heart
Having the right heart is basic to how we live out our faith in the Lord. It means the difference between a grudging compliance and a joyful submission, between a callous heart and a sensitive conscience, and between a selfish apathy and a selfless fervor.
What does it mean for a Christian to have the right heart? Put simply, it means having God’s heart as our own. It means thinking, feeling, and doing what God would think, feel, and do. Only when our hearts are centered on God’s will and desire can our life and service be acceptable to God and bring blessings to others.
Our God is holy and just. He wants His children to be like Him and share in His holiness. He gives us His commandments and laws so that we may discern what is good and evil and do what is right in God’s eyes.
But obeying God can be a burden if our hearts do not first undergo a change. Without the inner desire to carry out what is right, we grumble when we suffer for doing good and we lose heart when we are not immediately rewarded for obeying God. Carrying out God’s word brings no joy, but only pain.
However, if we have God’s heart in us, we will approve the good things that God approves of and detest the evil that He detests. We will see right and wrong from God’s perspective and not our own. We will delight in God’s laws and shun all wickedness.
Under God’s old covenant, doing what is good in God’s eyes was a matter of adhering to a strict code of law. But such superficial observance could not truly keep a person close to God. That is why the Israelites’ loyalty to God was always short-lived.
Their inability to do right is a reflection of the weaknesses of the sinful man. Because of our fallen nature, our flesh desires what’s contrary to God’s commandments, and it is only natural to feel that God’s law is a burden.
But today, God has enabled believers in Jesus Christ to obey Him in a completely new way.
For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” (Heb 8:7-12)
Whereas God had to always take the Israelites by their hand to lead them, under God’s new covenant with us, He wants us to obey Him out of our willingness. God enables us to do so by first changing our heart. He cleanses our conscience by the blood of Jesus Christ through baptism. And He writes His laws with His spirit on our hearts so that we can personally know God.
This is the new man that God has created in Christ (Eph 4:23). We are to put on this new man, renewing our hearts and minds daily through God’s word and spirit. Then we can “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom 12:1). In other words, if we constantly open our hearts to spiritual renewal from God, we can eventually understand and fully embrace God’s will and His ways.
With such a personal knowledge of God’s heart, we will not need to be prodded constantly to obey God. We will gladly live by God’s laws because we have made them a part of our hearts.
A Truly Righteous Heart
“Therefore all Your precepts concerning all things I consider to be right; I hate every false way” (Ps 119:128). The Psalmist has fully embraced God’s laws and makes them his own. All that God thinks is right he also considers to be right, and he hates everything that is contrary to God.
Unless our hearts are renewed to be like God’s, we remain ignorant and dull to sin. When we have done wrong, our hearts would not rebuke us and we feel no contrition. We may have strayed far from God but we would not realize it.
In fact, without God’s heart in us, we may be doing wrong even when we think we are keeping God’s law. This was the problem with the Pharisees and scribes whom Jesus reprimanded. Outwardly, they were careful to observe the regulations of the law and even taught others to observe them. But because their hearts were far from God, they often completely missed God’s intentions behind His laws. Worse still, their zeal was unacceptable to God because it was based on their misguided beliefs.
In his epistle, Paul calls a heart of repentance toward sin “godly sorrow.” This expression literally means “sorrow according to God.” It can also be translated “sorrow as God would have it.” In other words, repentance means feeling grief over sin in the same way that God grieves over sin. This is the kind of sensitivity that we need to have in order to see where we have strayed and to keep to the right path.
Nehemiah was a righteous man. One thing that characterized his righteousness was how his heart reacted to the sins of the Israelites and their great distress.
So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said: “I pray, Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments, please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned. (Neh 1:4-6)
Nehemiah’s soul was tormented by the suffering of God’s people, and he knew that it was because of their wickedness that they were suffering. Likewise, if we share God’s abhorrence of evil, we would also be grieved by every evil practice and turn from our ways. This should be the trait of every godly person. Through continual communion with God we examine our thoughts, motive, and actions from God’s perspective. Then we can be in tune with God’s heart.
The contrasting difference between a man like Nehemiah and the Pharisees is that a truly righteous person takes after God’s heart and reacts to sin the way God would react. Both understood very clearly what was right and wrong, but their response reflected whether or not they truly embraced God’s heart.
Motivated by Love
Having God’s heart in us also motivates us to love others and to love them in the way that God would want us to love.
One reason we are not motivated to spread the good news of salvation is that God’s love is lacking in us. God desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1Tim 2:4). For God so loves the world, that He gave His Son to be the ransom for all. He does not delight in the death of a sinner, but rejoices over a sinner’s repentance. This is the heart of God. If we have this heart in us, we would pray for all men and feel the strong urge to share the gospel with others. Without this heart of love, any effort in preaching would only be out of reluctance.
Once, Jesus entered a village of the Samaritans but they did not receive Him. When His disciples James and John saw this, they asked the Lord, “Do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” The Lord rebuked them, saying, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” (Lk 9:51-56)
The two disciples’ attitude showed that they lacked God’s love in them. Their feelings toward the Samaritans were not in sync with that of the Lord. Whereas Jesus was concerned about saving lives, the disciples only saw how these Samaritans deserved to be punished.
God taught the same lesson to the prophet Jonah, who was angry that God had spared the city of Nineveh from destruction. God showed him what was missing in his heart, and how he needed to learn to love the Ninevites the way God loved them (Jon 4:10-11). This lesson still rings true for all of us today. God wants us to love everyone with His heart.
It is evident that God’s love was the driving force in Paul’s ministry to the believers. He longed for the believers in Philippi with the affection of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:8). He cared for the Thessalonians as a nursing mother cares for her own children (1Thess 2:7). To the Galatians, who have strayed from the gospel, he wrote, “My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you” (Gal 4:19). He was able to love the believers the way that Christ loves the church because he had adopted the heart of Christ.
When writing about the threat of false teachings, Paul said that he was jealous for the believers with “a godly jealousy,” or literally “a jealousy of God.” Paul became jealous with God’s jealousy when he saw how false teachers were enticing them. God’s love was burning within Him. A person without God’s love in him would not possibly feel this divine jealousy over other believers and vigorously fight to guard their faith.
The love that God has for His children had been planted in this apostle. So he could not help but long for, care about, and be anxious for the flock. If we can also learn to develop a divine love in our service, our ministry will go so much further and be pleasing to the Lord.
Do we know what’s in God’s heart? Do we know what God would think, feel, and do about a particular matter or situation? Do we live and serve with His love? We need to search for these answers through the study of God’s word and the teaching of the Holy Spirit, and learn from God Himself—the source of righteousness and love. Embracing His heart as our own, our life and service will become acceptable to God and bring blessings to others.