Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Heart of the Matter

I feel like I hear it a lot – “it’s about where your heart is at.” This is a super popular line in Christianity, and to some extent, it’s true. People say this all the time about worship, that the structure doesn’t matter as much as if the worshipper’s heart is right. I can jive with this idea, for worship really is about expressing a true yearning, love, and appreciation for God. So, it is about the heart.

The thing is though, we tend to overdo this. Sometimes my heart isn’t right, and I need to do something anyway. With the example of worship still, worship is something I need to do, even if I’m not exactly having a great day or really “into” it. It is through worship that I at least tend to get my heart right and correct that. So, sometimes you have to do something even when your heart isn’t in it at first.

However, we’ve overdone this in other areas as well. Like, REALLY overdone it. We’ve made where our “hearts are at” an excuse for not acting in ways that Jesus commanded. And the real kicker is, our hearts are totally not in the right spot and we are doing our absolute best to lie to ourselves.

Let me illustrate with something you can most certainly connect to. Remember when the rich young ruler comes to Jesus asking what he needed to do to have eternal life (Matthew 19:16-22)? Jesus spits basic tenets and after the young ruler says that he’s done these, Jesus tells him to go and sell all his stuff, and then to follow Him. Of course, we all know that the young man walks away saddened, because he didn’t want to give it up. His heart was indeed, not in the right place. For most of us who read this though, ours isn’t either. We try and say “it’s about having your heart in the right place.” I know I have. We could never dream of actually being asked that by Jesus and so we make it more about having a “giving heart” and being “willing to give it all up” while in our deepest selves, we never would and certainly have no plans to in the current.

Jesus asked the young man to follow Him. That is the main thing. And to do that, the young man must give up that which he loves the most. When it comes down to it, Jesus asks nothing less of us. We try to make it “matters of the heart” to keep from actually having to give anything up or act any differently, but that is not at all what Jesus means by His command “Follow me.”

Jesus says “I Am The Way,” yet we reduce Him to mere religion that can be separated from daily life. We interiorize and spiritualize the gospel, and Christ’s teachings become things that inform our attitudes rather than our actions. We love our enemies in our hearts, while our profession requires us to marginalize, objectify, and even kill them. We reduce the ethics that Jesus lays out to an inward disposition, and not a bodily action. We make distinctions between wealth accumulation and greed, where such a distinction did not exist so readily in the early church. We emphasize an attitude of detachment from our possessions so that we can live in comfort while our brothers and sisters live in oppressive poverty. Spirituality replaces lifestyle and religion replaces discipleship (Camp, 41-42).

What is in your heart is displayed in your action. Your heart cannot be right without consistent action following. Those who claim that their attitude toward following Jesus is right simply lie to themselves if there is no action in their following.

This is the part of the post where a preacher or writer makes some sort of statement that alleviates the awkwardness and inward struggle felt by retreating back just a little bit so you can sleep better. I make no such statement. I have lied to myself for many years about my heart being in the right spot, while showing nothing in my daily life.

In our attempts to get away from “earning our salvation” and doing “works” in order to please Jesus (worthy and correct teachings I might add), we have also gotten away from discipleship. Dietrich Bonhoeffer described this phenomenon as Costly Grace. It is costly because it commands us to follow; it is grace because the command is to follow Jesus. It is costly because it costs a person their life; it is grace because it gives them the only true life. It is costly because it cost Jesus His very life; it is grace because Jesus loved you enough to pay the price (Bonhoeffer, 45).

Following Jesus leads to a cross, and that is simply not comfortable for us. This Way, This Lifestyle, is about physically following Jesus, through some very physical changes and actions. Christianity isn’t a “heart” religion. Christianity is a “following” lifestyle.

Choose not to lie to yourself about your heart being in the right place so that you can so easily ignore the difficult teachings of Jesus anymore. Instead, live a life of discipleship, a life described by James when he wrote about a lifestyle that was consistent with the faith that a person proclaimed.      

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but their actions are not consistent? Is that person’s claim to faith able to justify them? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking daily food, and someone says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” but does not give them what they need for their body, what good is that? So also, faith without action…is dead. (James 2:14-17)

Works Cited

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. New York: Macmillan, 1959. Print

Camp, Lee C. Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World. Brazos Press, 2003. Print

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