The Odyssey (Part 15)

   A Matter of The Heart
  by Rayola Kelley

      The greatest struggle in my Christian life is coming to terms with what it means, or what it takes, to be victorious. The Bible is a book that is honest about man’s plight, but it also reveals what it means to be overcomers. Overcoming is not an option; rather, it is a necessity if we are to enter the kingdom of God. Revelation 21:7-8 confirms this, “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and the murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

      The Bible is clear that those who live according to, and by the flesh, will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21). And, for those who are part of the world, they are enemies of God and will stand judged with the world. The Apostle John summarized it in this way, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever” (1 John 2:15-17).

      Through the years I have tried to discover the “pattern” or a “method” that would always ensure spiritual victory, but I found that no one “method” ever really worked in every situation and the only sure “pattern” I could follow was the one set forth by the example of Jesus. The Bible is clear that as believers, if we are to abide in Him, we must walk as He walked (1 John 2:6).

     In the previous Scripture reference of 1 John 2:6, the Apostle John tells us what it means to abide in Him. I realize that, as the branch, I must abide in Jesus to ensure that His life pulsates through my inner being. However, what does it take to abide in Christ?

      Through the years I have learned that there is only one way to abide in Him, and that is to remain humble before Him. Humility is a state that usually occurs after one has been broken. For Christians, that generally means we have become broken over our sin. The problem today is that sin is whitewashed as a way to allow people to feel good about their sinful plight, minimized to accommodate the politically correct environment, and reclassified so people can be happy in this present world in spite of facing eternal damnation in the world to come. So many people are like the thief on the cross who taunted Jesus to prove His deity and power by sparing him of the cross he was so worthy to bear. He had no remorse for his ways, no recognition of his deserved status, and no fear of God. He was caught up with his wicked life in this present world, and had no concern for the world to come. He was a lost heathen through and through.

      We know the other thief had a different perspective. Even though he started out taunting Jesus, he became aware that Jesus was who He said he was. Although dying on the cross, the thief was also broken about the reality of his plight in light of the One who was innocent, undeserving of death, and yet ready to die for him. To be broken means you are broken in spirit and that the different arenas of your soul are contrite or repentant. This means that instead of being stiff-necked, your will is submissive before God. You are also intellectually in agreement with God’s evaluation about a matter. In other words, He has been able to reason with you about your sin so that it can be properly addressed (Isaiah 1:18).  And, finally there are those unstable emotions that roll according to fleshly feelings and worldly affections. Instead of being subject to pride and the lust of the world, they have been made tender towards the Lord by the Holy Spirit. In summation, your bent must be changed from self and the world to point heavenward to ensure right standing in Christ, right standing before God, and right standing in your walk.

      This brings us to what was the difference between the two thieves on the cross. They both were criminals, rightfully dying for crimes they were guilty of. They both started out mocking Jesus, but the truth of the cross of Jesus ultimately brought a division between them. The truth is, all people will fall on one side or the other of the cross of Christ. The cross is a dividing point between light and darkness, life and death, and truth and deception. It brings people to the valley of decision where people will make the ultimate choice about their spiritual destiny. For those who insist on being heathens in this world, they will choose to be more so unbelieving and mocking towards the things of God, but for heirs of salvation, it will cause them to face their spiritual plight of sin and death, humble themselves in true repentance and cry out for mercy, forgiveness, and salvation.

      This brings us to that which determines what side of the cross people will find themselves on. It comes down to one factor: the attitude of the heart. The heart attitude is the one thing that will influence the decisions people make towards God and life.

      We know that according to the parable of the sower and the seed that our heart represents the ground, and the Gospel, the seed. Our heart will prove to be either hard (stiff-necked), stony (selfish), worldly (idolatrous) or open (tender) to the seed of the Gospel. All heart conditions fall into one of the above categories. For instance, a proud heart is a hard heart, a fickle heart a stony heart, and a divided heart, a worldly heart.

      But, what determines the condition of the heart? There are three main elements. They are agendas, priorities, and emphasis. Each of these elements will determine the environment of the ground of the heart. For example, when it comes to agendas, if you have a hard heart, your agendas usually prove self-serving. If you have a stony heart, agendas will be according to feelings and affections. If a person has a worldly heart, agendas are prone to be according to that which exalts the person based on worldly ways such as titles, positions, degrees, etc., and if you have an open heart towards God, it will desire to honor God above all else. Sadly, our agendas become what we measure ourselves with as far as our personal worth and success.

      If you have wrong priorities, the hard heart will be more caught up with promoting personal kingdoms, the stony heart its personal preferences, and the worldly heart its worldly lusts to ensure happiness and success. When it comes to the open heart there is only one priority and that is to glorify God. Priorities often determine what we value personally as to what we consider will enrich our lives and bring satisfaction.

      This brings us to emphasis. It is not unusual for people to start out with a decent emphasis, but the challenges of life and the influences of the world can greatly change or affect the emphasis of the heart. Emphasis will ultimately determine the causes we chase after. For example, the hard heart can display the instinct of a predator, ready to pounce on anything that gets in the way of its pursuits. The stony heart can prove to be unpredictable. Its emphasis is often affected by moods and proves to be unstable when confronting the matters of life. The emphasis of the worldly heart is greatly perverted by the world’s attitude. For Christians, a wrong emphasis can prove to be an unhealthy mixture where nothing gels well, leaving a leanness in the spirit and a battle in the soul. For the tender heart towards God, it has one emphasis, Christ and Him crucified.

      In my spiritual odyssey, I have had to come face to face with my heart attitude towards a matter in order to discover what it means to be an overcomer. The Bible is clear that the heart is wicked and deceitful, and that we cannot possible know the extent of its perversion (Jeremiah 17:9). In other words, we cannot trust our hearts, especially if they remain in their original state because such a heart cannot rightly judge a matter because it is carnal in attitude, selfish in preference, and worldly in its philosophies.

      It is important to understand that the attitude of the heart determines how we look at something. If the heart is hard, it can only see its particular take on reality. If it is selfish, it tends to take on a sentimental attitude that can prove to be mushy, silly, unrealistic, or harsh. If the heart takes on the worldly perspective, it will judge all matters according to the world’s façade and ways.

      As I realized that a wrong heart condition was capable of making me right in my own eyes regardless of whether I was right or wrong, I needed some way of testing it. Eventually, I discovered that the attitude I took on about something was the actual manifestation of my heart.

    We all can have attitudes. For some, attitudes can change hour by hour and minute by minute. One minute an individual may have a decent attitude and the next a foul one. However, I am not talking about fleeting attitudes that roll in on the tides of challenges and circumstances; rather, I am talking about the attitude of the heart. This attitude goes much deeper. It reflects the mood the heart is taking on towards something.

      The heart attitude will determine how you approach something and your ultimate behavior. For example, the reason many people fail to believe God is because they do not properly fear Him. The fear of the Lord is an attitude that has been established by a prevailing mood of healthy respect towards a holy God, and a dread of displeasing the One who holds your very soul in His hands.

      Those who have a healthy fear of God display behavior conducive to their attitude. Granted, they may not feel like doing that which is consistent with their attitude, but they know that it is far better to remain true to what is so, than to give way to fleshly feelings that are as unstable as the waves on the ocean.

      It is for this reason that when I decide to do that which is right, I never stop to take my emotional temperature, or allow my logic to weigh in, or wait for my will to give its approval. I know myself well enough that when it comes to spiritual matters, my emotions want to see if all my feelings are in agreement before I do something, my logic will convince me to make sure that before I do anything the end results will serve my purpose, and the will prefers to procrastinate until the emotions and logic are both on board. It is for this reason that I simply choose to walk by faith. I know how easy it is to become a procrastinator towards the things of God. Other words for this type of procrastination are “slothfulness” and “lukewarm.”

      It is easy to forget that the soul is still weighed down by the influences, workings, and activities of this present world. The soul will not volunteer when it comes to spiritual matters; rather, it will follow the leading of the heart attitude. If the attitude is of this world, the arenas of the soul will become more carnal, but if the attitude that is being established is that of Christ, the soul will be transformed as it ascends upward towards that which is righteous and excellent. Even though our soul may make us feel like hypocrites in our spiritual walk at different times, as Christians, we must remember that if we waited for each aspect of our soul to line up to God, we would never finish the course. The reason is because the spiritual life in us will always be baffled by fleshly emotions, sidetracked by logic, and oppressed by the will. That is why faith is the mooring line of the heart that connects each believer to the ways of God that are clearly revealed in His Word.

      A tender heart towards God simply means that it can be moved by the Holy Spirit regardless of what is happening on the surface. It is inspired by the deep currents of God’s perfect ways, nourished by eternal truths, and maintained by His promises. It is humble in disposition, meek in its outlook, and godly in its ways.

      This brings us to another aspect of the deception of the heart. Like the two thieves on the cross, we see the same two mixtures in our churches. We may sense that someone is struggling or hiding something in their lives. We may even question if they have a real testimony of salvation. We tend to classify people who talk the talk but who fail to walk the walk as hypocrites. When the heart attitude is wrong, it is the natural inclination for those who are in the religious world to try to veil it. For example, a hard heart will put on heavy robes of self-righteousness to hide its condition, the stony heart will put on fig-leaves of good deeds, and the worldly heart will put on the garbs of grandiose causes. However, under each false covering is the deception and preference of the heart to maintain its original, lost state. It is for this reason that Jesus made this statement in John 15:22, “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin.”

      As Christians, we need to be honest about our heart condition. It will manifest itself in the prevailing mood of our attitude. This is the only way we can establish if we have a humble disposition before God. In our fallen state we all start out like the two thieves on the cross, but if the reality of Jesus’ redemption has broken our hearts and brought true contrition to our souls, we cannot help but agree with Jesus, and seek His forgiveness and redemption.

      Receiving the gift of salvation is a matter of the heart (Romans 10:9, 10). The reality of our great need to be saved must reach into our heart, and break it in order for God to give us a new heart in our born-again experience. The beauty about Christ’s redemption is that God does not change our heart like King Saul or enlarge our heart like Solomon; rather, He gives us a new heart, inclined towards Him, sensitive towards His Spirit, and capable of responding to His Word in sincerity (1 Samuel 10:9-10; 1 Samuel 4:29; Ezekiel 36:26).

      What does the attitude of your heart tell you about your disposition? Have you come to a humble state, or are you hiding behind some garb to give an impression of being a Christian instead of living as a Christian? It is up to each of us to test and guard our own hearts to ensure that they have been made new by God and that the Spirit of God renews them daily to ensure the integrity of our agendas, priorities, and emphasis.