We’ve probably all heard someone say the phrase. Maybe they’ve done something wrong unintentionally and others have judged them harshly, and so the retort comes, “God knows my heart.” Or, maybe it’s in regard to a wayward child or a generally “good” person who is not following the Lord – “God knows their heart.”
Yes, He does. But is that good news?
There is a certain assumption behind that phrase we often use. It is that deep down, in the core of who we are – we’re actually good people even though our actions and words may not always align with that. Sometimes it may be that we have unintentionally done something wrong, however, it’s a common assumption in our culture that tends to have a very optimistic view of human nature. Is this belief in humanity warranted?
The Bible doesn’t have such an optimistic view of human nature – at least not since the Fall when all humanity fell into sin in Adam and Eve’s rebellion in the Garden of Eden. Today’s culture has a light view of sin. We don’t think that our core is corrupted. No. Instead, we make mistakes. We slip up. We didn’t really mean it. Never mind that we often know exactly what we’re doing.
Scott Christensen notes,
“We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because at the core of our being we are sinners. This means that a good heart must be made – or, more precisely, remade. It must undergo a radical retransformation before it can produce the good fruit that our unsullied parents Adam and Eve had before the fall. This speaks to the need of spiritual and supernatural regeneration (John 3:3-8; cf. Ezek. 36:26).” (Christensen, What About Evil?, p.207)
Contrary to our culture’s lofty view of humanity, this is in fact the unified witness of Scripture (see also 1 Sam. 16:7; 1 Kings 8:39; 1 Chron. 28:9; Psa. 7:9; 26:2; Dan. 11:27; Luke 16:15; Acts 1:24; 8:20-23; 15:8-9; Rom. 8:27; Rev. 2:23). This is the doctrine popularly known in Reformed Theology as Total Depravity. We are broken people at our core. Sin has infected every area of our being – our thoughts, reasoning, emotions, affections, deeds, desires… all of it. Now, this does not mean that we are as evil as we possibly can be. What it means is that there is no area of our life that sin has not touched and distorted. We still have the capacity to do, think and desire good things. However, our actions, thoughts and even emotions have been tainted by sin’s pervasiveness.
This is simply illustrated by the fact that many times we know what is right to do, yet still choose not to do it.
Jeremiah 17 is instructive for us here. In this passage, the prophet Jeremiah is concerned about those “whose heart turns away from the LORD.” (v.5) This is where we find the famous verse giving us the hard truth that, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (v.9) Indeed sometimes we cannot even understand our own heart’s sickness! If you’re like me, there have been times when you’ve wondered at your own heart’s ability to devise evil (even if you don’t act on it!). This is so bad that we cannot even trust our own hearts because they often mislead us and we are sometimes unable to rightly discern it ourselves.
In Jeremiah 17, God’s judgement on those who turn away from Him goes straight to the core of our rebellion: “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” (v.10) A person’s ways and “fruit of his deeds” come from out of their heart. Indeed, God’s judgement in Jeremiah for these people is that each one of them, “follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me.” (16:12) Throughout Scripture, God discerns what is in our hearts as easily as if it were writ large and bold on our foreheads. We cannot trust our hearts, they’re deceitful.
Weighed by the Lord
“All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD.” (Proverbs 16:2)
This is in fact what Jesus affirmed, saying, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 15:19; cf. Mark 7:21-22) You see, the problem is far greater than we’re willing to admit. Our hearts are the problem, and that’s why we cannot change it ourselves. Apart from Christ, our hearts remain depraved. I’m sure you’ve had times where you’ve fell victim to your own heart – sometimes we’re our own worst enemy.
The problem of our heart’s corruption is so severe that were it not for God’s restraining grace, there is no telling how deep the depths of our depravity could bring us. We see this illustrated only three chapters after the Fall where “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5) Because of this, God wipes out the earth in His righteous judgment through the Flood. In the final judgment, God will judge us according to our heart’s motives:
“Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.” (1 Corinthians 4:5)
God will perfectly weigh our hearts in the final account of things.
So, is it good news that God knows our heart?
Well, not if that’s the basis upon which you hope to be justified. If it were up to the state of our hearts after the Fall, we would only deserve judgment.
Our Only Hope
Firstly, if our hearts are distorted, then we must be shown the true picture of reality. God’s Word is what helps us to discern our hearts:
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
God’s Word cuts through our attempts to hide our depravity. This is why it is so important to be sitting under the regular, faithful expository preaching of the Bible. God’s Word is attended to and empowered by His Spirit to bring conviction of sin. Far from excusing us, the fact that God knows our hearts should sober us. Unlike the empty words of comfort that our culture offers us, God’s Word doesn’t mince words – it tells us like it is. Our world’s self-infatuated view of our own virtue are like the “kisses of an enemy”, but God’s Word wound us faithfully (Proverbs 27:6) so that we would despair of finding hope in ourselves and turn to Him.
Secondly, as we gain a right view of ourselves and our hearts, we repent and turn to God to do in us what we cannot do for ourselves. We pray with David after he had been confronted about his sin by the prophet Nathan, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10) The word used for “create” in the Hebrew is an action that only God can do – only God is able to create a clean heart in us. We’re utterly dependent on the Lord to rescue us from our own depravity.
This is not just the way that we enter the Christian life, but rather should mark all of our life. As Martin Luther has said, all of the Christian life is a life of repentance. Paul said it this way: “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him…” (Colossians 2:6) How did we receive Christ? As poor and helpless beggars unable to help ourselves. That is how we daily walk in him – in dependence on his grace to save and sanctify our wayward hearts.
Yes, God knows your heart. But that’s why He sent His Son to die the death we deserved so that we could be counted righteous and made new.