For most of my Christian life, my faith life has been defined by trying to do the right things. Whether it be tithing, avoiding drink, or creating peace, my behavior was important to me. It was important to me that others noticed this behavior as well, because if they did then I must be doing the right things. My behavior flowed out of a desire to please God and others. Lately, however, I've been convicted of this lifestyle. Does God want more than my behavior? Can behavior be faked? Can I do the right things but not have a good heart? As I've wrestled with these questions, my answers to the latter questions is yes, behavior can be faked to cover up a sour heart. The question for me then became the following:
Which Does God Want More, My Heart Or My Behavior? Which One Is He Currently Getting?
Scripture seems to speak pretty loudly that God wants our hearts. We find the most evidence for this in Matthew 22:34-40. In this story, the Pharisees asked Jesus, "Which is the greatest commandment?" Jesus answered, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." Think about the question they are asking. They want to know which behaviors are best. Should honoring my parents be more important than remembering the Sabbath? Is murder worse than adultery? Often times this is how I think, trying to figure out what behaviors God wants from me so I can please him, but in the end that is thinking like a Pharisee ( which Jesus usually didn't like).
In his response to their question, Jesus revealed something powerful. He revealed that behavior modification was not the true intent of his commands, the intent was to change our hearts. Notice he says "Love the Lord your God with all your Heart." He doesn't provide a checklist of good behaviors, but rather tells the Pharisees to give God their heart, and work on the rest later. I don't think he is downplaying the role of righteous action or good behavior, but is challenging its place in our life.
WHICH ARE YOU SEEKING: TO MAKE GOD HAPPY OR TO LOVE HIM?
Ironically, loving Him is what will make Him the happiest!
So what do the words of Jesus mean for me? What do they mean for you? I think it means God desires our hearts much more than good behavior. Which, if we are honest, is difficult. It's much easier to conform to a few rules than to give my heart away. Think about it this way, if you have a child, do you want them to do the right things? Of course, but why? Do you want them to do it because they think it will make you happy, or because they love you so much they must do it? Surely we would pick the latter. Surely we want our children's hearts more than their behavior.
Here are two practical steps to help identify where we are:
1. Ask God to reveal to you the condition of your heart. Ask Him what steps you can take to give Him your heart rather than only good behavior.
2. Ask your life group members and others closest to you. The answers may hurt but might be necessary to create change.
God desires our hearts because He wants to be in relationship with us. Without our heart, we are just God-pleasers, doing our best to keep Him happy. The greatest relationships though involve hearts that are united. May we give God our hearts and not just our behavior. May our behavior flow out of our love for Christ, and when that happens, it won't be just good behavior, it will be called fruit!