What If Our Hearts Were Right?
A sermon based on 1 John 3:18-24
Sunday, May 3, 2015 – Easter 5B
"May the words of my mouth and the meditation of [our] heart[s] be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, [our] Rock and [our] Redeemer." Amen. (Psalm 19:14)
You're sure to do impossible things If you follow your heart.
Your dreams will fly on magical wings When you follow your heart.
If you have to journey far Here's a little trick:
You don't need a guiding star; Trust your ticker, get there quicker.
North or south or east or west Where to point your shoes?
Which direction is the best? If the choosing get confusing Maybe it's the map you're using.
You don't need a chart to guide you Close your eyes and look inside you.
You're sure to do impossible things If you know where to start.
Your dreams will fly on magical wings When you follow your heart.
Now, I'm sorry to any Barry Manilow fans out there, but… what a stupid song! "Just follow your heart!"?! Let your emotions lead you?! Or, in the words of Jiminy Cricket, "Let your conscience be your guide."?! I know it sound so Disney-nice, but what horrible advice to "just follow your heart."
Our hearts are messed up. Our consciences are broken. Our emotions are horrible leaders. So your heart is bad guide. Our hearts aren't always right. When we follow our hearts, they often lead us to sin—to do things we know in our heads that God doesn't want us to do. Then, after we've sinned our hearts, now full of guilt and shame, condemn us and tell us that we could never be forgiven for what we've done this time.
This morning we consider the question, "What if our hearts were right?" We know that they're not right and too often lead us into sin. But thank God that we know that our hearts are not right. We do not stand condemned before him, but forgiven for Jesus' sake. Our text for this morning is from 1 John 3:18-24…
18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 19 This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20 whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
I. Your Hearts Leads to Sin
It's been said that the devil only has two tricks: 1) He makes you think sin is no big deal. "Just go ahead: Follow your heart. Do what you want. Have fun." But then, 2) once he's gotten you to sin, he makes you think your sin is too big a deal. "I can't believe you did that! You—who call yourself a Christian—knew that was wrong but you did it anyway. That can't be forgiven! Not of you!" And in both lies, one of satan's biggest allies is your own heart.
So the advice of the late Steve Jobs is horrible advice. He said, "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."
But let me ask you, "Where has your heart led you?" Have your emotions always led you to do the right and noble thing? Or have you watched someone suffer and thought, "You know, that person's always been a jerk to me. I'm glad he's getting what's coming to him." Have you sat on the couch thinking, "I don't feel like helping. If I ignore the problem, someone else will deal with it."? Have you stayed at home thinking, "Someone else can serve. I don't feel like it."
The truth is, your feelings, your heart, serve as a horrible guide. Just think, if you only got out of bed when you felt like it, when you're heart was really in it, would you still have a job? If you only took out the garage when your emotions told you to, wouldn't your house stink? If you only served God when your heart was in it… well, we don't serve God the way we ought.
Your heart is a bad guide. So is mine. We all have a heart disease. It's called sin. And it makes us pretty selfish. "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me," David confessed. (Psalm 51:5) And it's true of all of us that, by nature, "that every inclination of the thoughts of [our] heart[s] [are] only evil all the time." (Genesis 6:5)
We shouldn't follow our hearts. They're not right. Jesus tells us what happens when we do: "… the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander." (Matthew 15:18-19) We act selfishly. We pretend to love God, but "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." (Matthew 15:8 quoting Isaiah 29:13)
What horrible guides our hearts make. What fools we are if we follow our hearts. Instead we ought to follow God's Word. He tells us where our hearts out to be: 29 "The most important [commandment]… is this: …Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'" (Matthew 12:29-30) God doesn't want just lip service, but to put our actions where our mouths are: "Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."
But of course, you know we haven't done that. We haven't loved others the way we ought. We haven't loved God above all things. We've loved ourselves first with all of our hearts. Ah… how wrong our hearts are. How selfish, how sick, how broken!
II. Your Heart Leads to Despair
But then, when we listen to our hearts instead of to God's Word, when we do what we think is best instead of what God clearly says, when we do what our selfish nature wants and rebel against our loving God, well, then satan tries to takes us down his other path of lies. Your heart tells you that you could never be forgiven. "This time you've gone too far! God will forgive you of a few mistakes, but this time? You've got to be kidding me? You expect to be forgiven for that?!"
But again, your heart is wrong. Don't listen to your heart.
Yes, it is good to have a broken heart when you realize your sin against God. As King David put it in Psalm 51(:17), "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." But this broken heart is not meant to drive us to despair. It's only meant to drive us to despair of ourselves and our own efforts to make things right. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 1(:9): "Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead."
You know the truth: That your status before God doesn't depend on your love for God and for others, but entirely on God's love for you. Two verses before our text John wrote, "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us."
He lived a perfect life for you. That's a fact, no matter what your heart tells you. He endured hell on the cross to pay for your sins. That's true, no matter what your feelings say. He rose from the dead to guarantee that you are forgiven and that you too will rise to be with him in heaven. That's certain, whether you feel forgiven or not.
And the Holy Spirit has led us to believe these truths in spite of what our heart may tell us. And through faith in that message God has changed our hearts. "For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." (2 Corinthians 4:6)
Did verses 21 and 22 cause you concern? 21 Dear friends… we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him."? Did you think to yourself, "But I don't obey his commands and do what pleases him!"?
Then read on to verse 23: "And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ…" We do obey God's command because we believe in Jesus and in what he's done for us.
And so we don't believe our fickle hearts which tell us to rebel against God one minute and that we are damned the next. Instead we believe God who said through John, "This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts…"
So be at peace, dear friends. Don't listen to Barry Manilow when he says to follow your heart. Don't listen to your heart when it condemns you. Listen to Jesus. Listen to God as he assures you that you are forgiven. Listen to the words of absolution which are more certain that your feelings or your heart.
And then, believing in Jesus with all your heart, go love him with all of your heart (and with all of your soul and all of your mind and all of your strength as well). Serve your employer faithfully and "obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ." (Ephesians 6:4) Strive for, "a spirit of unity among yourselves" with your spouse, with your kids, with your parents, with your fellow believers, "as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 15:5-6) And don't, "hide [God's] righteousness in [your] heart… [but] speak of [his] faithfulness and salvation." (Psalm 40:10) Let everyone know of his gace.
What if our hearts were right? Well, our dreams wouldn't "fly on magical wings" like Barry Manilow says. Instead we'd follow our hearts to every sin that felt right at the moment. Then we'd believe our hearts were right when they condemn us and we'd despair of God's grace. Thank God that our hearts aren't right, but his Word of Grace is. Don't listen to your heart. Listen to him. And as you do, "the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:7) In his name, dear friends, amen.