I was born and raised in church. My parents took me to Sunday School each week. Year after year I had heard the same stories taught by different teachers as I grew older, and I had memorized them all. Christianity began to move from my heart to my head. I began to see it as behavior based instead of relationship based. I remember talking to my dad about sin and all the behaviors you could and couldn’t do. I wanted to make sure I didn’t do any of them. I thought if I could memorize them all, I could know which behaviors to avoid so I could go to Heaven. That’s when he said, “Chewing gum can be a sin.” I was confused. He said, “Sin is as much an attitude as it is a behavior. If the rules tell you not to chew gum and you do so in defiance, you are sinning. James 4:17 tells us if we know what’s right, and don’t do it, it’s sin.”
In the Old Testament, King Saul was told to wait for the prophet to show up who would offer a sacrifice. When the prophet didn’t show up at the appointed time, Saul began to panic. His men were afraid and some began to desert him. He decided to offer the sacrifice instead. Just as he finished offering the sacrifice, the prophet showed up. He knew he needed to Lord’s blessing, but didn’t do it the right way. A few chapters later, he was told to kill even the animals as he destroyed a nation. When the prophet showed up, Saul said, “I have carried out the Lord’s command.” The prophet replied, “Then what is this bleating of sheep and goats I hear?” Saul said he was going to sacrifice them to God. In 1 Samuel 15:22, after rebuking Saul, the prophet said, “Obedience is better than sacrifice.”
Saul was doing the right thing by offering sacrifices, but his attitude was wrong in each case. Jeremiah 17:10 says, “But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve” (NLT). Man looks at behaviors to judge people, but God looks at our heart. He’s interested in our motives. You can do the right thing with the wrong heart, and it can be wrong. We can’t approach Christianity as a list of behaviors of right and wrong, thou shalts and thou shalt nots. It’s not your behaviors that get you into Heaven. It’s the grace of God through the blood of Jesus. God wants a relationship with you, and through that relationship, we’re changed from the inside out. We receive a transforming of our mind (Romans 12:2) as we become a new creation. We are saved by grace, through faith, and not of our behaviors. The Bible does tell us how we should live, but God is also looking at our heart behind the behaviors.
Photo by Bart LaRue on Unsplash