How easily we find phrases that help justify our tendency toward selfishness and rebellion.
Undoubtedly you have heard from others, if not from your own vocal cords, the popular phrase, “But God knows my heart!” It is typically presented in light of conflict or personal struggles of weakness and is intended to ease both our own conscience as well as the opinions of others toward our behaviors.
We may recognize and even admit that we have a problem in some area of our character or choices, but it will all work out fine, because God knows that our heart wants to do good. We take an idea that has some merit in Scripture and repackage it with new meaning. The idea that God looks on the heart is very biblical. However, the concept that such a view of our mostly-good-heart and trying-really-hard-intentions is not what God sees in our hearts.
I heard one well meaning sister-in-Christ use the phrase to suggest why a rebellious relative will still make it into the Kingdom–because God knows his heart. An inmate in local lockup, stated that even though he was a repeat offender, and fully expects to continue in his pattern of doing jail time, he’s just fine–because God knows his heart. An ordained pastor listed his favorite quote online that people can sin all they want and still enter heaven–because God knows our heart.
How about you? Does God know your heart? Is that the reason you expect to enter the pearly gates?
Here is what the Bible reveals about what God sees in our hearts:
“The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” (Gen 6:5)
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart” (Jer 17:9)
“For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come” (Mk 7:21)
“You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts” (Lu 16:15)
The heart of man, in his natural condition, is always bent toward evil. All of our thoughts, desires, and choices aim away from God and toward sin. That is what God knows about our hearts. Yes, God knows your hearts, and he is fully aware that many use the idea of him knowing their hearts as a way of justifying themselves in the eyes of others.
Consider why Scripture records that Jesus refused to entrust himself, even to his own disciples who believed in him:
“But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men…he knew what was in a man” (Jn 2:24-25).
The Lord does know what is in my heart and in yours–that is why he trust himself only to his Father who is righteous. Later he states that he refuses to accept human testimony about him, and “does not accept praise from men”–the reason?–“but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts” (Jn 5:34, 41-42).
When Scripture uses the phrase that God looks at the heart of mankind, there are a few keys to understanding what he actually means. The first is that God views the hidden and internal motives for why we do what we do, rather than judging by external observations. This in no way is meant as a statement of approval by itself. It is simply a contrasting between the human approach to things and Gods.
The second key is that what God sees in every human heart is evil all the time. That is very humbling, and frankly very unpopular in a modern Christian culture that prefers to hear what it wants to believe. There is nothing in any of us that causes God to take notice and decide to select us as one of his own, because of what is in our hearts. Recall, that we are saved, “not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Tit 3:5).
A key part of the meaning of searching our hearts is that God is judging man. He is assessing our choices in order to reward or discipline and he is doing so, not by how the outside looks, but by the root causes and reasons for each of our choices. In this sense, it provides a way of administering justice in the common, every-day choices in how we treat each other. This particular usage can be applied even to unbelievers, but it is not the primary or final purpose. When it is used this way, it only speaks of the incidental choices of decency by law-abiding citizens, and does not include any reference toward eternity, salvation, or true internal goodness–those are gifts with a different source than can be found naturally in our hearts.
The main key to understanding what God means, is that he is looking deep within, well beyond the cognitive reach of any of our minds, and far far further than any of our efforts could ever impact, to see if there is any shred of evidence of his own heart planted and sustained within us. He is looking at our hearts to see if he can recognize his Son. For as the Scripture declares, “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart” (1 Jn 5:10). This looking does not change the reality of our natural condition, but it reveals a real transformation that can only ever occur if the Lord dwells within through the penetrating power of the Holy Spirit. This is what the apostle meant when he stated:
“God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.” (Act 15:8)
If the earlier passages are not kept in their proper context, this verse can give the false illusion that God gave his Spirit to people because he saw in their hearts that they were so deserving. This is where the deception is often rooted, by those who take such statements as stand-alones and interpret them in ways that violate the rest of Scripture. Above, Peter is actually referring to a group of non-Jewish believers, who were already responding to the call of God, before the apostles showed up and the dramatic “proof” of giving the Spirit was displayed. In other words, by saying that God knew their hearts, he is showing that God saw that these people truly believed in him and were willing to accept the truth, not because of their own righteousness, but because they had been showing that faith over time well before Peter ever showed up at that pivotal moment, and God confirmed that it was genuine.
God knowing our hearts is a phrase that often means the very opposite of what many want it to imply. In short, if any of us persists in deliberately sinning and refuses to repent of their patterns and choices in some area that Scripture declares against, then yes God knows that person’s heart, and they will get what they deserve. If on the other hand, someone continues to struggle with some addiction or sinful habit, but truly repents and strives with all of their might through the Spirit of grace to change, then yes God knows that person’s heart, for he recognizes that they remain under the heart-blood of the Lamb.
If you find yourself as one who has claimed a good heart as justification for why God will overlook sin, then:
- Step one is to admit to the misuse of biblical phrases.
- Step two is to prayerfully read the word of God more carefully, perhaps using the above quotes as encouragement to adjust your beliefs.
- Step three is to humbly acknowledge that by nature, every part of who you are naturally turns away from God and is identified by the Lord as evil.
- Step four is to recognize that there is only one who is Righteous in heart, mind, soul, and strength, and in spite of everything, he loves you.
- Step five is to put your faith in the heart of God, as displayed through Jesus, rather than in your own heart.
- Step six in a new direction of faith is to both love and fear God, using his words the way he intended.
This pattern is not popular, especially the idea to fear God and not be so casual in our quoting of Scripture. But again, if you are willing to take his words in context, you will find from Genesis through Revelation, that those with willing hearts will approach the throne of grace as Scripture teaches and not as many frocked men have taught.
Yes, God knows what is in your heart, even if you claim Jesus. Do you?