Religion that is not heart-felt is no religion at all! To those who might feel compelled to offer criticism by suggesting that members of the church do not believe in heart-felt religion, please be reminded of these simple truths from God.
The Necessity of Heart-Felt Religion
Do the words of the inspired writer Solomon come to mind? He would write, “…for as he thinks in his heart, so it he” (Prov. 23:7). Jesus would make it clear that all that we do will be driven from the inside, from the heart, of a man (Mark 7:21-23). It is important that each of us take stock of our heart and where our desires are placed. The heart will drive our thoughts and it will drive our actions.
Jesus was once asked, “Which is the first commandment of all?” Was Jesus really going to give an answer? Would He really provide a ranking of the commands of God? In other words, was Jesus going to indicate that some commands might be more important to follow than others? Notice the answer that Jesus provides in Mark 12:29-30: “The first of all commandments is, ‘Hear, of Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.” In responding to the question, Jesus reminds us all of the important place of the heart in religion. It is a requirement that we first love God with all of our heart. The heart is the seat of feeling, emotion, and affection. We are commanded to have an emotional attachment to God – to love Him with our entire heart!
In Matthew 15:7-8, Jesus offered righteous critique of the Jewish leaders of His day: “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you saying: These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” Religion that is not heart-felt, that is not driven from with-in, is no religion at all.
Worship of God must be driven by the heart of each individual worshipper. In the same context, Jesus would shame the worship of the religious “elite.” Those whose hearts were far from God were said to be those who also were offering vain worship as they were teaching for doctrine the commandments (traditions) of man (Matt. 15:9). True worshippers must worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). Jesus makes it clear that worship must be according to truth. Only that which God authorizes is going to accepted by God. We must therefore only follow the pattern of worship given in the New Testament. However, the heart is as much involved in true worship as the prescribed actions of worship. All who strive to worship God acceptably will seek to be properly motivated from with-in and offer outward praise driven first by heart-felt praise!
The Caution of Heart-Felt Religion
The heart cannot be our only guide as we seek to please God. When our hearts are right and we seek only to please and praise Him, we will live acceptably in His sight. We must be quick to point out that in the end, we will be judged not by our feelings alone but by our actions of faithfulness (John 12:48). Jesus is the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him (Heb. 5:9). He would say, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). True heart-felt religion will prompt and motivate true obedience.
The Bible warns against feelings being the only safe-guide in religion. Let’s be honest. When most people think of religion that is heart-felt, they think first about feelings. As Saul of Tarsus walked the road to Damascus, he felt that he was right with God and sincerely was about his Father’s business. He would make it clear that he had lived in all good conscience (Acts 23:1). Was this a safe-guide? He was persecuting Jesus in persecuting His people! He was not right with God. Thus, we see that his feelings were not a safe guide.
In all we do, we must strive for sincerity, to be genuine and not fake. In Romans 10:1, Paul is not questioning the sincerity of the Jews. He simply points out that they were sincerely in error. They “felt” they were right, but they were wrong. “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:1-3). If you were to ask the Jews to which Paul was referring if they were sincere and truly felt they were pleasing God, how do you think they would have responded? “YES!” However, their heart-felt religion was misguided. Caution must be used when only being led by our feelings and emotion.
Let us strive to love God whole-heartedly. May our praise always be with all our heart (Ps. 9:1; 111:1). We must never shy away from the fact that He demands and deserves all that we are from within. However, may we seek to always do His will and obey Him fully with heart-driven service.
What a great God we serve!
Adam works with the Westside Church of Christ in Midland, TX.