It’s The Heart That Counts…

Ben Schoettel   -  


“Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”” 1 Peter 1:14-16

From the time we are born, we tend to act and endorse based more on convention (or what is seen as the “norm”) than our own preferences. In fact, a research study of three-year-old children showed that even with a simple task like setting up a tea party, the children would more often than not change their decisions of what they wanted to go along with the choices that were endorsed by the authority or framed as being the “way it is supposed to be.”

The truth this reveals is that, whether we want to admit it or not, our understandings and choices are often shaped or even motivated by an conscious/unconscious desire to adapt to our cultural context or social norms. Take the simplest of life decisions as an example. The foods we eat, the clothes we wear, the language we speak, all are ways we have adapted, or have been conformed, to the patterns of our family or culture.

These results reveal that we live in ignorance more than we would care to admit. I think we fear admitting that because it feels like an insult or that it implies evil intent. It doesn’t. ignorance simply means a lack of knowledge in some way, shape, or form. If I have been told that Burger King was the best fast food but was never given the chance to partake in the majesty of deliciousness that is Chick-Fil-A, I would not be wrong in my intent I would simply be ignorant. (Sorry, not sorry Whopper.)

Before humanity’s fall into sin, we were ignorant too. The only difference was our desires were not corrupted by evil. We were, as John Wesley wrote, “free from any defect, either in (our) understanding or affections.” This did not mean we could understand or love at the level of God, but it meant that even in our limits, our intentions remained pure.

So, how does one become “perfect” again? Throughout the Bible, and throughout all of human history, we have sought to attain this perfection again. The problem is, we often act yet again from a position of ignorance. Whether in the church or outside of the church, we all have had our understanding of perfection shaped by something, and have been trying to conform to that shape ever since. Then we have to ask, what is the right form that shapes us into perfection? And, is this even a fair task for us to be given? The answer is yes as long as we understand the form.

Like Martin Luther’s revelation, we need to remember that our perfection begins with the law of faith not the law of man. Our righteousness is through faith in Christ. But it doesn’t stop there. We continue to receive and become shaped by His grace as we do what Peter says, identify and reject desires of the world when we come to a new understanding of what is good. Being an obedient child is not instantly becoming all-knowing, it is doing what the children in the study did. Only instead of ignorantly following the patterns of the world, we seek to learn and follow the ways of Jesus. But God does not ask us to obey out of duty or fear, just as a loving parent would ultimate not desire that motivation. God desires obedience from a restored parent-child relationship built of love. Why love? Because that is the new law we now live under with Jesus. The law of love.

But perfect? Can the bar really be “perfect?” Yes. Because our calling to perfection is not a perfection in knowledge or actions, but it all goes back to our intent (the posture of our heart.) This is our Wesleyan understanding of holiness. Our holiness is our faith leading us to be filled with the holy love of God, so much so that our motives (conscious) is led by that love. As Christians this means the way we keep our intentions pure is by living out holy patterns of receiving the grace of God. We cannot truly know everything or do everything right, that is why we still need Jesus, but we can (with the Spirit’s guidance) walk through life with a heart that has been changed and now strangely warmed by the love of God.

“Our obedience is in proportion to our love.”

John Wesley