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As Jesus teaches through his Sermon on the Mount, he is showing us that even though our sinful actions are … sinful, they originate first in our hearts. In his talk on the hillside, he will move us through anger to lust, to adultery, to divorce, to swearing oaths, and taking revenge. Listen to how, in another setting, he addressed the origin of all these:
“But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. (Matthew 15:18-19)
Therefore as we are trying to address our actions, we want to address our hearts, as well. You see, I want to walk in the light as Jesus is in the light,1 – a good place to start – but my old Self loves the darkness. Again, the Master Teacher is right on point:
“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.” (John 3:19-20)
I desperately do not want to be exposed, so I formulate all kinds of strategies to perform well in public, yet all the while my dark heart hides in the shadows. But Jesus sees through my actions and into my heart. Yes, he loves me perfectly, and … somehow … even likes me, but too much to leave me this way. So he calls us to come deeper:
“Come to me. Get away with me and you will recover your life.
“Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it.
“Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
“Keep company with me and you will learn to live freely and lightly.”
(Matthew 11:28-30 The Message translation)
As we are going deeper in our relationship with Jesus, we want to be diligent and purposeful, even ruthlessly aggressive in running the rats out of our hearts. May I just leave the rest of this with another absolute master teacher, C.S. Lewis? I could expound further, but he captures it perfectly:
We begin to notice, besides our particular sinful acts, our sinfulness; begin to be alarmed not only about what we do, but about what we are.
… if I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed – the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected; I was caught off my guard, and I had not time to collect myself.
Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts: they would obviously be worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated. On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is. Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth?
If rats are in the cellar, you will see them scattering only if you surprise them. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. Give them fair warning and they will hide. But they are there either way.
In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. Mere Christianity
11 John 1:7