Search me, God, and know my heart.

I have to admit, the message this Sunday weighed heavy on me. Anytime that Jesus talks about authenticity and the values of his kingdom it will inevitably bump up against something that I think everyone values – our sense of security. I remember when I was young the anxiety I felt at the thought of not going to heaven. I recommitted my life to Jesus every night before bed for the better part of eleven months because I was not secure in my salvation. I don’t want to leave anyone with that kind of doubt, so I wanted to follow up and expand on the end of Sunday’s message to give some more clarity.

The message that Jesus desires to have all people reconciled to God but ultimately gives us the freedom to decide who our hearts belong to might be a bitter pill to swallow, but I believe whole heartedly that it is true. It is absolutely possible to have a correct theology and still miss out on the heart of the gospel. When Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and teachers of the law, it was an unambiguous rejection of their leadership and their religious piety. He held nothing back, and because he held nothing back it can be hard to see the compassion behind his words. However, even as he called out their hypocrisy, Jesus did not lose sight of the love he had even for his opponents. Proverbs 3:11-12 says:

Do not despise the LORD’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.Proverbs 3:11-12 – NIV

Like he said in Matt. 23:37, his only desire is to gather the people to himself; to see his covenant people reconciled to God. Despite their covenant relationship and their knowledge of God’s law and the prophets and everything they had access too, the people were led away from the heart of the gospel, and the only way for them to be reconciled would be humble repentance. Some responded to Jesus’ call to repent, many did not.

I finished this week with a call to action – pray through Psalm 139:23-24

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in my, and lead me in the way everlasting.Psalm 139:23-24

I also said that if you feel resistance to doing this, it is time to ask some questions: What do I have to lose by praying this? If I am resisting this, what in my heart is trying to preserve itself?

This needs to be said – following Jesus is simple, but it is not easy. There is a reason that Paul describes life by the Spirit as dying to our sin nature. To fully devote ourselves to God, our old self needs to die, and that is a hard thing to do. We all have a survival instinct and so does our sin nature. It doesn’t want to go down without a fight.

The other thing that we may not like to acknowledge is that there is a part of us that actually loves our sin nature. It has been a part of us from the beginning, and even though it enslaves us to sin, it satisfies something that is at our core – the desire to define what is right for ourselves. The desire to justify our actions. The desire to take the place of God. That is the root of sin. If it wasn’t, then life by the Spirit would not require putting the old self to death. The strange thing that I have learned as I’ve wrestled with this is that even though I want to be totally devoted to Jesus and my sin nature stands in the way of that, a part of me loves my sin nature and I need to mourn it as it dies. It sounds strange, but even though I believe that following Jesus is infinitely better than the alternative, there is a real loss that needs to be acknowledged and laid to rest as God shows us the things in our hearts that need to be surrendered.

If you find yourself resisting the call to invite God to search your heart, consider this. Perhaps the reason you are resisting is because you really do stand to lose something. Perhaps you fear that Jesus will find something you have not wanted revealed like pride or bitterness. Perhaps there is a secret sin that you are ashamed of but can’t quite give up because, while it is harmful, it also fulfills a need or soothes a wound that it will be painful to deal with directly. Perhaps you have unknowingly accepted the lie that God will reject you. Or perhaps you are resisting because the loss of something that has been with you for so long is painful, even though it has hurt you repeatedly. These, among other things, are all real barriers to being fully committed to Jesus. It is simple but not easy to invite God to search our hearts because there is always something fighting to stay alive. There may be a reason why you don’t want to invite God to search your heart. Even as I spoke the words on Sunday, a part of me resisted the call. The resistance is real and the only way to overcome it is to acknowledge and repent of it.

Here’s some of how scripture responds to this resistance:

But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away… Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God… For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.2 Corinthians 3:16, 4:1-2, 6

Long story short, life by the Spirit is life that is brought out of the shadows. There is nothing beyond redemption when we turn over the things in our hearts to the light of God. It is true that there will be things we need to put to death because God hates all sin, but his desire is not to reject us. He always wants to see us reconciled to himself and his kingdom mission.

Here’s the other thing – we are not meant to do this alone.

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.James 5:16

Jesus established the church as a body of love, support, accountability and authentic witness. I’m not saying we need to get on the stage each Sunday to make public confessions. What I am saying is that within the church body we can have those trusting, candid relationships where we are free to confess the things that are holding us back from following Jesus so that we are not alone in the struggle. Discipleship is not a solo endeavor, it’s done in authentic community.

I want to extend the invitation again to pray through Psalm 139:23-24, and this time I want to give you some other things to follow up with as you pray:

  • If you do find yourself resisting praying through this Psalm, ask God to reveal the thing in your heart that is trying to protect itself from being discovered.
  • Read through those verses from 2 Corinthians again and ask God to confirm the truth of his love for you.
  • Find a trusted Christian to share your heart with.

I want to encourage you with this. The sanctification provided by Jesus has justified you before God. By his sacrifice you have been made holy because your sins are washed away and you are separated from them as far as the east is from the west. By that same sanctifying work, we are being transformed daily by the renewing of our minds. That renewal happens as we humble ourselves to be examined so that we can surrender everything that holds us back from experiencing the freedom, hope, security and purpose that Jesus has to offer.

You are loved.

(Originally published Nov. 15, 2022)

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