The picture above recently appeared on Facebook. It depicts Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden at the moment they sinned against God by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The comment attributed to Eve in the caption at the bottom of the picture is a common attitude expressed by many today.
While we may not have heard this idea in reference to Adam and Eve in the Garden, most of us have indeed heard it in other contexts. It is the trump card usually played by one whose conduct or attitude has come under criticism. In the face of reproof from God’s word, the offending party will often brush the criticism aside by asserting that God does not care about rules, but only about the condition of one’s heart. The implication is that if one loves God in his or her heart, then God is pleased, no matter what that person may or may not do. Also implied in this statement is that “rule keepers” are actually hypocrites who really don’t love God in their hearts.
As is the case with most lies, there is a kernel of truth in this assertion. The Pharisees were the premier rule keepers of their day, but the Lord correctly identified them as hypocrites, whose hearts were far away from God (Mt. 15:8, 9). They were hypocrites, not because of their insistence on obedience to God’s commands, but because they were voiding God’s commands by their human traditions. This is very different from the sincere chastisement given to one who has strayed from God’s will.
It is true, of course, that God looks at the heart. In 1 Sam. 16:7 Samuel the prophet learned this when he looked upon the sons of Jesse trying to determine which one of them God wanted to be king of Israel. The Lord said, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Samuel was impressed with the physical attributes of Jesse’s older sons, but God had chosen the youngest, David, to be king because he was a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14).
The fact that God looks at the heart does not, however, discount the fact that He requires mankind to obey His commandments. David is an excellent example of this truth. David was a man after God’s own heart because he obeyed God’s commands. His good heart led him to respect God’s will and to do his very best to always obey it. The love he held in his heart for God was demonstrated by his obedience. If he had done otherwise, he would not have had the right kind of heart.
This is what is lost on those who claim that their hearts are right with God even as they do their own thing in their worship and walk with Him. The one who loves God obeys His commands. The one who disobeys God’s commands does not love Him. Our Lord and Savior made this very point on the night of His betrayal. In Jn. 14:15 Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” He made the same point using different words in Jn. 4:24. Jesus told the woman at the well, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
God is not pleased by actions performed superficially, no matter how correct their form. Neither is He pleased by warm, heartfelt actions that have the appearance of love, but which violate His revealed will. God requires us to love Him sincerely, from the heart, and to demonstrate that love by our obedience to His commands.