How often hasn’t an X-Ray or a CAT scan found something seriously wrong in a person who outwardly looked good and even felt good? We all probably know at least one person like that – who was shocked to learn, after undergoing a routine procedure, that they had a serious problem. After the shock, comes thankfulness, especially in those situations where the problem was caught in its early stages and can be addressed.
Just as X-rays see things we can’t see, so also the Lord. “Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) That is sobering especially when we see that Jesus pointed to the heart as the source of all defilement.
The Pharisees had criticized Jesus’ disciples for eating with ceremonially unclean hands. Jesus not only rebuked them for laying aside God’s commands for human traditions, he went on to explain how foolish it is to think that defilement comes from outside of us. “There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man.” (Mark 7:15) A few verses later he expanded on this to his disciples: “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” (Mark 7: 21-23). As Jesus here emphasizes, the important thing to God is what lies within us – for he doesn’t look at the outward appearance but instead he looks at our hearts.
That’s very sobering – because it doesn’t take much reflection on my part to realize that my heart’s X-ray doesn’t look good. Even though I often can refrain from acting on them, evil thoughts still arise within me. Before I even know it, I get angry thoughts about the driver ahead of me. Or an unclean thought about the woman who walked by. Or some unsavory pride as someone compliments me. Or an unhealthy fixation on money as I view my bank statement. It doesn’t take a whole lot of self-evaluation to realize how embarrassing it would be if somehow a video of my last day’s thoughts could be broadcast for all to see. That would not be a pretty picture.
What is even more distressing is that, no matter how hard I try, I can’t completely quash those evil thoughts. In fact, some days I wonder if I can even make a dent in them. And if I do succeed one day suppressing one type of them, they seem to come back with a vengeance the next day. For example, I wake up determined to work hard on having loving thoughts about everyone including any driver ahead of me. I might even do a pretty good job for a day. But then something happens the next day, and it all flies out the window. When I examine my heart I identify with St. Paul who said, “For the good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do. . .O wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:19, 24)
As I said this is sobering especially in light of the biblical teaching that sin, no matter what it is, carries the death penalty. “The wages of sin is death.” When the police pull me over for speeding, I can’t argue that I don’t deserve a ticket because I followed the law by stopping at the stop sign. No, it doesn’t matter if I had followed every other traffic law. If I was speeding, I broke the law. Likewise it doesn’t matter if my heart contains one evil thought or a million. “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:10)
Because my heart is so riddled with evil thoughts, because no matter how hard I try I can’t rid myself of those evil thoughts, I shudder to direct the Lord’s attention to anything I do as a reason for him to accept me. Because, as he traces everything I do or say back to the source, my heart, there’s a whole lot there that he isn’t going to be pleased with. That’s why I want him to only look at what Jesus did for me. When he looks there, he will be well-pleased – for there he will see perfection. The last thing I want to do is contaminate his perfection by mixing in my imperfections.
Why is Heavenly Father going to welcome me with open arms into his presence for all eternity? Only, solely, totally, completely because of what Jesus has done for me. He gets all the credit – all the praise – all the glory.