One of the many points that stood out to me from my study of Hosea was that God is not interested in outward things. A show of being religious does nothing to impress Him. What He’s interested in is the state of our hearts.
O Ephraim, what shall I do to you? O Judah, what shall I do to you? For your faithfulness is like a morning cloud, and like the early dew it goes away. (Hos. 6:4)
They did not cry out to Me with their heart when they wailed upon their beds. They assemble together for grain and new wine, they rebel against Me (Hos. 7:14)
This is essentially the same sentiment expressed in Joel — that only genuine repentance is effective. Crying that you’re sorry, and then having all your good intentions evaporate like dew doesn’t count.
“Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm. (Joel 2:12-13)
In order to have a relationship with God, we need to experience a change of heart. Someone can hear about the need for repentance or be scared into it by a trial, and then lose focus when life either takes a turn for the worse or goes smoothly for a while (Matt. 13:18-22). But that’s not a way to have a relationship with God. A relationship requires genuine repentance, understanding, and commitment to following God (Matt. 13:23).
Watching For Purity
After Saul was rejected from serving as king over Israel, God sent the prophet Samuel to anoint one of the sons of Jesse the Bethlehemite as the next king. Jesse had a boatload of sons, but Samuel assumed the first one he met was “surely the Lord’s anointed” based on his impression of how this young man looked. God had a different perspective, though.
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7)
We can be as gorgeous or hideous as all-get-out on the outside and God doesn’t care one bit. He’s not fooled by any shows we put on. Only the Lord “knowest the hearts of all the children of men” (1 Kings 8:39, KJV). People notice if you’re having a bad hair day; God notices if you’re having a bad attitude day. People look at you if you’re pretty; God looks at you if you are humble and in awe of His word (Is. 66:2) He knows us even better than we know ourselves.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings. (Jer. 17:9-10)
Our hearts can deceive us, but never God. He understands our thoughts and is acquainted with our mode of living. He hears every word we say, or intend to say (Ps. 139:1-4). And He’s looking for a specific kind of heart, one He can have a relationships with.
So, what does a heart like that look like?
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matt. 5:6)
The word “pure” is katharos (G2513) in the Greek. It means clean or pure an a legal, ceremonial, or spiritual sense. It’s the word Jesus used to refer to His disciples as “clean” after He washed their feet (John 13:10).
Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. (Ps. 24:3-5)
Purty is the state God desires in a heart, and it’s clear we don’t get that way on our own. We have to come to God and be changed, so we can have the same kind of pure, meek, and humble heart that Jesus Himself has (Matt 11:29).
God has always intended to have a heart-to-heart connection with His people. Way back in the Torah, we see God promising to “circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 30:6). The Old Covenant included physical signs of the Israelites’ participation (like male circumcision), but God’s wok in His peoples’ hearts has always been the priority.
Back in the Old Testament, as we kept seeing in Hosea, God’s desire for a relationship didn’t work out very well with the majority of the people. Individuals had relationships with God (like David, who God described in Acts 13:22 as “a man after My own heart”), but for the most part the people rejected covenant with God. That’s why a New Covenant was needed.
They shall be My people, and I will be their God; then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me. Yes, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul. (Jer. 32:38-41)
God promises to change our hearts so that it is possible for us to be in covenant with Him. He wants this relationship so much that He is pouring His whole heart and soul into winning our hearts and souls.
Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God. But as for those whose hearts follow the desire for their detestable things and their abominations, I will recompense their deeds on their own heads,” says the Lord God. (Ezk. 11:19-21)
God’s involvement in shaping our hearts makes a relationship with Him possible, but not mandatory. We still have a choice, and to continue in relationship with God we have to constantly chose to turn our hearts to Him.
Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. (Prov. 4:23)
It is Jesus Christ’s sacrifice that cleanses our hearts to make them pure, and it is God’s work in our lives that transforms our hearts so we can know Him. But after that, it is largely up to us.
James 4:8 tells us “purify your hearts.” This is not, however, the same word used in Matthew 5 to refer to a state of cleanness in our hearts, which is a result of Christ’s work in us. This work is hagnizo (G49), and it means to consecrate or purify, as related to committing something for holy use. We need to continually re-commit our hearts and lives for God’s use, choosing to follow Him and have our hearts be made more like His.
The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Rom. 10:8-10)