The Bible is clear that attitude is important. Though many religions in the world reduce righteousness to mere external actions, God tells us in his word that even good works done with the wrong heart attitude are displeasing to God (e.g. Isa 29:13; 1 Cor 13:1-3). The question might therefore arise: should I refrain from external obedience until my heart is right? For example, should I refuse to give until I can give cheerfully (2 Cor 9:7)? Should I abstain from prayer until my heart is able to forgive others (Mk 11:25)? Should I stop serving until my heart again genuinely overflows with love for God and others (Lk 10:27)? After all (the thinking goes), surely it is worse to obey God hypocritically than not to obey at all!
While the above thinking may sound pious, it often functions as a mere smokescreen for continued sin. It’s true that God hates hypocritical obedience, but God also hates outright disobedience. A person ought not to console himself, for example, in his not serving his spouse by saying, “At least I am not being hypocritical; I do not love her in my heart, so I will not pretend to love her in my actions.” The man sins both by not loving her in his heart and by not loving her in his actions. The solution for the man is not merely to wait around until his heart changes. Instead, he ought immediately to deal with his own heart before God and to return to the loving service God calls him to do.
Consider how Jesus rebukes and calls to repentance the Ephesian church in Revelation 2:2-5. After commending certain aspects of their obedience, Jesus says:
But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.
Notice how Jesus excuses neither loveless good works nor a lack of good works. Instead, Jesus calls the church both to return to their “first love” and to “the deeds you did at first.” And this full repentance needs to happen immediately, lest Jesus come with judgment! In a similar way, we should not test the Lord by using a bad attitude to excuse ongoing disobedience; rather, we must quickly repent before the Lord in both attitude and actions. Not only will such repentance help us avoid painful discipline, but we will also soon be able to taste again the goodness of Christ (Ps 34:8).
Questions to Consider:
1. Some might listen to the Sunday sermon on Luke 10:38-42 and feel inclined to withdraw from all service to others in order to devote themselves to Christ. Why is this the wrong application?
2. Sometimes our old, sinful flesh will make us feel like we do not want to obey Christ, even though in our hearts we do. How should we persevere against flesh-informed feelings?
3. Where do you need to return to both devoted discipleship and happy service?