In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his listeners their righteousness must exceed that of the religious leaders. (Matthew 5:20) He speaks of intent.
The Pharisees don’t understand because they’ve spent a lifetime controlling their actions to show their righteousness rather than changing their hearts and minds. They became the kind of people who did not, rather than the kind of people who would not.
Jesus taught grace is in the intention, not in the action, correctly interpreting the tenth commandment. (Matthew 5:27 [Exodus 20:17]) We can continue to convince ourselves our hearts are “in the right place,” but if we remain attached to our own preconceived notions about God and his commands, we miss his teachings and his blessings.
We each come to the Bible with our own experience, education, family background, political affiliation, ethnicity and gender. We’ve created our own assumptions based on our history. We can continue to rely on those biased assumptions, and our own feeble strength and will, but I’m certain that’s not what Jesus had in mind. Why? Because Jesus spoke expressly about the heart.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” (Luke 12:21)
The heart is the center of our identity, the center of our being, our emotions, our reason, our will. Yet, the Heart of our concentricity is Jesus. If we truly follow him, as we say we do, isn’t he the center of our identity, our being, our emotions, our reason, our will? Instead of being constrained by old ideas, if we truly want to hear from the Holy Spirit as we mature in our faith, wouldn’t it be a wise idea to reexamine Scripture with eyes of innocence and humility each time we open the Living Word?
Throughout his ministry, Jesus spoke of love. Love God (Matthew 22:37), love our neighbor (Matthew 22:39), love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), and love each other as believers (John 13:34).
If we are devoted to Christ, as we increasingly allow his grace into our lives, as we release one finger at a time into open hands of surrender, conditional love will no longer be a choice. Our decisions will come from the heart of Jesus. Grace will be our intention because that’s where it occurs.
This capital “S” surrender is not a one-shot deal. It does not come easily. It is a lifetime of small surrenders. Perhaps for you it is weekly. Maybe it’s daily. Sometimes even hourly.
If your intention is a connection to the heart of Jesus, an unwrenching of your gut, and an unclenching of your fist, try it now. Take the first step. Relax your hand.
Keep on asking and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. But the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:7-8,14)