The skeptic charged:
· "You Christians got it all wrong. God doesn't care about your dogmatic beliefs but the condition of your heart. What we believe is superficial and unimportant. It's the intents of our heart that matter."
Actually, there is some truth in what the skeptic is saying. The condition of the heart is all important. This is why Jesus taught that we have to be born again (John 3:3,5).
Jesus didn't pull this idea out of thin air. Instead, the need for a new and responsive heart is a Hebrew concept. Jeremiah claimed that a new (or renewed) heart was at the very foundation of God's plan for His people:
· “They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me.” (Jeremiah 32:38-40)
Everything had to start with a change of heart. Why? Because we have all become God's enemies (Rom. 5:8-10; 3:10-16). Therefore our hardened heart first has to be converted:
· “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27)
The state of our heart determines how we behave and also what we think and believe. It is from our heart that we speak. When our heart is softened, we are drawn to the light of truth - the light that comes from God (John 3:19-21). Consequently, we embrace truths that come from the light.
Similarly, when Jesus perceived that a teacher had answered Him with wisdom, He observed:
· “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34)
Why this association between wisdom and closeness to God? Because wisdom comes from a heart made responsive to the things of God, along with faith, righteousness, and obedience.
Wisdom therefore reflects the presence of God. When Jesus saw the wisdom of the centurion who understood that he wasn't worthy that Jesus should come to his house:
· [Jesus] was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” (Matthew 8:10)
Wisdom, faith, humility, obedience are all associated, each arising from a heart prepared by God. Consequently, Jesus marveled at the faith of a Canaanite woman whose humbly stated that she was willing to eat the crumbs left by the Jews, as would a dog:
· “Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.” (Matthew 15:28)
Her faith was a faith in Jesus. It was a living faith associated with wisdom and humility, arising from a heart enlivened by grace.
Here is the underlying point - that faith is not a set of inert beliefs that we generate so that we won't go to hell. Rather, our beliefs are an integral part of a heart and mind that have been enabled to see the truth. In contrast to this, the skeptic charges that our beliefs are superficial and, therefore, could not possibly have anything to do with our ultimate fate.
However, our faith and beliefs are outgrowths of our new heart and inseparable from it, like the oak that cannot easily be separated from the acorn that grew it.
When we have a new heart, we are drawn to the light - the truth - and want to walk in the light, as Jesus taught:
· “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:19-21; ESV. All others verses in NIV)
Ordinarily, we hate the light. It exposes our evil, and so we feel a greater comfort in the darkness, the place where our deceit and rationalizations will not be exposed. However, when God begins to draw us, we are drawn to the truth of His light and begin to desire to walk in that light, in belief and in behavior.
It is a package deal. Both a renewed heart and faith are the gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9). They are inseparable. Therefore, faith is not superficial but a necessary outgrowth of the born-again gift. We believe because our Lord opened our heart to the light of His truth, as He did for Lydia:
· “One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” (Acts 16:14)
Humanity has become such lovers-of-darkness, that we have to be strenuously drawn into the light:
· “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:44)
One last point - What we believe is not merely the effect, the byproduct of the gift of God. Our beliefs are also causal. They profoundly impact our attitudes, feelings, behavior, and relationships, even our relationship to our Savior and His salvation.