As authentic disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ we must understand all sin comes originates from the wickedness of our hearts. Jesus said in Matthew 15:18-20, "But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man."For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. “These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man." We often forget about the motives of our hearts, our attitudes, and the words we speak reflect the attitude of our hearts.
The prophet Jeremiah said in the book of Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” We will never know what is in our hearts unless we spend time in prayer allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal what is in our hearts. Only as He shines His light on those hidden places in our hearts that we are able to see the true condition of our hearts. Many believers never realize the little sins that come from their hearts such as their sinful attitudes, gossip, filthy language, un-forgiveness, bitterness, resentment, idolatry, lust, covetousness, and pride. We must learn to crucify our flesh and die to our fleshly nature and maintain a right heart before the Lord resulting in an intimate relationship with the Lord.
All strife starts in our hearts so let’s look at an example of pride found in the book of James 4:1-4, and see the results of pride in the lives of believers. Their pride led to strife and resulted in battles, fights, and wars among the believers. It does not matter whether their pride led to fights and wars between married couples, families, church, or even the larger Body of Christ. Pride resulting in strife is sin and breaks the law of love for God and others. In James 4:3, we find the prayers of believers are not answered due to asking out of sinful or wrong motives desiring to please themselves according to their own desires and pleasures.
As believers we learn when we pray out of wrong motives the Lord will not answer our prayers because our hearts are not right with Him. David was a man after God’s own heart and he said in the book of Psalm 66:18, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear.” It is clear that if we regard, perceive, recognize, and identify something as sin in our hearts that is not being acknowledged and dealt with, we are told that the Lord will not our prayers.
In 1 Peter 3:7 it says, “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.” The word for hindered is the Greek word ekkopto and means to cut down or hew down. Our prayers are cut down or hew down like trees are cut down and removed. Our sinful pride causes our prayers to be cut down or hindered and prevents the Lord from hearing and answering them.
We learn that if we as husbands fail to treat our wives properly out of a motive of love our prayers will be hindered, cut down, and prevented from making progress and accomplish what our prayers are intended to do because God will not hear and answer them (1 Peter 3:7). I’m sure it works the other way around as well, notice the word “likewise” as James speaks to the husbands. We must treat the people in our lives according to God’s standard for our prayers to be heard on high.
Israel or the people of God went through the motions of religious rituals, yet they failed to maintain a right heart with God as a nation. In the book of Isaiah 58:2-4, “Yet they seek Me daily, And delight to know My ways, As a nation that did righteousness, And did not forsake the ordinance of their God. They ask of Me the ordinances of justice; They take delight in approaching God. 'Why have we fasted,' they say, 'and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?' "In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, And exploit all your laborers. Indeed you fast for strife and debate, And to strike with the fist of wickedness. You will not fast as you do this day, To make your voice heard on high.” We see as a nation they sought God delighting in knowing the ways of God and delighting in approaching Him. They expected God to hear and answer their prayers and to bless them in their sin. They allowed sin to keep their voice from being heard on high. The nation of Israel fasted out of sinful motives for debate, arguing, quarrelling, and fighting mistreating one another without realizing their sinful and wicked behavior. They failed to realize the deceitfulness on sin and the wicked their hearts were before the Lord.
Today, many have followed the same path of going through the religious ritual of going through the motions. They go to church, reading their Bibles, memorizing Scripture, pray, and fast. However, they have done it out of sinful motives and have not maintained a right heart before the Lord. They have failed to serve the Lord out of a motive of love yielding and submitting in obedience to the Lord living a surrendered lifestyle to and for Him.
When we fail to submit to God and surrender our lives to Him and push Him away or allow things to crowd Him out of our lives due to our sin our spiritual needs often go unmet. Due to our lack of surrender and submission to His Lordship in our lives we fail to receive His grace or divine influence upon our hearts to enable us to obey Him. When we push God out of the picture we fail to receive forgiveness and cleansing from our sins and the grace to overcome. Our desires run wild and gain control over our lives and our desires begin to control us. However, if we submitted and surrendered ourselves to the Lord by drawing close to Him we would receive His grace and be empowered to control our fleshly desires. By pushing God out of our lives whether intentionally or unintentionally, His transforming grace is no longer available to us because we have removed God from having first place, being our main focus, and the center of our lives.
The Lord does not force people to serve Him if they do not want to serve Him, instead He will give them over to their passions, desires, and lusts of their hearts (Rom. 1: 24-30). However, if we learn to submit to God, we can trust Him to meet of our spiritual, emotional, physical, and material needs according to the riches of His grace (1 Cor.10:13; Heb.4:16; James 4:7-10). The more we feed our own fleshly desires the more we come under their control and power and we are unable to overcome them through our own efforts. We are powerless in and of ourselves to overcome and control our fleshly desires and refrain from sinning. The Lord is the one who gives us the grace, power, wisdom, and ability to overcome our sins and transform our hearts and our lives. Without His working in us giving us both the will and desire to obey and the empowering enabling ability to obey we can do nothing (Phil. 2: 12-13; John 15:5).
We must learn to life a surrendered life of obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. The surrendered life is not one of works and religious efforts to make ourselves acceptable to the Lord. Rather, it is yielding to the prompting, urging, and nudging of the Holy Spirit or the indwelling Christ. It is God at work in you, it is Christ in you, it is the indwelling Holy Spirit in you who is at work to conform and transform you into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 6:19; Phil 2:13; Col.1:27). This is the key to the Spirit led life as we learn to live by and according to His working in us (Rom. 8:14; Phil. 2:13).
We must have ears to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying to us, so we must be listening in order to yield and obey Him. We must maintain a right heart before Him and keep the communication lines open to hear His small still voice speak to us in the midst of the raging storms we face and will face in our lives. We do this by dying to our fleshly desires, crucifying our flesh, denying ourselves our rights and choose to yield and surrender ourselves to Him in order maintain a right heart before Him. As we learn to yield, submit, and surrender to Him, we will experience the abundant life that Jesus Christ promised to those that love Him (John 10:10).