Out of the Abundance of the Heart…

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.

-Matthew 15:19

Whoever hates disguises himself with his lips and harbors deceit in his heart; when he speaks graciously, believe him not, for there are seven abominations in his heart.

Proverbs 26:24-25

The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?

-Jeremiah 17:9

“Head” Religion Vs. “Heart” Religion?

When the Pharisees confronted the Lord Jesus about His disciples’ lack of conformity to their extra-biblical traditions, His response was not to condemn doctrine in general, but to condemn the false doctrines of the Pharisees. Christ judged the Pharisees as being guilty of “breaking the commandment of God for the sake of their tradition,” “making void the Word of God,” and “teaching as doctrine the commandments of men.” If doctrine wasn’t important, then how could the Lord Jesus rebuke the Pharisees for “making void the Word of God” by “teaching as doctrine” what amounted to nothing but their own empty and uninspired traditions? It is doctrine which is to be upheld and which instructs us in how to worship God, for our Lord’s rebuke of the Pharisees amounted to this: They had replaced the doctrines of the Word of God, which properly instruct men on how they are to approach God in their worship, with their uninspired traditions, and were, consequently, guilty of grievous sin. The Pharisees had abandoned Biblical doctrine, teaching men what their own sinful hearts had concocted in its place.

I’ve heard professing Christians call believers who are serious about doctrine “Pharisees,” which I don’t really understand, seeing as those who are being accused of Phariseeism are almost always very orthodox in their beliefs, whereas the Pharisees were not. In fact, this is part of why the Lord Jesus rebuked them: They abandoned Biblical doctrine and taught heresy.[1] So why, then, do those less concerned with doctrine call those who are more concerned with doctrine “Pharisees”? Because they have foisted on the Biblical text their own narrative, in which they identify the Pharisees with anyone who does not desire to depart from the teaching of Scripture in order to relish in extra-biblical revelation or traditions, simultaneously identifying Christ as One who did not work “according to the rules,” who “broke the rules,” etc etc. Many paint Christ as a rebel who undermined organized religion and favored a “heart relationship with God.”

Yet, Scripture doesn’t agree with this assessment completely, seeing as Jesus Himself kept the Law perfectly in His perfect love for God and neighbor, rebuked hypocrites, and spoke of the binding nature of the Law. More than this, one wonders how the idea that Christ was opposed to organized religion when He, in fact, created it. For if Jesus is God, and the sacrificial/ceremonial system of the nation of Israel was authored by God, then the sacrificial/ceremonial system was authored by Jesus. Could He oppose His own system? Could He contradict Himself? Again, if the Lord Jesus was opposed to organized religion, then why did He send men to the Temple to offer sacrifices in accordance with the laws of Moses? Consider the leprous man of Mark 1:40-44, or the ten lepers of Luke 17:11-14, for instance, where we see the Lord commanding men to act in accordance with the demands of the religious system He had instituted.

This is not to say that the Lord still requires sacrifices and ceremonies from us, for the Lord who commanded the lepers to show themselves to the priests, is also the Lord who teaches us that the Old Covenant is going to be superseded by the New Covenant. This means that while the Old Covenant was still in operation, so to speak, the Lord Jesus directed men to its requirements, etc. Now that we are under the New Covenant, however, He points us to Himself as our Savior and Lord and as the Head of His church. As our Savior, He has fulfilled what the sacrifices and offerings could only symbolize; as our Lord/the Head of the church He has birthed us anew by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, in order to empower us to do the good works which He ordained for us in eternity past.

Therefore, Jesus our Lord did not despise a “head religion” that neglected the “heart.” He despised the false teachings of the Pharisees, etc, which turned the hearts of men against God by teaching them to, in essence, sin against God. The problem is not that man overemphasizes the “head” against the “heart.” The problem is that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, and it seeks to replace God’s Word with the false wisdom of the traditions of men. Christ did not disparage doctrine, He despised the false doctrines of the Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees. He did not think that “head knowledge” got in the way of “heart” knowledge, He preached that the first and greatest commandment included the worship of God with all of one’s mind. He also taught men to consider the cost of following Him, i.e. to ponder the reasons why they have chosen to walk alongside Christ as He taught the doctrines of His Kingdom.

What the Lord does condemn, however, is what springs from the human heart that autonomously speaks for God. And this is the irony: Many that disparage doctrine and focus on the importance of a “heart” relationship (as opposed to a “head” relationship, if that is an intelligible way of speaking, which I don’t think  it is) are more like the Pharisees in their insistence upon received extra-Biblical revelation, on-going extra-biblical revelation, and “inspired exegesis.” They would rather interpret the text in light of their traditions, and by so doing they are behaving much like the Pharisees. The Pharisees didn’t attack Christ because He denigrated doctrine; the Pharisees hated Christ because He taught that the doctrines of the Pharisees were false, and taught that His own doctrines were directly revealed from God. Christ didn’t destroy the concept of a “religious institution,” then, but destroyed the false religious system of the Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees, replacing them with His church as the true “religious institution” established by God Himself.

The human heart is not the source of pure religion, it is the seed bed of all corruptions. Solomon declared that within the human heart there are hidden “seven abominations,” and in Matthew 15:19 the Lord Jesus echoes this truth. He lists seven abominations that spring from the heart of man: (i.)evil thoughts, (ii.)murder, (iii.)adultery, (iv.)sexual immorality, (v.)theft, (vi.)false witness, and (vii.)slander. So, in one sense, we can say that the Lord did distinguish between the head and the heart (i.e. the mind and the emotions/affections), but not in the way that enemies of doctrine try to claim. The Lord Jesus taught that the human heart is the well-spring of sin, driving men not to worship God in purity but to rebel and curse God, to fornicate and murder, to covet and steal, to reject Christ and, eo ipso, to reject God the Father as well. Revealed doctrine, on the other, comes from the mouth of Christ, from the mind of God, and is made comprehensible by the work of the Holy Spirit, who makes us new creatures in Christ and renews our minds according to Scripture. He gives us the mind of Christ, and we know the only true God and Jesus Christ Whom He has sent.

“Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” and “the good person out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good,” but “No one is good except God alone.” Therefore, the heart is not somehow better than “the head”/the intellect. If anything, it is burbling of the human heart that are condemned in Scripture by God, and it is the intellect that the Lord commands us to use in our consideration of His Word, i.e. the sure and certain propositions that constitute the body of Scriptures we know as the Bible. God desires for His children to know Him by His Word, to understand Him by His Word, and to have their minds renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit as we breathe, eat, and live in the Scriptures.

-h.


[1] The Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees were, by Scripture’s standards, heretical in their beliefs for the following reasons: (i.)they denied that Christ is God, (ii.)they denied that Christ is the Messiah, (iii.)they worshiped another deity (seeing as their worship was not to God and His Christ but only to their idolatrous conception of who they assumed Yahweh to be, and (iv.)they taught that a man is justified by the Law and not by Faith Alone in Christ alone.

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