Whenever Our Heart Condemns Us

BY BRANDON HANSON

He looked me straight in the eye and said these words, almost in a challenging way, “I hate God. I do. I try to love and obey Him, yet whenever I’m alone, when my mind has a chance to think, it constantly and consistently points me to the fact that I am not innocent of sinning against God and falling far short of what He requires of me.”

“Tell me more,” I responded, trying not to show the shock I couldn’t help but feel.

“All my years as a Christian I’ve made it my goal to convince others that my faith is strong, that I believe the Bible, that I love Jesus, and that I’m a good Christian. But what I’ve come to realize is that it’s not as much them that I’m trying to convince–it’s me who I’m trying to persuade. When people have judged me, I’ve assured them my heart is in the right place, even if my actions aren’t. I’ve told them, ‘God knows my heart.’ And I truly believe this. God does know my heart. And if these other people knew my heart, too, they’d know that all God sees there is rebellion, vile anger, and hatred. God knows my heart and He knows I hate Him.”

Believe it or not, this is a pretty common feeling amongst Christians. We put on the mask of good, happy, content, and exemplary Christians. We’ve got everyone else convinced, and for awhile we can even convince ourselves that we’re convinced. We’re doing all the right things, and perhaps, for a time, we’re “white-knuckling” it and really pulling off a good act of outward obedience.

Then, the tick-tock of our vile heart reminds us of those times when no one was watching.

It reminds us of those words we said when the wrong people couldn’t hear them. It reminds us of the thoughts which filled our minds which we knew no one would ever see us think. And it reminds us that we kind of liked getting away with it. We enjoyed it. We kind of even want to do it again. No, we really want to do it again. And we stand condemned, hating ourselves, and hating God for requiring too much, for demanding the impossible, and for not letting us convince ourselves that even just a little sin is okay.

The apostle John wrote,

“By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:19-20)

Upon our hearts are written no revelation of the Gospel. Upon our hearts are written only the legal demands of God’s perfect Law. This Law is our constant companion, a reminder that we have and continue to transgress against it, against God.

When we turn to our heart, when we try to convince others that we’re really not as bad as we think we are, when we say that God knows our heart, we know what we’re really saying. We’re saying that God know’s we’re desperately wicked sinners. Perhaps not outwardly, but if all the expectations were done away with, if we could really just cut loose and have our way, we’d paint the town red. And we’d love every second of it.

C. F. W. Walther points out that the Law and the Gospel are very different. One of the ways they are different is the manner in which they are revealed. While the Law of God is certainly revealed in the Scriptures, it is also written on our hearts, and so, revealed there as well. However, the Gospel, the sweet message of reconciliation between us sinful wretches and a perfect God, is nowhere to be found if we go looking for assurance in our hearts. The Gospel is revealed only through special revelation. It has to be proclaimed and delivered to us from outside of ourselves. Our hearts will only condemn us, or lead us to attempt to excuse ourselves by trying to silence the Law. But silencing the Law only works for so long before we cannot hold it back any longer.

Here is what the apostle John meant: Is your conscience convicted by your sin? When you look within does it only remind you all the more that you have failed to measure up to the glory and majesty and perfection of God’s absolutely perfect will? Does your own heart turn against you to mock and revile you? When your heart condemns you, then, know that there is One who is greater than your heart. He speaks a better word, a greater word than your heart can or will ever speak.

“Did we in our own strength confide, 
our striving would be losing, 
were not the right man on our side, 
the man of God's own choosing. 
Dost ask who that may be? 
Christ Jesus, it is he; 
Lord Sabaoth, his name, 
from age to age the same, 
and he must win the battle.”

-Martin Luther,
A Mighty Fortress