Preventing a Heart That Devises Wicked Plans
Many in modern culture might shudder that God would hate any behavior or personal trait. Yet the Bible makes it crystal clear that there are things God hates (Prov. 6:16-19). These seven things should remind the people of God that their heavenly Father is just, righteous, and holy. The fourth on the list is “a heart that devises wicked plans” (Prov. 6:18a). Considering that a heart that devises wicked plans is hated by the Lord, we should do everything we can to avoid having such a heart. Here are some biblical steps we can take to prevent having a heart that devises wicked plans.
First, Christians must be sure to keep their hearts with all vigilance (Pro. 4:23). Every aspect of one’s life flows from his heart; so the heart must be guarded at all costs. The heart can be guarded with vigilance when we exercise self-control over: 1) what we say (Pro. 4:24); 2) what we set our eyes on (Pro. 4:25); 3) where we go (Pro. 4:26); and 4) how we walk (Pro. 4:27).
Second, in order to prevent having a heart that devises wicked plans, we as Christians should be vigilant and watchful in prayer (Matt. 26:41; Col. 4:2). The saint’s defense against the schemes of Satan is not complete without constant prayer, coupled with alertness and perseverance (Eph. 6:18). There are few things Satan desires more than for a Christian to develop a heart that devises wicked plans. Therefore, Christians must watch and pray that they do not enter into temptation (Mat. 26:41). Going to God in prayer to make our requests known allows the peace of God to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:6-7).
Third, a heart that devises wicked plans can be avoided by cultivating one’s heart as a storehouse of good. Jesus declared that good or evil comes from the storehouse of one’s heart (Matt. 12:34-35), and the good news is that each individual can decide what he stores in his heart. The psalmist declared, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). A Christian’s heart should be so full of God’s Word that there is no space left for wicked plans. Instead of dwelling on that which tempts us or plans to sin, Christians should dwell on that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Therefore, we will make no provision to gratify the desires of the flesh (Phil. 4:8; Rom. 13: 14).
Fourth, in order to take heed against the temptation of having a heart that devises wicked plans, Christians should “be careful to devote themselves to good works” (Titus 3:8; cf. 3:14). It has been said many times that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. Christians can guard against having a heart that devises wicked plans by mindfully cultivating a heart that devises good: “Do they not go astray who devise evil? Those who devise good meet steadfast love and faithfulness” (Pro. 14:22). Christians should be schemers—for good. Christians should have hearts that devise plans, but the plans should be plans for good works, evangelism, overcoming temptation, helping their neighbor, etc.
Fifth, Christians must fight against our own hearts going astray by being sure to assemble with the saints. The author of Hebrews warns by inspiration:
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:12-13).
Notice a few things about this section of Scripture. First, the command to “take care” indicates that the condition of one’s heart is the individual’s responsibility. Therefore, it must be in accord with an individual’s own choices.
Second, contrary to the claims of many in the religious world, it is possible for a believer (a brother) to develop an evil, unbelieving heart that causes one to fall away from God. This fact highlights the graveness of the responsibility to keep one’s heart with all vigilance.
Third, the remedy for developing an evil, unbelieving heart is found at least partially in being exhorted by fellow brethren daily. This daily exhortation is impossible if one does not assemble with fellow Christians or seek the accountability of brethren. The assembling of the saints is a God-given safeguard so that the people of God can guard against developing a heart that devises wicked plans and instead be stimulated unto love and good works (Heb. 10:24-25).
Jesus Should Be the Focus
A story is told about Leonardo Di Vinci revealing his painting of the last supper to his pupils for the first time. As the story goes, Leonardo’s students were marveling at the symmetry, perspective, depth, and detail of the painting. Di Vinci grew frustrated with their distraction from the main subject of the painting and exclaimed, “see only Christ!”. Unfortunately, there is a temptation for even Christ’s pupils to become distracted from the focus of their lives. Let us consider how as Christians, and as the church, Jesus ought to be the main focus.
Jesus Should Be the Focus of Our Lives
Christians are encouraged to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:1-2 ESV). The Christian life is a life of looking to Jesus. If Jesus is not our focus as a Christian, we need to readjust our vision. If Jesus is our focus we will emulate Him, learn about Him, keep Him in the forefront of our minds, and slowly become more and more like Him as our life goes on. We must strive to allow Jesus to be our teacher in all things having to do with life and godliness.
When we allow Jesus to be our focus and our teacher, we will be more like Him. As Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). If we are not becoming more like Jesus, it is because we have lost our focus. We need to keep looking to Jesus!
Jesus Should Be the Focus of Our Singing
One of the central components of Christian worship is singing. But not just any singing. The singing we read about in the New Testament is always centered around Jesus in one way or another. Christian singing in worship is to be done by those who are filled with the Spirit, make melody in their heart to the Lord, and give thanks always to God through Jesus (Eph. 5:18-20). Our singing is to be to the Lord as the word of Christ dwells in us richly and we do all things in Jesus’ name (Col. 3:16-17). Those who overcome the forces of Satan in the book of Revelation sing the song of Moses and the Lamb (Rev. 15:3). The focus of our singing as the church is the One Who died to set us free!
Jesus Should Be the Focus of Our Preaching
The apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians that the message that the apostles preached was “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23). To preach the gospel is to preach the cross of Christ (1 Cor. 1:17). The heart of the true gospel message in its pure, New Testament form has never been “lofty speech or wisdom” but “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:1-2). Whenever true Christian preaching occurs, no matter the motive of the preacher, the message is focused on Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:15-18). When we assemble as a church, we should expect to hear about Jesus! If He’s truly our focus, He’ll be the focus of our preaching.
Jesus Should Be the Focus of Our Giving
As Christians who give every first day of the week, sometimes our giving can seem monotonous or insignificant. Paul reminds Christians that when they give, they should do so with minds centered on Christ who, “though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). May our giving flow out of hearts that are focused on the One who gave it all!
Jesus Should Be the Focus of Our Communion
The apex of the Christian’s week is remembering Jesus’ death in the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). In the Lord’s Supper, Christians partake of the body (represented in the bread) and blood (represented in the cup) of Jesus (Mark 14:22-25). Partaking of the Lord’s Supper is to be done discerning the Lord’s body, and in so doing we proclaim His death until He comes back (1 Cor. 11:26-29). When we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we are participating (or communing) in the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16) and are gathered around the Lord’s table, where He is host (1 Cor. 10:21). Every single week, we gather as one to remember Jesus Christ, to remember our fellowship around His body and blood, and proclaim His death while expecting His return. It’s all about Him!
As Christians, our life, our worship, and our everything should be focused on Jesus. After all, we have been crucified with Christ, and it’s no longer us who live, but Christ who lives in us (Gal. 2:20). He is our life. Let us continually strive to keep Him as our focus!
Am I Good Enough to Go to Heaven?
Countless people have probably asked themselves, or another, if they were good enough to go to heaven. The answer to this question is always “no.” That might sound harsh, but when we consider what the Bible says about salvation, heaven, and goodness, we see that none of us are good enough to go to heaven. Thankfully, that’s not the end of the story.
Am I Really That Good?
It is easy to view ourselves or others with “rose-tinted” glasses. It can be easy to justify myself and make excuses for my moral shortcomings and sins. Or it can be easy to look around and compare myself to some wretched people I may know and conclude that since I am not as bad as them then I must be pretty good. The Bible teaches us differently.
The standard for how good we are is not the people around us: “when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding” (2 Cor. 10:12). Instead, the standard for goodness is God, who “is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1:5). Therefore, Jesus declared that “no one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18). Compared to God, “none is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10) because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Unaided by God, my personal righteousness is like filthy rags in comparison to God’s holiness (Isa. 64:6) and even when I’ve done everything I was commanded I am still an unworthy servant at my Master’s table (Luke 17:10)
Sin Is Sin
Our goodness is further put in perspective when we ponder how God views sin. From the very beginning, sin has been a separator between man and God. Adam and Eve were banished from the garden of Eden and the presence of God after their transgression (Gen. 3:22-24) and Israel was separated from God’s power because of their sins (Isa. 59:1-2). It can be easy to categorize sins based on their perceived level of badness and conclude that I don’t commit any of the “bad sins.” But sin is sin.
The brother of our Lord reminds us, “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law” (James 2:10-11). Not every sin is equally heinous when it comes to physical consequences or human laws, but every sin is significant in the eyes of a holy God.
Who Is Heaven For?
I might not be as good as I think I am. My standards for good and bad are often skewed, and I don’t always view sin the way God does. The good news is that heaven is not for “good people.” Once we’ve sinned, our only option to enter heaven is not to be “good,” but to be saved. Heaven is for those who believe that God exists and is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Heb. 11:6). Heaven is for those who have been saved by grace through faith, not a result of works (Eph. 2:8-9). Heaven is for those who have been washed in the blood of the lamb and freed from their sins (Rev. 1:5; 7:14). Heaven is for those who have called on the Lord’s name and washed away their sins, being baptized (Acts 22:16). Heaven is for those who remain faithful unto death (Rev. 2:10). Heaven is for those who are in Christ (Eph. 1:3; Gal. 3:27).
I don’t have to be perfect to go to heaven. We are not perfect, but God can make us perfect (Heb. 12:23). No, because I’ve sinned, I am not good enough for heaven. The good news is, heaven gave its best so that I can be considered worthy of all heaven has to offer. In Jesus Christ our Lord, we can look forward to our salvation which is “kept in heaven” for us (1 Pet. 1:4).
The right question isn’t whether I am good enough to go to heaven. The right question is whether I am trusting the goodness of the God who promised to get me there!
How to Fall Away From the Living God
The New Testament has many warnings about the possibility of a Christian losing his or her salvation, leaving the church, or deciding to no longer follow Christ. The book of Hebrews—written to Christians tempted to return to Judaism—is filled with such warnings (Heb. 2:1-4; 3:6, 12-14; 6:4-6; 10:26-30, 39). The good news is that whether we fall away is up to us.
So, Christians are encouraged: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12 ESV). God has done so much to save us and keep us saved (Jn. 3:16; 10:28-29; Rom. 8:31-39). He has designed the Christian life to help us keep the faith and remain saved. Yet, there are things we can do to jeopardize our salvation. To be mindful of pitfalls to avoid, let’s consider some things we can do that would help us fall away.
Make Assembling with Christians Optional
The divine solution for not falling away from the living God is for Christians to “exhort one another daily” (Heb. 3:13). The more time we can spend with fellow-Christians the better. The best way for Christians to “hold fast” to the confession of their hope without wavering is to stir one another up to love and good works by not neglecting to meet together (Heb. 10:23-25). We need to gather as much as possible not only for the mutual encouragement, but also for the opportunities to worship God together on the first day of the week, singing to one another, praying for one another, and reminding one another of our Lord’s death while we commune together. If we can assemble, we should (this exhortation is not for those who wish to assemble but are physically unable). We need our brethren and they need us!
Don’t Read Your Bible
God’s Word is powerful and active and makes for a powerful and active faith (Heb. 4:12). As Christians, we avoid the Word of God only at our own peril. Our faith often grows in proportion to our intake of God’s Word (Rom. 10:17). The less we read our Bibles, the less we hear from God, and the more likely we are to fall away.
All relationships are dependent on good communication. We hear from God in Bible reading and we speak to God in prayer. Both channels of communication are vital for our spiritual health! The less we pray, the less real God seems. Few things strengthen our faith like answered prayer. How can God answer our prayers if we don’t make any? Spiritual health involves praying constantly, casting our burdens on God, and using prayer as a solution to worry (1 Thess. 5:17; 1 Pet. 5:7; Phil. 4:6-7).
Get Comfortable with Sin
Sin deceives us and hardens our heart (Heb. 3:13). When we grow comfortable with sin and stop putting to death what is earthly in us (Col. 3:5), we will drift further and further from God. If we don’t actively confess our sins and repent of them, it is possible to get to the point where our consciences become seared (1 Tim. 4:2), sin no longer bothers us, and we lose our holiness, “without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). It is true that sin is pleasurable only for a season, so we must refuse to love the world and the things in it (Heb. 11:25 1 Jn. 2:15-17).
Value Man’s Opinion Over God’s
How many Christians fall away because they begin to value the opinion of people in the world rather than the opinion of God? We must remember that “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (Jas. 4:4). As Paul put it, “If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10). We must get used to people looking at us funny, or ridiculing us, or thinking that we are foolish. After all, the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are lost (1 Cor. 1:18). We might sometimes be on “the wrong side of history” from the world’s perspective. People thought Jesus was crazy and demon possessed (Mark 3:21-22). Being on God’s side is always worth it, no matter what the worldly “majority” might say.
Believe That You Could Never Fall Away
To avoid falling away, we must be on our toes. The first step to fighting against falling away from the living God is to “take care” (Heb. 3:12). We should listen to the words of Jesus to His disciples in the garden of Gethsemane: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation, The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38). Explaining how Israel’s apostasy serves as an example for Christians, the apostle Paul commands us, “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). If we think that we are too faithful to fall, it may very well be our pride that does us in (Prov. 16:18).
We don’t have to fall away. We can stay the course. Let’s avoid the pitfalls above and “strive to enter that rest” (Heb. 4:11). By God’s grace and with His help, we can finish what we’ve started. Heaven will surely be worth it all!
Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall
When Lori and I were in Tennessee, we lived in a parsonage on the church property. The small, simple, brick house was a blessing to us as newlyweds just starting out. Like any parsonage, the house had its quirks and oddities. One interesting detail in the house was a large vinyl sticker that a previous occupant had installed on the bathroom mirror. The sticker read, “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, do you see Christ in me at all?” After a shower, with the mirror fogged, the sticker would become impossible to ignore.
Though I never would have installed that sticker, it was a fantastic reminder through the day-to-day busyness of life. Sometimes the sticker would inspire moments of serious reflection. Sometimes it was ignored. Either way, the sticker posed a question of paramount importance for any Christian. We should all ask ourselves from time to time if others can see Christ living in us.
But, before we can answer whether others can see Christ living in us, we must ask what it would look like for Christ to live in us. We can go to Colossians 3 to see what it looks like when Christ lives in us. Colossians 3:3-4 reminds Christians, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (ESV). The rest of Colossians 3 describes what it looks like when Christ is our life. Let’s notice some of these details.
Some Things That Will Be Absent
If others will see Christ in us, there will first be some things that they do not see. For the mirror on the wall to see Christ in us at all, then it will not see sexual immorality, impurity, dishonorable passion, evil desire, covetousness, or idolatry. Christians are encouraged to rid their lives of these things by putting them to death (Col. 3:5). Likewise, for Christ to be seen in us, we must put away anger, wrath, malice, slander, filthy talking, and lying (Col. 3:8-9).
The only way for Christ to be seen in us is for us to “put off the old self and its practices” (Col. 3:9). We do this in repentance. But our transformation cannot stop there. We must also “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col. 3:10). We do this in baptism, where we “put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). So, if I have not repented and been baptized, there is little hope for Christ to be seen in me consistently. But, even if I have repented and been baptized, I must make sure that I am constantly taking up my cross and putting to death what is earthly in my life (Col. 3:5).
Some Things That Will Be Present
It is worth emphasizing that, others seeing Christ in us is not just about what they do not see in our life. For Christ to be seen in me, there must be some things that are present in my life. If others will see Christ in us, there are some things we must “put on” and make a part of who we are. We are to have compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (Col. 3:12). For people to see Christ in us, they must see us bearing with one another, forgiving each other as the Lord forgives, and loving those around us with a love that binds us with perfect harmony (Col. 3:14).
Lastly, for Christ to be seen living in us, we must allow His peace to rule in our hearts, be thankful people, allow His word to dwell in our hearts while we praise Him, and represent Him in everything we do or say (Col. 3:15-17).
Colossians 3 reminds us that, for Christ to be seen living in us, He must fill our entire being. Our hearts, our minds, our words, our thoughts, our deeds, and our interactions with others should all reflect our Lord. Let us strive to allow Christ to be “all in all” in our very lives (Eph. 1:23)!
Maybe as you ponder the inspired list of what to remove and add to your life to reflect Christ, you see some areas that need improvement. If we are honest with ourselves, we all do. Thankfully, God is merciful and gracious and can work in us while we work for Him (Phil. 2:12-13).
The next time you see a mirror, ask, “mirror, mirror, on the wall, do you see Christ living in me at all?” Then commit to making the answer be a resounding “yes!”
The Bible's Hard to Understand? (Pt 2)
While some have suggested over the years that the Bible is hard to understand, perhaps we should see what the Bible has to say about that. Luke wrote about the life of Christ to a man named Theophilus so that he "may know the certainty of those things in which [he was] instructed" (1:4). Jesus Himself said, "You shall know the truth" (John 8:32).
In the Old Testament, Moses wrote of gathering "all Israel" together "every seven years." At the time, the leaders were to "read this law before... men and women and little ones... that they may hear... Learn... Observe... and that their children... may hear and learn" (Deut. 31:9-13). The Bible states that it can be and it was understood. We saw in the last article that God is the one who gave us both the Bible and our minds, and He said that our minds could understand the Book that He gave use (Eph. 3:3-4; 5:17).
So, if the Bible is capable of being understood, what can a person do to understand the Bible? Let's make a list:
- Truly believe in God (Heb. 11:6).
- Truly believe that the Bible is God's Word (2 Pet. 1:20-21).
- Trust the Word of God (1 Thess. 2:13; Psa. 119:42).
- Show reverence for the Word of God (Psa. 119:10-11, 97).
- Have a love for the truth (2 Thess. 2:10; Prov. 23:23).
- Have a desire to know the truth (John 7:17; Matt. 5:6).
- Have a willingness to study (Acts 17:11).
- Put true diligence into your study *2 Tim. 2:15).
- Expect to understand it (Eph. 3:3-4; 5:17; 2 Tim. 3:14-15).
- Pray about it (1 John 5:14; Matt. 7:7-8; Jas. 1:5; 4:2).
Now that you've made these pre-reading preparations:
- Read it.
- Keep reading it. Don't stop.
- Compare various reliable translations *KJV, NKJV, ASV, NASB, ESV).
- Skip over any parts that you don't understand. Come back to those later.
- Read it over and over. My grandfather told me that he read through the Bible 50 times and saw things the 50th time through that he had not seen before.
- Use the easy-to-understand parts to help shed light on the not-as-easy parts. Let the Bible be its own commentary.
- Mark in your Bible, especially noting in the margin other verses in the Bible that help to explain that verse.
Is there more you can do? Certainly. But the best way to understand the Bible is to read it. Don't take someone else's word for what it says. Read it. Understand it yourself. Then, apply what it says to your life.
The Bible's Hard to Understand? (Pt. 1)
How many times have you heard it said? Or maybe you were the one saying it? "The Bible is too hard to understand." People have been saying that for years. But, is that true? Should we set the Bible aside and dismiss it as an incomprehensible book? Or have we maybe been misinformed and the Bible can actually be understood? Let's consider this.
First of all, who is saying that the Bible is hard to understand? I have known people over the years who had not read the Bible but were making claims about the Bible. If you haven't read the Bible, then how do you qualify to offer any evaluation of it? Or maybe you are one who has tried to read it but you have found it hard to understand. Why is that?
Sometimes things we have heard cause us to think the Bible is hard to understand. Some have said over the years that "only the clergy could understand it." That conditions the mind of the average person to think, "Well, then I won't be able to understand it." Perhaps you've started to read the Bible but didn't expect to understand it. Again, the mind is already closed to the possibility and is preconditioned to "not" understand.
If you are one who has thought the Bible is "Too hard to understand," can I ask you a sincere question -- How much have you read? What parts have you read? When someone who has never read the Bible asks me where they should start, I usually tell them to start with the book of John, then read Acts after that, and then go back to Genesis or to Matthew. John is easy to understand and it's all about Jesus. After reading through John, can you still say, "The Bible is hard to understand"? I've never met anyone who could still claim that.
Admittedly, some parts of the Bible are difficult to understand, such as reading about animal sacrifices, or reading the names of people and places that we don't recognize, or reading figurative language that is not familiar to us. Peter made a statement about Paul's epistles and said, "in which are some things hard to understand" (2 Pet. 3:15-16). Someone might say, "Well, there you go! Even Peter said it was hard." But wait? Notice that Peter says it was "SOME" things are to understand. Not all. Not most.
Here's something we need to grasp. God gave us the Bible (2 Tim. 3:16), and He said that it could be understood. Paul wrote, "when you read" what he had written, "you can understand my insight" (Eph. 3:3-4). We can understand what Paul understood and such is expected (Eph. 5:17; John 8:32).
So, let me encourage you to open your Bible. Expect that you will understand it. Ask God to help you. Then, start with the book of John and enjoy reading about Jesus.