A Diseased Tree
On a recent trip to Florida I noticed something strange. The juicy, delicious, “orange” oranges I was accustomed to seeing on my family’s tree were absent. Instead, a hideous green object resembling an orange was present. The citrus should have been ripening by now; clearly something was wrong. Then I discovered huanglongbing (HLB), or what is commonly called “citrus greening.” HLB attacks the innermost layer of the tree’s bark and prevents the root system from distributing nutrients properly. An article says this, “HLB is the most serious disease a citrus tree can contract. Within 18 months of infection, a tree’s leaves develop telltale yellow splotches. Its fruit starts to turn green at the wrong end and taste so bitter that it’s almost inedible. Limbs fall off. Roots decay. As little as four or five years later, the tree withers into a brown skeleton and dies. There is no cure.”1
While contemplating this problem I couldn’t help but think of the church and see parallels. Another pastor commits adultery, a husband is hooked on porn, couples dig mountains of debt, teenagers are engrossed with appearance, young men obsess over sports and cars, families feud in the church…the list could go on and on. The tree is there but the fruit hardly resembles the fruit of the Spirit.
The Heart of the Problem
In Matthew 7, Jesus says, “So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” Why then is there so much bad fruit being produced in our churches? I believe this traces to a dangerous, self-righteous disillusionment when it comes to the state of our own hearts: “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23, emphasis added).
My generation has grown up in a church culture which has stressed that Christianity is “all about the heart.” This sounds right; during His earthly ministry, Jesus focused on the heart. However, the church today often refers to the heart as merely an aspect of the emotions. Built off a superficial, pseudo-holiness, this definition is shortsighted and is essentially adopting a secular belief. When the culture references the heart, they refer to a romantic, emotional “love.” With the heart as its centerpiece, Valentine’s Day has been turned into a twenty billion dollar industry2—cards, sugary candies, fluffy pillows, and anything that can be shaped like a heart and sold for profit will be. People almost instinctively associate the heart with emotions.
More Than Emotions
To state it mildly, our twisted worldview lacks the Biblical understanding of the heart. This makes it extremely difficult to address the heart issues that each of us has. In order to produce good fruit we need to see the heart as it truly is. The following list offers ten truths3 that will help us understand and assess our own hearts.
1. We must understand what the Bible is talking about when it uses the term “heart.”
The New Bible Dictionary4 defines the heart this way, “It was essentially the whole man, with all his attributes, physical, intellectual, and psychological, of which the Hebrew thought and spoke, and the heart was conceived of as the governing centre of all of these. The heart makes a man what he is, and governs all his actions (Prov. 4:23).” When the Bible uses the term “heart,” it means all that comprises the inner man. It is the control center or operating system from which everything you say, think, or do flows.
2. Your heart is always operating under the rule of something.
There is a constant battle raging for the supreme affections of our hearts. Who or what exercises dominion over your heart? For example, it is not sinful to desire pleasure, comfort, or safety. However, the consequences are disastrous if anything outside of Christ rules our hearts, even “good things.”
3. Your heart is the worship center of your being.
God created us in His image for His pleasure and glory (Gen. 1:27; Is. 43:7; Col. 1:16). Worship is not just something we do on Sundays. Every second of every day, you are worshipping something. The decisions you make on a daily basis reveal what your heart is worshipping. Only two options exist: the Creator or the created (Rom. 1:21-23). Either you will allow the Creator to control your decisions or your desire for created things will control you.
4. What controls your heart will ultimately direct your behavior.
When we are struggling with sin, situations, people, and locations are NEVER the biggest problem, our heart is. This is the Bible’s humbling bottom line. Our problems run much deeper than a culture and media industry which have lost their moral compass. Our problems are the thoughts and desires of our heart which are drawn to sinful perversions. We must be honest and stop looking outside ourselves for explanations to our struggles. Paul David Tripp says, “Your problem is the self-oriented, pleasure addicted insanity that lives inside of you and makes you an easy target for the madness of the society around you.”
5. This side of eternity your heart is susceptible.
If we have accepted Christ, the power of sin has been broken in our life and the Holy Spirit is progressively sanctifying us and eradicating sin from our life. Yet, if we are honest our hearts are not perfectly pure. At times we still feel desires we should not feel, we think thoughts we should not think, we act in ways we should not act. To pretend you are not still vulnerable to temptation is a self-righteous fantasy.
6. This side of eternity your heart is fickle.
Do you keep every commitment or promise you make to others? Can you honestly say Christ is always the source where you seek joy? I would like to say I’m 100% committed to Christ all the time, but I know this would be a lie. I get distracted. The 18th century hymn comes to mind, “prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”5 As long as our hearts are not perfectly sinless we will struggle to commit as we ought.
7. This side of eternity your heart is deceptive.
Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” If this does not resonate with you maybe it’s time for some introspection. Do you ever find yourself justifying something you know is wrong? Do you attempt to make yourself feel good about something you know is not good? We like to think we know and understand our hearts, believing that “others may be deceived, but not I.” Sin is by it’s nature irrational. Until our hearts are sin-free we are vulnerable to deception. Everyone has blindspots.
8. Your body will always end up going where your heart has already gone.
Jesus says it best, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart”(Matt. 5:28). Sinful behavior is only symptomatic of where the heart has already gone.
9. Your behavior reveals more about you than it does about your situation, location, or relationships.
We must stop deceiving ourselves by comparing ourselves to the sexual and materialistic insanity around us and saying, “they’re the problem.” The church must stop this self-righteous foolishness and face the evidence honestly. The church is often nearly as sex-crazed and money-obsessed as the culture, we just hide it better. When we point fingers at the culture and don’t honestly assess our own hearts, we don’t seek the help we so desperately need.
10. Change doesn’t begin by pointing fingers at the culture, but rather with personal confession and repentance.
Only when we honestly confess the impurity which lies within our own hearts, only when we sincerely repent of our own failures, and only when we seek the transforming grace of Jesus Christ can God be glorified and lasting change happen.
In John 15, Jesus tells His disciples if they abide in Him, “already they are clean.” Biblical, lasting, heart change begins and ends by union with Christ. Where do the roots of your heart lead? Your fruit will reveal the state of your heart. Are you abiding in the Vine or holding fast to the kingdom of self?
|Timothy Miller currently lives near Sarasota Florida with his wife Sarah. Notable interests include hunting, woodworking, reading, sports, and traveling. Timothy is passionate about the Bible, truth, and understanding history. His supreme desire is the glorification of Jesus Christ through sacrificial service.
1 Satran, Joe. “Citrus Greening Forces Florida Growers To Trust A Controversial Savior.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 30 Nov. 2013. Web. 11 Jan. 2016.
2 Thompson, Derek. “Here’s How America Is Spending $20 Billion This Valentine’s Day.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 14 Feb. 2013. Web. 11 Jan. 2016.
3 Tripp, Paul David. “Chapter 3.” Sex & Money: Pleasures That Leave You Empty and Grace That Satisfies. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013. N. pag. Print.
4 Marshall, I. Howard, A.R. Millard, J.I. Packer, and D.J. Whiseman, eds. New Bible Dictionary. 3rd ed. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1996. Print.
5 310, “Come, Thou Fount” The Mennonite Hymnal. Scottdale, Penn.: Herald, 1969. N. pag. Print.
All Scripture quoted from: The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001. Print.