“I won’t be a hypocrite. The Bible says partying and getting drunk is a bad thing, but I really like it. Why should I hold back from doing something if that’s what my heart really wants? I don’t think God would appreciate that. Obeying God only counts when we mean it from the heart.”
These are the words of a teenager I once tried to turn back from the edge of reckless behavior. This young person was intelligent, sincere and determined not to put up a false front. His highest value was “be true to your heart.” He had seen plenty of high-school classmates profess one set of values at some religious group, yet party themselves into a stupor on Friday nights (or New Year’s Eve).
True obedience to the will of God must spring from the heart, right? When Jesus said, “If a man looks on a woman lustfully he has already committed adultery,” he was trying to point to the soil of the heart from which all action flows. Mindless, outer obedience is the stuff of Pharisees, right?
In our era—perhaps more than any other—we are urged to be be real: “Follow your dreams … don’t settle for less … be true to your self.” Yes, well, what if I’m a jerk? Should I be true to that self? What if my dreams involve a level of selfishness that puts my family at risk for poverty or loss? Should I be true to those dreams? What if in refusing to settle for less I end up achieving nothing, and must rely on the charity of others? What if following my heart leads me to a god who looks exactly like … me?
Still, obedience does lead us toward the life of God, and disobedience leads us away. Do you think there is ever a time when a pastor might say, “Perhaps you should obey first, and the understanding will follow.” Essentially, that’s “mindless obedience.” But it might prevent us from doing something really stupid, or it might save our lives (for example, don’t drink and drive), or most important–mindless obedience just might preserve our hearts, so we can hear from God later.
It’s true that the highest obedience flows from a heart conformed to his image, but are there lower forms of obedience capable of effecting change from the outside in? How does my heart experience such a transformation, and what is my role in the metamorphosis?