THE HEART OF THE MATTER
What is the central problem with humanity? Many people agree that there is a problem with our world. Many people also agree that there is a problem with people in general. But when it comes to what that problem is, opinions vary across the board. In my experience, though, most people are quick to point the finger at others: “They are the problem.” Rarely have I seen someone say, “I am part of the problem.”
The Bible answers this question about the central problem of humanity, and it is much more pessimistic than we tend to be. The Bible says that the central problem is us. We all are naturally dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1-4). Some people believe the central message of Christianity is a set of rules. Christians sometimes look at the world and say the problem is that people aren’t following the commands of the Bible anymore. If people would just get back to following the Ten Commandments, then our society would be much better. But is this really what the Bible says?
I’ve been reading through the book of Ephesians, and one section in chapter four jumped out at me because of what it teaches about this very topic. Eph 4:17-24 (ESV) reads,
17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!—21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Paul calls the Ephesian believers to not walk as the Gentiles do. Back in Eph 2:10, Paul says that believers should walk in the good works God has prepared for us to do. So our actions do matter. If we are to call ourselves believers, we must walk in a way that reflects the commands of Scripture.
But Paul doesn’t stop at the surface level of actions. He drills deeper to show us why we do the things we do. Verse 18 says those who don’t know Christ are “darkened in their understanding.” Paul is saying that if you don’t have faith in Christ, you don’t--you can’t!--think correctly. And why is that? Because of the “hardness of [your] heart.” That is the core problem with humanity: hard hearts. And what comes out of a hard heart? All the stuff listed in verse 19: callousness, sensuality, greed, every kind of impurity.
But notice that Paul doesn’t say the root of the problem is those sins. That’s not the main problem. Those actions are the fruit of a deeper root problem. And the root of the problem is hardness of heart. That means that simply trying to make the world a better place by changing our behaviors will never work. Because we are cutting off the rotten fruit, but never getting to the root. And so more rotten fruit will grow back.
What is the solution? We need new hearts. Only life-transformation from the inside out will do. And while the Bible is far more pessimistic about the problem (we were all dead in sin) it’s also far more optimistic about the outcome. We will be created new after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. What an amazing vision! All those who put their faith in Christ will be created anew, after God’s likeness, in true righteousness and holiness.
Christianity is about the total transformation of people from darkness in to light. From brokenness to beauty. From death to life. This is an amazing process that we are taking part in!
When we understand this basic message of Christianity it should impact every corner of our lives:
- We should not settle for seeing Christianity as good advice. At its core Christianity is not about how to make your life better on this earth. When we see Christianity as primarily about this we are short-changing ourselves of the vision that God himself has for us. God doesn’t want us to simply have a better life now; he wants us to have a perfect life for all of eternity.
- We need to pray more because what the church is called it do is miraculous. We are calling people from death to life. God has asked us to do the impossible–bring dead things back to life. What would a doctor give to have the power to bring his dead patients back to life? The church is called to do just this! We are to call spiritually dead people into resurrection life. This is impossible for us to do; that is one reason prayer is so important. Without God we cannot accomplish what we are called to do. We as a church need to be dedicated to prayer. Prayer for ourselves, that the resurrection power within us right now would take hold of more and more of our lives. And prayer for those in our communities and those who visit our church, that God would work through us to bring life where there is death.
- We must trust in the miraculous power of God’s word. How does God bring life out of death? One of the most vivid examples is in Ezekiel 37. The prophet Ezekiel was placed in a valley where he was surrounded by dry bones. The vultures had gotten their fill. Maggots and worms finished the job. And now the desert sun had bleached the remaining bones until they started to crack. God then asked Ezekiel if these bones could live. Ezekiel responds by saying, “O Lord God, you know.” God tells Ezekiel to speak to the bones, “O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.” And in that moment the bones started coming together, flesh appeared, oxygen filled their lungs, and suddenly from the dry bones sprang up an army of living people! That is a picture of the power of God’s word. It brings life. And so, we as a church must be focused on the life-giving power of God’s word in our lives as we read and meditate on it. We must also trust in its power to bring others life. God’s word is living and active. I pray we would believe that more and more.