Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:10–12)Praise God that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Another way Christians can sin is doing the wrong thing with what seems like the right attitude. This is far more subtle than David’s blatant sin. When it happens, we usually mean well. The error is in making an assumption that personal feelings of compassion, or personal desires for results, are signs of a go-ahead from God.
Christians may have nice personalities even apart from God in their life, but our human nature can fool us. Being nice is never a substitute for seeking the will of God. For instance, the Bible says we are to speak the truth in love. Love does not sidestep truth, nor can truth be spoken without being motivated by the love of God. Yet “nice” will keep us from speaking truth if we think the truth will hurt. We assume that love is about “nice” rather than someone’s eternal well-being.
Human nature, apart from God, is selfish and sinful. Jesus died that we might have victory over this sinful nature which the New Testament calls “the flesh.” He says it is contrary to the Spirit and while that old nature may understand what God wants, it will also make decisions without Him by not seeking Him in every circumstance. Such presumption could include things like going to the aid of someone who is in trouble without realizing that their trouble was God’s chastening. Another example might be efforts to witness to someone without seeking God’s leading. The goal and desire seem right, but the timing is off because flesh took the lead instead of the Spirit. Subtle sin like this makes us unfruitful — and sometime unpopular.
A more obvious variation happens by doing the right thing with an obviously wrong attitude. Consider the little boy who was told to sit down in the back seat of the car. He obeyed and sat, but he told his father that he was “standing up on the inside.”
I might perform all sorts of Christian ministry but out of duty, fear, guilt, or even in resentment at being asked. What I do it not the issue, but my attitude toward what I am doing or toward others involved is not right. God’s Word repeatedly says to obey from the heart. He accepts actions motivated by the Spirit of God who lives within me. If they are motivated by my sinful flesh, they are not acceptable, no matter how “right” they might appear biblically or theologically. He is not interested in my excuses or rationalizations either. If I say, “But I did what You asked” without having that “from the heart” part in place, then I really didn’t do what He asked.
*********Lord, Your Word makes distinctions between thoughts and motivations of the heart, between flesh and Spirit. I’m becoming increasingly aware of the many times I mess up because my heart is not right. Instead of being filled with the Spirit, I am filled with a sense of what I want. My “I wants” might not be overtly sinful (like murder), but they stem from a sinful and flawed “old self” that You say is a dead thing. Not only that, Your thoughts are higher than my thoughts. It is only when I am totally yielded to You and filled with Your Spirit that I can even begin to understand the way You think or be able to do Your will.
One more thing You have shown me is that when I am filled with Your Spirit, I’m not thinking about myself at all, even to the point that when I speak to edify others, I cannot remember what I said. They tell me they are blessed, and I am joyful but often somewhat surprised. Walking in the Spirit is about trust, about focusing on You, not on what my flesh desires or surmises. As a glove on Your hand, this is the way it should be. You are glorified and I am only a glove. I know that this cannot happen apart from You or unless I am abiding in You. Into your hands I entrust my life today, again, always.