Charges and consequences were starting to rain down. I was sad because of this turn of events and the consequences I knew my friend would face. But I was surprised by something he said.
He was indignant. He kept talking about how unfair the officers had been. He was angry that he was being treated like a criminal. Those were his exact words, “treated like a criminal.”
After a long confused pause, I pointed out that he had, if I understood his story, intentionally committed a crime. Whether he liked the word or not, didn’t that make him a criminal?
Then he got angry with me. Was I judging him? Didn’t I love him? Didn’t I know that his heart was good and he never meant to hurt people?
Sure. All those things might be true. But my friend was not able to see past a common thinking error that we love. We demand of the world: “Don’t judge me for what I do! You don’t know me. I am so much more than what I do.”
Oh, I wish that was true!
Everything Starts in the Heart.
Now, with credit to my friend, life is complicated. Any single action isn’t nearly enough to express the fullness of who we are. We’re a part of family systems. We have good intentions that go awry. Sometimes our actions are meant for one purpose, but have unintended consequences. This is all true.
And yet, the things we do are the very best indication of who we are. This is not because our actions have any special meaning in themselves. It’s not because there’s an arbitrary list of “good actions” that “good people” do and “bad actions” that “Bad People” do.
The reason our actions speak of who we are is where our actions come from. The Biblical perspective is simple. Our actions, our words, even our thoughts come from one place. They emerge from our heart.
In modern usage, the word “heart” generally means our emotional center, or a deep place within us. In the ancient cultures, both Greek and Hebrew, your heart was something more. The heart was your essential core. It was where your desire was rooted, and desire formed the direction for your life. Your heart was where your values and priorities were kept (The things you “treasure in your heart.”) The heart was where we connected with (or failed to connect with) God. Our heart also has a state or quality. Hearts can be hard or soft. They can be blind. They can be numb to God and others. This heart condition matters profoundly because this is the root of everything else in our lives.
Jesus made the point that it is not our actions that defile us, but our hearts. Why? Because it is from our hearts that all of those actions emerge.
But what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this defiles a man. 19 For from the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies. Jesus, Matthew 15:18-19
How to really know a person.
Don’t Jesus’ words support my friend’s complaint? His criminal actions aren’t what defile him. See! His actions don’t matter. Ha! We don’t get off the hook that easily.
Who we are — our choices, words and actions, the things we value and pursue, the things that drive us and drive us crazy — all of these things come from the state of our heart. The reason actions matter so profoundly, the reason actions are the best measure of who we are, is that our actions are the only window into the state of our heart.
Before there can be a selfish, relationally destructive action, there must be a selfish, relationally closed heart. Before there can be a kind, compassionate or generous action, there must be a grace-filled and giving heart.
Long before my friend started “helping his friends get what they needed,” his heart had shifted.
- His heart was focused on getting what he wanted at others expenses, even as he justified it as helping.
- His heart had developed a proudness, that the rules did not apply to him.
- Justifications and denial had built up in his heart, keeping him blind to the potential consequences of his actions for people that he cared for. The irony is that he was always someone who said that he just loved people and wanted to help them, that he was motivated by love.
- Yet his heart had shifted to the point that he could do essentially unloving things without feeling like they conflicted with his love for people.
His criminal action was a window into the state of his heart at that moment. In the very same way, this same friend’s compassionate and gentle actions today are a window into how much his heart has changed since this event happened so many years ago.
As painful as it is to hear, our hearts can truly be evaluated on the basis of our actions and words, in the same way that the quality of fruit can tell us about the health of the tree, or that the quality of vegetables in our garden can tell us about the quality of the soil we’re working with.
The best way for you to know me, the real me, is to watch my actions. In my actions, you will see the state of my heart.
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