Wait! That title does not make sense. Don’t our actions come from our hearts? And doesn’t that mean we need our hearts to change before our actions change? Yes and no.
We Do Need God to Change Our Hearts
The Bible often emphasizes that we do evil things because our hearts are evil. Jesus could not be clearer: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matt 15:18; emphasis mine). And this means that we need God to change our hearts if we hope to live changed lives. The psalmist understood this perfectly well: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me!” (Ps. 51:10). So, yes, we need changed hearts to avoid evil actions and we need God to change them. But this is not the end of the story.
Our Actions Also Shape Our hearts
Jesus emphasizes that our actions also shape our hearts. Anyone who owns a smartphone understands this immediately: the more often you check your phone (action) the more often you want to (heart). Note how Jesus puts it in the following words:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt 6:19-21; emphasis mine)
Note the order Jesus uses. He does not say, “For where your heart is, there will your treasure be,” (though that is of course true). He emphasizes the opposite: “For where your treasure is—where you invest your time, your energy, your actions—there will your heart be also!”
His point is simple: our actions form our hearts like soft clay in the hand of a potter. Evil actions deform and twist our hearts into objects of horror. If we focus our time thinking about having more and more money and focus our energy trying to gain more and more money, our hearts will become increasingly greedy and covetousness. Conversely, good actions help to mold and shape our hearts into objects of beauty. If we focus our time thinking about advancing God’s Kingdom and focus our energy trying to spread his glory, our hearts will radiate with a love for God that drives all we do.
What “Heart-Habits” Are We Practicing?
And that means Christians will want to pay very close attention to how and where they are investing their time, energy, and actions—since these are the things that will shape their hearts for good or for ill. Here are some questions to consider:
- Am I practicing the good habits the Scriptures speak of for heart health: prayer, fasting, Bible-reading, worship, and Christian fellowship?
- What do my money-spending practices, especially with my “disposable” income, say about my priorities? Do I ever give sacrificially?
- What does the way I spend my time, especially my free time, say about my priorities? Are there one or two simple changes I can make to bring more heart-healthy practices into my daily routine?
Naturally, we do not do any of the above to earn God’s love. In Christ, God gives us his love freely. But we do these things because we want to love God more—and we know that our actions can help our hearts to do so.
Dr. Jay Sklar is professor of Old Testament and vice president of academics at Covenant Seminary.