Human beings have a tendency to undervalue our thoughts as compared to our actions. This is especially true when it comes to our understanding of our need for God’s mercy and grace. Often we think that if we can avoid taking a sinful action then we have a fine standing before the Lord. What is missing in this assessment? Is it not that we fail to account for the many sinful thoughts that bounce around in our minds?
Jesus taught that we are as culpable for our thoughts as for our actions.
You have heard that its said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Do you see what Jesus is doing in his Sermon on the Mount? He is turning our focus inward to our hearts and minds. Being holy is not merely about our deeds. Being sinful is not merely about our deeds. Sin dwells much deeper than our outer body. Sin is rooted in our inner being. We all desperately need God’s mercy and grace because deep within we still find sin hard at work in us.
If actions are all that mattered, then monasticism would offer a valid path to holiness. But even if we are cloistered away from any earthly appearance of evil, our hearts and our minds still are contaminated by that same evil. We can remove any contact with a beautiful woman, but our inner man will still conjure its own image.
The Gospel Answer
So what is the answer? We are dependent on the Lord giving us a new heart. We are dependent on the Lord granting to us mercy and grace. Mercy to forgive us for our inner impurities. Grace to bestow a heart and mind captive to the Lord and his Word.
By the way, the teaching of Jesus spelled out above also applies to a host of other sins. You may live with little possessions, but inwardly yearn for what others possess. You may speak honorably to your parents while despising them in your heart and mind.
In what area of your inner life are you most in need of God’s mercy and grace? Respond to the gospel hope by repenting of your inward sin and believing that the Lord Jesus has paid the penalty for that wickedness.