A Religious Heart Condition
May 24, 2020*
By Pastor John Partridge
1 Peter 3:13-22
Do you have a heart condition?
Certainly, some of you said yes, but the truth is that we all have some sort of heart condition. Some of our hearts are strong, others are less so. Some of our hearts are giving and generous, and others less so. Some hearts are warm, and others are cold, and so on. The average person has a resting pulse rate between 66 and 72 beats per minute. Athletes in endurance sports can commonly have pulse rates between 30 and 40 beats per minute. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps’ was said to be 38 beats per minute at his peak, and
Miguel Indurain, an Olympic cycling gold medalist in 1996, and a five-time winner of the Tour de France is said to have registered a resting pulse rate of only 28 beat per minute. Those athletes were likely in the peak of health and we would probably never describe them as having a heart condition, and yet, if you are I were to go to the doctor with a pulse rate anywhere close to 30, we would probably be in an ambulance before we could blink. The condition of an athlete’s heart is medically and numerically different than the average person and their doctors understand the difference.
But throughout scripture, we discover that God has a keen interest in the condition of your heart. In story after story, the message that we hear is much like the messages that we hear from our doctors, and that is, having the wrong kind of heart condition can be both dangerous and fatal. And in John 14:15-21, Jesus points our that just as we wouldn’t expect someone with a pacemaker to compete in the Olympic games, neither should we expect someone with a spiritual heart condition to be the same as those who do not. Jesus said,
15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
Jesus says that the world cannot accept God because they can’t see God. We can’t expect the world to obey God and act the way that we do, because they don’t have the same heart that we do. But because we do know God, because we do have a heart for God, then we are expected to obey the commands of God. And, by loving God, and by obeying God’s commands, we receive the gift of life. When we obey God, we know that God loves us back and reveals himself to us.
But although it seems like it’s a popular thing to do in our modern culture, simply loving and obeying “some” god, or “some” spirit, and just being generally “spiritual” isn’t enough. In Acts 17:22-31, Paul explains it this way:
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So, you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
Our modern culture would not be that unfamiliar to the people that Paul knew in Athens. Many people were very spiritual, they each chose a god, and a style of worship that they liked, and Paul even found that they had built a place of worship for an “unknown god” just in case they missed one. But in a message that might just resonate with us while we worry about our safety during this pandemic and shelter in place, Paul’s message is that none of these gods, and indeed none of these places of worship, were necessary. The God who created the universe doesn’t live in temples or churches, or in anything built by human hands, and doesn’t need anything from us. But although God doesn’t need anything, he desires that the people of his creation would look for him, find him, hear his voice, repent, and return to a relationship with him. God doesn’t need us, but what he wants, is a relationship with us, and for us to have a heart for with him. What God wants, is for us to have the right kind of heart condition.
But what difference does it make?
What difference does it make if we have a heart for God, and the kind of a heart condition that God wants?
The difference has everything to do with fear, freedom, rest, and being comfortable in your own skin and is described by Peter in 1 Peter 3:13-22, where he says:
13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
First, Paul notes that people usually notice when you are trying to do good and, most often, no one wants to stop you from doing good. But, even if you suffer for doing what is right, you can find comfort in knowing that you are blessed. If you get arrested for feeding the homeless or get beat up because you stopped a bully from beating up the new kid, God still knows that you were doing the right thing. But Paul also knows that when these things happen, people are going to want to know why you did it and, when they ask, we should be prepared to tell them why we have hope, and why that hope makes us want to do what is right, even when doing right causes us suffering. And, if you noticed, Paul says that the reason that we do it is that our hearts revere Christ as Lord. We have a heart condition, but it’s the right kind of heart condition.
If we have hope, if we revere Jesus as Lord, if we do what is right, if we are prepared with an answer, and if we answer with gentleness and respect, then we will have a clear conscience and the people that slander us will ultimately bring shame upon themselves. The example that we follow is the example of Jesus Christ. Jesus suffered for doing what was right. He suffered to make a path for us and bring us to God. It is because of Jesus death and resurrection that baptism has become the symbol of our rescue and rebirth into a new life and into a new kind of heart condition. Baptism, Paul says, was never about washing the dirt from our physical bodies, but about our heart condition. Once we have our hearts in the right place, once we begin to have the heart of Jesus, then our conscience toward God becomes clear. We live at peace and are at rest because we have a clear conscience toward God. We become fearless, and experience true freedom, because our conscience is clear. We become comfortable in our own skin, and with who we are, because we have the right kind of heart condition.
Our goal isn’t to have a resting pulse rate of 40 beats per minute, but like those elite athletes, our goal is to have a different kind of a heart.
Our goal is to have a clear conscience toward God.
Our goal… is to have a heart… like Jesus.
Have a great week everybody.
You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/At65fTeqFOM
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