What is often not articulated but innately known is that the place of authenticity is the heart—in the inside of who we are. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” This is often a subjective arena that both the hard and social sciences want to avoid, but one that the religious world has known well. The issues of truth, authenticity, reality, and morality reside in the human heart. The problems of humanity such as overpopulation, political corruption, global terrorism, world hunger, and environmental disaster can all be boiled down to the issues of the heart—inside the individual.
Another term for this innate human fault is sin. If there were no lust, all forms of sexual abuse would be removed. If there were no greed, all forms of environmental abuse, corporate waste, and financial crimes would be gone. If there were no pride, all forms of conflict, war, and struggle would disappear. This is Jesus’ thesis for the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7. Considered Christ’s new constitution for the kingdom of God, the principles of this sermon do not state political or socioeconomic ideals. Jesus is preaching that the issues of this kingdom reside inside all of us.
For this reason, Christ disdains religion that seeks only change on the outside while protecting the vices of the heart! “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). The righteousness of the Pharisees only sought to be external, while the righteousness of Christ exceeds this (cf. Matt. 5:20). He then elaborates on specific internal issues: conflict (Matt. 5:21–26), lust (5:27–32), deceit (5:33–37), revenge (5:38–42), and hatred (5:43–48). Christ’s passion comes out in His admonition against external religion in Matthew 6:1–18 as well as Matthew 23:13–30. The greatest argument against Christianity is the attitude of those who only keep its standards externally!
Government persecution and policy cannot change the heart, though they may change outward behavior. Human institutions, such as even church and religion, cannot change the heart, though they may change outward behavior. We ourselves cannot change the heart, though we may change outward behavior. Only God can change the individual at the heart level from the inside out. God says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezek. 36:26, 27).