The changes that God starts on the inside also have effect on the outside. Although it starts on the inside, the two aspects nourish each other. Repentance, spiritual longing, heart change, whatever you call it, the inside desire of the heart needs to find outer expression. Spiritual commitment to Jesus Christ and the Christ-following life can only flourish if there is an external manifestation.
With these two aspects, two dangers also exist. One ditch we can fall into is to focus only on the external while remaining unchanged inside. Christ calls this hypocrisy. Israel and Judah (many times) outwardly honored God, doing the right rituals and practices. But when push came to shove, there was no “heart” love for God.
Isaiah 58:2–4a has God saying, “They seek Me daily, and delight to know My ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and did not forsake the ordinance of their God. They ask of Me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching God. ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’ In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and exploit all your laborers. Indeed you fast for strife and debate, and to strike with the fist of wickedness.”
Instead of external religious rites, God sought real, authentic, internal heart religion. “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?” (vv. 6, 7).
This ditch of only focusing on the external is called hypocrisy. Its root comes from a word meaning “actor.” The inner heart desires the religious praise of others more than God. Indeed the hypocrites were “poseurs, show-offs, frauds, knock-offs, shams, wannabes, and sell-outs.” Their outside didn’t match their inside.
Other versions of this hypocrisy include trying to fix the symptoms of the sinful heart through one’s own effort. Some throw financial resources at it, others medication, or education, and even technology. These have their rightful place, but the root of the problem continues to exist.
The second ditch we can fall into is to focus on the inside and believe nothing happens on the outside. This is just as dangerous because true transformation occurs in both. If there is no external manifestation, the question remains whether the power working within is truly of God to begin with. Those in this ditch deny the power of godliness and the power of God to change the heart. Mark 7:15 says, “There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man.”
The following statement summarizes it best:
We are called to be a godly people who think, feel, and act in harmony with biblical principles in all aspects of personal and social life. For the Spirit to recreate in us the character of our Lord we involve ourselves only in those things that will produce Christlike purity, health, and joy in our lives. This means that our amusement and entertainment should meet the highest standards of Christian taste and beauty. While recognizing cultural differences, our dress is to be simple, modest, and neat, befitting those whose true beauty does not consist of outward adornment but in the imperishable ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit. It also means that because our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, we are to care for them intelligently. Along with adequate exercise and rest, we are to adopt the most healthful diet possible and abstain from the unclean foods identified in the Scriptures. Since alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and the irresponsible use of drugs and narcotics are harmful to our bodies, we are to abstain from them as well. Instead, we are to engage in whatever brings our thoughts and bodies into the discipline of Christ, who desires our wholesomeness, joy, and goodness (Seventh-day Adventist Church Statement on Christian Behavior, https://www.adventist.org/en/beliefs/living/christian-behavior/).