Vol.XVII No.VII Pg.7
September 1980

?You Know What?

Robert F. Turner

Bro. Turner:

We are being told that God reads the heart, therefore if one intends to obey, God will justify. Abraham's intention to offer Isaac is cited as proof. Please comment. H. A.


This is part of a pattern that begins with a misconception of grace, and an iconoclastic attitude toward obedience. In a misguided effort to counter legalistic tendencies among brethren, some have been overcome by evangelical theology or various forms of Calvinism. The necessity for "heart felt" religion does not negate an equal necessity for "heart done" religion. Scriptures put individual reception of benefits from God's conditional promises at the point of obedience, and not before (Rom. 6:17-f)

God tested Abraham's willingness to offer his son (Gen. 22:2); and Heb. 11:17-18 says he "offered up Isaac." If God stopped a baptism the way He stopped the slaying of Isaac, we could conclude that in that particular case His purposes had been satisfied. But this would not negate all other demands of God for obedience. It certainly would not justify the conclusion that we can declare and treat one as having come to Christ because we conclude, "his heart is right." We can only judge (imperfectly) on the basis of fruits (Matt. 7:16-20).

Most of our brethren who present this "intention" line of thought insist they believe obedience is necessary, and only mean God knows a heart of faith before the overt act. So — what's new? Is that why the Abrahamic example is used? Are these brethren unaware of the Baptist debater's turn on Jas. 2:24? ("YE see" the works, but GOD sees by faith only.) Since we fellowship, form congregations, carry out the functions of saints on the basis of what "we see," and can not act or have hope on the unknown basis of what God sees, this becomes nothing more than a dangerous speculation.

Will we accept this "thought for the act" principle in other matters? For example, Jesus taught that "whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matt. 5:28). Is this cause for divorce? And if it is, do we not face the same problem as in our first case: the inability to read and therefore act upon that which may or may not be in another's heart?

The fact that God reads our heart is used in Scriptures to urge us to act sincerely, out of a heart wholly given unto Him; and to warn us that God is not deceived by our hypocrisy (Rom. 2:28-29; Heb. 4:13; Gal. 6:7).

For centuries overt acts of obedience have come under fire from those who believed God elected certain ones of the totally depraved, unconditionally empowered them by a direct operation, so that nothing they did contributed to their redemption. The divine MEANS was thought to negate the necessity for human response — faith itself being possible only after God "cleansed the heart." Since that was an "experience," "better felt than told," one's hope was subjectively determined. Brethren, we can avoid legalism without taking that route!