Jesus said that the tree (or person) is known by his or her fruit (or actions). The Bible also calls King David, the worshiping, Psalm writing, adulterer, and murderer, a man after God’s own heart. Paul was a persecutor of the early church and added to its martyr rolls, yet wrote 2/3 of the New Testament, in which he called himself the chief among sinners. He readily acknowledged that his actions often fell short of his intentions:
For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God ]in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. Romans 7:14-25
This is a battle we all fight, the tug-of-war between what we should do and what we actually do. What are we to do with these dichotomies? How do we bridge the gap between holding one another accountable for our sin and its results and extending the mercy we all need to be able to rise from the ashes and live Christian lives going forward?
I have often wondered how David, despite all his virtues could be called a man “after God’s own heart.” It seems ridiculous on its face, doesn’t it? If it was Joseph we could comprehend it, but David? After much thought, I think I understand why the Bible offers such praise to a man we wouldn’t readily say deserves it. It wasn’t so much that David had the heart of God as much as that he clearly wanted to have the heart of God despite his numerous and grievous shortcomings.
It’s the heart of one who wants to do the right thing because he loves God first and foremost, and when he fails, no matter how greatly, he recognizes that his sin is his own and that he has ultimately sinned against God most of all. When David is finally confronted with the gravity of his adulterous night with Bathsheba that escalated to the murder of her husband and culminates with the death of the child they conceived that night, David owns his sin.
Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to Your lovingkindness;
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,
Blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I acknowledge my transgressions,
And my sin is always before me.
4 Against You, You only, have I sinned,
And done this evil in Your sight—
That You may be found just when You speak,
And blameless when You judge. Psalm 51:1-4
That is the missing link between David’s actions with regard Bathsheba and the tens of recorded Psalms of prayer and worship that still bring comfort to believers thousands of years after David’s death, preserved by God as a testimonial of His unfailing grace towards us and a very flawed, very human Psalmist who is all to easy for many of us to relate to.
We should be slow to condemn, quick to forgive, and generous with mercy in recognition of our own sinful frailty. Too often we find this hard to do; partly due to our pride. Other times we feel let down when those we regard as faithful brethren fail. If they can succumb to temptation, can we? Mostly we just kind of enjoy the opportunity to feel better about ourselves by turning our attention to the failings of others.
But we also have to hold each other accountable and judge righteously. We also must be able to make the distinction between when it is proper to deal harshly, and when we are to restore with gentleness. Frankly, I don’t really trust myself to know the difference. There is however, one thing I look for in my children when they stumble and fall, and it’s something I desperately pray that I model well before them. Owning it.
David owned up to his role in what transpired. He didn’t blame it on the temptress. He didn’t it blame on the commanders who insisted they could go out to battle without him that spring. He didn’t pass the buck.
Being after God’s own heart is not about perfection. It’s about striving to be perfect. Since none of us is capable of being perfect, it’s about confessing our sin, repent, and making a whole-hearted commitment to go and sin no more in the same manner. When our fellow believers make that commitment, and their lives bear the fruit of true change, it’s our Christian duty to accept them fully. Brothers and sisters in Christ should not fear being judged by the church for who they were before.
However, if they don’t acknowledge, repent, and bear fruit worthy of repentance, it’s our Christian duty to hold them accountable no matter how deeply it grieves us.The challenge is to bridge the gap between mercy and justice, rather that erecting walls of justice while burning bridges of mercy or worse, eradicating all accountability out a false concept of mercy and pretending that justice is literally blind. It’s a tall order, isn’t it?
For those of us who claim the name of Christ, it behooves us to remember that it’s not our profession alone that defines us, but what we do. What we really believe is what we live. Everything else is just religious talk. In other words:
“A good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush.Luke 6:43-44
We’re back where we started aren’t we? So is it enough if our “heart is in the right place?”
Just something I’ve been mulling over as I work through my own struggles and besetting sin.