Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me...
For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem. Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering; then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar. (Ps 51: 10,16-19)
In our limited, human capacity, we tend to think it's the outward act that is important. But God's word shows that without a change of heart, no act of sacrifice is pleasing to Him. The Lord desires a change of heart; He works from the inside out. As the heart is changed, it changes our desires and then our actions follow afterward. This ultimately produces an outward manifestation of God's power and glory.
The world's way is opposite. They try to conform the outside to some perceived good quality in order to produce a change inside. The result is only a "whitewashed tomb" that is pretty on the outside but dead on the inside. This type of imitation of right-ness is all too common in the Churches today. God sees right through this type of hypocrisy and Jesus repeatedly condemns it.
Ironically, a Church often starts out right, but goes wrong along the way. The Lord works a work on someone's heart, producing an outward change that draws peoples attention. The power of His spirit moves, and soon, a whole new revival begins. And then the imitators pile on. Not having the true change of heart, they try to work from the outside. They cut and shape and mold trying to conform the outside in an effort to duplicate the results of the sprit working on the heart. But without a true change of heart, it never works. The end result is that the spirit goes out of the movement leaving another "dead" denomination behind.
Even worse, each Church, each denomination, and each worldly philosophy has its own idea of what the outward appearance should look like. And so they start bickering back and forth, each claiming that if you don't look like them you aren't really righteous. You aren't really saved, they say, because you don't do what we do. They get all caught up in silly things: what clothes to wear, how long your hair should be, what type of car you should drive, how much money you should have and on and on and on.
We are each unique, individual creations of God, and he works on us on an individual basis. Oftentimes, the end result will look quite different. It is simply that each one of us is a different manifestation of His spirit, power and glory. There are no cookie-cutter Christians, and we are not stamped out on some spiritual assembly line with each one looking exactly the same. But we forget this and often accuse one another of not being in the spirit simply because we assume that the way God worked in me is the same way He will work in you. It just ain't so. We have to learn not to judge the outside but to watch for the signs of an inward change and then love, support, nurture, encourage, and help each to get further along.
Our inside change is a result of God's grace, his unmerited favor in the form of a deposit of His sprit in us. Thus, most of all, we must never try to add on to the message of grace. If the Lord commands you in your heart to do a certain thing, you can't assume that is something that everyone must do. That would be adding onto grace. Because of our unique characters, you may need to do one thing, while I may need to do another. Because the inward change of heart ultimately causes an outward change, it is all to easy to try to make that outward change part of salvation. Like I said before, that outward change may be different in each according to how God wants to use each of us individually. But, I hear it all the time:
You are saved by Grace, IF you (fill in the blank).
You are saved by Grace, AND you (fill in the blank).
You are saved by Grace, BUT you (fill in the blank).
Go ahead and fill in the blank with what ever you perceive to be proof of your salvation. And don't try to tell me you never do that! WELL -- NO MORE IFS AND or BUTS! YOU ARE SAVED BY GRACE. PERIOD. FULL-STOP. When and how that grace manifests itself is solely between you and God. Not me, not your pastor, not your friends or family is to judge how God is working in you. We were warned, "Judge not lest you be judged!" and it's time to take that warning seriously.
The change of heart will ultimately result in "death" of the old man. This is what we must learn to do: to die. It sounds strange to hear it put that way, but that's exactly what Jesus said. He who gains his life shall lose it and he who loses his life shall gain life everlasting. This then is true forsaking a forsaking of self to live only in Him. For most people, their "self" is identified with their possessions. Thus, they must come to the point of letting go of things in order to die to self.
I have never been happier than when I was living in a small one-room apartment on a $300 per month stipend from the university. I had nothing to do but study, think and write music. Desire for things was never a problem for me. I learned how to live on almost nothing and lack of money has never frightened me since. For over twenty years I have longed to leave it all behind and return to that simple lifestyle. Ironically, because of my talent with computers, I have been very well paid. Nevertheless, for anyone to say to me that I should get rid of my possessions and follow the Lord, is useless. My response would be something like: You mean I can go live in a tar-paper shack and have nothing to do but converse with the Lord all day? YEEEE-HAAAA! When can I start? But, the result for me would be disaster. I could easily sit there with nothing, proud of myself for living simply by my own wits, with no help from the world.
This is what I mean when I say that just because the Lord is working in you one way, don't assume that's how he will work in others. For me, things are not the problem. Here's the "thing" I had to forsake: I don't want your help, I don't need your help, I won't take your help. In fact, if you'll get out of my way, I'll get this done quicker and better alone. Put another way, most people have a problem with giving, but I have a problem with receiving. And so the Lord had to lay a series of challenges in front of me that I couldn't do by myself. Merely taking money away from me would have had no effect at all. I had to learn to let go of a stubborn independence, and let Him provide me help. It may sound weird to you, but to me, the idea that someone would be obsessed with wealth and have trouble giving it away is just plain weird. But the idea that I would have to learn to rely on others was difficult to accept. There is a line in a book my Dad wrote that sums it up perfectly: "Oh, I trust God, It's people I can't stand!" He wants us to work together and so I had to forsake my independence that I might learn to better cooperate with others.
We truly are unique creatures of our God. Selah!
Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me. (John 21:21-22)